Sunday, May 21, 2006

HIGH NOTES: Revenge of the Sith

While John Williams produced some incredible music for the “Star Wars” prequels, I don’t think the prequel scores proved as enjoyable as the original trilogy. The only prequel score that managed to outdo the original trilogy’s scores was the last one, “Revenge of the Sith.”

Within the original trilogy, Williams used a thematic approach, applying certain melodies to characters and ideas as they appeared within the film. For Episodes II and III, he abandoned this approach. I can’t say it worked so well for Episode II, but with “Revenge of the Sith,” he delivered an amazing score.

The standout piece would of course be “Battle of the Heroes.” Just as this song should, it bridges the prequel trilogy with the original as this music contains echoes of Episode I’s “Duel of the Fates” and Episode V’s “The Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme.” This might well be the best piece from the entire “Star Wars” saga. A slightly faster version of this piece appears in a second track entitled “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan.”

This score also offers some unique pieces such as “Padme’s Ruminations” and “Palpatine’s Teachings” both of which can probably be best described as eerie. Nothing else within the saga resembles the prior piece, which clearly marks the turning point in not just the film but the series as a whole. “Palpatine’s Teachings” bears a slight resemblance to the Emperor’s theme, which is of course appropriate given Palpatine will become the Emperor. My only real complaint about these two tracks is how soft they are. To hear anything, you have to turn up the volume on your player to a ridiculously high level.

Williams makes greater use vocals within this score than any other “Star Wars” film, and that might have something to do with my love for this score. Not only does Williams make greater use of vocals here, but he employs them with greater variety than ever. “Padme’s Ruminations” uses a female soloist. A full choir is used within “Anakin’s Betrayal,” “Battle of the Heroes” and “Anakin’s Dark Deeds.” A male choir is used for “Palpatine’s Teachings.”

The one track on which I remain undecided for this score is “The Immolation Scene.” This music accompanies the scene where Anakin is burned alive after having his legs cut off by Obi-Wan. The score was released shortly before the film arrived in theaters, and I don’t recall giving this piece much thought at the time. After seeing the film, I recognized what a powerfully somber piece of music this is, but is it really the music I’m reacting to or the scene in the film that it accompanies? I can’t say for certain. Regardless, this piece remains one of my favorites.

The low points on this score, for me, are the songs accompanying General Grievous. The tracks “General Grievous” and “Grievous and the Droids” remind me too much of Williams’ work on “Jurassic Park,” so I find them distracting.

The most notable thing about this score is the epic feel to it. If you listen to the scores for Episode I and Episode II, you get the impression Williams purposefully held back on those two films as the saga built up to “Revenge of the Sith.” Of course, one of the most enjoyable things about this score and the film is to see how it does indeed bridge the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. The last track is clearly intended for this purpose with its title of “A New Hope and End Credits.” “A New Hope” is, of course, the title now associated with the original 1977 “Star Wars” film. Within the end credits, we’re also treated with the same music that closed out the original film, “The Throne Room.”

Other Scores by John Williams:

This particular CD came along with a special DVD, celebrating Williams’ work on the “Star Wars” saga. The DVD entitled “Star Wars: A Musical Journey” pulls more than a dozen notable pieces from all six films and turns them into music videos using clips from all of the movies. I can’t really fault the musical selections. I think it’s interesting that out of the sixteen tracks, only four are drawn from the prequel scores. That says something about the weakness of the music in the prequels compared to the original trilogy.

This musical DVD isn’t without its own problems. Each video is introduced by actor Ian McDiarmid, and while some criticize Lucas for his stilted dialogue, he’s got nothing on whoever scripted these lame introductions. Even McDiarmid’s delivery is terribly weak. Fortunately, the DVD offers an option to play the videos without the introductions. I also think this DVD falls short on delivering what it promises, a musical journey through the saga. Yes, the music selected is the best stuff, but several of the videos combine video from both prequel and original trilogies with mixed results. A good example of a less successful one is the video for “The Forest Battle” from “Return of the Jedi.” The video starts of with material from “Return of the Jedi,” as it should, but then clips from the Gungan battle for Naboo in Episode I are added, which makes even less sense when McDiarmid’s introduction only makes mention of the Ewoks. If the DVD itself had cost the usual price of a DVD, I’d have been miffed about the quality, but given we’re getting this DVD and CD for the usual price of a CD alone, it’s not that bad and does deliver some creative visuals.

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