Some twenty years ago, I was on holiday in America, on the West Coast, and it was late at night. We were somewhere near Santa Barbara I think, stopping in a motel overnight, and we went across the road to a supermarket- I think it may have been a Walmart, I’m not sure. We’d gone away with Claire’s folks, and she was with them, looking around, and I’d gone off looking at the electronics/home entertainment section by myself. I walked past some televisions and heard John Williams music for Cloud City. The televisions were showing The Empire Strikes Back (possibly another boxset just recently released on VHS) and it was the scene with Han Solo calling to the pesky Cloud City security that he was looking for Lando Calrissian, and the music swept up as the Falcon flew through those beautiful skies of Bespin and landed. I could have wept. I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of homesickness. It was so strange. I was in a strange town in a rather odd country on the other side of the world, and while I was enjoying myself greatly, suddenly I was in the midst of the familiar, the comforting- Empire the film felt like home. Nowadays whenever I see/hear that scene, it always throws me into that oddly lonely ‘space’ on holiday in America, go figure.
40 years. Its been 40 years, pretty much, since I first saw The Empire Strikes Back in the summer of 1980. I can so vividly recall the various previews in Starburst etc, the paperback novelisation, the Marvel comics adaptation, the soundtrack album, the Meco album, the poster magazines….
To be clear, my post has as much chance of not being biased as I have of bumping into Ridley Scott in Sainsburys tonight.
So full disclosure: I adore this movie, and consider it the best of the Star Wars franchise. Indeed, to me its more than just a movie, its more an audiovisual experience, amazing imagery with an incredible John Williams score (in my mind the best soundtrack score ever written) and those glorious Ben Burtt sound effects that somehow define the saga to me. Seriously, remove the dialogue track and just play the picture with the music and I’d be a happy camper. John Williams was at the very height of his powers here and this score, from start to finish, is just an extraordinary work. Empire has also got that great, incredibly young-looking cast (some of whom no longer with us, sadly) and that gorgeous cinematography (prettiest Star Wars movie, certainly) and yes, those breathtaking ILM effects. I’m confident the film has plenty of flaws but I can’t see them, don’t think I ever will; I think its perfect.
It also looks pretty amazing on this 4K UHD disc. Sure, I know there are plenty criticising it on forums, but really, I date from an era of b&w mono televisions and VHS and I think that allows a certain reality check; this 4K presentation is absolutely marvellous to me, the best I have ever seen the film, including those first cinema presentations, probably. I wasn’t going to buy this edition, until I caught a review online from someone that stated it was actually very good and nailed the colour grading of the original 70mm showings. Yeah, that got my attention,and I have to say, the author of that review/forum post, whoever he was, was damn right in my book. The Empire Strikes Back looks gorgeous here, the colours all de-saturated and no longer ‘blooming’ crazily as they used to do, even on the Blu-ray edition several years ago: the colour scheme here is much cooler, and looks much more authentic to me. Likewise the detail afforded by the additional resolution (I confess to picking up things I don’t recall ever seeing before) is a pleasure, and the restrained use of HDR very welcome. I know some will analyse it frame by frame, bemoan things like DNR or crush or grain, but to me its a great film that’s never looked greater. There’s something weird going on in one shot with the Falcon on the landing pad at Cloud City when there’s a flash of light on the platform as the camera pans down, as if catching a flash of reflection that shouldn’t be there, but I don’t care. I had to put up with drop-outs and dodgy tracking and all sorts back in the VHS days and I adored that too. This is better. Its also on a 55″ panel, the biggest I’ve ever owned and possibly ever will (I watched and enjoyed Empire on a 28″ 4.3 CRT years ago so its all relative).
40 years though. I believe I’m getting to that age where some films are just unimpeachable. Its true that contrary to what media claims, Empire isn’t universally lauded as the best of the franchise (some very suspicious individuals somehow prefer Return of the Jedi), and I’m sure someone has written posts raising very good points ripping it apart, but to hell with any of that. To me its… well, I guess nostalgia rears its dangerous head here, but yeah, the film represents a bubble of spacetime, a sense of time and place and mood, the way things used to be, flavoured with that unique period of growing up and all that goes in with that. We identify with certain movies, especially those we grow up with, and yeah, as I found out on holiday back in 2001, they can even feel like home.