special editions

REVIEW: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack)

STAR WARS: Return of the Jedi – Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack (1997 RCA limited edition with holographic discs, original soundtrack released 1983)

The final soundtrack of the original trilogy received the most disappointing Special Edition soundtrack.  The reissues for A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back essentially offered complete collections of all the music from those two films.   The soundtrack for Return of the Jedi suffers the most from the Special Edition changes.  New music replaces old well-loved tunes, which is rarely a good idea.

Instead of the classic music of “Lapti Nek” (Jabba’s palace scene) we now get “Jedi Rocks”.  I need not tell you how unwelcome that song was, replacing “Lapti Nek”.  All because Lucas didn’t like that the singing alien puppet’s lips didn’t move enough, so he decided to “fix” that by putting in a much more elaborate musical number to go with the new CG lips.  Thanks, George.  Thankfully “Lapti Nek” was included on the 4 CD Star Wars Anthology box set.

The other missing music is “Ewok Celebration”, which fans worldwide know as “Yub Nub”.  This Ewok song was one of those miserable little teddy bears’ few redeeming qualities.  “Ewok Celebration” is replaced by the bland new “Victory Celebration” which ends the film.  Thankfully the original music is also on the Anthology box set.  (I would like to get that.)

Yub Nub!

Return of the Jedi gets off to a slower start than the other soundtracks.  Instead of a battle or vicious Wampa attack, Jedi opened with a couple droids wandering through the desert before finding gainful employment with Jabba the Hutt.  I know, right?  How could that not make for exciting music?  It’s not until Luke Skywalker confronts Jabba (track 6) that things start to move.  Until then, the music remains largely atmospheric and creepy.  There are a few unforgettable musical cues, such as that which accompanies Han Solo’s thawing.

Because Jedi was the third movie in a trilogy, it revisits a lot of familiar themes.  The music for “The Imperial March” is heard several times for example (such as within “The Emperor Arrives”), but there isn’t much in terms of new memorable themes.  I suppose that is to be expected.  The nature of the film, including the deaths of beloved characters and other upsetting revelations, lent themselves to a darker soundtrack.  A lot of atmospheric pieces helped underscore the mood of these scenes.  This is offset by child-like Ewok segments of brightness.

A nice touch is the inclusion of alternate versions.  The exciting “Sail Barge Assault” is included in an alternate take.  There is also a sweeping concert suite of “The Forest Battle” on disc two.  “Lapti Nek” and “Yub Nub” would have been nice, but in 1997 George was really trying to bury the original versions of the films forever.  I’ll just have to find an old record, or that Anthology box.

The original music, excised for the Special Edition, is what this CD misses most.

3/5 stars

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)

REVIEW: Star Wars: A New Hope (Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack)

STAR WARS: A New Hope – Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack (1997 RCA limited edition with holographic discs, original soundtrack released 1977)

Composed and conducted by John Williams

Everyone over a certain age remembers the feeling of seeing Star Wars for the first time.  Star Wars — not “A New Hope“, a subtitle used starting with the 1981 theatrical re-release.  It was hard not to be blown away by it.  Star Wars was groundbreaking in many ways, but let’s not forget about the music!  Before Star Wars, space movies didn’t have much in the way of original soundtracks.  The best space movie of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey, used entirely pre-existing music by composers as diverse as Strauss and Ligeti.  Lucas himself wanted to do the same thing.  He had selected pieces such as The Planets by Holst, before having a change of heart.  [Thanks to Rob Daniels from the Visions in Sound show for this info.]

Movie veteran John Williams came recommended by Steven Speilberg, who struck gold with the composer on Jaws.  Incredibly, Williams turned in a score for Star Wars even more memorable than that of Jaws.  Utilizing the London Symphony, a soundtrack of incredible emotional depth and themes was forged.

This 1997 issue of the soundtrack was released to coincide with the Special Editions, but don’t let that frighten you away.  When the original was released on vinyl, the complete score could not fit onto two LPs.  The special editions enabled the engineers to go back and do new digital transfers from the original master tapes.  A full chronological soundtrack was then assembled including previously unreleased music, as well as bonus alternate takes.

STAR WARS_0003

The discs are housed in a nice CD wallet that is prone to scratching the discs if you are not careful.  The discs themselves are etched with a hologram of the dreaded Death Star.  The other two soundtracks in this series of reissues had their own holograms, but only for the initial run of discs.  When they sold out, they were replaced by un-etched discs in simple jewel cases.  The first run are collectibles, at least when the CD wallet is in good shape and still has the embossed outer cardboard shell.  Unfortunately over my years at the Record Store, I saw many of these in absolutely mangled condition.

The wonderful thing about listening to a soundtrack like this, in order, is enjoying the images that come with it.  You could be cleaning the house or working on your taxes, but subliminally, your mind is re-playing the scene when Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber.  You know the score by heart: when old Ben says, “A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pubil of mine before he turned to evil, you hear that mournful theme swoon.  When we were kids my sister and I used to play Star Wars to the music of The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack, and it made the scene we re-created with our Kenner toys that much more awesome.

STAR WARS

Put on the track “The Battle of Yavin” and try not making laser blast sounds, and a big ol’ explosion when the Death Star blows up.  It’s more fun just to go ahead and make the sounds anyway.

Disc one contains the bonus track, an alternate take “Binary Sunset”.  You know the scene, when Luke is looking longingly as the twin suns set.  Hidden within the track, but unlisted, are alternate takes of the opening scene music, complete with voice cues.

I’m a firm believer that the Star Wars soundtracks are basically the heavy metal of the classical world.  Listen to those trumpets and horns blasting those battle themes.  Put that on an Iron Maiden album played by the duo of Smith and Murray, and you have primo heavy metal.  That’s one reason why I recommend John Williams and the Star Wars soundtracks to fans of heavy metal who want to expand their horizons.

5/5 stars