Comparison between the first Blu-ray edition by 20th Century Fox (various releases starting in 2011) and the new Blu-ray edition by Disney (from 2019 as a stream on Disney+, from 2020 on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K-Blu-ray).
Overview of the versions of STAR WARS - EPISODE 5: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
It should be known that George Lucas has revised his legendary science fiction saga several times over the years, so here is just a quick overview of the versions of Star Wars. The two successors had the same fate and our linked comparisons offer more detailed information:
Special Edition (1997): The most drastic adjustments were made here for a new theatrical release and new VHS editions.
Meanwhile, 4K UHD is of course the new medium and basically it's not very surprisingly, this now results in a fifth, official movie version. It premiered in November 2019 on Disney's new streaming service Disney+, where especially the "Maclunkey" innovation during the infamous shootout between Han and Greedo in Episode 4 was much discussed. It also turned out that George Lucas had made the changes already in 2012, right before he sold Lucasfilm to Disney. The other two entries of the original trilogy have some minor alterations as well, not as obvious as in Episode 4 though.
Home video releases of the 4K remastered Disney version
Disney+ was launched in European countries a year later than in the US. In Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK, among others, on 24 March 2020, which meant that the new 4K versions were available to streaming subscribers. We've already taken a first closer look at the version then. Home video releases were made available shortly afterwards on physical media, i.e. 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD. Disney has also equipped the "old" formats Blu-ray and DVD with the new version.
Here it can be noted that Disney's streaming master and the new Disney Blu-ray, which we primarily used for the comparison, are exactly identical in terms of the adjustments. There were no real differences between the SDR version of the 4K stream and the new Blu-ray. The 4K Blu-ray is identical to this new Blu-ray, although (as with the stream) there are of course some plain quality differences to be noted due to HDR and the generally higher resolution in 4K.
Based on the first release years mentioned at the beginning, the different versions are often distinguished by exactly these numbers. We found this a little difficult, especially with regard to the latest version, because it was released in America in 2019, but in Europe and on home video media not until 2020. The old Blu-ray by Fox also received several new editions over the years and was therefore sometimes labeled 2016 on YouTube videos, for example. We have therefore preferred to use the term "4K remastered", which, as mentioned, also applies to the new Blu-rays and DVDs.
The differences in the 4K remastered Disney version
While "Maclunkey" of Episode 4 (see our detailed comparison) clearly dominated the discussion, at least one single, unambiguous alteration for episode 5 was commented on sporadically. The generator explosion was digitally reworked and now looks a bit fresher. Whether this was necessary in the end, everyone may judge for himself.
In addition previous digital alterations have been updated a little bit, which e. g. affects the Wampa moment right at the beginning. Now the digitally added fur over the arm of the actor has been marginally changed again. The projection on the window glass in Bespin is a tiny bit different as well and Han's colour of his shirt got another upgrade.
At last there are again overlooked adjustments. Outlines ("bad matte") in space due to outdated trick technology are present again in at least one shot, while they were covered up previously. The extent to which the laser beam shooting over the head of a soldier could be considered a goof is controversial. Anyway, this once again proves that not everything has been "improved", but that some steps were taken back again as well.
All in all, the reworking of this groundbreaking classic is by no means perfect. The desire of many fans for a release of the original theatrical version remained unheard of. Nevertheless, the 4K remaster has some clear advantages and is highly recommended to those interested in an upgrade to the highest picture quality possible today. There is no question about some of the remaining or even added flaws - but most of the new adjustments actually benefit the movie.
The new BD has 16 frames (0.6 sec) of more black screen to start with.
The Fox and the Lucasfilm logo are a little different. Also the introductory blue font differs slightly. No difference in the following rolling credits in yellow.
04:04 / 04:04
A well-known goof that was already fixed in the first Blu-ray: For a few frames you could see the arm of the actor controlling the Wampa in the lower left corner of the picture. The fur was artificially extended in this area already and for the 4K-Remaster this part was slightly reworked again. On the one hand the small semicircle at the edge is no longer visible, on the other hand the fur itself differs a bit in detail. Also noticeable is the little bit zoomed in detail.
27:05 / 27:05
A mini goof (?) that was last corrected for the first Blu-ray, and which now reappears in its original form. Here the laser beam went over the soldier's hat for a few single frames and was therefore moved to the back in 2011. Now the beam goes through in one again. Although, to be honest, it is debatable whether this is not more conclusive than the adjustment in the first Blu-ray anyway.
33:32-33:36 / 33:33-33:37
The exploding generator was digitally reworked immediately after the explosion that brightened up the whole picture. The beginning of the follow-up shot shortly after that also differs.
37:28-37:30 / 37:29-37:31
An example of a correction that has now been forgotten: There was a "bad matte" here, and so a visible, blue shimmering field was retouched just to the left of the image. This was related to the tie fighter flying through the image. Unfortunately the outdated FX can be seen again on the 4K remaster.
37:43-37:46 / 37:34-37:36
As already mentioned in the predecessor film: The star field shots are difficult to classify, as most of the times it is only related to the respective scan and filters in how far some of the stars are better seen or not visible at all. Anyway, here as an example one of several shots where on the old Blu-ray much less stars are visible.
69:48-70:15 / 69:49-70:16
When Luke pulls the plane out of the water, there was a shadow on the old HD master on the right side of the picture. With the 4K remastered the haze is now all over the place.
85:50-85:56 / 85:50-85:57
A shot that has already been reworked from DVD to the first Blu-ray, which has now been slightly adjusted again: The new projection on the window glass on the right differs a little bit.
96:00-96:08 / 96:01-96:09
A curiosity that was already depicted in the second Star Wars special of Family Guy and changed in previous editions: Due to the lighting, two shots of Han looked like he had suddenly changed the white shirt for a dark one. Already for the first Blu-ray this lower part of the picture was apparently digitally polished. In the 4K remaster this touch-up differs a little bit: Now you see more shadows especially on the left and right side. In addition, the image detail is also less cropped at the bottom.
98:41-98:55 / 98:41-98:56
Probably just an example of the revised colour grading and oversaturated colours in the old Fox edition: The passage behind the hatch and the windows shimmered bluish in this shot. This is no longer the case.
The further differences mentioned in the Digital Bits article mostly refer to adjustments already made in the old Blu-ray master compared to earlier releases, which we have already covered in our previous cut reports.
It is worth mentioning in this regard that the interior shots in the Millennium Falcon are all slightly zoomed in. According to this article it is supposed to correspond to Lucas' original intention to make the room look a little smaller. However, the visible image only deviates minimally and this is especially true for several other scenes in the movie, too. Therefore we don't think that this is a conscious change about the size of the room. The lightsaber effects in the scene with Luke and Vader were also redone for 4K, but we couldn't notice any real differences to the previous HD-master in any shot throughout this scene.