2019/01/22

Empire Strikes Back Revisited

Solo shirt flap

As we watch Disney's ongoing desecration of a classic American franchise, it's comforting to know that there are fans dedicated to preserving what once was good in pop culture. Amateur British film restorer Adrian "adywan' Sayce is one such fan.

Adywan's self-directed Star Wars: Revisited project caused something of a sensation among the fandom ten years back with his fan edit of A New Hope. The accolades were deserved. Sayce took it upon himself to apply color correction, touch up aging special effects, and even fix continuity errors in the venerable film.

The final product would be laudable for its sheer ambition alone. But since adywan beat the pros at their own game and delivered a viewing experience even more enjoyable than Lucasfilm's official release, ANH: R achieved nothing less than a triumph.

Having exceeded fan expectations, producing a fan edit of The Empire Strikes Back would be the logical way to follow up on ANH: R's success.

Or so one might think at first blush.

The Empire Strikes Back is overwhelmingly hailed as the best Star Wars movie, and with good reason. The original Star Wars, as shot, was a disjointed Flash Gordon pastiche rescued from the B movie ghetto by a miracle of editing. Return of the Jedi was largely a retelling of the first film with better effects and more plot holes.

Only with Empire did the production team set out to create a masterpiece and marshal the skill to succeed. ESB the best sequel of all time. It builds on the momentum of its predecessor to hit the ground running from the first frame. It's a master class in conveying necessary information via the visual language of film instead of lengthy exposition.

In short, Empire is one of the most tightly edited movies of all time. The mastery of Lucasfilm's editors saved A New Hope and elevated its sequel to the heights of cinematic achievement. Attempting to improve on perfection requires either towering hubris, quixotic delusion, or rare genius.

Having watched The Empire Strikes Back: Revisited, I'm prepared to give an informed opinion as to which auspices adywan was laboring under. Before rendering my verdict, let's take a look at some of the changes he made.
OVERALL CHANGES:
  1. Doing a complete colour correction.
  2. Rebuilding the sound mix with new sound FX.
  3. Re-rotoscoping all the lightsabers to fix colour (and other) errors.
  4. Re-rotoscoping all of the laser blasts for consistency.
  5. Attempting to fix spaceship/snowspeeder transparency issues.
  6. TIEs will be blue and ANH:RHD will have blue TIEs also
  7. Replacing/enhancing starfields.
  8. Fixing as many garbage mattes as possible.
  9. Recoloured R2’s black panels to blue
A less ambitious--or more prudent--fan editor would have stopped there. However, adywan went on to make over 200 more changes. One of the most prominent was fixing Han's shirt when he's frozen in carbonite, which can be seen in the header image. The process required making an entirely new Han-frozen-in-carbonite prop from scratch.

Happily, most of adywan's additional edits turned out well. One new touch that's earned high praise from fans is his enhancement of puppet facial expressions using CG. A friend commented that enhancing practical effects is how CG should be used, and I have to agree.

On the downside, there are times when the CG is still too obtrusive. Yoda's enhanced facial expressions usually work, but there are one or two instances when he plunges into the Uncanny Valley. The addition--or retention from the special edition--of a CG Knobby White Spider on Dagobah is distracting. Finally, the replacement of the original bloody wampa arm with a cauterized version may be technically correct but fails to carry the same weight from a storytelling standpoint.

Otherwise, adywan's changes are mostly subtle and do improve the overall viewing experience relative to the ESB special edition. When introducing Star Wars neophytes to the franchise, Empire's
was the only special edition I included because Lucas managed to restrain his more extravagant impulses to a large degree. The Empire Strikes Back: Revisited has now replaced the ESB: SE as my preferred home version of the movie.

Acquiring ESB: R is an adventure in itself, but I recommend getting your copy today. You'll be glad you did.

8 comments:

  1. All the script writers made excellent contributions as well. Bringing in Brackett was a great idea, and even though her untimely death limited her contributions, her stuff from the rough draft that made the cut was great.

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    1. The story goes that when Lucas called Brackett and asked her to write a treatment of Empire, she asked, "Is it because I wrote Rio Bravo?"

      Lucas answered, "No, it's because you wrote pulps."

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  2. I'm surprised the Mouse Empire hasn't already put a stop to this. They tend to be very possessive of the IP they're in the middle of pimping out. They especially don't like it if you do a better job with the IP than they can.

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    1. Adywan was surprised too. When Lucas announced SW's sale to Disney, Sayce posted that the project was probably over since he expected a C&D to come down any day. Somehow it never did.

      Still, if Disney actually wanted to entertain people and had two brain cells to rub together, they'd have give this guy a job years ago.

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    2. Doesn’t Fox still own the original cuts of Star Wars?

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    3. Don't know. From what I've heard, the original theatrical cuts don't technically exist anymore since Lucas altered them while making the special editions.

      Ted Turner does still own the TV rights, though.

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    4. >theatrical run doesn’t exist

      *inhales

      AAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUGHHHHH- !

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