Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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The Holy Trilogy Revisited


Jedi Maestro

John Willliams' music for the Star Wars trilogy contains some of the most popular and recognizable film music in history. Much of this is because of the monumental social impact that the film series had, becoming the reigning mythology for an entire generation (and swelling both George Lucas' bank account and ego to Death Star like proportions). The thematic material is well known not just to film music fans, but to the casual man on the street. Luke's theme, the Force theme and the Imperial March are cultural icons unto themselves now,

A few months ago, I took stock of all of the mixes I had made until then. In it, I mentioned that my original Star Wars mix was one of my personal favorites. In terms of what I set out to do and what I accomplished, there are few discs I can point to with this level of satisfaction. I am inclined to like a mix I myself have made because I make them to my taste, of course, but in this case, I think that my intent to approach the trilogy from a mythic point of view also taps into what made these films the social phenomenon that they became.

Furthermore, I have to admit that in many ways, Star Wars represents a starting point in terms of my own film music experience. It was watching these films over and over again growing up (aided by the then-new home video technology) where my interest in both filmmaking and film music began. I will make no bones about it; much of the reason I put this disc together was originally was because it represented not only my own take on the nostalgia I felt thinking back to then, when I was young and felt that epic sweep.

From the outset, I had determined that I would not use any concert arrangements because I wanted to explore the music as it appeared in the scores. I also felt that while many of the concert arrangements were very good that they do not make for a very satisfying album listen. With the exception of Charles Gerhardt's recordings, most of trilogy collections consist only of the concert arrangements and maybe some selected cues. I've followed these scores through several iterations, from their original LPs to the compromised CDs to the glorious Arista box set to the overdone RCA/Sony releases. Varujan Kojian's recording is okay (certainly better than Williams' own rather boring Skywalker Symphony), but ultimately the concert arrangements don't represent Star Wars. As with the previous version of this disc, all selections from Star Wars are taken from the RCA release, but that was the only case where the sound quality of the special edition album was better than that on the Arista set, from which all selections from Empire and Jedi are taken, save for "Revelation and Sullust" which premiered on the RCA set.

Williams conducts the London Symphony Orchestra
in the original 1977 Star Wars recording sessions

"I based this album on two overarching concepts, and I think that is part of what makes it work; the first was the film's representation of good versus evil, in this case - er - 'melodified' by the Force theme in conflict with the Imperial March, while the second is the music's representation of the mythic elements that made the films so successful. I wasn't as familiar with the software I use when I made this disc as I am now, and there are moments that I could concievably make smoother, but as it stands, I think the disc works, and if it ain't broke, I ain't gonna try fixing it."

That's why going back over there and redoing it made me feel so strange. I made this mix once before, and my only purpose for going back over it again was to smooth out some of the rougher editing patches. It ended up becoming a bit more involved than that, however. I replaced "Approaching the Death Star" with "The Emperor Arrives" as my introduction to the Imperial March and I also found that I was able to tighten up a few of the tracks for listening purposes. That left me with a bit more room to play with in order to present more music, including the Imperial attack on the Tantive IV, the first appearance of Han and Leia's love theme and the battle on Endor. I resequenced a few tracks towards the beginning of the album for a more musical flow, but other than those changes, this is essentially the same album as my previous attempt.

Did I improve it? Maybe. I liked the original mix so much that it casts a shadow over this one. As a result, I'm not entirely sure if this is better than the old one or not. It's pretty much the same thing, unlike my original Harry Potter mix I made and the Lumos Musica!, which were very different listening experiences despite their commonalities. In this case the alterations basically amount to tweaks, so I'm in no rush to replace everybody's copy of the previous version the way I was with Lumos Musica!. On the other hand, I think that the trilogy itself may be better represented with this disc.

Does this mean that I plan to redo my Star Wars prequel trilogy disc I made last year? Yeah, probably. That one may end up being very different from the one I already put together though. We'll see. In the meantime...


Music Composed and Conducted by
The London Symphony Orchestra


Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare with Cinemascope Extension 0:23
(Alfred Newman; 1933/1954)

Main Title and Imperial Attack 4:07
A New Hope

The Emperor Arrives 1:33
Return of the Jedi

The Ice Planet 3:42
The Empire Strikes Back

Tales of a Jedi Knight 2:05
A New Hope

Han Solo and the Princess 2:10
Return of the Jedi

Into the Trap 2:28
Return of the Jedi

The Asteroid Field 3:56
The Empire Strikes Back

The Return Home and Mos Eisley 3:48
A New Hope

A City in the Clouds 1:28
The Empire Strikes Back

Twin Sundown 1:50
A New Hope

Brother and Sister 3:05
Return of the Jedi

Ben's Death and The TIE Fighter Attack 3:39
A New Hope

Yoda and the Force 3:43
The Empire Strikes Back

Revelation and Sullust 0:31
Return of the Jedi

Blasting Off 2:09
A New Hope

The Duel 3:12
The Empire Strikes Back

The Return of the Jedi 4:34
Return of the Jedi

Attack Position 1:02
The Empire Strikes Back

The Ewok Battle 2:17
Return of the Jedi

The Rescue of the Princess 2:55
A New Hope

The Dark Side Beckons 2:31
Return of the Jedi

Hyperspace 3:52
The Empire Strikes Back

Final Duel 2:48
Return of the Jedi

The Last Battle 8:46
A New Hope

The Light of the Force 3:15
Return of the Jedi

The Throne Room and End Title 5:28
A New Hope

"A New Hope" Produced by George Lucas - "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" Produced by John Williams
Orchestrator: Herbert W. Spencer - Recording Engineer: Eric Tomlinson - Recording Supervisor: Lionel Newman - Mixing Engineer: John Neal - Music Editor: Kenneth Wannberg
Recorded at Anvil Recording Studios and EMI/Abbey Road Studios - Mixed at the Burbank Studios

Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare with Cinemascope Extension (Alfred Newman)
Each film begins with this legendary piece. The first portion was composed in 1933, but Newman returned to it in 1954 for the first CinemaScope production The Robe. I actually have opened quite a few of my mixes with different versions of this piece, including my Star Wars prequel trilogy mix, my Planet of the Apes mix and my Alien Quartet disc.

Main Title and Imperial Attack (A New Hope)
Over an expanse of space the title card appears to a bold presentation of Luke's theme. This is, of course, the music that is most associated with the Star Wars trilogy as a whole, and I used the classic take from the first film. I decided that I wanted to include the first part of "Imperial Attack" in order to establish both the Rebel fanfare and the Imperial motif from Star Wars. I mimicked the seque from "Blockade Runner" that appears in the film and made a slightly smoother version of the same edit that occurred on the original LP that cut out the pause before the stormtroopers board. The frenzied and desparate nature of the latter portion of the piece considerably darkens the opening of the album. The cue plays out until the first appearance of Darth Vader, where we seque to...

The Emperor Arrives (Return of the Jedi)
A grand setting of the Imperial March opens this track, thus replacing the more gradual buildup I tried with the use of "Approaching the Death Star" on the first version of this album. I felt this was a better way to introduce the theme on the album. I edited the tail presentation of the March from "Approaching the Death Star" to replace the one that was actually part of this cue. The eerie male chorus that Williams concocted for Emperor Palpatine himself is also heard here for the first time. This may be a bold statement, but I believe that Williams' Imperial March is perhaps his most effective composition. It immediately became fused with the concept of evil in the public mindset... this in a theme that only appears in the sequels.

The Ice Planet (The Empire Strikes Back)
This is the first real big addition to this album over the previous one. This is a segment of the opening sequence from The Empire Strikes Back during which Han and Leia have their little chat in the corridor, whcih features the first appearance of their love theme. I wanted to get a better sense of the development of the theme, which here is introduced for what it is, which is a slightly more mature variation on Leia's theme from the first film. A motif that Williams used only in Empire for the 'droids appears before a mounting version of Luke's theme

Tales of a Jedi Knight (A New Hope)
This was perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the RCA Victor (now Sony) complete releases. This track contains some quite beautiful variations on Obi Wan's theme (which would in later installments of the series apply to the Force in general) which emphasize a more mystical element. Leia's theme is also heard in a similar setting as her message is played out in full. The edit here is essentially the same as the one I created for the original album, although I changed a few things here and there to make them a little smoother. The bulk of this track didn't appear on either the original LP or the Arista box set, but it is a very important moment in the trilogy, and the music is very evocative. The track closes with a martial motif for the Death Star.

Han Solo and the Princesss (The Empire Strikes Back)
We return to the love theme for Han and Leia, which is developed here as they kiss for the first time ("You like me because I'm a scoundrel"). The scene then switches to the Executor with an authoriative statement of the Imperial March. The opening of this track served as the basis for Williams' concert arrangement (sans Vader's interruption), but that piece only ever appeared on the (excellent) Gerhardt recording and a few Silva Screen compilations and is routinely ignored otherwise.

Into the Trap (Return of the Jedi)
One of the most exciting cues from Jedi is heard as Lando Calrissian leads the Rebel Fleet into battle on Endor. Wiliams builds the track from repeating tonal cells, similar to minimalism but the repeating phrases tend to be longer. As with minimalism, interest is maintained through alteration of orchestration and melodic accompaniment, although the added level of tension doesn't detract either.

The Asteroid Field (The Empire Strikes Back)
While I think that the concert arrangement of this piece is, indeed, quite fun, it does not have the urgency that the original track does. Furthermore, the version of the Imperial March that opens it is one of my favorites in the trilogy. The track features a grand fanfare for Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon that is unique to this moment in the trilogy. In an early draft of this album, I included the infamous "This Is Not A Cave" sequence to conclude this track - this moment appeared on the original LP and subsequent truncated CD releases, but was left off the Arista box set because the PolyGram masters weren't made available in a timely fashion.

The Return Home and Mos Eisely (A New Hope)
These two cues abut one another in the film and I recreated their joining here; both are notable for their powerful readings of Obi Wan's theme. There is also a bouncing "travelling" motif Williams composed for Luke's landspeeder that is heard in the 'celli. The first part of this track has been on the album from the beginning, the second introduced for the first time on Arista's box set, which I always found interesting because I always considered that musical "hit" when Obi Wan introduces Mos Eisely to be a very iconic moment in the film.

A City in the Clouds (The Empire Strikes Back)
A powerful reading of the Han and Leia love theme (heard in the film as the Falcon breaks off the Star Destroyer) introduces us to a wonderfully impressionistic soundscape Williams created for Cloud City on Bespin. This piece has an interesting harmonic quality to it, along with one of the few appearances in the trilogy of voices. This is the same edit as I used on my original disc.

Twin Sundown (A New Hope)
If there is a moment from the trilogy that the Force theme is most often associated with, it is the moment when Luke watches Tatooine's binary stars set, in which the English horn carries Obi Wan's theme for the first time. This originally appeared as "The Princess Appears" and the colder "Binary Sunset." Given that I am not including the part of the track with the Princess' message (which is, in the film, a different cue), titling it my preferred "The Princess Appears" wouldn't have worked. I instead went with a slightly more poetic variation on "Binary Sunset."

Brother and Sister (Return of the Jedi)
As Luke reveals to Leia their true relationship to one another, and to Darth Vader, Williams introduces a new theme for them called "Luke and Leia" which is also based in Leia's theme from the first movie. This is one of the most beautiful moments, musically, in the trilogy. Luke and Leia's theme is not introduced as a something to be developed, but instead as a conclusion to the character's respective journeys. Han and Leia's love theme appears in a comfortingly familiar guise after this intimate moment.

Ben's Death and the TIE Fighter Attack (A New Hope)
In composing Star Wars, Williams used a lietmotif approach, but it is here that demonstrates that sometimes a film score demands bending the rules; when Vader strikes down Obi Wan, Williams opts to use Princess Leia's theme instead of his because he felt it had the most sweeping quality of any theme in the score. The Rebel fanfare makes a triumphant return as the Falcon blasts off the Death Star, and after a brief, mournful interlude of Obi Wan's theme, the fanfare becomes the basis for the ensuing battle with the sentry fighters. The theme here stands in striking contrast to its darker presentation in "Imperial Attack." Williams' concert arrangement of "The TIE Fighter Attack," "Here They Come" is surprisingly minimally abridged.

Yoda and the Force (The Empire Strikes Back)
A plaintive version of Luke's theme and The Force theme is heard in a guise similar to that heard in "Tales of a Jedi Knight" as Yoda explains to Luke the California Zen precepts of the Force. Luke is skeptical, so Yoda lifts his X Wing out of the swamp to demonstrate the power of the avacado. This is another extremely iconic moment in the trilogy, one which demonstrates the great power of Yoda (one wonders where this brilliant wizard was during the prequel trilogy, they could have used him instead of a pussy who gets knocked around a little and quits). It is the most dramatic reading of his theme heard in the trilogy.

Revelation and Sullust (Return of the Jedi)
What can I say, this is just one of my favorite transitions ever in a film. It is also the only place in Return of the Jedi where you hear Leia's theme as Luke deduces that she is his sister.

Blasting Off (A New Hope)
After a brief statement of the Imperial motif from the first film begins one of the most tension-filled moments in Star Wars as the Millenium Falcon blasts out of Mos Eisely and past two Imperial Star Destroyers. The actual blast-off itself is one of the best examples of Williams' trademark "splashes." The track is for the most part self-contained, but there are some interesting variations on Obi Wan's theme here and there. Once again, the Death Star motif appears.

The Duel (The Empire Strikes Back)
A dramatic setting of the Imperial March is heard as Darth Vader roundly kicks Luke's ass on Bespin. We then switch to Leia, Lando, Chewbacca and the 'droids escape from Cloud City. An adventurous variation on Yoda's theme is heard briefly, as well as a motif associated with Lando's governing of Cloud City. The tension builds until a fanfare brings us to a blossoming of Han and Leia's love theme as Artoo-Detoo opens the door to the landing pad with the Falcon. The five note slam that concludes this track is one of my favorites.

The Return of the Jedi (Return of the Jedi)
To break the intensity of the previous tracks without letting up on the action, this track which was specifically intended to invoke "The TIE Fighter Attack" and "The Last Battle" from Star Wars with heroic statements of Luke's theme and the Rebel Fanfare follows. In Jedi this outburst of energy comes after a very dark journey through Jabba's seedy court and served as a breath of fresh air for the protagonists.

Attack Position (The Empire Strikes Back)
The disc then returns to the white-knuckle tension of this selection, as Han turns the Falcon around to attack a Star Destroyer. In addition to scoring the desperation of our heroes, it also conveys Captain Needa's shock at the sheer ballsiness of the maneuver. This is a self-contained piece within the film, although the writing is remeniscent of "The Asteroid Field."

The Ewok Battle (Return of the Jedi)
One of the biggest omission from the first version of this disc is the complete absence of any of the music related to the Ewoks. While I certainly am no fan of the furry little shits, Williams' music for the battle on the Endor moon is a great evokation of Sergei Prokofiev. Interestingly, while I am using the actual film take of this track, there are a few nips and tucks I made to make it play out a bit more like Williams' concert arrangement of this track (which is an outstanding work by itself, and incorporates some of the material he intended to use for "The Return of the Jedi"). I compare it somewhat to the reconstruction of the album track "Breakout" on Intrada's Capricorn One disc.

The Rescue of the Princess (A New Hope)
Why was Star Wars so successful? There are any number of reasons people can site, but the ultimate truth is that the film was successful because it was fun. Well, this track is perhaps one of the most fun moments in the trilogy as our heroes prowl around the Death Star and make a few new friends. The first movie's Imperial theme gets quite a workout here, but it is the Korngoldian variations on Luke's theme (and the scoring for swinging across the chasm) that make this track so memorable. I once made a Star Wars mix without it. Somehow. The original version used the film edit of this track as opposed to the album edit, but I did shorten the pause between the crescendo of the Imperial theme and its iteration a second later. I did this because on the original LP, the opening of this cue sequed into "The Last Battle," and that pause just kept me waiting for the Force theme.

The Emperor Confronts Luke (Return of the Jedi)
An ominous variation on the Imperial March leads into the male choir for Palpatine introduced in "The Emperor Arrives." The conclusion of the track is from the cue where Luke struggles with his desire to kill Palpatine and not fight his father. While the content is the same as that on the old disc, I altered some of the editing for this disc.

Hyperspace (The Empire Strikes Back)
This was one of the most glaring omissions from the initial CD release of this score. This is a very intense cue, with a the minimalist ostinato and some sickly sounding variations on both the Force and Darth Vader's themes. It is exciting but desperate, a description that could apply to The Empire Strikes Back as a whole.

Final Duel (Return of the Jedi)
This is it. The confrontation between the father and son reaches its climax as Vader goads Luke to giving in to the Dark Side and attack him. Even as a child, I never had any trouble understanding what was happening here, the struggle that Luke was going through. When I got older, I realized that much of what communicated this about the scene was indeed the music (it certainly ain't Mark Hamill's performance, folks). I remember the first time that the music for the scene really stood out for me; I was over at my grandparent's house in Connecticut and Jedi was on late at night. That flowing male choir as Luke finds out how seductive and easy the Dark Side is easily one of the most spine-chilling pieces of film music, as much for its musical quality as its association with the resolution of a mythic arc that tapped into the public conciousness.

The Last Battle (A New Hope)
Agitated but disciplined writing (similar to "The Asteroid Field" and "Attack Position" lead to the boldest statement of the Force theme heard in the entire trilogy. This particular iteration of the theme is in the4 form of a fanfare, and the outcry heard throught the internet when the DVDs were released that the fanfare was dialed down was very surprising to me. People who normally don't care about film music were mentioning how this alteration hurt the film, and I have to say that I do agree. Both the film and the score are building up to this moment, when the Obi Wan's theme becomes a powerful musical force in its own right. Over the course of the cue, the writing remains agitated, but the discipline breaks down. It also breaks down tonally, with dissonant textures introduced towards the end of the track. The original LP bridged the second and third halves of "The Last Battle" with a crossfade, which I mimicked here. A Holst-like build up brings us to a surprisingly light yet satisfying conclusion.

The Light of the Force (Return of the Jedi)
"Luke and Leia" is heard for a second and final time, followed by a brief statement of Han and Leia's love theme before the true centerpiece of this sequence is played out in full... the Force theme, heard first in an extremely dramatic reading (from an alternate version that was included on the original album) and then in a serene contemplative arrangement (which is heard in the final film). Though the edit that appears here is heard almost exactly in the RCA Victor/Sony releases, for sound quality purposes this track was sourced from two different discs from the Arista box set.

The Throne Room and End Title (A New Hope)
The Force theme is heard in its most triumphant form as Leia presents Han, Luke and Chewbacca with medals. This is followed by the finale of Star Wars, which features Luke's theme, the Rebel fanfare, Leia's theme and a bumpety-bump finale that I found impossible to end this Star Wars album on. The exuberance heard here is unique to the first installment in the saga, and I feel it is the perfect way to end what I consider the basic primer on the Holy Trilogy of our time. I remember waiting at the end of each episode of the radio show with my grandfather for that final "bumpety bump." For that reason alone, beyond any mature assessment of the Star Wars credit sequences, I decided that this would be the last track on my Star Wars mix. And so it is.

Tags: film music, john williams, my mixes

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