The Good

A very well made film. With two different versions they can be easily compared and contrasted.

The Bad

Not that many extra features.

Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back continues to chronicle the fates of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader and the rest of the characters in this epic and beloved story. After the Rebellion's ice base is attacked on the planet Hoth, the Rebels are forced to disband as the Imperial Alliance comes after them in full force. Luke Skywalker decamps to Degobah to find Jedi Master Yoda, while Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia find themselves in Cloud City. After training with Yoda, Luke feels the need to help his friends in Cloud City, and it is here that he finds himself in a battle with Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Han Solo is sold out by his friend Lando Calrissian and is delivered on silver platter (literally) to Jabba the Hutt.

This is one of those films that has held up very well through time. It could be because George Lucas and his minions continue to tinker with them, or it could be because they are simply well made films that manage to engage us regardless of how the effects change. All in all, I found Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back to be a really great 2 disc set because it allows viewers to examine both the 1980 and the 1997 versions of this movie.

Features

Disc One:

Audio Commentary

Featuring George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher, I would implore any fan who hasn't listened to this track to do so. It is so informative and so rich, that I think it is worth anybody's time who loves these movies. From being told that this portion of the trilogy was the most difficult one, to George Lucas pointing out in painstaking fashion everything that he added (the effects people even help him out), to Irvin Kershner explaining how he got the job to make this movie, it is captivating from beginning to end. Lucas discusses how the early adventure serials really impacted all the Star Wars films, and Kershner even discusses how at their core, these movies are really nothing more than modern fairy tales. Carrie Fisher gives us an actor's perspective in terms of how she responded to what was in the script. I really appreciated having many of the new additions to this film pointed out to me, even more impressive was how seamless they all looked here.

Disc Two:

1980 Version of Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back

This extra feature was the subject of much debate. At first, the fans were told that they were getting cleaned up versions of the original trilogy. This had been something that supposedly Lucas said would never come to pass. Then, as the story had time to gestate it was revealed that Lucas and Co. considered offering this movie as a bonus feature only. Since it was only a bonus, they weren't going to spend the time to clean these films up and release them in anamorphic widescreen (which is exactly what the fans want). It was then realized that the original trilogy was merely being ported over to DVD from laserdisc. Now, there is talk talk of an Ultimate Star Wars set to be released in 2007, and that supposedly that set will contain versions of the original trilogy in anamorphic widescreen (or so it has been rumored).

In all honesty, I thought this "ported over" version looked pretty darn nice. It may have been a tad overcompressed in parts, but the images looked really clean and I didn't find that this film was lacking anything in an effects sense. I think the biggest complaint I have is that things in the background, which are very clear in the 1997 version, are not very clear in this one from 1980. All in all, I think it depends on your level of fandom. If you are a casual fan (like myself), you're just happy to have the older versions of these movies on DVD. If you are a rabid fan (meaning you dress like the characters at Comic-Con; or you come close), then you will probably have a problem with the supposed stretched image of these films. As I said, I didn't notice it.

Video

Widescreen Format enhanced for 16:9 TVs - Aspect Ratio 2.35:1. In this segment, I am only reviewing the 1997 version. This movie looks awesome. I don't know what they do at Skywalker Ranch, ILM or wherever these film's are compressed to DVD, but it is very impressive. I watched this movie on very tiny TV set and I was amazed at the amount of detail that I was able to see. One can only imagine how these movies might look in the next generation formats. Once again, I find it really impressive how nicely the new elements and the old assets come together. While I don't know that this film needed all the tweaks that it has received, I will say that it certainly hasn't hurt the image quality.

Audio

English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX. English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. French Dolby 2.0 Surround. Spanish Dolby 2.0 Surround. As I have a crummy, one speaker TV, I obviously didn't get all the audio power that I think I was intended to. That said, the sound on these DVD is so good that when the opening strains of the Star Wars theme are heard, I got just as swept up in this movie as I always do. While with sound it's even harder to tell what has been bumped up and what hasn't, I think anybody with a halfway decent sound system will find these discs quite well mixed.

Package

They have made a new cover showcasing all the major players in this film against what looks like a purple background. Everything about these images is heightened to make this release look as new as possible. The back cover features older artwork and I can understand why they chose to set the images up in this way. Had they utilized the older images on the front cover, I think buyers may have gotten the wrong idea. There is a well written description of what this movie is about, a breakdown of what is offered on these discs, a cast list, and technical specs. Both discs and the inside artwork contain older looking images, as well as a breakdown of what is on each disc and their appropriate chapter listings.

Final Word

Okay, how many times is George Lucas going to rerelease this set?

I have heard the stories that the original movies weren't 100% what he wanted, so that is why he has gone back and continues to make changes to these films. Okay, first of all, these are his films and he can do (and seems to do) whatever the hell he wants with them. I don't have any argument there. I just think that in regards to these films, there really is something to the idea of be careful what you wish for... . I feel this way because it has even been said by those close to Lucas that the Star Wars saga will probably never be over until Lucas dies. I have also heard that the version of Empire Strikes Back on this disc has been tinkered with even more than the redone version from 1997. Add to this that a new, complete set containing all 6 films is rumored to be hitting stores this year, and this situation starts to become laughable.

All in all, I heavily applaud the work of George Lucas. While the earlier films were a lot better to me both in an effects and acting sense, I feel that taken as a whole, all 6 films tell one of the greatest modern myths of our time.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back was released May 20, 1980.