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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back - 4K Blu-ray Review

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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

The greatest sequel ever made… There. Done… Oh, you want more? All right then.

Star Wars changed cinema forever. Some say to its detriment. Its penetration into the world’s lexicon was all encompassing. It was in everyone’s vernacular after 1977, and made the left of field auteur George Lucas the most financially successful independent filmmaker to ever walk the earth. Almost accidentally, if all the players involved are to be believed, Lucas’s back end deals with Fox had left him with almost the entirety of the merchandising rights and the sequel rights to the most successful film of all time.

"This is how you add meaning to what came before. This is how you build on success."


What wasn’t an accident was what George did with his newfound wealth. Ironically always Hollywood averse, he set out not only to follow up his powerhouse Star Wars debut with another, but he wanted to insulate himself from studio interference and geographical distance from La La Land—and he had the money now to do it. It was no longer George Lucas against the studio and world; it was George Lucas writing his own playbook. He couldn’t achieve all he was imagining and be the writer/director/producer of the follow up to Star Wars, so he shrewdly enlisted Leigh Brackett to write and his old USC teacher Irvin Kershner as the director. When Brackett sadly passed away after handing in her first draft, Lucas did a rewrite and then wisely brought in Lawrence Kasdan (who had just written Raiders of the Lost Ark for him and Spielberg).

If Star Wars surprised the world with Lucas’s vast capability to enthrall, The Empire Strikes Back would cement he was no fluke and ensure his legacy.

Set a short time after the finale of the last film, the Rebels are hiding out on the wintery planet of Hoth while the Empire search high and low for them; which, of course, they do very quickly. Emphatically, the Empire put the smack down on our heroes, smashing their forces in an epic snowy battle and scattering them to four corners of the galaxy. Luke, after a brush with hypothermic death, is visited by the spirit of Obi Wan and sent on a training quest to find the mysterious Yoda (Frank Oz). Han, Chewy (Peter Mayhew) and Leia barely escape Vader’s clutches to go to a floating city run by one of Han’s old smuggling buddies, Lando (Billy Dee Williams). When Luke finds Yoda, and eventually begins his training, his force powers start to expand and he sees a vision of things turning grave for his friends. Unready, he is warned by both Yoda and Obi Wan’s ghost not to rush off to their aid. Of course, he doesn’t listen. He learns the hard way that Vader has the upper hand this time.

I could fill a book with adjectives on how extraordinary this film is. It is a perfect sequel, and as part of a trilogy, it is a perfect second act. This is THE benchmark of how not to rest on the laurels of your previous success. This film is nothing like the original it spawned from. It takes our victorious protagonists and throws them in the shitter right way. These are characters we love, who have risen above great odds in the previous entry and are now hopelessly outgunned and wounded come the credits of this one. The awesome new characters like Yoda and Lando and Boba Fett expand the narrative organically and interestingly without needing to overshadow the mainstays. They all compliment the main three’s back stories or character development so perfectly. This is how you add meaning to what came before. This is how you build on success.

The script is tight—so very, very tight. Nothing is extraneous. Originality of narrative mainstays is brilliant, simply by shuffling them to great effect. The big battle: it’s at the front of the movie. How can that work? The finale is built out of character. Kershner’s attention to the characters is why this film is head and shoulders above all the rest of them. Luke’s impulsiveness and its cost is edge of your seat riveting, and also has the distinction of revealing one of the greatest plot twists in cinema history. The Han and Leia romance, and their inevitable and cruel separation, is so compelling. Chewy is expanded upon beautifully with no dialogue, but is given howls of desperation and pining and fear that breaks your heart. C3P0 is given comedic relief and pitiable and brutal crosses to bear. Everyone has their respective and impactful role in this film. Character, character, character.

The acting in this one benefits the most again because of Kershner’s direction. He gave them time to find the right moments and subtleties and play it out on screen. How much he added to their performances can be viewed in deleted scenes on Bespin between Han and Leia. It shows what working the scene can actually achieve in improving it, because the deleted scene reminds of the shit dialogue and lack of immersion from Attack of Clones love scenes. This is a true example of how much Kirshner and the actors crafted things until they were right.Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

It boggles belief, but again John Williams ups the ante on his score for Empire. Here we see the introduction of the iconic Imperial March, so indelible to Star Wars now that one forgets it wasn’t in the first film.

Everything about this film is unmatchable in quality and I just cannot adequately fawn over it enough. But again, I must mention that this is not The Empire Strikes Back as was released. This is the film after the multitudes of Lucas revisions.

There have been several instances over time since the 1997 special edition where noticeable changes were made by Lucas. Empire, out of all the original trilogy films, has always been the least affected. Whether that is to do with its quality or perception is open for endless debate. Nevertheless, Empire’s changes began with cosmetic upgrades (that looked pretty cool to me) some tightening of matting techniques (which were welcome) and, as each iteration followed, we lost Boba Fett’s original American accented voice (replaced by Prequel star Temuera Morrison, who is Maori and distinctly different) and a completely new Emperor composite of Ian McDiarmid with altered dialogue to replace the women in a robe with monkey eyes. Now, to be objective, narratively this does nothing to alter Empire’s story at all. In fact, the latter scene I welcome. Subjectively, I don’t like the Morrison substitute for Fett’s voice however. I expect Boba Fett to cut sick on Vader and tell him to ‘cook the man some fucking eggs’ while listening to my favorite bounty hunter revised. I prefer my Fett sounding like he did originally (voiced by Jason Wingreen R.I.P, Sir). But I won’t mark the film down for this because it simply doesn’t affect the overall masterpiece that is Empire’s narrative.

5/5 stars

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD

Home Video Distributor: Disney / Buena Vista
Available on Blu-ray
- March 31, 2020
Screen Formats: 2.39:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Japanese, Spanish
Audio:
English: Dolby AtmosEnglish: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; French: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 EXJapanese: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Discs: 4K Ultra HD; Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free; 2K Blu-ray: Region A

VIDEO:

Okay this video transfer is not as good as A New Hope. The introduction of fake grain doesn’t play as well with the compositing work in Empire (though to be fair, I think there were far more complex compositing shots in this film, and on white no less.) Empire’s locales aren’t as forgiving at 4K, especially in the early scenes on Hoth, as say the space shots later. So do Bespin’s bright walls take a hit, especially in shots CGI-ed up the wahzoo. Picture detail is also mired somewhat by heavier DNR which sacrifices details for consistency. It isn’t BAD. This is the most detailed the film has ever looked. Considering, however, that the original source negatives were used to create this new master, it could have been better. HDR impresses somewhat. Contrast is terrific. Again there is no sign of crush in blacks or darker scenes. The whole color pallete has been shifted closer to the original lighting. There are some standout close ups (Han and Leia’s first smooch). It’s a nice job all around, but not a great one.

AUDIO:

SO GOOD! As the darkest and, environmentally, one of the most diverse of the original trilogy, Empire’s new DOLBY Atmos 7.1 mix delivers in spades. The overhead channels get a thorough workout this time, and render the swamp of Dagobah richly with life and a bustling Bespin city with threatening ambience. The Imperial March and rumbling Star Destroyers and spiraling asteroids shake the walls and compliment the cantankerous engine of the Falcon as she flees. The battle of Hoth is the highlight of the mix however and is a thing to show off your sound set up with. So very good.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt, and Dennis Muren.
  • Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew

Special Features:

  • Conversations: The Lost Interviews (09:31): Charles Lippincott interviews cast and crew from the Star Wars universe between 1975 and 1978; these tapes were only recently unearthed. Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, and John Williams are heard over still photos, concept drawings, and film clips from the set and the recording studio.
  • Discoveries from Inside: Matte Paintings Unveiled
  • A Conversation with the Masters
  • Dennis Muren: How Walkers Walk
  • Interviews
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes
  • The Collection

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  3/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 1/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

3.5/5 stars

Star Wars: Episode V - The EMpire Strikes Back

MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action violence.
Runtime:
124 mins
Director
: George Lucas
Writer:
Leigh Brackett; Lawrence Kasdan
Cast:
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Genre
: Action | Adventure
Tagline:
The Star Wars saga continues.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1."
Theatrical Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Official Site:
Release Date:
June 20, 1980
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
March 31, 2020.
Synopsis: After the Rebels are brutally overpowered by the Empire on the ice planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker begins Jedi training with Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader and a bounty hunter named Boba Fett all over the galaxy.

Star Wars: Episode V - The EMpire Strikes Back

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