Sunday, May 07, 2006

HIGH NOTES: Return of the Jedi

To kick off my month of “High Notes” entries devoted to the “Star Wars” films, I’ve decided to start at the end, “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” Hey, if George Lucas can do the films out of order, why can’t I?

Oddly enough, I’m not a big John Williams fan, but I do love the music he’s produced for the “Star Wars” films. One of the first CD’s I bought when I was a kid was a collection of music from science fiction/fantasy films just so I could get the three tracks of “Star Wars” music that was on it. The only track on it from “Return of the Jedi” was “Luke and Leia.” At the time, I was disappointed, because I was a teenager who had an ear mostly for the faster, more bombastic themes like the main title and the ever-popular “Imperial March.” Over time I’ve come to like “Luke and Leia” more, but it’s still a far cry from my favorite song on this score.

The big track for me and for many fans of movie scores (not just the “Star Wars” fanatics) is “Final Duel.” This is the music that accompanies the end to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber duel with his father Darth Vader. The start of the music is just damn creepy as Vader taunts Luke. As Luke attacks, a choir of male voices begins. There’s nothing within the music to the original trilogy that resembles this track, and it’s a great one. The most shocking thing about this bit of music is that fans waited for years to get their hands on it. I personally had scoured music stores looking for a “Return of the Jedi” CD, and when I finally found it, I was shocked to find this music wasn’t on it. I’ve never heard why it was omitted, but years later I stumbled upon a four-disc set entitled the “Star Wars Anthology.” As you might guess, it wasn’t cheap, and in those days before and things such as Barnes & Noble’s “Red Dot” that allowed a preview of what you were buying, I simply had to gamble this one song would be on there. Why was this such a gamble? I’d already bought the CDs to all three films (which included a two-disc set for the original film), so while the anthology contained a lot of stuff I’d never had before, I basically bought it for that one song. I have never regretted the purchase, and I think I cheered when I played this track.

Now, I purchased this anthology set in the days long before the controversial “special editions” were released in 1997. Musically, “Return of the Jedi” underwent the most changes out of all three films. In addition to the goofy dance sequence that was added, Lucas and Williams decided to redo the closing music. In the original version, the Ewoks celebrate and their song tracked the final scene as the heroes are reunited. For the special edition, scenes showing celebrations throughout the defeated empire were added, accompanied by a piece of new age-style music which I hated. I’m not actually one of those fans who despised all the changes Lucas made in the special editions, but I was a bit disappointed by this. A change made sense, because the “Ewok Celebration” really wouldn’t have made much sense over scenes on Coruscant, Bespin and Tatooine. My complaint is that the music just doesn’t sound like “Star Wars.” It’s fine music, but I’d expect to find it on some New Age collection CD not in “Return of the Jedi.”

Other Scores by John Williams:

So how does this score stack up against the rest of the films in the saga? I’d say it holds up pretty well. There are so many great tracks with “Parade of the Ewoks,” “The Forest Battle” and “Into the Trap” among them. I don’t think it was the best music from the original trilogy, though. I’ll save which one I think that is for my next High Notes entry.

A note about the track titles I refer to: these references are taken from the titles used in the aforementioned "Star Wars Anthology" set. For the special edition re-release of these scores, many of these tracks were assembled differently and given updated titles. Since I don't own these CD's, I'm not able to reference them by those titles.

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