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Thursday, May 01, 2014

John Williams -- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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9/10 (A FINAL LUCID THOUGHT BEFORE YOU DIVE INTO THE INCOHERENT MADNESS BELOW: I GAVE THIS SOUNDTRACK A NINE BECAUSE, DESPITE SOME INCONSISTENCIES IN SEQUENCING, STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK) FEATURES SOME OF THE MOST MOVING WORK OF JOHN WILLIAMS' ILLUSTRIOUS CAREER. THERE, I JUST SAVED YOU TEN MINUTES.)

I will preface this review by admitting that I am quite conflicted over my opinion of John Williams' Revenge of the Sith soundtrack--and I first heard it during a very conflicted moment of my life (this post, the first of only two I would publish that summer, features a picture of me sitting in the theater shortly before the midnight premier of Revenge of the Sith began), which clouds the matter even worse. Let's get this out of the way first, though: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith features a great score--it's the actual soundtrack album with which I'm a bit ambivalent. Just for fun, I will write the rest of this review in the style of Michael McDonald's incredible monologue from the Community episode, "Basic Story." However, I will retain my usual utilization of run-on sentences.
Why am I ambivalent?
Because John Williams has written some of the absolute best music of his fifty-year career for Revenge of the Sith, and that music is found on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). However, in contrast to the excellent suites Williams arranged with his recorded music for the Episode I and II soundtracks, the album suite for Episode III is less than the sum of its parts.
Why is it less than the sum of its parts?
The album is less than the sum of its parts because it is oddly sequenced, and because it burns nearly a fifth of its run time on an overlong closing concert suite featuring music from the entire trilogy--marginalizing Williams' work for Episode III, the film the soundtrack is meant to represent. It is easy to see why Williams did this, though. After putting so much work into Star Wars over a thirty year period and knowing this could be the final Star Wars soundtrack album he ever produced, Williams likely felt that he had to pay tribute to the entire saga. This would be all well and good, but the other two prequel films' scores were allowed room to breathe over nearly eighty minutes run time, while Revenge of the Sith's actual score is given less than an hour.
What's an hour?
An hour is defined as 60 complete minutes, and in the 59 before this soundtrack's ending suite begins, the listener gets to hear some pretty incredible music.
What's so incredible about it?
Williams' has never before composed music like this for a Star Wars film. The pervading mood for the film, Revenge of the Sith, is (supposed to be) tragedy, and Williams composed some of the most moving and powerful music of his career to achieve this tone. "The Immolation Scene," in which a character is forced to decapitate someone close to him, then hear that someone say "I hate you," then leave that someone to burn to death, doesn't quite earn the emotions it evokes on a film-making level, but John Williams makes up for all of George Lucas' shortcomings. These may be the most tragic, tear-invoking 2:42 John Williams has ever composed, perhaps even better than his work on Schindler's List (though I am by no means placing Schindler's List the film anywhere near Revenge of the Sith the film in terms of quality). He uses a variation of the same tone from "The Immolation Scene" in "Anakin's Dark Deeds." Both cues highlight Obi-Wan Kenobi's resolve, and...mixed emotions. It's in these two passages that I truly become infuriated.
Why do I become infuriated?
Blaspheming cursewords, George Lucas, Williams' best music on this soundtrack only highlights your failures in this film all the more! Williams' work here highlights the deep, dark Star Wars future ahead, but also the hope of the good that will eventually come. Williams does the latter by including Luke and Leia's themes at the end of the film, and incorporating the original trilogies "Force Fanfare" and even "The Throne Room" throughout. There are so many moments of emotional depth throughout this soundtrack AND WITHOUT THEM THERE IS NO EMOTIONAL DEPTH IN THE FILM. WHY, LUCAS, WHY? WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME!
What did he do to me?
I already wrote a ridiculously long treatise upon the subject (the Revenge of the Sith stuff is near the end), and I'm being overdramatic, as he did it to all of us, not just to me. But moving along, there is more awesome stuff on this soundtrack that I haven't mentioned yet.
What awesome stuff?
Awesome stuff is that Williams now takes, not just a page from Wagner, but the whole book. Williams' epic choral pieces, featured more on this soundtrack than on that of the other five Star Wars films combined, evoke a battle of good and evil on an apocalyptic planet, under the crushing rocks and blazing lava of an erupting volcano just as well as Industrial Light and Magic's special effects. We're talking some seriously primal compositions here, the most epic of Williams' career ("Battle of the Heroes," "Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan," "Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious.") Williams also adds a bit of a swashbuckling element reminiscent of his work on Episode IV, twenty-eight years before this, particularly with his themes for General Grievous, and pretty much anytime a ship comes out of hyperspace, or a character enters a scene. That's what I call continuity. This soundtrack feeds perfectly into the next (A New Hope's), but would do it even more perfectly if it was sequenced better.
What's sequenced better?
Sequenced better is giving this album a more logical emotional flow.
EDITOR'S NOTE: You hypocrite, this review has no logical emotional flow!
The Phantom Menace's soundtrack's sequencing did a great job of creating a new, yet familiar aural world, and making the listener feel welcome in it. The Attack of the Clones' soundtrack's sequencing also creates a complete world the listener can live in, unfolding chronologically so that the listener can experience Williams' evolutions of texture and emotion. However, every time I think I've grasped the flow of Revenge of the Sith's soundtrack, it slips through my fingers.
Why does it slip through my fingers?
The previous prequel films' major new themes always came after the first track on their respective soundtracks. Here the new theme is the third track, after the subdued and unnerving "Anakin's Dream." After the new theme ("Battle of the Heroes") is introduced, the soundtrack immediately switches gears to the film's tragedy element, with "Anakin's Betrayal." Then it jumps to the more throwback, swashbuckling element, with "General Grievous." It seems that Williams is just previewing all the tones to come, but then the next five minutes is the nearly silent, momentum killing "Palpatine's Teachings." (Yes, "Palpatine's Teachings" works great in the film, but not in the middle of this album!) Then it's fun, upbeat action music again with "Grievous and the Droids." The next, "Padme's Ruminations" is extremely idiosyncratic for Williams, beginning with creepy bee-like drones, then featuring frightening, wailing female vocals, fading out into a creepy, stair-climbing ostinato whose pattern startlingly gets commandeered by a solo pipe organ (or woodwinds mimicking a pipe organ) (perfect for the ancient evil Palpatine is meant to represent by way of classic supernatural cinema villain music). Then it's the action packed, "Imperial Theme" quoting "Anakin vs Obi-Wan," a thrilling piece of music...bah, enough of my doing this.
What is me doing this?
Me doing this is me overstating my point, rambling, going back and forth and on an on, nonsensically. I think I've already made it clear that this soundtrack is disjointed. It's a shame the excellent music featured on this soundtrack is not given a better presentation. And yet, as I close, I feel I need to restate yet again how angering it is that so much of this music is so incredible. Instead of giving the viewer three films of awesome Clone Wars action (This saga is called "Star WARS"), George Lucas skips the entire war and just drops the viewer in at the end of them at the beginning of this, the final film in the trilogy. The snippets of themes and feelings we get here from Williams would hold even more resonance in the film if they were backing elements that had been developed throughout the course of the prequel trilogy. Instead, the viewer is simply handed a video game controller after someone has entered a cheat code to begin the game at the last stage. Sure, the last stage is pretty awesome, but it doesn't mean as much when you haven't worked your butt off to get there. Likewise, there has been no emotional work or investment in the Clone War ravaged galaxy the viewer is dropped into in this film. So much of Williams' music is incredible, but this album just sounds like snippets from something greater, and the awful thing, the real tragedy, is that that something greater was never actually made. This soundtrack exists in a sort of purgatory, (in a way all three prequel soundtracks do), like the ghost of a beautiful bride infinitely waiting for the groom who will never, ever come. Or maybe I just feel that way because at the exact moment that this soundtrack was released, my life could have gone in two different directions, and it went in this one, and I'll never know what the other path led to, and I'll always be haunted by the life I never lived (hope for a life never lived is a strange, ghostly, existentially metaphysical thing), and probably, in regard to my opinion of this soundtrack, it is both, and here is (for what is some reason the third to last track on this album), "Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious," whose tentative final thirty seconds express everything I've just wordily attempted to convey without using any words at all, and in an achingly beautiful fashion versus an achingly difficult to read praise-rant.
What is without using any words at all?


2005 Sony Classical
1. Star Wars and the Revenge of the Sith 7:31
2. Anakin's Dream 4:46
3. Battle of the Heroes 3:42
4. Anakin's Betrayal 4:04
5. General Grievous 4:07
6. Palpatine's Teachings 5:25
7. Grievous and the Droids 3:28
8. Padmé's Ruminations 3:17
9. Anakin vs. Obi-Wan 3:57
10. Anakin's Dark Deeds 4:05
11. Enter Lord Vader 4:14
12. The Immolation Scene 2:42
13. Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious 2:49
14. The Birth of the Twins and Padmé's Destiny 3:37
15. A New Hope and End Credits 13:06

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