Star Wars: A New Hope (Special Edition)
RCA Victor Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/04/2000
No movie was as anticipated as last year's The Phantom Menace. Whether you loved it, liked it, enjoyed it, dismissed it, hated it or despised it, you knew what was about and who was in it. You recognized Darth Maul and Jar Jar Binks even before they appeared on the big screen. You heard of people standing in line for over a month to buy the first tickets. You saw both teaser trailers as CNN, E!, Entertainment Tonight and your local news played and replayed them for twenty-four hours after their first appearances.
And now that all the hoopla and hype has passed, you are either thankful for getting a chance to return to that big-eyed wonder of childhood or you hope to never see so formulaic and mediocre a movie ever again.
The funny thing is that, if you were to look back some twenty years to the reviews of the first Star Wars film, you'd find pretty much the same attitudes - except for the expectation, of course. People were as divided over that film as they were on its newest sibling. Some enjoyed it, some loved it, while others hated it - and still do - for shifting the attention away from straight storytelling and drama and towards more visual excitement and special effects.
Whatever the case may be for you, the one aspect of the Star Wars saga that nearly all people can agree on is the music. Without composer John Williams' stirring and amazing scores, much of the mood, magic and power of the scenes - indeed of the movies - is lost. Having established himself with his work for movies like The Cowboys and Jaws, Williams was recommended to writer/director George Lucas by his friend, Steven Spielberg, as the man capable of creating the lush, operatic music with which Lucas' movie could be painted. I think it's safe to say that Spielberg was right.
However, while no one will ever deny the beauty of the music, their presentation has always left something to be desired. First released as a 2-LP vinyl set, the soundtrack to Star Wars - now referred to as Star Wars: A New Hope - has gone through a number of releases and re-releases in various formats, packages and with wide degrees in sound quality. Worst of all, none of the albums ever truly contained the entire movie score. The original LP and the box set, I believe, came closest, but even those had good chunks and portions missing, out of sequence or rearranged. (Very similar, you will note, to last year's release of The Phantom Menace's soundtrack. Talk about not learning from past mistakes!)
The release of special edition versions of the movie trilogy - which coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the release of A New Hope - provided the perfect excuse to release, once and for all, the final and complete versions of the Star Wars trilogy scores. For once, the music to the whole films would be present, in sequence and uncut. Moreover, the music was digitally-remastered to provide the sharpest and crispest sound. These would be the end-all versions for these soundtracks. Here, let's look at the classic soundtrack to A New Hope.
The music kicks off with Alfred Newman's well-known "20th Century Fox Fanfare." While it's true that it was not written exclusively for Star Wars - after all, it was written decades before Star Wars was even a concept - it has become an integral part of the Star Wars experience. Above any other movie, this fanfare is quickly associated with the Star Wars saga. Ask yourself. How many times have you heard the fanfare in a movie theater and expected the thunderous crash of the "Main Title" to follow it?
Then we are introduced to the "Main Title" from Star Wars. With it, Williams captures the essence of the entire movie - of the saga - and of its main hero, Luke Skywalker. A big, bold theme that has to be one of the most heroic ever written. It became such a big hit that within months a disco remix - at a time well before remixes became popular - topped the charts. I wish I could say more about it, but there's no way to capture all of it in words. For a man so well known for his great musical themes, Williams wrote his best right here and musically enshrines Joseph Campbell's mythological hero forever.
I must point out a little detail here. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Williams returned to the old Wagnerian technique of themes - better known as "leitmotif." A method practiced well during the Golden Era of movies, it had fallen out of favor with the composers of the time. However, both Lucas and Williams agreed that this technique would work better - as it would link the movie with the old serials and matinees that were the inspiration for Star Wars.
What is "leitmotif"? It is the use of particular tracks - themes - to musically represent a character, a group, a place or an event. In Star Wars, you get themes for just about everything or everyone. I think only Chewbacca never got his own theme in the whole of the Star Wars saga - proving that the Wookie never got his due respect.
The use of themes start early in the score, with "Rebel Blockade Runner" and "Imperial Attack." Here we are introduced to the Rebel Fanfare, a three-note militaristic motif that was as well-known as the Main Theme. In the middle of all the action, the music only changes tone twice - once to introduce the soft theme for Princess Leia and the other to introduce an ominous motif for Darth Vader. At the end of "Imperial Attack," we also hear the motif for the Death Star and the Imperials--as if to tell us where they're going.
Meanwhile, some of these themes are written to further heighten the sense of fantasy and alien worlds. Easy examples are "Dune Sea Of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler," where we are introduced to the Jawas by way of a light and easy theme, and "Lightspeeder Search/Attack Of The Sand People," where disjointed drums and cymbals mark the appearance of the Tusken Raiders. Then, there's the two Cantina band pieces, "Cantina Band #1" and "Cantina Band #2." This take on Benny Goodman must have sounded weird at first, but it captures the entire point of the Mos Eisley cantina - an eclectic group. They still remain well-known and popular.
However, Williams sometimes breaks his own rules and the themes do not follow the actions of the character onscreen. For example, as the Millenium Falcon is captured in "The Death Star," sense would tell us that the Death Star motif would play here. Instead, the Rebel Fanfare is done in a grandiose and exciting manner. Later on, in "Ben Kenobi's Death," it is Princess Leia's theme that plays on - when his own theme would perhaps have made more sense. In both cases, Williams makes these changes to provide the proper music for the emotion up on the screen - whether or not it thematically follows the action becomes secondary. And, in these cases, Williams makes the right choices.
The climax of the movie - and of the score - is the almost ten minute "Battle Of Yavin." In here, most of the major themes reappear and mix with some great action music. Williams pulls out all the stops and provides one of the most exciting, fast-paced cues in all the saga. From there, it's the triumphant brass fanfare of "The Throne Room" and the "End Title," where four main themes - Luke's, Leia's, Rebel Fanfare and Throne Room theme - all appear to tie the entire movie together.
So, what about the quality of the music?? If you've read this far down and are still wondering if the music is very good, let me put those fears at rest. The music to Star Wars: A New Hope is classic - not just because the movie became a watershed event in movie history, but because of the effort that went into creating and performing the music. The innocent romanticism of "Princess Leia's Theme" and "Binary Sunset," the unbridled action of "Shootout in the Cell Bay" and "TIE Fighter Attack" mixed with the dramatic weight of "Burning Homestead," all can be found here.
To make sure you went out and got this, BMG went all out and packaged the CD with some of the nicer liner notes and pictures they could find. Michael Martissimo does a play-by-play of each piece and provides some insight into the thoughts behind the music and how the music enhances and tells the story that is on the screen. On top of that, you get some extra music. First, there's the "Binary Sunset (alternate)," where you get the original music for the scene I consider to be the heart of the Star Wars saga. It's weird hearing the music for this scene and not hear what we've always heard.
Then, after about three minutes of silence, you get five takes of the Star Wars "Main Theme." These are the first recordings of the theme and you get to hear how it was molded into what we now know. Hearing these takes is like seeing the work progressing from idea to finished product.
Overall, if you're a Star Wars fan, you should get this. If you're a fan of movie music, you should get this. Heck, if you're a fan of great music, get this. This is the soundtrack of adventure and fantasy. (Now, let's hope we get something like this for The Phantom Menace's score!)