Friday, 16 October 2015



Check it out... if you claim to be a fan of film music or the Star Wars franchise, for John Williams’ sequel score is a pinnacle of both.

Skip it... if emotive, “manipulative” film music gives you a rash, as this soundtrack is among the most effective in its heart-string pulls and gut wrenches.


"Williams plays every card right in this sequel, providing a distinctly darker, colder tone throughout the score"

Moviegoers who bear an inherent dislike towards franchises must have a special shrine where they burn The Empire Strikes Back in effigy. The unparalleled success of Star Wars allowed creator George Lucas to move forward with his planned trilogy, bringing the band back together for Episode V, though he yielded the director’s chair to Irvin Kershner. Behind schedule, over budget, and taking huge narrative risks, The Empire Strikes Back opened in May 1980 to less glowing reviews than its predecessor. However, everyone still went to see it, and time (and perhaps Ewoks too) has elevated the film’s stature above the rest in the series.

The majority of Star Wars fans (this one included) consider Empire to be the best film of the lot. It’s darker, more emotionally resonant, and, surprisingly, funnier than A New Hope. Crucial to the film’s succeeding is that the good guys don’t. The heroes barely survive a harrowing onslaught of trials and tribulations before getting three years to catch their breath. I recently re-watched this movie with a friend who had never seen it; her reaction to the concluding cliffhanger was essentially, “I can’t handle this.”

Once again at the podium to help guide viewers through the emotional turmoil was composer John Williams. After picking up a third Academy Award for A New Hope, Williams continued leading the resurgence of big orchestral scores with 1978’s Superman and 1979’s Dracula. The increasingly prolific composer would pick up an Academy Award nomination and a BAFTA win for his sequel score, and while his work for The Empire Strikes Back was not the instant cultural phenomenon A New Hope was, it, like the film, has grown in stature over the subsequent decades.

At the time, sequels were a rarity, particularly when compared to the glut of movie franchises produced today. The only tentpole of similar size was the James Bond series, then at 11 films and counting. Although most of the early Bond films were scored by John Barry, the revolving door of love interests and villains led to little thematic development across films. Instead, Williams went with the approach mastered by Nino Rota in The Godfather Part II: stay loyal to the sound of the original, bring back the old themes, but don’t overuse them, and instead utilize new themes that are even better. Williams plays every card right in this sequel, providing a distinctly darker, colder tone throughout the score, as well as offering three new major themes that rival those of A New Hope in terms of quality. In this less optimistic film, the only theme completely in a major key is the one for Jedi Master Yoda. Warm and fuzzy, Yoda’s theme is made of two phrases: a slow and contemplative A phrase for Yoda’s sagacity and wisdom, and a prancing B phrase for his silly side. Yoda’s theme extends the spiritual elements of the Force theme from the original feature, and provides the warm heart of the film, particularly on Yoda’s sanctuary of Dagobah. Less cheerful and more aching is the theme for the growing romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia. While the theme begins and ends in the major key, every note in between is part of a minor chord, dooming their love. And yet, the B phrase of the theme ends rising, echoing the stubborn hope of love in the face of death and war. It’s a tragically beautiful melody, and one of the great movie love themes.

However, neither Yoda’s nor the Love theme come close to the cultural reach and memorability of the Imperial March. This theme, representative of Darth Vader and the Empire as a whole, swaggers forth with chopping strings and big brass. While it balances between lighter winds and heavier brass statements, it maintains a scenery-chewing presence; this theme embraces the minor key with great relish. Appearing in nearly every cue, the Imperial March conveys the omnipresence of Darth Vader’s power, as well as defining the darker tone of the film as a whole. Much like its ancestral Death Star motif, the main phrase is uttered in short, powerful blasts as a handy scene transition.

Vader’s theme gets first slipped into the score 1:40 into the opening 'Main Title/The Ice Planet Hoth', just after the opening credits roll. Heard on a high piccolo, it leads into a flurry of fluttering activity from each section of the orchestra, with hard blasts from the lower registers as we first lay eyes on Hoth, where the bitter wind swirls over the frigid ice and snow. Soft chimes and strings paint the backdrop before avant-garde brass and percussion erupts when Luke is attacked by a Wampa, reminiscent of the Sand People music and augmented with pounding on the low end of the piano. A bass glissando gives way to a military motif with snares and brass when we arrive at the Rebel base. At this point, Williams does something quite clever. He briefly reprises Leia’s theme from A New Hope, then a few seconds later as she and Han argue, he introduces the Love theme, before repeating it. As the two themes start with the same two notes, we subconsciously supplant Leia’s old theme with the new love theme. Williams introduces one more leitmotif in the cue with his melody for R2-D2 and C-3PO. A light, bouncy theme with high winds and pizzicato strings, it plays up the comedic relief the two droids bring to the film. A brief statement of the main theme yields to more military winds and snare, concluding with an unresolved statement of the love theme as Han rides out to rescue Luke.

Ambient creeping suspense opens 'The Wampa’s Lair' (stitched together with the next two cues into a single track), as Luke finds himself trapped in an ice cave. When his lightsaber inches towards him, the Force theme emerges from the haze, while low brass signal the closing in of the Wampa. A quick blast of Luke’s theme is uttered before he races off heroically…into a blizzard near sundown. Williams dials the heroism back almost immediately, with only a feeble minor key inversion of the Rebel theme to protest. After some atmospherics and thematic interplay at the base, a minor key version of Luke’s theme brings us back outside in 'Visions of Obi-Wan'. Harp, glissandi, tremolos, and deep rumbling combine to create a windy and cold effect. The Force theme once again appears when Obi-Wan counsels Luke to seek out Yoda, but quickly dissipates. As Han finds Luke and races to keep him warm to survive the night, the brass and strings crescendo, before being followed by a muted horn over more tremolo strings, vaguely reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien. 'Snowspeeders Take Flight', the shortest section of the track, is built around a rhythmic propulsion in the strings and winds, featuring a nice heroic climax as Han and Luke are rescued. These three cues make an interesting 9 minute medley from a textural standpoint, but lack a bit in tangible substance.

While the long previous track is somewhat restrained and understated, the relatively short 'Imperial Probe/Aboard the Executor' compensates in regards to bombast. After winds introduce the Imperial march on piccolo again (surprisingly as chilling as any other rendition), harp and flutes maintain the frigid atmosphere while the bass regions build the tension. The bass line of Vader’s theme is passed through different sections of the orchestra, spaced out from one another. Eventually, the cue explodes in a meaty rendition of the Imperial March to coincide with the first appearance of Darth Vader and his flagship. Ironically, this excellent cue is replaced in the film with the concert arrangement of the Imperial March, which is nearly as effective in the scene.

The score reaches the first of many highlights in 'The Battle of Hoth', which is actually 4 cues spanning a massive 15 minute battle. Williams peppers this sequence with so many minor motifs that it plays out almost like the score to a short film. Still, he always manages to sprinkle in a character motif when appropriate, giving us familiar anchors throughout the track. 'Ion Cannon' opens with hopeful strings that fade as the Imperial March storms in, getting its fair share of development even over a simple conversation. Back on the ice planet, optimistic strings and a militaristic fanfare switch back and forth while the Rebels prepare for evacuation and battle. After faint piano and percussion, a big burst of the Imperial March flies in, only to be countered with the main theme and Rebel fanfare as the Ion Cannon disables the Star Destroyer and the first batch of Rebels escape. However, the heroic music comes to a sudden halt as the Imperial Walkers are first spotted. 'Imperial Walkers' opens with thunderous rolling pianos augmented by booming percussion, apt for the lumbering war machines that slowly approach the base. Some off-rhythm material launches us into the key identity of the Walkers, a brass melody, slow but steady. It’s followed up with more fast-paced trumpets and strings, at times out of sync with the rhythmic voices to underscore the confusion of battle, almost constantly building in intensity, slowing down to crescendo for a character’s death before launching back into the nonstop action. Xylophone and piano also play large roles in continuing the rhythmic propulsion, which builds once more before repeating the same chord as a snowspeeder brings down a Walker (a nice echo of 'The Battle of Yavin' from A New Hope). Another utterance of the Walker theme concludes the segment before precise military strings and low brass launch us into 'Beneath the AT-AT'. The Walkers’ battle with the Rebels is echoed by the percussion and brass’s battle with frenetic strings and the bass region. Long trumpet blasts and high piano break tight and taut tension when Luke crashes. Dissonance surrounds Luke as he tries to recover before a cut to the evacuation, where the tenor region takes a melody, surrounded by flitting flutes and other instruments, pushing the desperation as Han and Leia attempt to escape. A brief statement of the main theme flows directly into a brassy rendition of the Force theme, all hope lost while the ground troops flee the Walkers, only to give way to a defiantly heroic statement of the Rebel fanfare as Luke single-handedly takes down one of the Walkers, the brass finally taking a shamelessly major key victory. The Imperial March responds as the remaining Walker destroys the shield, enabling the invasion of the base. 'Escape In The Millennium Falcon' opens with downward glissando-ing strings, with a hint of Leia’s theme. Another bold rendition of the Imperial March greets Vader’s entrance into the base, before the action strings slowly build in hope as Han and Leia reach the ship. The love theme and Vader’s theme trade barbs as the Falcon gets away at the last minute, a final exclamation of the love motif closing out an exhausting scene.

One might expect a slower cue to follow the behemoth battle sequence, but Williams keeps his foot on the accelerator, launching head first into 'The Asteroid Field', a 4 minute bundle of retzev to accompany the high-speed pursuit between Imperial ships and the Millennium Falcon. Much like 'Tie Fighter Attack' from the previous score, this track accompanies an iconic scene with only a small amount of thematic material. Williams handles the nearly twice as long sequence by frequently repeating lengthy phrases with slight variations. Wind trills lead into a statement of Vader’s theme, developed in between accompanying triplets. The triplets continue on their own as Han attempts to escape the Empire once again, building to a false conclusion when he attempts – and fails – to go to lightspeed. As Han realizes he’s in trouble, the tempo shifts to a more frenetic pace, violins slicing over the lower pitched pacesetters with urgency as he and Chewie race to fix the ship. The pacesetters rise in pitch when Han is summoned back to the cockpit to fight both the Empire and an asteroid field, cutting out to a brass crescendo as Han decides to go into the asteroids. With a clarinet solo and a badass one liner (“Never tell me the odds!”), we shift into the centerpiece of the chase and Williams shifts into the “main theme” of the track, a swashbuckling horn theme accompanied by flighty higher winds. At the end of the phrase, other sections of the orchestra shoulder the load, albeit a lighter one behind the dialogue, before the strings and the brass return as the characters near a larger asteroid. The chase theme is reprised in a lower key, building to a triumphant chord as the last TIE Fighters explode. The music bounces back down the scale while we catch our breath, closing with a statement of the love theme, but is concluded with a trumpet settling into uncertainty, our heroes escaping known danger into a mysterious cave.

Finally, we’re given a moment to breathe as we move into the second act of the film and score. It’s worth noting that the next several cues frequently cut back and forth from Luke’s plot to Vader’s plot, resulting in two unfortunate side effects. First, we hear Vader’s theme in transition between scenes frequently, almost to the point of it becoming redundant. Secondly, the narrative flow of the next several tracks gets choppy as we pivot back and forth between Dagobah and the asteroid field. It’s also noteworthy that portions of the Dagobah music go unused in the film, director Kershner opting instead to let the sound effects take the wheel at specific intervals.

The next two cues take us back to Luke after his crash landing on Dagobah. 'Arrival On Dagobah' opens with softly churning dissonance to corroborate the mysterious alien world. While R2-D2 falls into and struggles to escape the pond, the droid motif flits in and out of discordant atmospherics. A blast of Vader’s theme heralds a brief check-in with the Imperial fleet. As we briefly see Vader without his helmet, an unnatural glissando ripples through the orchestra, and a falling brass line takes us back to Dagobah. There, an oboe and later a flute solo lend an air of mystery to the swampy planet, alongside the strings and harp that lie in the background. A brief statement of the Force theme leads into a crescendo to silence that ends the cue when Luke spins around and we first see Jedi Master Yoda (and you thought John Williams was above such tricks.) This leads directly into the brief 'Luke’s Nocturnal Visitor'. As Yoda, pretending to be a senile and backwards alien, acts silly around Luke, his theme is introduced on clarinet, accompanied by bouncy pizzicato strings. Eventually we get just a hint of Yoda’s majesty before he invites Luke to dinner and the bouncy version of his theme closes out the cue.

'Han Solo And The Princess' opens with a tender rendition of the love theme during Han and Leia’s romantic moment. The second statement of the theme quickens in tempo as they near each other and kiss, only to cut off mid-climax as C-3PO interrupts them. Another cut back to Vader is accompanied by another variation on the Imperial March, a little more extended until Vader speaks to the Emperor. The rest of the cue is mostly soft, slow-changing strings before we hear a little sub-theme for the evil of the Dark Side.

The Force theme opens 'Jedi Master Revealed/Mynock Cave', as Luke realizes the pest he’s been blowing off is actually Master Yoda. Yoda’s B theme flits in and out, followed by the A theme, which ends on a minor chord as we segue back into the Force theme. Luke’s theme returns in the minor key as he pleads for Yoda to train him. Low winds build on the strings in uncertainty as Yoda warns him of the dangers of training before the Imperial March brings us back to the crew of the Falcon. A burst of shrill winds and strings erupt as strange winged creatures fly past, countered by a tuba solo as the ground below them shakes. With Han’s realization that they’re not in a cave, cellos chop as the brass usher them back into the ship. A brief sub-theme for the Millennium Falcon is heard before a militaristic brass line followed by aggressive strings guide the heroes out of the mouth of the space worm in the nick of time before collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the track.

The unused 'The Training of a Jedi Knight' contains playful variations on Yoda’s theme as he trains Luke in the swamps of Dagobah. The second half of the track, 'The Magic Tree', opens with an eerie string glissando. Suspense builds, with a faint mention of the evil motif. Luke’s theme plays cautiously as he enters the mysterious cave, building until he sees Darth Vader approaching, who enters with a burst of dissonance. However, we soon learn it’s not the real Vader, and Williams tells us this by augmenting the dissonance with a synthetic element, something wholly incongruous with the organic tapestry of the series. The evil motif plays again as the tension builds to Luke’s decapitation of the fake Vader. Thunderous timpani bounce alongside Vader’s head, and Luke’s theme plays in the minor key when he sees his own face in the helmet.

Williams mixes time signatures up in 'Attacking a Star Destroyer', utilizing a bouncing complex meter, sending the brass to lead the escape, only for the strings to take over once escape becomes an impossibility. A brass fanfare heralds Han’s decision to “attack” the larger Imperial ship, and the orchestra builds in intensity before a sudden crescendo to…mysteriously soft strings and harp as the Falcon improbably disappears. Another harp flourish takes us back to Dagobah, where Yoda’s theme and a few winds lend a mystical ambiance while Luke practices using the Force. A descending horn crescendo appears as Luke’s X-Wing becomes completely submerged in the swamp and Luke knocks Yoda over. Slowly rising tremolo strings open 'Yoda and the Force' as Luke tries to lift the X-Wing back out, only to fall back down in the wind section as he fails. Luke’s theme appears in its most disappointed minor key variation yet, only for his lament to be supplanted by the Force theme as Yoda lectures him. After a full rendition of the Force theme, it is supplanted by a dejected cello solo, Luke giving up entirely. The rising tremolo and high winds reappear while Yoda begins to lift the X-Wing himself. Yoda’s theme begins several times, each time with growing certainty until a key shift. A final, full rendition of Yoda’s theme, backed by flutes and piano to mimic the water dripping out of the ship, plays with growing awe and majesty as he sets the ship on firm ground before Luke’s very eyes. This highlight concludes with two more variations on the Jedi Master’s theme as Yoda grades his pupil’s performance, before a transitional quote of Vader’s theme ends the piece.

'Imperial Starfleet Deployed/City in the Clouds' picks up right where the previous cue left off, with some nice development of the Imperial March. A swell of the love theme rises as the Falcon floats off the Imperial ship it was hiding on and flies off into uncertainty. The love theme is cut off by the motif for Boba Fett, an ominous phrase on bassoon that starts deep and goes deeper. The track segues into Yoda’s theme and a wall of ethereal strings as Luke continues his training. When Luke has a vision of Han and Leia in danger, a statement of the Force theme turns sour, with even a hint of the motif for Cloud City in the mix, before a descending horn sends Luke crashing back to the ground. Yoda’s theme plays, again with a level of mysticism, leading into a gloomy interlude as Luke faces a tough decision. The interlude ends unresolved with a swooping brass flourish as the Falcon arrives at Cloud City. Low strings hint at the Imperial March, the lower brass repeat an ominous rhythm, and high strings, augmented with harp and a rare use of choir, play a melody that, while awe-inducing, is ultimately devoid of emotion or warmth. In retrospect, all of these elements combine to scream at Han and Leia “Get the hell out of there!” to no avail.

Williams attempts to cover the warning tracks from the previous cue in the opening of 'Lando’s Palace', a bright, dignified march to represent Han’s old friend while he gives the tour of his shiny facility. As C-3PO gets sidetracked, so does the music, aimlessly wandering until he’s suddenly attacked, closing with a burst. The rest of the track plays over Luke’s departure from Dagobah. Yoda’s theme and the Force theme, representing Ben Kenobi, encourage Luke to stay and finish his training, though Luke’s headstrong theme pushes back, insisting on trying to rescue his friends. In the end, the Force theme is the last one to be heard, as Luke promises to return. We transition immediately into an adventurous rendition of Luke’s theme at the outset of 'Betrayal at Bespin'. After Han and Leia share an intimate moment with the love theme, Lando reappears, and Williams sends the heroes one final warning with ominous cello before Lando’s charming march sweeps it under the rug. As Lando reveals his betrayal and Darth Vader appears, an abridged blast of Vader’s theme is followed by aleatoric brass when he disarms Han. Brief cameos of several themes appear in the rest of the cue while most of the major characters converge on Cloud City. Following yet another Imperial March transition, 'Deal With the Dark Lord' features a return of the droid motif for a much-needed scene of comic relief. Throughout the cue, mid-range brass play a minor key variation of the Rebel fanfare, hinting at Lando’s growing discontent with Vader and his eventual redemption.

It is around this point that Williams presses his baton to the pedal and does not let up for the final act of the film. The intensity starts high and only goes higher for the last half hour of the score, and it is here that the maestro cements Empire Strikes Back as a classic.

'Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader’s Trap/Departure of Boba Fett' opens with brief quotation of Luke’s theme before a slow tempo, extended performance of the Imperial March. As Han learns of his fate, the love theme appears fleetingly, before a short burst of action when Chewbacca attempts fighting the Stormtroopers. Once Han calms him down and it becomes apparent that the Empire has won this fight, Vader’s theme lurks in the background. Han and Leia share a final kiss and Leia confesses her love for him, during which a gut-wrenching rendition of the love theme builds over churning strings, jumping up in key before a brassy fanfare helps lower Han into the freezing chamber. Militaristic brass and strings exchange blows with thunderous percussion, leading into a triumphant blast of Vader’s theme. Williams then maintains suspense with sparse ambiance and brief statements of the love theme until we learn that Han is still alive. When Vader passes Han off to Boba Fett, Fett’s theme is finally brought into more audible ranges on the low strings in a march-like arrangement. We cut back to Luke, prowling through the empty halls of Cloud City. Fett’s theme continues more muted, before more slow and ominous chords play in the tenor region. As he begins exchanging gunfire with Fett and chases after Leia, the action music picks up again, Yoda’s theme flies out of nowhere, getting substantial development in a bouncing rhythm. While it may seem incongruous given Yoda’s absence from this scene, it implies Luke’s increased skill from Jedi training, and its major key nature gives a shot of hope to the audience. However, it all tumbles away quickly, and Yoda’s theme, prodded on by harp and other ambiance, guides Luke into the freezing chamber. Boba Fett’s march returns briefly before Lando turns on the Empire. As Chewie chokes him, pizzicato strings build suspense until they realize there’s a chance to save Han. Chopping cello and long brass lead into an energy packed end to the cue. The love theme is passed from section to section, and Williams alters the key signature to escalate the tension and desperation as Leia races to rescue Han, but just like Luke’s earlier rescue attempt, it all comes to an abrupt stop as Boba Fett gets away with Han, Leia and company are trapped, and we cut back to Luke’s confrontation with Vader.

The previous track includes music written by Williams for the duel between Luke and Vader. While it flows well with the other music in the cue on album, and has a similar balance of thematic material and gloomy suspense, I believe Kershner made the right decision in removing the music from the first half of the duel, instead letting the sound effects dominate the scene and ground it in an extra layer of reality. However, 'The Clash of Lightsabers' underscores the next portion of the fight, creating another extraordinary highlight. High, faint strings and piano lay the groundwork on which the Evil emerges, first on high brass before echoing in the lower registers. As Vader begins Force throwing objects at Luke, we get a slow, spine-tingling statement of the Imperial March. The true power of the Dark Side of the Force is revealed in this deliciously menacing rendition, the melody carried by the trombones and augmented by staccato blasts from the trumpets. When Vader breaks a window and the wind sucks Luke out, chilling string glissandi, not unlike the textures of Hoth at the beginning of the score, swirl and blend with the sound effects until Luke is shown to still be alive. With a bang, we cut back to our other heroes’ attempt to escape. Yoda’s theme guides them along over more choppy strings before the final rendition of Lando’s theme, as he orders the city’s evacuation. A large crescendo and fanfare segues into the love theme, building while Leia, Lando and the others race to the Falcon. The Millennium Falcon sub-theme appears as well once they reach the locked door to the hangar. The tension breaks when everyone but a solo trombone bounces up and down, eventually joined by trumpet counterpoint and snare. When R2-D2 finally unlocks the door and they dash to the ship, the love theme reappears in full romantic and swashbuckling glory, intercut with brass flourishes. The treble region begins a lengthy coda to the cue, building up tension that’s released with 5 repeated chords coinciding with their escape. The last 20 seconds of the cue serve as a transition back to Luke as he tries to find Vader.

The final portion of the duel is executed without music, with the score returning with a violent explosion when Luke’s hand is cut off. Immediately following this opening to 'Rescue from Cloud City/Hyperspace' is faint suspense from the high strings and winds, which again, blend into the windy sound effects while Vader persuades Luke to join him. As Vader reveals (THIRTY-FIVE YEAR OLD SPOILER) he is Luke’s father, a timpani crescendo builds into the Imperial March, slow and heavy, as Luke realizes the horrible truth. While he weighs the choice between evil and death, the chilling violins come to the forefront, conveying Luke’s terror at Vader’s revelation and the vertiginous height he dangles over. Upon choosing death, Luke is given a brief heroic fanfare that is immediately lost to a descending brass line, combined with the windy strings (and winds that sound like they’re just blowing air) as he falls before being sucked into a disposal pipe, slowing in tempo as he comes to a stop at the bottom of the tube. The same foreboding brass rhythm from 'City In The Clouds' reappears suddenly as the tube opens up and he falls out of the bottom of the city, and repeats once more to emphasize the rock bottom he has hit. Chilly strings reappear, faint, as Luke despairs, giving way to a sudden tumbling brass melody as he slips and falls even further. With one final effort, Luke calls out for Leia, twinkling winds and glissando-ing strings lead into one of the most poignant renditions of the Force theme, as Leia hears his telekinetic plea and decides to save him. A brief statement of the Imperial March segues effortlessly into endlessly swirling strings, emphasizing the still-present threat of Vader and recapture. The Falcon sub-theme from 'Mynock Cave' is reprised and developed while Lando helps Luke aboard and TIE Fighters begin to close in on them. Williams then kicks the already intense finale into overdrive, dropping the swirling violins into a chopping viola and cello ostinato. This ostinato carries the rest of the track, adjusting keys periodically to ratchet up the suspense of the chase. It comes to a sudden stop when the Falcon attempts to go to lightspeed, though once the heroes realize the ship is still broken, the ostinato begins again, supplemented by little brass scales. The droid motif repeats itself several times over the ostinato as R2-D2 and C-3PO argue squabble. The rhythm comes to a stop once more as Vader speaks to Luke through the Force. A ghostly rendition of Vader’s theme plays on piccolo, before brass reprise the ostinato at a slower tempo. Dread and a prevailing sense of doom build for nearly a minute while Vader tries to persuade Luke, Luke tries to ask Ben for answers, and Leia tries to keep the ship out of Vader’s grasp. The ostinato returns once more as the tractor beam nearly captures the Falcon, but a burst of heroism launches them into hyperspace when R2-D2 fixes the ship. As Vader silently storms away in disappointment, the second half of his theme plays him and the cue out, and we finally get a moment to exhale.

A frigid string line opens 'The Rebel Fleet/End Title', seguing into a rendition of the Force theme, developed over the final scene. Luke gets a new hand, Lando and Chewie prepare to search for Han, and Williams infuses a sense of hope into the scene with hints of major key accompaniment. As Luke and Leia watch the Falcon fly off into an uncertain future, the love theme is reprised in all its tragic grandeur before transitioning into the end credits. The credits feature an excellent arrangement of Yoda’s theme, the Imperial March, and the Love theme. Williams isn't quite done yet, however, and shifts from the love theme into a grand, brassy conclusion, featuring the Rebel fanfare, as well as a hint of Vader’s theme, just to remind everyone who won this round, before several blasts of the final chord.

Each of the releases for The Empire Strikes Back that contain the complete score also come with concert arrangements of Yoda’s theme and the Imperial March. As with A New Hope, these tracks are stuck right in the middle of the album, instead of at the end, which is a minor irritation. In our digital age, however, excising these pieces or pushing them to the end of your playlist is an easy fix. Ultimately, there is no good excuse for avoiding this score. While the middle section lacks the narrative cohesion of A New Hope, the themes are stronger, the emotions are more evocative, and the final half hour is unrelenting. With The Empire Strikes Back, Williams forged the gold standard for sequel scores, and crafted one of the finest achievements in film music. You can purchase Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.



Additional notes about release: this review is concerned with the 1997 RCA Special Edition release of The Empire Strikes Back (identical to the 2004 Sony Classical release). The full list of releases, including compilation albums, can be found here.

Vikram's seventy minute long highlight playlist can be found here.

Track Listing

Disc 1:
1.20th Century Fox Fanfare0:22
2.Main Title / The Ice Planet Hoth8:09
3.The Wampa's Lair / Vision of Obi-Wan / Snowspeeders Take Flight8:44
4.The Imperial Probe / Aboard The Executor4:24
5.The Battle Of Hoth ( Ion Cannon / Imperial Walkers / Beneath The At-At / Escape In The Millenium Falcon)14:48
6.The Asteroid Field4:15
7.Arrival On Dagobah4:54
8.Luke's Nocturnal Visitor2:35
9.Han Solo And The Princess3:26
10.Jedi Master Revealed / Mynock Cave5:44
11.The Training Of A Jedi Knight / The Magic Tree5:16
Disc Time:62:37

Disc 2:
1.The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)3:02
2.Yoda's Theme3:30
3.Attacking A Star Destroyer3:04
4.Yoda And The Force4:02
5.Imperial Starfleet Deployed / City In The Clouds6:04
6.Lando's Place3:53
7.Betrayal At Bespin3:46
8.Deal With The Dark Lord2:37
9.Carbon Freeze / Darth Vader's Trap / Departure Of Boba Fett11:50
10.The Clash Of Lightsabers4:18
11.Rescue From Cloud City / Hyperspace9:10
12.The Rebel Fleet / End Title6:28
Disc Time:61:44
Total Album Time:124:21

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