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by Joel McNeely

This is the brainchild of a very unusual project.  SOTE is a soundtrack to the book of the same name, as well as the computer game.  It is written by Joel McNeely, a beginning composer and ďstudentĒ of John Williams.  However, this has little in common with Star Wars except for the main title and a couple of themes.  Still, it is refreshingly new and very entertaining, using the phenomenal RSNO and chorus.  McNeely proves to be a very talented composer and will eventually become a big name.

Track by Track Analysis
1. Main Title/ Leiaís Nightmare
 This track contains no original material.  It is the Star Wars main title followed by a reprise of the carbon freeze music.

2. The Battle of Gall (7:58)
 Underscores, uh, the battle of Gall!  It begins with starry chimes and proceeds with a menacing motif.  Then a ďbattle hymn,Ē as the liner notes call it, comes on.  After this, an annoying (in my opinion) Americana motif is heard.  Fortunately, that doesnít last long.  Next is some impressionistic action music, followed by a moment of calm.  A minor horn ostinato signifies the return to action music.  This part is very enjoyable.  It later expands on a motif introduced earlier.

3. Imperial City (8:02)
 An epic walkthrough of Coruscant, the majestic planet of Darth Vader & Co.  It begins from orbit with calm winds and a trumpet solo.  The large choir comes in singing part of some alien poem printed in the back of the notes.  A fantastic horn solo starts the exciting part.  Bass drums punctuate it, followed by the choir again.  They are singing the motif heard earlier from orbit, but in a frenzied mood.  Then comes a large crescendo, my favorite part of the track, and an Olympic-sounding trumpet fanfare enters the music.  As we continue to move farther into the city, the orchestra gets faster and louder, eventually adding the choir again, and the entire track builds to an ecstatic conclusion.  A definite highlight of the entire CD.

4. Beggarís Canyon Chase (2:56)
 In this track, the orchestra captures the danger and exhilaration of a speeder bike chase on Luke Skywalkerís home planet.  Just as it seems the enemies surrounding him will overcome, Dash Rendarís theme enters as he rescues Luke in his ship.

5. The Southern Underground (1:48)
 Interesting, but I usually skip it to get to the good stuff.  It is meant to convey the alienness of some planet.  Contains a permutation of the battle music to be heard later.

6. Xixorís Theme (4:35)
 Very dissonant, but still fun, this track is meant to be a walkthrough of the crime bossís headquarters.  It sounds vaguely like the Imperial March in some places.  The dissonance early in the piece may cause people to want to skip this track, but then the chorus enters with a very menacing, but melodic verse.  In the end, the atonality overrules the melody.

7. The Seduction of Princess Leia (3:38)
 A very curious piece.  It reminds me of the Jokerís waltz from Batman.  If you thought the rest of the CD sounds nothing like Star Wars, listen to this track.  The piece starts with a calm waltz that continues to grow more and more out of control.  It is ended with a dissonant chord.

8. Night Skies (4:17)
 Really, I donít see what everybody likes so much about this track.  It is basically Xizorís theme, Darth Vaderís theme, and the Force theme melded together.  Call me crazy, but I never really liked the Force theme.  Maybe I just heard it too many times from the original SW, but Iíll save that discussion for another time.

9. Into the Sewers (2:55)
 Nothing special, just ambience.  It is supposed to convey walking through dirty sewers.

10. The Destruction of Xizorís Palace (10:44)
Wow.  Such an awe-inspiring track.  This is my favorite piece, for reasons that will become obvious when you listen to it.  The beginning for some reason always reminds me of the opening from The Abyss by Alan Silvestri with the choir singing mixed parts.  Eventually, this becomes a frantic reprise of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky score.  The CD ends with a triumphant chorus.

Since I bought it a few months ago, Shadows of the Empire has become one of my favorite scores.  It may not be John Williams, but I highly recommend that you buy it.  Liner notes, sound quality, performance, and length are all fine.

Shadows of the Empire: The Final Score
Music Rating 9/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Orchestral Performance 9/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 10/10

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Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire is Copyright 1996 by Varese Sarabande.  Its appearance on this site is for informational, nonprofit use and is not meant as copyright infringement.  Review copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  Opinions stated here are my own, not those of Tripod, composers, or anybody else.