There were just a couple of choices that really jolted me. First, and this is the more minor one: why didn't Lando get a cool funked-out montage? I mean, Fett gets one and Lando doesn't?
Second, and this was the bigger deal to me, was the way the final scene played out. The Neil Young song felt more than a bit on the nose, while at the same time not quite hitting the appropriate note musically or lyrically. What was meant, both in the original film and in the edit, as a moment of utter despair, ends up just feeling like...not much, really, because all we have is this sort of lazy, plodding classic acoustic-rock track. And lyrically, it seems simultaneously like an extremely obvious choice (old man/young man, father/son, etc.) and like an incorrect one. After all, it's Vader pointing out that the two men are father and son, that the two men are not dissimilar, not Luke.
I also might have liked to see some reference to the Dark Side cave in this scene. I understand not including it in the Dagobah chapter, but I kept expecting some form of flashback to it. Without any indication that Luke experienced anything other than a hallucination of his father as a young man, Yoda's request that he not bring his weapons with him, and his subsequent disappointment, don't make a lot of sense.
It has (among other qualities):
* Evidence of a strong vision for how to re-edit source material to tell a new story or provide a new experience;
* Display of a high degree technical skill; and,
* Inclusion of at least one moment that positively seethes with emotional AND intellectual impact, that resonates both within the editor's overall artistic framework as well as across a pantheon of other works.
With Pulp Empire, in my opinion, njvc has truly achieved this infrequently achieved level of Fan Editing Greatness.
Are there imperfections? Yes! Will this please everyone? No! Just look at the existing reviews to see the polarization…which some would consider another sign of a great work of art. But do great directors please everyone? No! (Certainly that is true of the director who is the inspiration for this edit!)
Before I jump into my review, I want to give some perspective from where I am coming from. I consider myself a fan of Tarantino, though truthfully I am not well versed in the specifics of how to make a "Tarantino" movie. Also, I have to say that I have NOT seen the Kill Bill movies which seem to have had the greatest influence on this edit, when looking at the music choices and also some of the editing choices.
So essentially, I was really not looking for a "Tarantino" version of ESB, as I knew I wouldn't be able to really fully appreciate that. Also, the editor states up front that his intention that this is "in no way…intended to be a new Tarantino film! It's intended to be a fun homage to one of my favorite filmmakers, and a remix of one of the best films ever made."
With that out of the way, let me proceed to the actual review!
AUDIO/VIDEO QUALITY - 10
I watched the 720p mkv version of this edit, quality was on par with this type of source material.
VISUAL EDITING - 10
njvc really pushes the envelope with the visual editing, and in almost every situation he succeeds with flying colors. Beyond just the standard avoidance of amateur mistakes (of which there are none), he skillfully employs many visual editing techniques to tell his story. And all of these techniques (with the exception of one) are pulled off with expert technical flair.
Some of these techniques include: the use of cross-fades, fade to blacks, non-standard visual transitions, multi-windowed action sequences, black-and-white, slight picture degradation and color changes to indicate flash-back material, freeze-frames, stylized titling, integration of multiple source material footage, subtitling with proper timing, and more I'm sure I am missing.
Additionally -- and this is no small feat -- the visuals match the audio soundtrack so often and so well (whether within video montages or during standard action sequences), that again, this is truly an example of a very high degree of visual editing skill!
The *one* visual editing technique that was not on par with the rest was the use of slow motion, which also was used extensively throughout the edit. In some places the slow motion was smooth; in many other places it was not, and this clearly is due to whatever editing software njvc had access to, along with the limitations of the source material itself.
Since he used this technique so often, I had to mention that at times the quality of the slow motion was noticeable and a bit distracting. This is of course due to the fact that true slow motion needs more frames than what are available to fan editors. One must either use better software to use sophisticated algorithms to try and provide smoother slow motion (which can be expensive and also doesn't always work), or just use less slow motion if it is important to the editor to not have a problem of this sort be noticed.
For njvc, the use of slow motion was an obvious artistic choice, which I'm not critiquing here. Nonetheless, the slow motion was not smooth a lot of the time.
That being said, I cannot reduce my score in this area, because of the truly stellar job that njvc has done in so many other places (which I've tried to clearly articulate). Since this IS a fan edit and not a production from a studio, my rating must be a 10 in this category (with the caveat noted in the review text about the one visual issue I noticed).
AUDIO EDITING - 9
It is quite a bold and risky move to replace a Star Wars movie's ENTIRE soundtrack. Not only because of the iconic John William's music is so ingrained in people's minds when watching these movies, but also due to the technical problems it poses. As anyone who has edited a Star Wars movie knows, the soundtrack is for the most part very much part of every audio channel available to the editor. It is very rare to have access to a "clean" dialog channel that doesn't also contain the original soundtrack.
Thus, I must applaud njvc for doing a generally excellent job in his goal to provide not just a new soundtrack, but also adding in the required foley/sound effects in order to match the visuals.
And though I already mentioned this in the visual editing category, there were a vast number of perfectly synchronized moments between visual and audio which is a sign of fantastic editing.
However, there are some issues I must mention. First, the audio levels of the soundtrack and the dialog are not consistently well balanced. In some places the soundtrack overpowers the dialog, in others it seems too quiet. I do understand why the former might be necessary (in the attempt to eradicate the original soundtrack as much as possible) but nonetheless it is a distraction.
NARRATIVE - 8
From a narrative point of view, njvc states in his intention was essentially "to take The Empire Strikes Back and remix it," with "nods" to Tarantino, and the inclusion of "hero moment[s] for most of the main characters." Thus, this is still a narrative based on ESB, but also intended to be a "mashup" and "remix" of that iconic movie.
Furthermore, to tell his story, njvc chose a framework that consisted of a "pre" credits scene, a main story split into "chapters," as well as some scene work integrated into ending credits. Additionally there was intentional "out-of-sequence" presentation of story elements.
Within this framework as provided by the editor, I believe the narrative works quite well. It hits all the major plot points of ESB, and I could find no plot holes even with the extensive editing.
I enjoyed the method of using chapters very much, as it served to help us move through the story and emphasized that this was not going to tell us everything that occurs, but rather focus on "the important stuff." Truthfully I wish some of the longer chapters were split into a some shorter ones. But in the end, I was ok with just six chapters. Perhaps that has some sort of significance that I am not aware of that links it to Kill Bill (which I believe was mentioned as the inspiration for using the chapter technique, but I might be wrong).
I also greatly enjoyed the small pre-credits scene with Luke and Darth Vader, which beautifully foreshadows the climactic scene that occurs at the end of the film.
Another very effective narrative moment was the inclusion of the Clone Wars scene to replace the cave scene. It visually displays the transformation of a Jedi into a Sith due to his uncontrolled anger, which Yoda tells us is the path to the Dark Side and to evil.
My only problem with this scene (which actually was kind of significant, but forgivable), is that I really feel the Jedi character should have been Luke, and not Anakin. Thus I wish njvc either did not include the "Anakin!" audio from Qui-Gon (meaning, just have silence instead), or instead used a similar strong "Luke!" stated by Obi-Wan. It totally threw me when I heard the character named "Anakin" and I do believe it didn't fit right with the narrative at that moment, which I felt was to show Luke the danger he has inside of him. The mere fact that the character ends up defeating the Sith opponent yet he himself ends up looking like a Sith was plenty enough (in my opinion) to make this point very clear.
Finally, from a narrative perspective within the framework established by njvc up to this point, the very end of the movie was almost perfectly done. We experience the clear climactic moment, which was foreshadowed at the very beginning of the movie, and is one of utter despair. Yet the narrative is allowed to provide some level of completion (Luke does get rescued) but during the end credits. It is a powerful narrative technique (in my opinion) that njvc pulled off quite successfully.
With that said, I found that there were a few inconsistencies and/or problems with njvc's chosen narrative approach.
First, his choice for the first chapter to be fully out of sequence with the rest of the edit was off-putting to me, as all the other chapters were in fact in sequence, even if they included a few moments that did move either backwards or (mostly) forwards in time. Those times (the ones inside self-contained chapters) worked well, and felt consistent to the narrative structure. It was only that first chapter that felt, to me, out of place.
Second, while the Hero Moments were well done, they were not presented consistently. Some had the name of the character presented (along with a freeze frame) to indicate this was the start of his or her hero moment. Most moments however, did not have this visual cue. I would have been ok with this, except that the same visual cue is used at the start of Chapter Two to introduce Han and Leia (but these weren't their hero moments). Finally, while it was a cool titling effect, Boba Fett's Hero moment had a completely different visual introduction than all the others. While I'm fine with using different ways of introducing the Hero moment, overall it felt like there was a thread that got broken by using similar techniques in too many different ways to mean the same thing sometimes, but not at other times.
Third, I found the "double" titling a bit distracting (e.g., almost the exact same main titles were provided at the start AND the end of the movie). I know this was an artistic choice, but nonetheless I include mention of it in the narrative section because it had to do with titling, which, coupled with (to me) the inconsistent use of titling for hero moments, ended up feeling like a stylistic choice that was forced rather than organic to the material or due to an already established approach.
Finally, and this is a minor point but nonetheless distracting to me, was the implication that the Death Star destroys Earth, and not Alderon. While certainly a cool moment purely from an audio/visual synchronization perspective, from a narrative standpoint it just felt out of place and not appropriate for an otherwise faithful representation of the events that occur in Star Wars.
ENJOYMENT - 9
I truly feel this is an amazing piece of work that uniformly displays high technical skill, and deftly executes a unique style in a truly professional manner.
For me, the true highlight of this movie is Chapter 6, of which really there are two parts. First is the battle sequence, which is very artfully done and so well synchronized to the music that is a joy to watch.
Second is the climactic scene where Vader reveals himself to be Luke's Father. I found this sequence to be incredibly powerful and moving. Including scenes from the PT was obviously a controversial choice, yet it served the purpose to truly provide more emotional depth to the father/son connection, and also really make us feel for Darth Vader himself, and see how alone he is in the universe (emphasized by additional OT clips of Vader during this sequence).
Now, I did have two minor problems with Chapter 6. First, I think the transition between the two aforementioned "parts" was not smooth (from an audio selection point of view). Second, while I generally felt the sliding flashback scenes (which include both PT and OT moments) was extremely effective, I think there was slightly too much emphasis on Anakin; I think the goal was to link Luke and Anakin, and this could have been achieved with a shorter sequence. The two moments in this sequence that felt like they were not necessary or went a bit too far was Anakin force choking Padme, and Anakin leading the attack on the Jedi Temple. Up to that point, the sequence was quite amazing in that the choices of what scenes to use truly showed a strong parallel between Anakin and Luke. I think trying to imply anything further than a connection to the early pre-Darth Vader Anakin is where things went a bit too far. But overall it was a great idea and really did contribute to the overall emotional impact -- and success -- of this climactic scene. For me, it was a powerful and completely new visual contribution to the meaning of this quintessential moment in all of Star Wars!
And the final shot, of Luke hanging there, clearly in silent agony with only the wind as a sound effect and a fade to black, was just a perfect conclusion to the "main" movie! For me, this ending was fantastic in providing a true emotionally wringing experience, while at the same time tying together the threads that connect Anakin before he became Vader to where Luke is right now.
I am only going to lightly touch on the things that kept this from being a "10" for enjoyment -- other than the aforementioned issues from the other categories, I personally was not a fan of using the dubbing for Yoda. It was very hard for me to not see Yoda and not hear his voice. Also, I never saw Kill Bill so the change didn't resonate for me in any way. Finally, the audio replacement had some minor but noticeable technical issues (some audible hiss, and some original yoda sounds bleeding through).
But beyond that, I can't emphasize enough how this edit really touched me emotionally in a way that the will certainly stay with me for a long time to come.
OVERALL RATING - 9.0 (calculated) - 9.5 (if I could assign it manually)
I think this is a superlative job, and there's really not much more I can say at this point, other than: Congratulations njvc on your bold, daring, and skillfully done edit! -- this is on my short list for 2013 Fan Edit of the Year.
I highly recommend this edit, with the caveat that one must not expect this to be a "Tarantino" version of ESB. Even though it does certainly borrow elements from Tarantino movies both musically and stylistically, it radically departs or disregards these conventions as well, creating its own unique approach to presenting ESB in a way that ultimately focuses on re-envisioning one of the most well known events in movie history.
When looking through the reviews up to this point, as well as how njvc chose to "market" this edit, I think he might have done himself a disservice by over-emphasizing the Tarantino aspect of this work. Even though he makes the statement I quoted above, nonetheless, the artwork, Synopsis, and Intention all are laden with references to Tarantino. It is very understandable then, that people would approach this edit with Tarantino in the forefront of their minds. And I think it would have been better to try and avoid that preconception.
Ultimately, I urge anyone who loves Star Wars, and has an open mind, to give this edit a try. Enjoyment of Tarantino might enhance (or not) your experience, but in no way is it required!
Amazing review, thank you! Some wonderful compliments in there, and some insightful criticisms too. Not sure about those audio pops though, they certainly weren't present in my final mix... Try in a different program and see if that helps? Anyway, really appreciate the thought and time it must have taken to write that up! Cheers :)
One of the things I always find most entertaining about Tarantino's films is his oddball choice of music, the bizarre yet genius mix of Motown, surf music, and the occasional Ennio Morricone track that has come to be known as "the Tarantino sound".
Njvc has taken this signature sound and applied it to a cut of The Empire Strikes Back that we've never seen before. It's an arrangement of the narrative that is so unique, even if you were to take away the Tarantino-fied soundtrack, it could be watched on its own merit alone.
What njvc has created here is not quite a Tarantino film and not quite The Empire Strikes Back, but something entirely strange and new, and beautiful. It's very akin to the feeling I get when I watch The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" playing over it. It feels at once both familiar and alien.
I love radical edits. This kind of fearless fanediting is what I admire the most and it's the type of thing I always endeavored to create when I was editing. It's the concept of "Let's do something completely different with the material..." And njvc has done that successfully.
There's so much I loved about this edit: The non-linear narrative, the character introductions, the split screens, the animation in the cave vision. All inspired work.
But the part that I found to be most improved by this edit (ironically) is widely considered the best and most important in the entire saga. The "I am your father" scene, which is now juxtaposed with Neil Young's "Old Man". The way njvc handled it with the scrolling flashbacks...the father/son parallels. It was just so well done. It even evoked some emotion in me, reminding me of my own relationship with my father and I think that's when art is it's best, when it acts as a mirror for the viewer. So in that way, you've taken THE scene...the most important scene in the entire saga, injected it with an emotional power that elevated what was already there and created a version that surpasses the original (for me), even as iconic a scene as it is.
It's worth the download for that scene alone.
All of that being said, if I had to name a weakness in this edit, it's John Williams. Though he's been relegated to the back burner reasonably well by njvc, it seems the white-bearded maestro keeps trying to creep back in at every opportunity. At times, it sounds like there are two or even three pieces of music playing at once. Not for long, mind you. But it's enough to keep this from getting a perfect audio editing rating.
To be fair, I was wearing head phones while watching, so it may sound better on a TV. It's a tough subject because I know how very, very hard it is to deal with that center channel music in one of Lucas' or Spielberg's films. There's nothing you can really do about it.
Having done 100% audio rebuilds of protracted action scenes, I can tell you, it isn't any fun. It's the same thing that killed my Star Wars: Reborn edits, the frustrating plague of John Williams encroaching into the center channel, ruining something that you know could be so great if only he wasn't there. I always said the greatest gift someone could give to the fanediting community is a clean, music-free audio track with only dialogue and effects for all six Star Wars films...and maybe Indy 4.
But, I know a LOT of work must have been put in by njvc to making Pulp Empire's audio as good as it is at this point.
All in all, you did an amazing job, njvc! I really enjoyed the unique experience you delivered with this edit and I'm hoping you'll do "Inglorious Clones" with Samuel L. Jackson, the ultimate Tarantino/Star Wars connector. There's always the play on "Jango/Django Unchained" you can pilfer too. ;)
The loose narrative structure applied quite well to grindhouse cinema of the 70s, which is what Tarentino has made built his career aping. The new jumps in plot also kept me on my toes throughout. I did not notice plot holes so much as missing characters. Uhhh ... Wedge? That was acceptable, however, as it kept the focus on lead characters, and a couple supports. Really nice job juicing Boba Fett's role, by the way.
Music was hit n miss. Sorry, but that last song should have been tossed.
Overall, I really enjoyed this and gave nice reviews on several forum boards, including a link for the trailer.
Noticeable cons include an excess of slow-mo and some slightly hokey moments when music and situations don't match properly, but by and large this is a top-notch edit.
Overall Rating for me is about 9 stars.