REVIEW: “The Empire Strikes Back: Unaltered”

Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back—Limited Edition
Disc 2: Original theatrical (1980) version of Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back


After watching Star Wars: Unaltered a few days ago, I was expecting more of the same from The Empire Strikes Back: Unaltered. Little did I know, however, that I was in for a surprise.

The Movie

This is the best Star Wars movie ever made! It’s always neck and neck with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan as my favorite movie of all time.

It was nice to watch the original version for the first time in a long time. In general, the changes made to Empire in 1997 and 2004 were not as severe as those made to Star Wars and Return of the Jedi.

Watching the unaltered version shows that most of the subsequent changes were cosmetic and, quite frankly, unnecessary. And, as I said in my Star Wars: Unaltered review, I generally prefer to see the special effects in their original forms, matte lines and all. It was wonderful to see it this way again.

Video Quality

The big surprise for me was that The Empire Strikes Back: Unaltered looks noticeably better than Star Wars: Unaltered. After watching the latter, I was expecting more of the same as far as video quality.

While Star Wars: Unaltered looked only as good as it needed to, The Empire Strikes Back: Unaltered looked great most of the time. Whether this was due to motion picture advancements between 1977 and 1980, or simply a better quality Laserdisc master, I’m not able to say.

Left unzoomed, the standard 4×3 letterbox image results in a smaller picture bordered on all sides: top, bottom, left, and right. You’re still seeing the entire picture. It’s just smaller.

In this mode, the picture quality is quite crisp most of the time. While it doesn’t look like the fully restored and anamorphic 2004 version, the quality difference is not as noticeable as it was for Star Wars: Unaltered.

Like the 1977 Star Wars, the 1980 version of The Empire Strikes Back has a brighter color palette than the 2004 edition. Compare Luke’s face when Han is rescuing him on Hoth in both editions and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

In general, I prefer the 1980 colors . . . though the difference is not as striking as the 1977 vs. 2004 Star Wars colors.

I also used my DVD player’s zoom function to see how the image would look brought in just enough to remove the left and right borders. As expected, it becomes a bit distorted. From a normal, comfortable viewing distance, though, I really didn’t note a lot of image issues with The Empire Strikes Back: Unaltered. The picture was more than acceptable. Of course I would have preferred a fully restored print presented in anamorphic format but we can’t have everything now, can we?

Audio Quality

Though only a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix, The Empire Strikes Back: Unaltered sounds fantastic. Again, I’d rate it better than the sound in Star Wars but this has always been the case. You may have to crank your speakers up a bit more compared to the Dolby 5.1 mix used on the 2004 edition.

Bonus Features

The 1980 film is the true bonus feature of the set. The only other special features are related to LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game (a trailer and an Xbox demo). These are the same as presented on the Star Wars: Unaltered disc.

Overall Experience/Entertainment Value

It was great to see the original version of The Empire Strikes Back again, and it’s nice to know that I’ll be able to watch it whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. Unlike Star Wars, I’ll probably defer to the 2004 edition most of the time simply because the changes are not as jarring. I still prefer those original effects, though, so it’s a tough call. I may alternate each time.

Recommendations

If, like me, you’re a Star Wars fanatic who loves The Empire Strikes Back, then I recommend this release whether or not you already own the 2004 edition. You need to own and watch this movie.

If you’re a casual fan who already owns the 2004 set, then I don’t recommend this release. You will likely not find the differences big enough to warrant rebuying this film. Save your money.

If you’re a casual fan that does not yet have the 2004 set, then I’d definitely recommend this release. Otherwise, you’re missing out on the best Star Wars movie ever. Be warned, though, that this is Act II of a three act trilogy. If you only watch this movie, you’re only seeing the middle and could be left quite confused. To achieve maximum entertainment value with The Empire Strikes Back, you’ll also need Star Wars (A New Hope) and Return of the Jedi. If you only want to buy one then stick with the original Star Wars, as it can stand alone.

Coming soon will be the Film Frontier review of Return of the Jedi: Unaltered. Are there any surprises left?

Movie: 10 (out of 10)
Video Quality: 8
Audio Quality: 9
Bonus Features: N/A (this movie was the key bonus feature)
Overall Experience: 9
Recommended: To casual fans who do not already own 2004 edition; to Star Wars fanatics who love The Empire Strikes Back