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RETURN

of the

JEDI

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) (0:22)
It's that instantly-recognizable fanfare that we all know and love, rerecorded by Williams.
2. Main Title/Approaching the Death Star/Tatooine Rendezvous (9:21)
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 the track.
6. Luke Confronts Jabba/Den of the Rancor/Sarlacc Sentence (8:51)
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 Revelation (10:58)
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.

Source Music:
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.
 

CD2:
Concert Arrangements:
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 better.
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)
    (Superstructure Chase/Darth 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.

Source Music:
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.
 
Return of the Jedi: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Orchestral Performance 9/10
Sound Quality 5/10
Length 8/10



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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.