Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition)
RCA Victor Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/04/2000
The late '70s - early '80s can be considered John Williams' Golden Period. Not only because of his output, but also because of the outstanding quality of his work. Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters Of the Third Kind, Superman: The Movie among the many. After garnering so much popular success and critical acclaim, one would think Williams might have found it easy to drop the ball here and there. To not do his best on a score or two. Who would have noticed?
Perhaps his biggest chance for mediocrity came with this soundtrack. After the massive triumph of the Star Wars: A New Hope score, Williams could have just rehashed the old score right back into this one. Simply use the same themes over and over and allow the work to stagnate. Again, I repeat: who would have noticed? By giving this score the old music, he would have appeased the fans and done the job that director Irvin Kershner and producers Gary Kurtz and George Lucas wanted.
Instead, Williams uses the music from the first film as a springboard for the score to The Empire Strikes Back. He takes the already-established themes for Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, the Rebels, the Force and adds to their ranks with new themes and motifs. All of this work suggests the growth of the saga from a simple good vs. evil story to a more complex and dynamic fable.
The three new themes Williams writes are "Yoda's Theme," "Han Solo And The Princess," and "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)." Of these, the most recognized and popular is "The Imperial March." If you remember, Williams wrote a small motif for Vader for the A New Hope score - which I hope gets reintroduced sometime during the prequels, so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. However, it cannot compare to the atomic blast that is "The Imperial March." It came to embody the villany of the Empire and of all its members. So famous and popular it has become that it exists outside of the movie just as much as it does inside - becoming a staple of college and high school marching bands.
As if to contrast the bombast and pompocity of "The Imperial March," Williams creates a gentle and quiet theme for the Jedi Master, Yoda. With it, he melds the Force Theme to musically embody the character that this powerful creature posseses. First presented playfully in "Luke's Nocturnal Visitor," it doesn't attain its complete figure until "Jedi Master Revealed." From then on, Williams often unites Yoda's, Luke's and the Force Theme for much of the Dagobah training sequences. This is done to musically represent Luke's training in the Force. The only time Yoda's Theme becomes as loud or as glorious as "The Imperial March" is in "Yoda And The Force," where the Jedi Master proves his powers by lifting Luke's ship from the swamp.
The third new theme is "Han Solo And The Princess," which is the love theme of the movie. Unlike the wide-eyed and innocent theme for Princess Leia in the first movie, this one serves to point out the growing feelings between the two characters. Williams begins using it early on "The Ice Planet Hoth," as Han plans to leave. It makes its full appearance later on and becomes prominent during the Cloud City sequence. Its greatest appearances, though, occur in "Carbon Freeze" and "Departure Of Boba Fett," where the two characters are separated by the Empire's scheming. Here, the theme turns almost tragic, as if to lament this separation, when we know so well their growing desires for one another.
Along with these new themes, Williams creates motifs for some of the other characters and places. He gives a low, menacing, almost growl-like, bassoon motif to the bounty hunter, Boba Fett. He provides R2-D2 and C-3PO with an amusing and playful motif. Finally, he gives Bespin's Cloud City and its caretaker, Lando Calrissian, a small march that denotes the tranquil state of the place. With these pieces, Williams sets about to expand the musical landscape of the Star Wars universe.
First up, Williams provides some great action music. It starts with the herculean piece, "The Battle Of Hoth." Here Williams continues to mix in the themes with the action pieces to signal the appearance of characters and events taking place onscreen. The muisc moves from desperate to triumphant and heroic before returning to desperate once again. Then, Williams delivers one of the most popular and fun pieces with "The Asteroid Field." While I've never been its biggest fan, I do recognize why it's so well-liked by fans. It's action music taken to a new level as the wind and brass sections give it a sense of urgency and drama. The same can be said for "Hyperspace" - the final action piece of the movie. Its pulsating rhythm depicts the same desperation the Rebels have as they try to outrun the Imperial forces.
Secondly, Williams creates some good music to score the more dramatic moments in the movie. In "The Magic Tree," the music becomes ominous as Luke battles an image of Darth Vader. That's Luke's, Yoda's and Vader's Themes that play, symbolizing the main conflict of the saga. "Rescue From Cloud City" marks the end of the lightsaber duel and, using a very dramatic version of "The Imperial March," signal Vader's revelation to Luke. During "Hyperspace," Williams cuts into the action with another weird take on "The Imperial March," to signal Vader's telepathic messages to Luke. Finally, "The Rebel Fleet," ends with a sad rendition of the Force Theme - going against its triumphant use in the Throne Room scene of A New Hope, to signal the unresolved conflicts and loose ends that are left.
Once again, RCA Victor goes all out for a Star Wars release. You'll find the same great liner notes by Michael Matessino. There's also some cool pictures. Most importantly, though, the music is in sequence and digitally remastered to sound louder and clearer than ever before. The same attention to detail that went onto the Star Wars: A New Hope soundtrack goes onto this one as well.
The Empire Strikes Back proved to be a turning point for the saga that was based on Saturday morning serials. No longer would people would consider it just a straight fantasy flick. I still remember seeing it when I was five years old - and being thunderstruck by all the images and scenes and characters and locales. It was the first movie I saw and I still remember it - though I could not understand it.