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The best of the series in another poor transfer
on 25 September 2006
NB: As is their wont, Amazon have bundled together reviews for various editions of this title. This review refers to the two-disc DVD release including both the original theatrical cut and the special edition.
Watching the original versions of the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD is like travelling back in time - not so much to the innocence of youth but more to the days when picture quality was never much of a consideration on video releases and Fox had the reputation for the worst transfers in the business. Watching the PAL DVDs is to step back into an age of low resolution standards conversions from NTSC to PAL with all the loss of detail and motion blurring that that entailed: certainly if you've got one of the old remastered video releases you might as well hold on to that, because the quality isn't as poor as this. The sound quality is pretty awful as well. From Lucas' past track record it's all too easy to imagine this is just a scam to allow him to sell a remastered version a couple of years down the line, but it's even harder to dispel the notion that somewhere Lucas is whining "See how soft the focus is? How can you say these are better films?"
The Empire Strikes Back suffered the least in the special edition reworkings (although the clunky rewriting of the scene with the Emperor shows Lucas' leaden touch with dialog only too clearly) and as a transfer suffers the least of the original versions, but it's still not good enough. The film itself holds up surprisingly well, fully deserving its reputation as the best (and naturally least commercially successful) of the series. A lot of the credit has to go to co-writer Leigh Brackett, with the film's verbal sparring having a classic Hollywood feel to it that gives it a mixture of the best of both worlds, while keeping things moving at a brisk pace. Irvin Kershner's direction brings the best out of the cast too, while the action scenes - particularly the battle on the ice - are the best in the series. It's just a shame that the film's (genuinely unexpected at the time) cliffhanger was thrown away in the follow-up.