The Empire Strikes Back appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this 4K UHD disc. My review of Star Wars included a few caveats and a discussion of various alterations and choices.
I didn’t feel the need to do so again here, partially because Empire didn’t present as many overt changes. In addition, it offered a substantially more consistent package, especially in regard to audio. As for the visuals, Empire looked great.
Don’t expect any real concerns with sharpness. A few wide shots showed a smidgen of softness, and a few visual effects created a minor lack of definition, but those instances didn’t seem prominent.
Instead, the movie almost always appeared crisp and well-defined. As with the first movie, no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I also witnessed no signs of edge enhancement.
Once again, source defects stayed far away from the movie, as it presented a clean transfer. Also once again, I suspect the movie got a bit of digital noise reduction, but this remained modest at most and didn’t subject us to the technique’s more egregious issues.
Empire lacked the generally bright hues of Star Wars and used its tones to greater effect. It went with a mix of colors through its various settings, so bluish-whites dominated on Hoth, while Dagobah adopted a swampy gray/green and parts of Bespin took on an orange/red tint.
The image rendered these tones well, as they felt full and well-realized. As with the first movie, the disc received tasteful application of HDR, so the colors felt vivid but not candy-colored or over-done.
Blacks continued to appear deep and dense, and I didn’t see any of the crushed blacks that occasionally interfered with the first movie. Low-light situations were concise and firm, and HDR gave contrast and whites a boost. I couldn’t find much about which to complain, as Empire looked great.
When I saw The Empire Strikes Back theatrically, its audio dazzled me, as I still remember how impressed I was by the sound of that Star Destroyer at the start of the film. With all the stellar soundtracks over the last 40 years, the Dolby Atmos of the Empire 4K UHD didn’t floor me as much today, but it nonetheless offered a very strong experience.
Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Empire boasted few concerns. Its soundfield certainly excelled, as it consistently offered a smooth and dynamic environment.
From start to finish, it created a great sense of place and movement, and the various elements were appropriately located. The “speaker specific” nature of Star Wars disappeared in this well-integrated track, and the pieces meshed together neatly.
The surrounds played a significant role and added genuine life to the movie. Not surprisingly, the space flight sequences worked the best, but even quieter moments like the rain on Dagobah managed to make the audio immersive and involving. Other scenes like the Mynock encounter also utilized the rear channels in a rousing manner.
The weakest link for the first film came from the quality of its audio, but Empire demonstrated real growth in that area. Unlike the spotty dialogue of Star Wars, the lines of Empire consistently sounded natural and distinctive.
They blended together smoothly, as we didn’t get the variations that could mar the earlier flick. A smidgen of edginess occasionally came with the speech, but those problems were exceedingly minor.
Music sounded well-balanced here, and the score presented a dynamic piece. It didn’t get lost in the shuffle, as the music was bright and vibrant.
Effects also prospered, as those elements were clean and concise. They lacked the distortion that cropped up in the first movie and while they featured nice low-end response. Ultimately, the audio of Empire would be strong for a modern movie, which meant it was really excellent for something from 1980.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray from 2011? Audio boasted better smoothness and depth, as the Atmos mix brought out a bit more involvement.
A true 4K product, the image showed improved definition and clarity, with stronger colors, blacks and stability as well. This turned into a nice upgrade.
Extras from prior releases repeat here, and we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from the original DVD and features story writer/producer George Lucas, director Irvin Kershner, sound designer Ben Burtt, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren and actor Carrie Fisher.
As was the case for the Star Wars track, all five sat separately for this compiled commentary. Whereas Lucas dominated the prior chat, this one offers a more balanced affair, mainly because of Kershner, as he and Lucas fill most of the discussion with their remarks.
Muren and Burtt once again provide useful details about the specifics of their work, while Fisher pops up infrequently to toss out some anecdotes about the shoot. These are good, such as her tale about what she and Ford did the night before they shot the Falcon’s arrival on Bespin, but she still doesn’t show up as often as I’d like.
Lucas goes over fairly general notes connected to Empire. He concentrates less on the movie’s specific elements and more on its overall place in the series, its mythology and its themes.
This leaves Kershner to get into the nuts and bolts, which he does well. The director occasionally devotes too much time to simply describing the action onscreen, but he usually does so for a reason, as this narration mostly leads into a discussion of the shot.
A broad, gregarious personality, Kershner adds life to the track and provides quite a lot of solid information. I’m especially happy to hear from him because oftentimes Lucas heavily overshadows his directors.
Many may have the impression that Lucas really did all the work and the directors of the first two sequels were little more than figureheads. Kershner lets us know all the leeway he had and the decisions he made. Overall, this becomes a very entertaining and informative commentary.
New to the 2011 Blu-ray, a second commentary collects material from archival sources. This one features George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, Carrie Fisher, Irvin Kershner, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, associate producer Robert Watts, production designer Norman Reynolds, makeup/special creature designer Stuart Freeborn, design consultant and conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, producer Gary Kurtz, visual effects art director Joe Johnston, effects cameraman Ken Ralston, modelshop foreman Steve Gawley and actors Jeremy Bulloch, Anthony Daniels, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz and Billy Dee Williams.
Like all the other archival tracks, this one uses outtakes from the sessions for the 2004 commentaries and adds statements from other sources. It melds both well, though I don’t think this one’s as good as the track for Star Wars.
While we learn a fair amount, Kershner often tends to simply narrate the film, and Fisher’s snarky attitude toward the franchise becomes to be a bit tiring. Some irreverence is great, but she starts to seem mean-spirited about it. Nonetheless, these are minor complaints, as the commentary delivers lots of useful material and is a good listen.
On a bonus Blu-ray, A Conversation with the Masters (ESB 30 Years Later) runs 25 minutes, 11 seconds and offers details from Irvin Kershner, George Lucas, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and composer John Williams. “Conversation” looks at story/character issues as well as music and reactions to the movie.
We hear some similar material during the Empire commentaries, but that doesn’t make this piece a waste of time. It’s still informative and enjoyable, even if it’s not always the freshest show.
Under Interviews, we find 26 minutes, 43 seconds of footage. These pieces feature info from George Lucas, effects director of photography Dennis Muren, model maker Charlie Bailey, director Irvin Kershner, production designer Norman Reynolds, and actor Frank Oz.
We look at effects and photography, sets, editing, cast and performances, working the Yoda puppet, and ruminations on the Force. As expected, much of the material focuses on technical areas again, but that doesn’t make it unenjoyable. I especially like Lucas’s chat about editing – and the animatics that accompany his comments.
Muren reappears for the one-minute, 54-second How Walkers Walk. We watch the animators do their stop-motion work as Muren discusses the details in this short but fun clip.
10 Deleted/Extended Scenes go for a total of 14 minutes, 27 seconds. We see “Han and Leia: Extended Echo Base Argument” (1:40), “Luke’s Recovery” (1:13), “Luke and Leia: Medical Center” (2:12), “Deleted Wampa Scenes” (2:40), “The Fate of General Veers” (0:29), “Yoda’s Test” (1:14), “Hiding in the Asteroid” (1:02), “Alternate Han and Leia Kiss” (1:57), “Lobot’s Capture” (0:57), and “Leia Tends to Luke” (1:01).
“Argument” is fun, as it shows more bickering between Han and Leia, but it works so well in the final cut that the extensions would’ve hurt it. “Recovery” shows a little more of Luke after the Wampa fight. It’s also interesting for fans to see, but not anything especially valuable.
“Center” taunts us with the potential Luke/Leia romantic relationship, as it also shows Leia’s reaction to Luke’s imminent departure for Dagobah. It’s a good scene and one that could’ve worked in the final cut.
Hinted at in “Center”, “Wampa” shows that those creatures created havoc at the Rebel base. It’s an exciting idea in theory, but as seen here, the clips aren’t very good. Unless the filmmakers could’ve fixed the problems in post, the Wampa plot would’ve flopped.
“Veers” makes a death scene more obvious, so it’s not especially interesting. “Test” develops the differences between Luke and his mentor a little more but doesn’t show anything that would’ve added to the dynamic.
“Asteroid” just delivers a small addition to that sequence, so it also fails to provide much of interest. “Kiss” lets Han and Leia smooch a little longer before 3PO interrupts. It’s decent but also nothing special.
We lose track of Lobot in the final film, so while not a substantial scene, “Capture” at least shows what happened to him. Finally, “Tends” adds some end-of-movie exposition. It’s a bit clumsy and feels like it just exists to set up the next movie. It also tells us what we already know.
Inside The Collection, we inspect “AT-AT Walker Fallen Model”, “Snowspeeder Model”, “Tauntaun Maquette”, “Rebel Transport Model”, “Hoth Landscape Matte Painting”, “Leia Hoth Costume”, “Han Solo Interior Hoth Costume”, “Yoda Model”, “Luke’s Severed Head”, “Dagobah Bog Matte Painting”, “Dagobah Matte Painting”, “Luke’s Tan Costume”, “Star Destroyer Model”, “Millennium Falcon Model”, “Space Slug”, “Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer Model”, “Star Destroyer Hull Model”, “Executor Bridge Matte Painting”, “Boba Fett Prototype Costume”, “Imperial Officer Costume”, “Rebel Cruiser Model”, “Twin-Pod Cloud Car Model”, “Cloud City Models”, “Cloud City Matte Painting”, “Cloud City Landing Platform Matte Painting”, “Cloud City Core Vane Matte Painting”, “Cloud City Vane Platform Matte Painting”, “Lando Bespin Costume”, and “Cloud City Slave I Matte Painting”.
The compilation fills a total of 56 minutes, 48 seconds, some of which comes from interviews. In those, we get notes from Phil Tippett, Paul Huston, George Lucas, Lorne Peterson, Steve Gawley, effects director of photography Dennis Muren, model maker Charlie Bailey, director Irvin Kershner, and makeup and special creature designer Stuart Freeborn.
As was the case with the similar package on Star Wars, this becomes nice compilation of materials and information. By the way, inside this “Collection” you’ll find an excerpt from the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. We see the nine-minute cartoon that introduced Boba Fett to the world. It’s an awful clip, but it’s cool to see for archival purposes.
Not found on the 2011 discs, The Lost Interviews spans nine minutes, 31 seconds and provides sessions completed between 1975 and 1978. Charles Lippincott gets notes from composer John Williams and actors Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, and Carrie Fisher.
In these audio recordings, they give us notes about their various experiences as we look at photos and footage from the productions. These are a treat to hear – it’d be great to hear hours more of Lippincott’s cassettes.
Finally, Discoveries from Inside brings a four-minute, 42-second sequence with supervising matte painter Harrison Ellenshaw and film historian JW Rinzler. They visit the LucasFilm archives and look at/discuss the matte work for the first two movies. It becomes a good discussion.
Very few sequels clearly surpass their predecessors, but The Empire Strikes Back outdoes Star Wars in almost every manner. As fantastic as the original remains, Empire seems even more dazzling and memorable. The 4K UHD presents very good picture and audio along with a satisfying set of supplements. Empire is a classic and the 4K UHD brings it home well.
To rate this film visit the original review of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK