by John Williams
As if the Star Wars Trilogy didn't have enough themes, John Williams
took most the motives used previously and added 4 more themes, for a total
of 12 major themes/motives used ROTJ. For some reason he didn't keep
the droid motif or Boba Fett's motif from The Empire Strikes Back.
Still, Return of the Jedi quickly became John Williams' longest and most
complex score, and this Special Edition release preserves it for all to
hear. In fact, this 2CD album clocks in longer than the film itself
at 148 minutes, because of the numerous concert arrangements, alternates,
etc. Like the other 2 albums, this has exquisite packaging and liner
notes and supposedly improved sound quality, although portions of it sound
worse than the box set to my ears. It has an hour of previously unavailable
material, and I would recommend this rerelease even to owners of the aforementioned
box set. I've read several reviews that say that this the weakest
of the trilogy (VideoHound's Soundtracks only gave it 3.5/5 stars!) but
IMHO this frequently rises to the greatness introduced in The Empire Strikes
Back, and its thematic diversity blows away the original Star Wars.
The music itself is written in the same manner as its predecessor, although
somewhat more depressing. Williams introduces a satanic male choir
to underscore the Emperor. My only qualm is the frequent combination
of cues, resulting in 10 tracks over 6 minutes and 4 tracks over 10 minutes.
Thus, I sometimes turn to the incomplete box set if I only want highlights,
and I reserve this for full listenings. A clear solution to this
(I have no idea why they didn't do it) would be to have the cues segue
into each other, but break them apart into separate tracks (like the new
Star Trek: The Motion Picture CD). In order not to bore you, I'll
only rant about the really gratuitous/annoying combinations :)
Track by Track Analysis:
1. 20th Century Fox Fanfare (by Alfred Newman)
It's that instantly-recognizable fanfare that
we all know and love, rerecorded by Williams.
2. Main Title/Approaching the Death Star/Tatooine
One of the most powerful openings in the entire
trilogy, this blends many of the themes to reintroduce us to the SW universe.
The main title plays as usual, segueing into one of the most ominous, foreboding
cues on here. The Imperial march quickly appears, accompanied by
a new motif only heard in this track, a bouncing string call. This
arrangement is noticeably subdued, with all instruments contributing (not
just the brass). The final section opens with an extension of the
previous arrangement of the march augmented by dissonant strings and synthesizer,
which was written for a scene eventually cut out of the movie. The
tone finally lightens up with a jaunty scherzo with the melody in the woodwinds
as the droids approach Jabba's palace. This opening suite ends with
more dissonant, ominous music.
3. The Droids Are Captured (1:17)
The oppressive music continues with a mournful
string passage accompanied by brass. Williams captures the mood perfectly
with this short track.
4. Bounty for a Wookiee (2:50)
Although it opens much like the other tracks,
this quickly dissolves into the first presentation of Jabba's lumbering,
arrogant tuba theme. It appears again in an arrangement for various
woodwinds, and William effortlessly melts away the tension with a simple
flute motif at the end.
5. Han Solo Returns (4:01)
Somber, dissonant chords comprise much of this
cue. Just as it seems the dissonance will overpower the music, Williams
lets loose with a sweeping, romantic statement of the love theme.
Unfortunately this doesn't last long, and Jabba's tuba theme rounds out
6. Luke Confronts Jabba/Den of the Rancor/Sarlacc
More oppressive, dissonant ambience forms the
first cue, accompanied by synthesizer. Unfortunately, the virtuoso
action cue (Den of the Rancor) follows, so the listener must wade through
the tedium of the ambience to get to the real meat. But if you do,
you're immensely rewarded with a rousing, although desperate action cue.
It begins with a trumpet outburst, and one of the main characteristics
is a large string of glissandos from all instruments, along with various
fanfares, string passages, and clanging anvil. A flood of relief
accompanies the ending chord, and the next cue begins. I enjoy it
much more than Luke Confronts Jabba, especially the cool timpani work at
the beginning. It's infinitely more structured, even if it's still
oppresive, containing a dirge-like slow march.
7. The Pit of Carkoon/Sail Barge Assault (6:02)
This is the first track that remotely resembles
the first score, mainly because most of the material is copied verbatim
from the action sequences! By no means is that a negative, and he
keeps it interesting by using a few new motives. Anyway, the first
cue is mostly boring, containing a final presentation of Jabba's theme.
Brass punches begin the main cue, and the main theme/Rebel fanfare promptly
appears in the brass. Most of the rest of the cue is a series of
exciting fanfares based on those two themes, although Jabba's theme makes
a brief appearance in the middle as Leia kills him. A joyous theme
forms the ending as the sail barge is finally destroyed, and, as if saying
goodbye to an old friend, he includes a cameo of the Death Star motif (!)
8. The Emperor Arrives/The Death of Yoda/Obi-Wan's
Where's the logic in combining these three totally
unrelated cues? Oh, well. The Emperor Arrives contains a heraldic
brass arrangement of the Imperial March, which quiets into the first presentation
of the Emperor's theme, sung by dark male chorus. It's perfectly
fitting for the tyrannical, evil character, and one of the highlights of
the score. One of my most favorite cues on the album, The Death of
Yoda returns to the quiet scoring heard in TESB, although I find this much
more moving. It opens with Luke's theme, and goes on to meld the
Force theme and Yoda's theme into a seamless whole. It's much more
bittersweet, as well, and many of the final variations on Yoda's theme
are downright heartbreaking, especially the final one played by a solitary
French horn. Anyway, Yoda's theme is the basis for the accompaniment
of one of the later themes, and Williams demonstrates that by narrowing
the melodic intervals from a fifth to a fourth, and playing this in the
high registers. "Obi-Wan's Revelation" features more thematic melding,
featuring celestial arrangements of the Force theme, and eventually Leia's
theme. One of the best passages of the score occurs at the end of
this track, an upbeat military march that provides the overall tone for:
9. Alliance Assembly (2:13)
This was one of the main reasons why I bought
this release, since it had been left off all previous albums. It's
an awesome "preparing for battle" march played during the Rebel briefing.
Truly, this is John Williams at his best.
10. Shuttle Tyderium Approaches Endor (4:09)
I don't really see anything special about this
track; it's just more downbeat, foreboding ambience, although much more
interesting than either ambience cue from track 6. It's not thematically
connected to anything, but that satanic choir plays a large role.
I'm not really criticizing this for any real lack of musical ability, but
it has a habit of sounding the same as a lot of other cues.
11. Speeder Bike Chase/Land of the Ewoks (9:38)
A huge section of unreleased music. After
some opening meandering, an exciting action cue erupts with brass, churning
strings, and a fast tempo. It's one of the more memorable sections,
but it's over with all too quickly. Although the somber mood returns
for a while in the second cue, it's generally very jaunty, opening with
a descending chromatic motif reminiscent of some of the desert music from
the first score. Eventually, ethnic instruments give us our first
glimpse of the Ewok theme, which plays a large role in the end of the trilogy.
It's very innocent and childlike, and unlike any theme we've heard so far
in the entire trilogy of scores. Another action moment erupts, based
on Leia's underused theme, and the scene ends with a final statement of
the Ewok theme. Vader's theme signifies a change in location, and
the next few minutes are seemingly endless chantings of the emporer's theme.
Surprisingly, in the earliest part of the scene, the upbeat Ewok theme
plays under one of the variations on the Imperial March. Descending
stacatto woodwinds signal another change of scene, with more Leia's theme
and an outburst of the unabashedly romantic love theme as Han & co.
search for the missing princess. Another jaunty motif appears when
they get trapped in an Ewok net. The remainder of this lengthy suite
contains more jungle ambience, along with the love theme.
12. The Levitation/Threepio's Bedtime Story (2:46)
Dissonant strings and synthesizer form the opening
cue, along with the Force theme. Williams' creativity strikes again
with "Threepio's Bedtime Story," which contains arrangements of most of
the signature themes on ethnic instruments.
13. Jabba's Baroque Recital (3:09)
Basically this sounds like a Handel piece played
on alien instruments. There's a so-called flute, as well as a harpsichord.
I guess this works with the analogy given about the Cantina Band sequences
(imagine if aliens found some jazz sheet music & tried to perform it
on their instruments.)
14. Jedi Rocks (2:42)
This usually has me running for the CD player
to change tracks. It's basically some rock song with alien lyrics,
even worse than Lapti Nek.
Archival Bonus Track:
15. Sail Barge Assault (Alternate) (5:04)
I find this much more creative than the one eventually
used in the movie, since it actually creates some new action motifs.
Sections of the two pieces are similar (the mention of Jabba's theme &
the ending) but overall this is much more interesting. I'm not going
to go through and list all the thematic occurences, since none of this
is ever expanded upon in the rest of the score (except for a pizzicato
motif used in the concert arrangement of The Forest Battle) and it would
be too hard to explain each theme. Suffice it to say that it's very
exciting, with many fanfares.
1. Parade of the Ewoks (3:28)
Williams gives his woodland theme its own concert
arrangement, eventually building up to a loud, brassy march.
2. Luke and Leia (4:46)
Even though it only appears in a couple tracks,
this is one of the most gentle, moving themes in the score, and Williams
immortalizes it in this concert arrangement. Beginning on quiet horns,
the orchestra builds up to a crashing, string-laden variation that's really
quite bittersweet and emotional. This concert arrangement quickly
became one of my favorite tracks on the box set, and this is no different.
Special mention must be made to a subtle, dissonant flute triplet accompaniment
that really adds a layer of complexity to some of the sections.
3. Brother and Sister/Father and Son/The Fleet
Enters Hyperspace/Heroic Ewok (10:40)
Williams gives us one of the only complete statements
of the Luke and Leia theme in "Brother and Sister," which is accompanied
by the truncated Yoda's theme. The love theme and Force theme also
play a role. "Father and Son" is less interesting, beginning with
timpani/low brass and becoming much like "Sarlacc Sentence" with slow,
melancholy dirges coupled with various themes. The last two cues
are infinitely more exciting. "The Fleet Enters Hyperspace" opens
with a huge brass jump, introducing an action motif, which, if you listen
hard enough, is based on "The Throne Room" from A New Hope. A final
brass cadence segues into "Heroic Ewok," which is another rousing action
cue based on the Ewok theme.
4. Emperor's Throne Room (3:26)
This is very dull, based on the Emporer's theme.
I've only been able to listen to it in its entirety a few times.
5. The Battle of Endor I (11:50)
(Into the Trap/Forest Ambush/Scout
Walker Scramble/Prime Weapon Fires)
Now this is one suite where the combination of
cues actually makes sense. "Into the Trap" is one of Williams' most
exciting and original action cues, opening with brass licks, which lead
into a new action theme which is first stated by strings and woodwinds,
and later erupts into a gigantic brass fanfare/action cue with several
sections based on the Rebel fanfare. Definitely not to be missed.
"Forest Ambush" returns to Williams' Death Star ambience, and I find it
out of place in this suite. Fortunately, the last two cues remedy
this, underscoring the various skirmishes both in space and on the planet.
He uses several ethnic percussion instruments. The ground battles
are all based on the Ewok theme with various ostinatos, and the space battles
use no themes whatsoever. This track is probably the best action
setpiece on disc 2, although most thematic material is abandoned.
6. The Lightsaber/The Ewok Battle (4:31)
I have no idea who put these two cues together,
but it was definitely misguided. The first cue returns to the mediocre
Death Star ambience, but The Ewok Battle has more exciting action music
like track 5. However, I usually end up skipping this entire track
because A) it has that boring intro. and B) the concert suite sounds much
7. The Battle of Endor II (10:03)
(Leia Is Wounded/The Duel
Begins/Overtaking the Bunker/The Dark Side Beckons/The Emperor's Death)
Here's another place where the concept of combining
cues went awry. It blends two clashing kinds of music: more action
music like The Battle of Endor I, and climactic, emotional music as Luke
kills his father and the Emperor. "Leia is Wounded" opens with an
awesome brass run based on her theme, and this returns later. "The
Duel Begins" features more mediocre Death Star ambience, and "Overtaking
the Bunker" returns to the action techniques found in the other suites.
The last two cues form one of the best sequences in the history of film
scoring, featuring an almost biblical section as Luke overpowers his two
"mentors." It opens with bass clarinet notes, and the choir enters
singing a yearning anthem of operatic proportions. One of the only
truly meaningful performances of the Emperor's theme comes at the end of
this, accompanied by awesome string arpeggios. A moment of respite
occurs between the cues with brassy fanfares, etc. as the shield is finally
deactivated. "The Emperor's Death" contains the final, cataclysmic
rendition of his unearthly theme as he dies. A sustained, piercing
section with chorus gives way to the Force theme. IMHO, this is the
best statement of it in the entire trilogy, and the only one that has much
of an effect on me. As the villain finally expires, moaning chorus
accompanies him to his doom.
8. The Battle of Endor III (6:04)
Vader's Death/The Main Reactor)
Williams reintroduces us to an old friend, the
climactic action music from "The Battle of Yavin." It's basically
a concert arrangement of "X-Wings Draw Fire" from the original score.
Unfortunately, the LSO seems to be having an off day, because they flub
up a lot of the notes and the sound quality is very muffled. Maybe
this was the last piece they recorded & they couldn't wait to get away
from Williams? Anyway, "Darth Vader's Death" gives us another first,
a quiet bittersweet arrangement of his theme on strings. "The Main
Reactor" opens with yearning brass fanfares, which eventually become completely
joyous as the Death Star is finally destroyed.
9. Leia's News/Light of the Force (3:24)
"Luke and Leia" pops up for the last time, later
taken over by the final, ecstatic presentation of the love theme.
"Light of the Force" gives us two versions of the cue, both using the Force
theme. One is unabashedly grandiose, while the other is more bittersweet.
10. Victory Celebration/End Title (8:34)
Finally they did away with that unbearable "Yub
Nub" Ewok singing piece, and replaced it with this ethnic, moving yet bittersweet
ending. It's got most every instrument imaginable: tribal drums, ethnic
flute, full orchestra, synthesizer, and chorus. The end credits present
us with the two new themes, exactly the same as their concert arrangements,
bookended by Luke's theme. This suite is an awesome ending to the
most famous trilogy in movie scores.
11. Ewok Feast/Part of the Tribe (4:02)
Two catchy tracks played entirely on tribal drums.
Archival Bonus Track:
12. The Forest Battle (Concert Suite) (4:05)
Williams gives us a huge encore, the true version
of "The Ewok Battle." This is infinitely more structured and listenable
than its film counterpart, and is a great piece of 20th century writing.
There's a great piano reduction of it in The John Williams Anthology, published
by Warner Bros.
This happens to be Williams' longest and most
complex score and, although several sections become tedious and wearing,
it ends up being one of the master's best works. Because of the track
structure, the album works best if you listen to it all the way through,
but its 148 minute running time prevents that sometimes. Additionally,
the sound quality sounds somewhat archival, especially on CD2. Overall,
however, this can be recommended to all soundtrack aficionados, and I am
once again forced to give out the ScoreSheet choice award.
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Return of the Jedi is Copyright 1997 by RCA Victor. Its appearance
on this site is for informational purposes only. Review Copyright
1999 by Andrew Drannon. Opinions stated are not those of Tripod,
or anybody else for that matter.