The Empire Strikes Back Revisited (2017) – Review by Matt Fox (May The Toys Be With You)
In short: A VERY special edition. The Empire Strikes Back gets a meticulous makeover courtesy of fan editor Adywan.
Review: I have been following the progress of The Empire Strikes Back Revisited for what seems like much of my adult life. Fx guru Adywan (Adrian Sayce) began work on the movie soon after releasing its predecessor, Star Wars Revisited, to fan acclaim way back in 2008. Here we are nearly ten years later and the finished sequel has just been released. It has clearly been a labour, but a labour of love, and after viewing the movie I can say that all those years of tinkering, polishing, correcting and perfecting really have resulted in something very special.
And it was something ‘special’ that set the Revisited project in motion. The Special Edition re-releases of the original trilogy back in 1997. Fan grievances over the Special Editions are well noted (with crowbarred-in incongruous CG and some clunky retconning - most infamously Han’s dispassionate dispatch of Greedo) but The Empire Strikes Back arguably came off the best of the three in terms of avoiding any really contentious changes. There are a few Special Edition ‘changes revoked’ in Revisited (when Luke comes to the aid of R2 on Dagobah his original 1980 dialogue “You’re lucky you don’t taste very good” is restored, as is Boba Fett’s original Clint Eastwood-esque voice) but for the most part ESB Revisited isn’t about restoring - it is about enhancing.
And wow – what a difference these enhancements make. Even if you have seen ESB a dozen times or more I guarantee that watching Revisited will feel like seeing it for the first time. The sensation of experiencing the movie afresh is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Adywan’s version - although on the flipside I’m not sure that I could go back to watching the original after being so thoroughly entranced by Revisited. Before I get too hyperbolic or mislead you as to what this version is – it is still The Empire Strikes Back that we know and love, but it so beautifully presented and polished as to shine.
The blue tint that was bluntly applied across the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back is now gone, and the richness of the colours are at times a revelation. The deep gold of C3PO, the obsidian sheen of Vader’s helm, and the warm skin tones of Han and Leia as their romance blossoms all contribute to enhance the already superb cinematography.
Continuity and production errors have also been corrected. The thing about ‘movie mistakes’ is that they’re usually hard to spot but once you have seen them they’re equally hard to un-see. From Adywan’s change log there are a multitude of corrected mistakes, ranging from wobbling sets to cameramen being visible in reflection. However, the really big one is the carbonite block, and the frozen Han is now wearing the same shirt that he appears in when descending into the freeze chamber. Seamlessly done.
Throughout the movie there are small enhanced details. On first viewing I’m sure I have only picked up a fraction of these. For example; the Wampa’s severed arm now has burning strands of fur from the lightsabre strike, the Snowspeeders cockpit displays are alive with new instrumentation, the hangar bays below the Star Destroyers are illuminated, and there is even a new creature glimpsed on Dagobah (the knobby white spider, first visualised by Ralph McQuarrie in his original ESB concept art).
However, the grandstanding sequence in terms of enhancements is the Battle of Hoth. The ferocity, the scale, and the sense of geography are all improved. As a child I recall the giant lumbering AT-AT’s seemed less mechanical and almost bestial to my eyes, and that sensation is now made even more acute by a contingent of AT-ST Walkers. These cluck alongside the elephantine AT-ATs almost like Velociraptors, their cannons and gaze darting here and there, protecting their larger charges. The rebels now truly do feel hopelessly outgunned, and it makes their small victories in the battle seem more significant. In fact, there is a new sight gag when one AT-AT falls that Lucas himself would have been proud of – I won’t spoil it, but it’s the kind of moment that would draw cheers and whoops from a theatre audience. Bravo Adywan!
Apart from letting rip on the Hoth battle, Adywan has implemented the rest of the enhancements with a good degree of subtlety, elegance and restraint. The techniques he has used are varied, and certainly not all reliant on CGI. In fact, like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, Revisited is well served by going back in time and embracing physical model building and costuming. New miniatures for Dagobah and the Rebel Hangar on Echo Base are massively impressive and add to the solidity and tangible feel of the Star Wars universe. I honestly think you could watch The Empire Strikes Back Revisited and Rogue One back to back, and see them as companion pieces rather than films separated by over 3 decades.
And so, how do you watch The Empire Strikes Back Revisited? Is this some murky, illegal dark web endeavour? Not at all, but to comply with 'fair usage' and show respect to the rights holder the requirement for downloading a fan edit is that you must already own the source – in this case The Empire Strikes Back on blu ray disc. If you’re like me you’ve probably bought The Empire Strikes Back multiple times over the years on different formats, but do make sure you don’t buy Revisited – this is a free-to-view fan edit, and anyone trying to sell copies on Ebay or elsewhere is on very shaky ground.
The download is a 7.5GB Mkv file, presented in crisp and clear 720p, and it’s available through torrent sites or through Megadownloader links on the Star Wars Revisted facebook page. I know that some people watch films on their tablets or smart phones, but I would say that it’s well worth finding the biggest and best screen to properly enjoy this spectacular movie on. Now Adywan, please don’t make us wait another 9 years for The Return Of The Jedi…