Blu Ray Film Reviews – The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back promotional artworkThe Empire Strikes Back – Blu ray film reviews.

There were far more Wampa scenes in the original cut of the film.

Scenes that were shot but cut out had R2-D2 encountering a Wampa in the rebel base on Hoth and a scene where a number of Wampa's are lured into a prison within the complex, there was a scene filmed but never used which had Han, Leia and C-3PO running through a corridor, Han goes to take a short cut through a door with a sign on it but Leia warns him that the Wampa's are being kept in there, they run off but C-3PO rips the sign off the door in the hope that the stormtroopers will enter the room, they do and meet their fate.

Cloud City was originally going to be an Imperial floating prison in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Clive Revill is still credited as the voice of the Emperor in the credits but Ian McDiarmid has replaced him to bring everything into line with the prequels. George Lucas financed the $33 million dollar production himself using profits from the first Star Wars film and a bank loan, he did not want to share creative rights with a studio, he shared profits with all his employees to the tune of $5m bonuses.

The writers and directors guild tried to stop The Empire Strikes Back being released due to the fact they did not agree on the screen credits being put at the end of the film, they only allowed it on Star Wars because they thought it would flop, after they failed at stopping the film's release, they then fined George Lucas and Irvin Kershner, Mr Lucas paid all the fines himself and then dropped his membership of the MPAA and both guilds. Carrie Fisher stood on a box for her love scenes with Harrison Ford as she is about a foot shorter than him.

The Wilhelm scream can be heard two times in the film, once during the battle on Hoth as a rebel soldier and his laser gun dish explodes and again right before Han is going to frozen in the carbonite as Chewie, in a fit of rage, throws a stormtrooper off the ledge. Boba Fett is never referred to by name in this film.

Irvin Kershner taught George Lucas at the University Of California's film school, Kershner didn't like the first film, he considered it trashy and he originally had no interest in directing a sequel, Lucas won him over and then Kershner spent much time pushing the writers into humanizing the characters and developing them more.

The bounty hunter dressed all in white is named Dengar, his backstory is that he was once a fierce rival of Han Solo's and was badly beaten by him, he vowed revenge and has been hunting Solo for some time and the mechanical bounty hunter is named IG-88, and is an assassin droid with a disassemble on sight bounty of its own. On Dagobah, after R2-D2 is spit out of the swamp, when Luke picks him up he says, "You were lucky to get out of there." In the original version he says, "You're lucky you don't taste very good."

The Imperial AT-ATs (All Terrain Armoured Transports) were inspired by the walking machines in War Of The Worlds.


Film Plot

The Rebel Alliance Death Star victory has been short lived and they find themselves hiding out on the ice planet of Hoth while the Empire sends probe droids to the far flung reaches of the galaxy in their quest to find the rebels and finish them off once and for all. 

Guided by the spirit of Obi-Wan, Luke Skywalker is taught the ways of the force by Jedi Master Yoda, and the Millenium Falcon is hunted half way across the galaxy by Darth Vader as he seeks to lure young Skywalker to the dark side.

A vision of a city in the clouds and his friends in pain will see Luke Skywalker battle Darth Vader, lightsabers will clash and allegiances will be tested as the Empire strikes back.


Positives

I consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the best written film of the entire Star Wars saga, i put this down to Lawrence Kasdan and Irvin Kershner, Kershner in particular because he wanted the characters to be more human so the audience can empathize with them, he and Kasdan worked well together and its obvious that George Lucas had faith in them both, its only on Return Of The Jedi when dollar signs from the toy marketing got in the way of the script that the series took a slight downward turn for the worst.

I like the additional dialogue with the Emperor and it plays well, its a good addition and seeing Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor is a great improvement over the woman with the monkey eyes that they used in the past, this scene works best if you view the films from Episode I to Episode VI, it does not work so well if you view from Episode IV onwards.

I think the puppet work on Yoda is very good, there was talk of replacing the character with a CGI version but it apparently didn't work well with real live backgrounds, i'm glad they did not, i think this version works just fine as it is, Yoda is older and has been in exile many years, he moves slower, it's appropriate, i still get goosebumps when i view the scene where Yoda uses the force to get Luke's ship out of the swamp, Luke can't believe it and Yoda replies "That is why you fail."

The battle on the ice planet of Hoth has not aged a bit and its an example of what you can do with detailed model work, a great music score and fab film editing, it works beautifully.


Negatives

I really dislike some of the changes made by George Lucas to the original version, for example, Temuera Morrison's voicing of Boba Fett, there is now no menace to his voice.

I'm not keen on Darth Vaders line where he says "Alert my star destroyer to prepare for my arrival", it just doesn't sound quite right, i prefer the original line which was "Bring my shuttle", i also think the scene after this where Vader's shuttle arrives back on his star destroyer is all too obviously an unused scene from Return Of The Jedi, i think thats also an example of how lazy they were in adding a scene intended for Jedi back into Empire.

I don't think they should have removed the scene near the end of the film where C-3PO falls into all the wires after the Millenium Falcon's hyperdrive finally gets fixed, they took that out and put it into Star Wars: A New Hope, i don't know why they did that, it makes no sense as it worked perfectly well in Empire and it seems ridiculous to me to take a scene from one film and put it into the other.

You would think Darth Vader would remember C-3PO as after all he did build him, still thats an issue with doing prequels to older films and not a fault with this film.


Image Quality

Leia kisses Han in The Empire Strikes BackI noticed frozen static grain was visible on the Hoth planet scenes, i also noticed it a little on the white backgrounds of the walls in Cloud City, just like in A New Hope it seemed to be more noticeable on scenes with white backgrounds, as mentioned in my other review, this is a result of Lowry digital totally degraining the original films and then adding back a small amount of artificial film grain, nowadays it can be done without any issues, just see what they managed to do with Alien and Aliens.

There is a scene where Luke escapes from the Wampa's lair and he is walking through the dense snowy landscape, you can see the frozen static grain onscreen and it looks ugly and it is intrusive. It may be on other scenes but these are the moments that stood out to me.

I saw a little edge enhancement on some parts of the film, its noticeable on Darth Vader's outfit in some scenes, when you consider the source of the transfer then i thought this film mostly looked as good as it could and ever will barring a new film scan.

I felt there was less sharpening applied to the film and this is perhaps due to the fact that we have a different director of cinematography and there is less softer lensed scenes than the original and thus George Lucas feels less of a need to sharpen things up.

I noticed in one scene that the Millenium Falcon was see through as it tried to escape an Imperial Star Destroyer and in another scene i noticed blue matte/plates visible on the T.I.E. fighters as they chased the Millenium Falcon away from Cloud City near the end of the film, that particular moment stood out to me and briefly took me out of the film, i'm surprised they didn't fix it for this release, i remember a similar issue used to be visible when the T.I.E. fighters chase the Millenium Falcon into the asteroid field, that issue was fixed for the 2005 DVD release and it looks good on this blu ray version.

The colours seemed less saturated on this release than A New Hope, that has me thinking that maybe they used the Technicolor print as a guide when they made the Episode IV master and that's why it's colours are so saturated, just a theory, i think the lightsabers look good in this release, Luke's lightsaber has the white cores and blue haze and thats how it should be.

The removal of the film grain and replacing it with artificial grain is a contentious issue for me and i would rather they keep the original film grain intact, in my opinion i feel The Empire Strikes Back could look better, but at the same time, it's better than the previous DVD release, and likely to be better than any high definition television screening due to using higher bitrates and of course the fact that the television screenings will almost certainly use the exact same approved masters as this blu ray release.

There is a slight blue push to the planet Hoth, i think this is intentional, the cooler tone suits that segment of the film well, there may also be a bit of black crush going on, i am uncertain if this affects every scene because i didn't feel any important details were being lost, it might well be that George Lucas decided to change black levels and wants it to look like this.


Sound Quality

The Empire Strikes Back has a very good soundtrack, the beginning of the film has Imperial probe droids sent out from a star destroyer, they go off on all directions into space and you hear one from the front speakers fly past into the rear right speaker, there are a lot of front to back discrete effects just like this in the entire movie.

The bass is deep and in plentiful supply during the battle scenes on Hoth and various other moments in the film but i didn't think it was as well controlled as in A New Hope, in Episode IV there are many scenes with the Millenium Falcon which had wonderful bass, i didn't feel it was as good in this film, it was deep in places but to my ears it just sounded a little less refined.

I felt the speech was a little harsh sounding, it was good, it just wasn't as good as what i heard on A New Hope, that surprises me because in all previous releases i have found Episode IV to be the weakest of the Star Wars soundtracks, now it's very strong and one of the best, i should add that i also felt the music score was also harsher sounding than the original film, don't take that to mean bad, it is not, it's good, its just not as good as A New Hope.

Early on in the film when Han goes in search of the missing Luke and the blast doors are closed we hear Chewbacca roar and about the same time as this the blast doors shut and there is deep bass heard.

The Millenium Falcon is chased through the asteroid field by T.I.E. Fighters, a small splattering of asteroids comes towards the Falcon and you hear the sound of these going from the front speakers to the rear, it sounds really good, another scene near the end of the film has our heroes being pursued by stormtroopers, Lando provides cover for the others as they enter the Millenium Falcon and a stormtrooper fires a shot which hits the Falcon, the impact of the shot provides some nice deep bass.


Final Thoughts

Darth Vader confronts Luke Skywalker with devastating news in The Empire Strikes BackI consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the best written film of the Star Wars saga, as mentioned above i put this down to Lawrence Kasdan and Irvin Kershner because they made the characters real and human and so the audience can empathize with them, he and Kasdan worked well together and its obvious that George Lucas had faith in them both, its only on Return Of The Jedi when dollar signs from the toy marketing companies got in the way of the script that the series took a slight downward turn for the worst.

The Empire Strikes Back has many exciting action sequences but never at the expense of character development, it works so well because its not forced.

Take a look at the last Indiana Jones film as an example of how a movie can be made with no heart or soul, in that film the characters plod from A to B and their motivations for doing so are highly dubious.

In The Empire Strikes Back the characters have a reason for what they do, when Darth Vader says to the Emperor, "If he could be turned, he would be a powerful ally" he does so because he does not want Luke to be killed but he is also secretly plotting to kill his master who in turn is plotting to make Luke his new apprentice, they never need to spell this out to us, in many movies made today they feel the need to explain everything as they think wrongly that the audience is too dumb.

This film never fails to entertain me, i find the first two original Star Wars films to be fantastic, i hope that sometime in the future i can give George more of my money and upgrade this release with a better transfer, perhaps by that time 4K projectors and televisions will be a reality and George will make new 4K scans of the original trilogy and The Phantom Menace, its likely the 2K shot digital films would upscale perfectly well so it could happen, i hope it does, i'd buy the set all over again, i think George likes people like me.