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.
REVIEW: Star Wars – A New Hope soundtrack Special Edition (1997)