Over the past 28 years, composer/conductor John Williams has collaborated with Star Wars’ creator, writer/director/executive producer George Lucas, providing the six Episode saga about the Skywalker family and its pivotal role in the history of “a galaxy far, far away” with a symphonic score that not only provides the films’ characters, settings and situations with much needed emotional depth and weight, but also stands alone as beautiful orchestral music.
Starting with the phenomenal best-selling two-record album of music from 1977’s Star Wars (a.k.a. Episode IV: A New Hope), Williams’ then-daring use of 19th Century Romantic era symphonic styles not only introduced a generation to instrumental music that wasn’t rock or disco, but also reinvigorated the moribund art of film scoring and inspired many new composers – Michael Kamen, Joel McNeeley, Danny Elfman, Cliff Eidelman, and James Horner – to follow in his footsteps.
Because the Star Wars saga is essentially a 1930s “Saturday afternoon adventure serial” with, as Han Solo might have put it, “special modifications,” composer Williams has to use musical themes that act as a unifying thread in the two-trilogy tapestry. All six Episodes, therefore, begin with the familiar Star Wars Main Title that underscores the title crawl that sets up the storylines. Also present in some form are The Rebel Fanfare and The Force Theme, which doubled as both Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi’s theme and the mystical energy field from which both the Jedi and the Sith draw their amazing powers.
Each Episode also introduced new major themes and action cues as the story expanded and new characters were added. Some action motifs were unique to a specific movie; The Forest Battle from Return of the Jedi and Landspeeder Search from A New Hope never recurred in any other Star Wars film. On the other hand, The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme), Yoda’s Theme from The Empire Strikes Back, and The Emperor’s Theme are quoted in all the subsequent Episodes in various guises, since those three characters are major players in both the Prequel and Classic Star Wars trilogies.
Because Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’s narrative deals with Anakin Skywalker’s tragic transformation into the evil Darth Vader and the rise of the Galactic Empire, Williams’ score blends music from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones with such familiar themes from A New Hope as Luke’s Theme and Princess Leia’s Theme. And intertwined with the familiar motifs are new cues such as the signature Battle of the Heroes (Track 3) and the eerie Palpatine’s Teachings (Track 6)).
As with the previous single CD soundtracks from the Prequel Trilogy, this 2005 Sony Classical offering has its virtues and vices; once again the quality of the music itself is matchless, but the way it’s organized on this CD leaves a true soundtrack fan feeling, well, a bit cheated.
You see, in all the non-Special Edition/Ultimate Edition “first release versions” except the Return of the Jedi soundtrack, album producer Williams splices the Star Wars theme to a cue that is not the one heard in the film or on the later, more expensive 2-CD editions.
For instance, in the first track, Star Wars and The Revenge of the Sith, instead of hearing the music heard when the small Jedi Starfighters flown by Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi attack the Separatists’ flagship in orbit above Coruscant, we hear music that is played later in the film. The music is wonderful, of course, and the average listener wouldn’t notice the discrepancy, but this technique, while it might sound nice and still has musical coherence, is not an accurate representation of the chronology of the film score.
Although I like all 15 tracks of this 70-minute compilation of music from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, five selections stand heads and shoulders above the rest in this score that is a musical mixture of tragic darkness and the fitful glimmers of the “new hope” to come.
Track 1: Star Wars and The Revenge of the Sith: John Williams begins his score for Revenge of the Sith with the familiar Star Wars Main Title that is heard in every Episode as the opening crawl sets up the film’s storyline. Thematically tied to Luke Skywalker in the Classic Trilogy, the Main Title is bold, brassy, and oh-so-heroic. In this album (but not in the finished film), the quiet “twinkling stars” effect is not present; instead, Williams cuts into the cue The Revenge of the Sith, a heartpounding 5-minute long excerpt of action music from a later scene of Episode III.
It’s sheer adrenaline-rush music that suggests cliffhanger situations and Jedi derring-do; every so often snatches of the Force motif appear with brassy flourishes amidst battle music that is reminiscent of the Death Star dogfight scenes from Episode IV: A New Hope.
Track 2: Anakin’s Dream: For 25 years, most Star Wars fans have known that the young and powerful Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker was seduced by the dark side of the Force; the Prequel Trilogy – uneven though it may be – tells us that the root cause of his fall from grace was his inability to let go of his attachments to his mother and his wife Padme Amidala. In Attack of the Clones Shmi Skywalker’s death at the hands of the Tusken Raiders led to Anakin’s first serious brush with the dark side of the Force; in Revenge of the Sith it’s his fear of losing Padme that makes him vulnerable to Palpatine’s influence.
This haunting 4:46 cue, which quotes liberally from Love Theme from Attack of the Clones at its start, quickly turns dark as Anakin has a dream – or is it a Force vision – in which Padme dies while giving birth to their unborn child. After a stretch of gauzy, ethereal melodic material, the Love Theme is reprised, followed by a somewhat ominous excerpt of the Force motif.
Track 3: Battle of the Heroes: This cue is to Revenge of the Sith what Duel of the Fates was to Episode I: The Phantom Menace; a standout orchestra-and-voices composition that represents the ill-fated bond between Anakin and his former Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as it falls apart and young Skywalker betrays the Jedi Order and becomes Darth Vader.
Furious, fast-paced, and highlighting a thrilling performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Voices, this is the concert arrangement composed as part of the End Credits; an abridged version appears in Track 9: Anakin vs. Obi-Wan, which also includes excerpts of music from The Empire Strikes Back.
Track 5: Palpatine’s Teachings: This eerie composition underscores Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s subtle yet powerful “turning” of Anakin Skywalker away from the Jedi Order and toward the Sith as he tells the young Jedi about The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, a Sith lord who “could directly influence the midi-chlorians to create life” and, by extension, “maintain life in someone already living.”
Although it doesn’t use the expected theme associated with Darth Sidious/The Emperor, Palpatine’s Teachings is unnervingly low-key and menacing, especially in a middle passage where Darth Vader’s Theme is slyly interpolated, along with brief quotes of the the Force motif as Anakin’s heart and mind become a battlefield for his Jedi training and the seductive pull of the dark side. The music here is tense and moody, building relentlessly to a final brass flourish.
Track 15: A New Hope and End Credits: To give the Star Wars films their distinctive structure and the “Saturday afternoon serial” feel, George Lucas and John Williams conclude each Episode with a dialogue-free coda that mixes images and sounds that wraps the narrative right before an “iris out” to the end titles. In this case, A New Hope underscores a montage of scenes that include:
Senator Bail Organa and his wife on Alderaan with their adopted daughter Leia.
Darth Vader, Governor Tarkin, and Emperor Palpatine on a Star Destroyer’s main bridge, inspecting the framework of the Death Star.
Obi-Wan Kenobi handing a baby to Owen and Beru Lars; that baby, Luke Skywalker will, in 18 years’ time, join the Rebel Alliance and, with his sister Leia, become the new hope for the galaxy.
A New Hope opens with a warm rendition of Princess Leia’s Theme, followed by a gentle quote of Luke’s Theme and a grand statement of The Force motif. For End Credits: the London Symphony Orchestra then reprises Luke’s Theme, the Rebel Fanfare, back to Luke’s Theme, a longer excerpt of Princess Leia’s Theme, then a spirited rendition of Revenge of the Sith’s Battle of the Heroes kicks in, featuring a spirited vocal performance by the London Voices.
Fittingly, Williams ends the Credits cue with the concert arrangement of The Throne Room music from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which features a glorious brass fanfare, a rendition of The Force/Ben’s Theme in march tempo, the bridge from Luke’s Theme, and a “land of hope and glory” motif. These motifs are reprised, then Luke’s Theme makes one last bow, giving way to a bright blast of the Rebel Fanfare and a brass-and-percussion coda that brings the piece to a satisfying conclusion.
Bonus DVD: Star Wars: A Musical Journey
In addition to the music CD, Sony Classical includes Star Wars: A Musical Journey, a magnificent collection of 16 music videos that span the entire six-Episode saga. The Prequels’ four major themes (Duel of the Fates, Anakin’s Theme, Across the Stars [Love Theme from Attack of the Clones), and Battle of the Heroes) underscore beautifully edited montages from the 1999-2005 trilogy, while action/setting cues and major themes from the Classic Trilogy feature scenes from all six Star Wars films to follow the Skywalker family’s pivotal role in the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire.
1. A Long Time Ago: 20th Century Fox Fanfare and Star Wars Main Title from all films
2. Dark Forces Conspire: Duel of the Fates from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
3. A Hero Rises: Anakin’s Theme from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
4. A Fateful Love: Across the Stars from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
5. A Hero Falls: Battle of the Heroes from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
6. An Empire is Forged: The Imperial March from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
7. A Planet That Is Farthest From: The Dune Sea of Tatooine and Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
8. An Unlikely Alliance: Binary Sunset and Cantina Band from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
9. A Defender Emerges: Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
10. A Daring Rescue: Ben’s Death/TIE Fighter Attack from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
11. A Jedi is Trained: Yoda’s Theme from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
12. A Narrow Escape: The Asteroid Field from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
13. A Bond Unbroken: Luke and Leia from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
14. Sanctuary Moon: The Forest Battle (Concert Version) from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
15. A Life Redeemed: Light of the Force from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
16. A New Day Dawns: Throne Room/Finale from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Track List:
1. Star Wars and The Revenge of the Sith
2. Anakin’s Dream
3. Battle of the Heroes
4. Anakin’s Betrayal
6. Palpatine’s Teachings
7. Grievous and the Droids
8. Padme’s Ruminations
9. Anakin vs. Obi-Wan
10. Anakin’s Dark Deeds
11. Enter Lord Vader
12. The Immolation Scene
13. Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious
14. The Birth of the Twins/Padme’s Destiny
15. A New Hope/End Credits