REVIEW: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack)

STAR WARS: The Empire Strikes Back – Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack (1997 RCA limited edition with holographic discs, original soundtrack released 1980)

Composed and conducted by John Williams

When I was 8 years old, this was my favourite album.  It was my favourite album for a long time.  I didn’t have a lot of albums when I was young, but The Empire Strikes Back was a clear favourite.  It was only usurped by Styx’s Kilroy Was Here several years later.

Even when I was a child I had a sense that this one was something special.  The Empire Strikes Back contains one of the best known Star Wars anthems ever: “The Imperial March”.  Hard to imagine today, but that piece of music did not exist when the original Star Wars came out in 1977.  The character of Darth Vader grew tremendously in the second film, and I think “The Imperial March” helped drive it home.

As far as I’m concerned, composer John Williams is a rock star.  He makes instrumental concept albums.  That is exactly the way that my rocker ears hear this music.  I cannot express how true to me that is.  For me, this album (in its original double LP format) was like The Wall, Tommy, or Quadrophenia.  It has always been a rollicking journey to listen to, preferably loud.  It has swells and drops, peaks and valleys.  It has memorable “songs” that you can go back to over and over and over again.

The original soundtrack from 1980 was a massive two record set, but it was still only long enough to contain 75 minutes of the film’s music.  This double CD has a whopping 124 minutes — the complete score.  Even all these years later, revisiting the soundtrack, I can immediately tell when a piece of music wasn’t on the original record.  “Ice Planet Hoth” was the first such moment.  Other pieces such as “The Magic Tree” are very familiar because I played those records so many times!  As a kid, I don’t think I even realized that the LPs didn’t have all the music.

Having the whole soundtrack, in order, on CD, is a real treat.  It makes me want to take a dig through my parents’ basement and dig up my old Kenner Millenium Falcon.  Or even better, get the bigger, badder, awesomer new one.  That thing looks incredible…but I digress.  My point is, it reignites that feeling I had as a kid.  I’d hear this music, and go grab my Falcon toy, and “fly” it around.  That feeling hasn’t gone away.  In fact, with this baby remastered the way it is, I’d say that feeling is stronger than ever.

Other honorable mentions:  “The Battle of Hoth”, “The Asteroid Field”, “Mynock Cave”, and “Yoda’s Theme”.  All these are almost as memorable as “The Imperial March”.

Since I’m not musically schooled in any way, I wanted to talk to someone who is. I spoke to world-renowned bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano about the music:

This album is one of my favourite soundtracks, and I still listen to it often. In fact, when I got my new turntable for Christmas, the original LP soundtrack for Empire was the very first album I played on it. In terms of Star Wars soundtracks, I think this is the best one. I am certainly more critical of John Williams’ soundtracks in general now than I was as a kid because I now know that much of his material was “borrowed” from other composers, but despite that knowledge, this album still has a lot of iconic and evocative themes. My favourite is probably “The Asteroid Field”, but obviously “The Imperial March” is pretty amazing too.

If I had to pinpoint a favourite moment in this soundtrack, it actually appears during the track “Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader’s Trap/Departure of Boba Fett”.  From about 5:10 to 5:20 is a series of dissonant chords that I have always loved the sound of (especially the one at 5:17 – 5:18!). Long before I studied music or played an instrument, those dissonant chords resonated with me and I still love hearing them.

I now know what album I’m going to listen to today.

I’m fortunate to have the limited edition CD wallet version of this soundtrack.  As with A New Hope, the discs are hologram etched.  This time, instead of the striking image of the Death Star, it’s just a fairly flat Imperial logo.  Not quite as awesome.

Still, 5/5 stars.

STAR WARS_0003REVIEW:  Star Wars – A New Hope soundtrack Special Edition (1997)

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9 comments

  1. My first drive in movie at the age of 9 was Jaws 2. I went with a buddy and his parents. Obviously times were different then.( I can’t imagine a parent letting a 9 year old watch a movie like that now, especially coming home late) The music in that movie was awesome. It made the shark so much scarier, and I felt as if I were in the water about to be eaten. I am unsure of your reference to John Williams being a rock star, as this could mean to me that every amazing classical composer is a rock star. I think the term rock star is thrown around in the world too lightly when referring to someone who is very good at what they do. Perhaps, it lessens the value, at least in my mind, of actual rock musicians that are awesome. Perhaps a new term is needed. However, I will say he is a star, and his musicical effect on me has lasted for almost 40 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just heard a story from my youngest brother. We went with my mom to the movies, my middle brother and I got to see History of the World Part 1(we were 10 and 12), and he was mad because he had to see 9 to 5. Ha Ha. I still can’t believe my mom, the strictest, most religious woman in the world let her young sons see such a dirty movie, but she probably didn’t know. My brother and I loved it. Perhaps that is where we get our weird sense of humour.

    As for the heavy metal star, then I guess Bach and Wagner etc are the Godfathers of Metal. No sir. That is Black Sabbath and no one can take that away from them. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on the terminology, but not on the fact that his music spoke to us, and it does not matter how it is defined. I like Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson etc and I don’t care if they are classified as country artists. I don’t let it stop me from liking them if they are outside of my usual genre. To say I am a country fan is incorrect, but to say I like some ‘cooler” country artists, and can appreciate the excellent musicians that have come from the genre is correct.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah the terminology is definitely fuzzy. I do think there are musical similarities between Wagner and metal, but certainly (undisputedly) Sabbath created the genre, Wagner did not.

      I am the same as you…I like those artists too. Jeez I should really review the Highwayman album.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely review that album. All of those guys were the cool country dudes. They seemed like regular guys. I could picture walking into a bar and seeing them. Willie would be blazing, as the other 3 would be drinking beer, hanging out with hot women and maybe getting involved in a bar brawl.
        I hate hearing from people “I like the new country, not that old twangy crap.” Well, I for one have mellowed over the years in my hate for all that is country, and have come to appreciate all that is good about the genre. Sometimes the lyrics go off in the she shot my dog and stole my pickup territory, but the guitar work is what often lures me in. Jerry Reed, Carl Perkins, Chet Atkins, Roy Clark. Even Les Paul might be considered country. In todays country I would say Keith Urban would be one that I like, at least for his guitar work. He often does a tribute to rock guitarists during his show, as I have heard.

        Like

  3. THIS:

    “As far as I’m concerned, composer John Williams is a rock star. He makes instrumental concept albums. That is exactly the way that my rocker ears hear this music. I cannot express how true to me that is. For me, this album (in its original double LP format) was like The Wall, Tommy, or Quadrophenia. It has always been a rollicking journey to listen to, preferably loud. It has swells and drops, peaks and valleys. It has memorable “songs” that you can go back to over and over and over again.”

    You said it, brother.

    Liked by 1 person

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