SUPER 8 FILM REVIEW
The following review was printed in the Winter 2001 edition of Super 8 Film Review.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK 4x600ft colour sound 'Scope Import - check dealer lists
This is episode 5 in George Lucas’s saga and the sequel to the hugely successful landmark piece of cinematic history ‘Star Wars’. Lucas had decided he no longer enjoyed directing films and additionally wanted to concentrate on building up his businesses; Industrial Light and Magic being the current jewel although this was only to be established in the years to come. Hence Irvin Kershner was pressed into action. He had tutored the young Lucas when at film school, had left an indelible impression and was therefore hired to direct. Lucas intended that Empire was to be totally funded with the profits made from Star Wars and this was impressed on Kershner on several occasions. Lucas would often remind him “This is my money so we must be careful with the budget!”. The budget was set at $18m but this proved to be too little and around a further $6m was arranged from 20th Century Fox.
Lucas had been very canny when signing up for Star Wars and had managed to assign the rights to any sequels, amongst other things, to his own personal ownership. How Fox must regret that being written into the contract! The result of this deal provided Lucas with massive profits from this second film thus enabling him to make the scheduled ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ completely from his own coffers. Watch for a forthcoming review as ‘Return of the Jedi’ (the final title of the film) has also found its way onto the bootlace.
Critics did not receive this film particularly well when released in 1980. Only in later years once the whole Star Wars phenomenon had reached fever pitch did The Empire Strikes Back receive generally good reviews. At the time is was chastised for having the climax at the beginning of the film (i.e. the battle on the ice), vague characterization and Yoda was little more than a muppet. Indeed I too found Yoda very similar to Fozzie Bear but it must be realized that ‘The Muppet Show’ was then at the height of its popularity. In addition, many felt disappointed there was not a conclusive ending and given the prospect of a three year wait for a further episode this is understandable.
Prior to the completion of Star Wars, the film’s star, Mark Hamill, had a serious car crash which left him facially scarred. This caused certain problems when completing the final touch-up shots for the end product. Apparently Mr. Hamill had not fully recovered by the time the sequel was made and so a sequence was written into the beginning to overcome any changes to the actor’s face.
The film begins with the glorious 20th Century Fox logo and the ‘Flash Gordon’ serial type opening scrawl. Sadly the master for this release was from Germany so this scrawl is in German. We then see the Star Destroyers of the imperial fleet launching space probes to all corners of the galaxy. The rebels are hiding on the ice planet of Hoth and we track a probe droid to this planet.
Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are carrying out their duties on the snow covered plains riding strange creatures called Tauntauns placing sensors to allow for ample warning should the empire discover them. This is where the workaround for Mark Hamill’s face was worked into the script and he is attacked by a ferocious beast, given a viscious right-hook to the head, knocked unconscious and taken to its lair. Light sabre to the rescue, a gruesome escape and Han Solo arrives just before Luke perishes. Alec Guinness makes one of his few appearances during this sequence as the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi. He advises that Luke should search out Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed him.
The probe droid has carried out its task and the Empire now knows the location of the hidden rebel base. This leads to one of the greates battles ever put to the screen as the Imperial Walkers (giant walking, armoured troop carriers) begin marching across the ice plains towards the rebels. An evacuation is commenced but as there is insufficient time to get everyone out a delaying attack is launched where the rebel pilots take to their Snow Speeder assault crafts. The action is fast-paced, exciting and expertly executed.
The attack buys enough time for most to escape and we follow the Millennium Falcon as it is chased through an asteroid field by four TIE fighters. Luke takes his X-Wing, complete with R2D2 to the Dagobah system in search of Yoda.
Leia, Han, Chewbacca and C3PO escape after some daring manoeuvres and flee to the city in the clouds. Luke remains with Yoda to be trained in the ways of the Force. All is not as peaceful as it appears. The Empire has set a trap at the city in the clouds and this is used to draw Luke to Darth Vader where we learn that Vader is actually his father.
The master for this Super 8 release is a bit beaten up at the original reel changes particularly where Luke crash lands in the swamps of Dagobah. However everywhere else the quality is unscathed and provides us with 8mm not too far off the high standards obtained from genuine negative sourced material. The print reviewed was bit dark in places but nothing too noticeable. Also, the colour, clarity and sharpness appears to get better and better as the film goes on. The sequence where Han Solo is frozen in Carbonite is outstanding.
The sound supplied is mono but can obviously be re-recorded into stereo and this is now made easier as a master has been produced matching the HiFi video to the 8mm prints. Believe me, I’d recorded a print using THX Laser Disc and it is the most difficult I have ever completed. However, now with the video even sync’ pulse works perfectly and it has become one of the easiest re-recording jobs using KW’s master (a copy kindly supplied by David Alligan). Having said all this, the mono sound is of good quality and will satisfy all but the most fastidious collector.
If you are interested in a copy it could be necessary to ring around but first stop should be Classic Home Cinema as they have recently obtained copies of the outstanding theatrical trailer for ‘The Phantom Menace’ reviewed in the last issue and may also be able to source ‘Empire’. Stick the trailer on in the same show and you will have a programme to be proud of.
Final note: This is the original version of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and not the special edition released in 1997. I consider the original versions of all the Star Wars films superior so personally I am thankful this is its original 1980 incarnation. Also, I’ve written all the blurb regarding the history of the film from memory so I hope I haven’t made too many dreadful clangers. I’ve read so many publications regarding the making of the Star Wars films that it has proved impossible to double-check everything written in this article. Print A Sound A John Clancy