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Thursday, April 17, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack(Special Edition)

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9/10

I don't think I am being controversial when I say that Return of the Jedi is the weakest film in the original Star Wars trilogy.  The entire first act has nothing to do with the rest of the film. The first act itself is essentially the same scenario repeated three times--character visits Jabba's Palace to rescue Han Solo/character fails--until every character is captured, and Jabba is defeated. The final two-thirds of the film is essentially a big-budget re-make of the end of the first Star Wars film, with the addition of a ground battle. Return of the Jedi marks the moment George Lucas went to the dark side, traded profit for art, became cynical about his audience...but don't take my word for it, here's what the guy who is essentially responsible for 50% of the first two films says. Thankfully, even with these faults, Return of the Jedi is immensely enjoyable to watch, thanks to the direction, special effects, the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader/Emperor storyline, the chemistry between the now well-established characters, and the once again classic musical score by John Williams.
While Return of the Jedi's soundtrack is excellent, it suffers a little in comparison to its predecessors because of the flaws inherent in the film it backs. Williams is forced to repeat himself a bit, as said above, the same thing happens in the first third of the film three times. This is also essentially book-ended by the same scene, as Williams has to score Darth Vader arriving at the Death Star, then the Emperor later arriving at the Death Star in a nearly identical scene. Thankfully, his theme for the Emperor is archetypeally terrifying. Williams' more sinister music in this film is some of his best work, as any time he announces a scene on the Death Star, he invokes feelings of infinite, oncoming darkness. By the same token, his new major theme here, "Luke and Leia," counters those feelings with great hope for the future--in fact, I'm willing to say the epic hope this theme conjures is at least partly responsible for the insanely expanded Expanded Star Wars Universe. Who would want to let go of it after hearing that?
Let's clear out all of the negatives now, though. Disc one includes "Jedi Rocks," a song written especially for the Special Edition of the film, and not something anyone will ever want to listen to. Disc two includes John Williams' new film-closing music "Victory Celebration," which I think is lovely, though most hold it in disdain. It takes the place of "Yub Nub," that goofy Ewok song that pretty much everyone liked, in spite of its silliness. I have to admit, this is one of the few "Special Edition" changes to the film I actually enjoy. I don't see how anyone could argue that "Yub Nub" is a better song than "Victory Celebration." This statement is blasphemy for some, and though I love the weirdness of "Yub Nub" as much as anyone, I'll stand behind it. Also, the soundtrack is a little overstuffed.
There, now that I got that out of the way...Return of the Jedi's soundtrack album has the couple positives I've listed above, and many, many more. Williams did a great job of culminating all the work he had done over the six year period in which the films were released. The changes in characters' themes are fitting and satisfying. The action beats are thrilling. The music, like all of Williams' best work, is timeless. Even the weird synthesizer he throws in near the beginning exists apart from the endless flow. One can also hear shades of where Williams would take the brass a few months later with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Overall, the whole here is deeper than I can measure. The water is just a little lukewarm.
This review is bipolar, and that Star Wars pun I just made was terrible.

1983,1997 Sony Classical
Disc One
1. 20th Century-Fox Fanfare 0:22
2. Main Title: Approaching the Death Star/Tatooine Rendezvous 9:21
3. The Droids Are Captured 1:17
4. Bounty for a Wookee 2:50
5. Han Solo Returns 4:01
6. Luke Confronts Jabba/Den of the Rancor/Sarlacc Sentence 8:51
7. The Pit of Carkoon/Sail Barge Assault 6:02
8. The Emperor Arrives/The Death of Yoda/Obi-Wan's Revelation 10:58
9. Alliance Assembly 2:13
10. Shuttle Tydirium Approaches Endor 4:09
11. Speeder Bike Chase/Land of the Ewoks 9:38
12. The Levitation/Threepio's Bedtime Story 2:46
13. Jabba's Baroque Recital 3:09
14. Jedi Rocks 2:42
15. Sail Barge Assault 5:04

Disc Two
1. Parade of the Ewoks 3:28
2. Luke and Leia 4:46
3. Brother and Sister/Father and Son/The Fleet Enters Hyperspace/Heroic Ewok 10:40
4. Emperor's Throne Room 3:26
5. The Battle of Endor I: Into the Trap/Forest Ambush/Scout Walker Scramble/The Prime Weapon Fires 11:50
6. The Lightsaber/The Ewok Battle 4:31
7. The Battle of Endor II: Leia Is Wounded/The Duel Begins/Overtaking The Bunker/The Dark Side Beckons/The Emperor's Death 10:03
8. The Battle of Endor III: Superstructure Chase/Darth Vader's Death/The Main Reactor 6:04
9. Leia's News/Light of the Force 3:24
10. Victory Celebration/End Title 8:34
11. Ewok Feast/Part of the Tribe 4:02
12. Forest Battle (Concert Suite) 4:05

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