Monday, 14 December 2015


Check it out... if you wish to hear John Williams conclude the original Star Wars trilogy with the same mastery of his craft that he applied to the first two entries

Skip it... if you are a stickler for sound quality, or if you expect a homogenous tone throughout the score, for this final entry in the trilogy suffers from poorer sound quality and contains sharp changes between settings


"Williams... conjured up a score worthy of its predecessors, extending the style of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to suit the tone of the film"

Why are endings so difficult? Superstar athletes, rock bands from the 70s, military dictators, your significant other at the Christmas party. No matter the situation, we always seem to have trouble wrapping things up and saying goodbye. The same can be said of movie trilogies. Even amongst the great franchises, the third entry often fails to stick the landing. George Lucas’ massive space opera proved to be no exception to the rule. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi had a road to release as tumultuous as its predecessors. Having been kicked out of the Director’s Guild after the release of The Empire Strikes Back, and having been turned down by both David Lynch and David Cronenberg, Lucas turned to non-union director Richard Marquand to helm the third entry. A rushed shooting schedule and tweaking of key plot points only compounded issues. It’s easy to look back at how Return of the Jedi (originally titled Revenge of the Jedi) turned out and wonder “What if?” What if Lynch had directed it? What if Lucas, Marqand, and writer Lawrence Kasdan decided to kill off Han Solo? What if there were no Ewoks, killing Warwick Davis’ career before it began?

With so many bumps in the road, it’s not surprising to find that Return of the Jedi, while opening to widespread acclaim and Sarlaac pits full of money, has diminished in stature over time, particularly in comparison to Empire Strikes Back. Some even argue that it served as a forerunner to the flaws that would plague Lucas’ prequel trilogy nearly twenty years later. Despite the blemishes in structure and narrative, Return of the Jedi remains an entertaining and occasionally moving film.

Returning once again to score the conclusion to the series (for the time being) was John Williams. The 51-year-old composer was nearing the end of a nearly decade-long stretch of phenomenal output, scoring many blockbusters (and childhoods) with, in addition to the Star Wars trilogy, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, the first two Indiana Jones films, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, racking up 3 Academy Awards between 1975 and 1984. It was during this run, rivaled in the modern age perhaps only by James Horner in the mid-90s, that Williams cemented his legacy as one of the great composers in film music.

Pressures and expectations for Williams’ music for Return of the Jedi may have been as astronomical and unrealistic as those for the rest of Lucas’ production team. In fact, one could argue that Williams forced some of that pressure on himself with his past success. Star Wars was a glorious blend of leitmotivic neo-Romanticism and modernist music packaged into a tight narrative structure. While topping it may have seemed impossible, Williams managed it with The Empire Strikes Back, where he introduced new themes (including the unforgettable Imperial March), balanced them with the older musical identities, and tapped into the film’s darker tone to create a score oozing with melodramatic grandeur. By establishing this template of adding new themes each time, Williams created an unsustainable model for writing each sequel. With five major themes carrying over from the first two, as well as four new motifs for different characters and concepts, Williams had an unenviable juggling act to manage. Christian Clemmensen put it best: “if the standard of excellence for Return of the Jedi were to have been raised any higher, then Williams would have had no choice but to conjure the greatest score ever written for Hollywood.” And while those expectations may have been excessive, it’s difficult to argue that Williams wasn’t fit for the challenge at the time, given the streak of excellence he was wrapping up.

Astronomically high expectations notwithstanding, several notable issues hamper Return of the Jedi’s score. The film’s somewhat disjointed structure cleaves the score into three tonally distinct portions, hindering the flow of the score. Additionally, while Williams does create four major new themes and some secondary ideas as well, he places a greater emphasis on older themes, preventing the new identities from shining as brightly. Furthermore, the recording is plagued with poor sound quality. While I generally do not notice sound quality when listening to music, the mushiness of this recording stands out, becoming more pronounced in the last third of the score. Finally, George Lucas’ repeated tinkering with the film over the years has led to the replacement of a couple tracks with new ones. While I would argue that one of the changes is an upgrade, the other is a switch from bad to worse. With those quibbles in mind, Williams nevertheless conjured up a score worthy of its predecessors, extending the style of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to suit the tone of the film, in equal measures darker and sillier than the first two entries. As with my previous reviews, this will cover the music on the 1997 RCA Special Edition release, identical in content to the 2004 and 2007 Sony Classical releases.

The nine minute 'Main Title/Approaching the Death Star/Tatooine Rendezvous' opens the score with more restraint than the previous opening tracks, following the opening fanfare with softly spoken phrases from different parts of the orchestra. Most notably, the brass introduce what I’ll refer to as the “death” motif, a four (sometimes five) note pattern that hints at the omnipresent dangers to the characters. Williams would repurpose this theme in Seven Years in Tibet, and a similar motif would be used for the planet Kamino in Attack of the Clones. As Darth Vader arrives at the unfinished new Death Star, the orchestra builds, phrase by phrase, into a grand statement of the Imperial March, which gets developed further while Vader expresses his disappointment with the construction progress. Williams then transitions with the film back to where the series started: R2-D2 and C-3PO on Tatooine. While Williams does not reprise any of his iconic music from A New Hope in this scene, he retains the same textures and once again gives the comedic relief characters another bouncing, bumbling theme on the lower woodwinds. A bleating tuba appears for a moment at the end of the track when the droids arrive at Jabba the Hutt’s palace, foreshadowing his low brass theme.

Over the next few cues, Williams complements the foreign atmosphere of Jabba’s palace, keeping the music mostly bereft of familiar material, save for the new theme for Jabba himself. A bubbling theme played primarily on tuba, Jabba’s theme immediately conjures imagery of flatulence while providing a little extra oomph to the slimy crime lord’s gross factor. While it gets developed over the course of 'Bounty for a Wookiee' between different voices in the wind section, it’s the tubist who earns his paycheck for such oily performances. While not terribly interesting from a thematic standpoint, much of this music is filled with fascinating textures, on display in the first half of 'Han Solo Returns'. While Leia creeps through the palace to unfreeze Han, different instruments flit past, more unknown creatures hidden in the shadows. Eventually, a wall of dissonance forms and builds to thunderous timpani as Han is freed of the carbonite. The love theme from Empire Strikes Back appears in brief but full harmonic glory, but is soon twisted and cut off when they realize Jabba’s trickery, and his theme returns in gleeful victory.

The scenes in Jabba’s lair are also underscored with diegetic music from his various minstrels. This music offers an eclectic variety of music, from baroque to jazz/funk with disco in between. 'Jabba’s Baroque Recital' is exactly what the title suggests: a frilly baroque piece filtered through a reed organ, harpsichord, and winds to maintain the “alien” feel to the familiar style. There are also two cues not on the album. One is a jazzy piece lacking a title and any sort of release. The other is 'Lapti Nek', a truly bizarre disco track that plays while the musicians and dancers perform for Jabba. However, you will be hard-pressed to find this song, even in the film. For the 1997 Special Edition re-release, Lucas replaced the song in this scene with a new song (neither written by Williams) called 'Jedi Rocks', and is just as out of place and hideous as its predecessor. While 'Lapti Nek' has a certain campy charm as a relic of the 80s, the lousiness of 'Jedi Rocks' has a timeless quality that will make its insufferability eternal.

But back to the score. While 'Luke Confronts Jabba' is filled with hazy sound design, softly sustained by the low brass and sharpened by a synthetic edge, 'Den of the Rancor' breaks the tension build during the negotiation with a flurry of sixteenth notes, followed by metallic percussion as Jabba’s pet monster is revealed. We finally get some old-fashioned Williams action, punctuated repeatedly by brass trills, and the long-awaited return of the Force theme and Luke’s theme as he first thwarts the Rancor. With Luke’s increasing desperation, the tempo accelerates, heightening the stakes before it all crashes down and Luke slays the beast. Slow timpani rolls affirm the Rancor’s death, leading into 'Sarlacc Sentence', during which Jabba condemns Luke and Han to death. Like the rest of the music in Jabba’s palace, the murky tenor and alto regions dominate, slow pulses accentuating the seemingly final doom of our heroes, before a mysterious harp solo closes out the cue.

We arrive at one of the score’s early highlights, 'The Pit of Carkoon/Sail Barge Assault'. Finally out of Jabba’s palace, Williams brings some full throttled action. A crescendo reveals the Sarlacc, and Jabba’s theme slithers in one last time before Luke walks the plank. A string of spaced-out brass blasts play, sometimes matching the cuts between characters, sometimes catching the audience off guard by not matching the cuts. All of a sudden, Luke somersaults back onto the skiff, R2-D2 throws him a lightsaber, Lando and Leia begin attacking Jabba’s minions, Superman turns back time, Brick finds a hand grenade, the Spanish Inquisition arrives, a few other things happen, and Williams punctuates it with a one-two punch of Luke’s theme and the Rebel fanfare. In an odd move, he then reprises music from the classic 'Tie Fighter Attack' scene in A New Hope, then sustains the galloping rhythm with repeated blasts of the Rebel fanfare. Jabba’s theme returns before a trumpet glissando heralds his death at Leia’s hands. The syncopated melody of 'Tie Fighter Attack' returns shortly before a quotation of 'The Battle of Yavin', leading directly into another statement of Luke’s theme. The galloping bass line transitions into the 3/4 meter and gleeful swashbuckling. As Han rescues Lando from the clutches of the Sarlacc, rising strings lead into what I’ll call the Victory motif, a heroic trumpet melody over ascendant harmonies that swell to a triumphant conclusion while our heroes get away and leave Tatooine for good. While the quotation of music from A New Hope is confusing, given the lack of connection between the scenes, the Rebel theme gets some of its best development in this cue, and to hear such rousing adventure music, particularly after nearly half an hour of primarily sound design, is nothing short of exhilarating. Interestingly, an alternate version of this cue is included at the end of disc 1. All of the references to the ending of A New Hope are gone, although there is some curious foreshadowing of the Ewok theme. What is most interesting is not what was changed, but which moments and styles did make their way into the final track, including the compound meter and the exuberant conclusion.

The film pivots back to the Death Star with a transitional statement of Vader’s theme, before building into a full, bombastic rendition of the Imperial March to open 'The Emperor Arrives/The Death of Yoda/Obi-Wan’s Revelation.' However, the orchestra begins to pull back in its bombast when Vader kneels, showing the same deference he does before the Emperor. Williams then introduces the theme for Emperor Palpatine, a chilling motif backed with high, frigid strings, and led by a demonic male throat singer. The closing phrase of the Imperial March concludes the scene, and we transition back to Dagobah, where Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan await with a truck full of exposition. Williams deftly handles these scenes with creative variations and interplay between themes. Yoda’s theme opens warmly, but sours into the minor key (a pattern that resembles the death motif) as Luke realizes Yoda is dying. The Force theme appears with (even more) solemnity when Yoda confirms that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, followed immediately by Yoda’s theme as he gives his pupil a final lecture. The death motif returns eerily on winds, before running in counterpoint to the Force theme as Yoda warns of the Emperor’s power. At last, Yoda speaks his last, and as he fades, a somber elegy mourns his passing. Luke considers what Yoda has told him while the Force theme and Death motif build to Obi-Wan’s return. Much of the rest of the cue went unused in the film, which is mostly ambience with the same textures Williams used in Empire Strikes Back for the Dagobah scenes. The music returns with Leia’s theme on cello once Luke realizes the identity of his sister, before a militaristic string of brass triplets takes us back to the Rebel fleet.

The brief 'Alliance Assembly' develops a heroic chord progression, similar to the opening of 'The Death Star' in A New Hope, but with a more optimistic feel as the Rebels organize the potentially decisive attack in the war. In between, there’s a nice cameo of Lando’s theme. 'Shuttle Tydirium Approaches Endor' opens with skittish, high strings, soon joined by the demonic choir as the Emperor issues his instructions to Vader. When Luke and company nears Vader’s ship, an atonal string passage accentuates the unease of the heroes, before the Force theme appears with trepidation, Luke realizing that Vader is nearby. A quick combo of Vader and the Force motifs indicate Vader’s knowledge that Luke is close, and the Force theme develops while Vader ponders how to act. When Vader lets them pass, syncopated strings guide them to the forest moon, and Williams neatly foreshadows 'Into the Trap' at the 3:29 mark, as Luke knows something is fishy about their success.

The middle section of the film, set on Endor, begins with the poorly named 'Speeder Bike Chase'. The actual chase scene takes place without any music, letting the sound effects take center stage, similarly to the lightsaber duels in the previous films. The exciting speeder bike sequence is set up with this cue, which opens with mild suspense before Han steps on a twig and the strings and brass go nuts. The harp scales in particular contribute to the dizzying sense of chaos before the cue ends rather abruptly. Following the speeder bike chase, 'Land of the Ewoks' is filled with mostly sparse suspense, spread across several scenes. Williams introduces his primary theme for the Ewoks here, a prancing, light tune, with tribal sounding percussion and recorders. Your mileage with this theme may directly correlate with your tolerance for the Ewoks as a whole. Whereas some find the primitive teddy bear race adorable and cute, others find them irritating and a surefire cure for sanity, and the same principle applies to their music. Williams steers clear of overusing their main theme by making several distinct melodies for the Ewoks, though each stays consistent with the tone of previous themes for similar small creatures (particularly the droids and the Jawas). All of these Ewok themes are packaged into the 'Parade of the Ewoks' concert suite. Personally, I find the Ewok music enjoyable in small doses, which are well integrated into the later battle cues.

The brief cue 'The Levitation' builds in dissonance before leading to some very pleasant harmonies after C-3PO convinces the Ewoks to not kill and eat Han and Luke, and closes with hints of the Rebel theme, as the three heroes are reunited. This is immediately followed with 'Threepio’s Bedtime Story', in which the golden droid (worshiped as a god by the Ewoks) tells the tale of Luke, Han, and Leia. The music, presumably played by the Ewoks, plays a number of the themes in quick succession to echo the events of C-3PO’s story, primarily on recorder, percussion, and a whistle. The best phrase I can come up with for this almost tongue-in-cheek moment is “tribal Mickey Mousing.” The scenes in between in the Ewok village are filled with source music, which is also included on the album. This music, mostly percussion driven, is quite dull and, without much else beyond the basic percussive rhythm, lacks the energy or texture to maintain interest on its own.

The lengthy 'Brother and Sister/Father and Son/The Fleet Enters Hyperspace' opens as Luke outlines his family tree to Leia. When he reveals they are siblings, Williams rolls out the theme for Luke and Leia. Though it shares a general tone with the themes related to Leia in the previous films, this one lacks the potential for high-flying romance or adventure that the 'Princess Leia’s Theme' and 'Han Solo and the Princess' theme contained. Instead, the sibling identity is more grounded, conveying the platonic affection between the Skywalkers. Because Luke and Leia only have one major scene together in the film, this theme goes sadly underused. However, Williams milks it to great effect in this single scene, introducing it in between statements of the Force theme and in counterpoint to the death motif for added gravity. The second cue of the track features a lengthy and deliberate string of percussion, building to an equally slow statement of Vader’s theme. Williams underscores this second conversation with a more ambient but nevertheless menacing background, though he punctuates it with a tortured variation of Luke’s theme, hinting at the seeds of conflict sown in Vader’s heart. Through both of these cues, Williams makes excellent use of a celesta for an extra-haunting punch. Following this low-key segment, a blast of brass trills fly us back to the Rebel fleet in preparation for their assault on the Death Star. A neat variation of the 'Throne Room' melody from the end of A New Hope plays while the final preparations are made, building to a rousing climax as they go to lightspeed.

Vader’s theme, slow and deliberate, introduces 'Emperor’s Throne Room', where Luke first confronts Palpatine. The wind section repeats a six note rhythm, similar to the theme for the shady government in E.T., before delivering a mouthwateringly evil performance of the Emperor’s theme. As the Emperor reveals his genius and the demonic choir sings his song, it’s difficult not to get a few shivers of terror and delight at the same time.

The titanic battle for freedom thereafter commences, and takes up the next fourteen cues, condensed into four tracks on CD. The opening two and a half minutes of 'The Battle of Endor I' ('Into the Trap' if you’re going for individual cues) are a magnificent buildup of sustained action, commencing with a lengthy stretch of syncopated brass over a steady metronome of strings. Han, Leia and the rest get to work destroying the shield generator, but the string backing vanishes when the heroes are captured, leaving the brass confused. A few timpani hits bring the rest of the orchestra back, and the brass keep going as we cut to the Rebel fleet preparing to attack the Death Star. Once they arrive, the brass switch to a 3/4 melody, building in volume and tempo while Lando and crew sense something is wrong, culminating in rollicking climax when Admiral Ackbar realizes “IT’S A TRAP!”

Williams gives no time to recover from such a shock, however, sending the opening syncopated brass, already wrong-footed twice in as many minutes, blundering back into action. The Rebel fanfare, mixed with the demonic throat singers, ease us back onto the Death Star, where the Emperor taunts Luke. Here, the fanfare is mangled, the rebellion seemingly doomed. The next cue ('Forest Ambush') takes us back to Endor, where the arrival of the Ewok army coincides with a barrage of percussive elements and general dissonance that some may find irritating. The primary Ewok theme plays in call-and-response between the brass and the rest of the orchestra, and the other Ewok identities are interpolated into the frenetic action music, though Williams mainly uses the first half of the primary Ewok theme. Interestingly, that portion of the theme bears a slight resemblance to James Horner’s main theme from Willow, also about small people improbably toppling bigger foes (and with Warwick Davis too!). Williams continues to display his knack for accentuating every emotional moment on screen, though the music here is noticeably denser than the action music in the prior Star Wars entries. Williams effortlessly segues into the final two cues of the track, returning to the triple meter for the space battle. A pervasive sense of urgency is maintained, even as we cut back to the Emperor’s taunting Luke. A string of crescendos ensue as the Death Star fires on a ship (with a possible allusion to the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope). After a few moments of uncertainty, the brass return to accompany the battle on the ground. For the scenes of Ewoks being slaughtered, the brass soon give way to tragic melodrama in the string section.

'The Lightsaber/The Ewok Battle' has another wonderfully creepy performance of the Emperor’s theme, followed by a tremolo crescendo once he successfully goads Luke into attacking. The film cuts back to the ground, and Williams is faced with the unenviable task of scoring one of the most ridiculous scenes ever committed to celluloid. You think I exaggerate? Here’s what happens: Chewbacca does a Tarzan yell, he and a couple of Ewoks commandeer an Imperial Walker, and the army of primitive teddy bears bring down the other Walker and “an entire legion of [The Empire’s] best troops” with logs, bows and arrows, trip wires, and rocks. Williams threads the needle here between straight-faced action and campy goofiness, the density and complexity of the music balancing the bouncy rhythms, tribal instruments, and jovial nature of the central melody of the cue. 'The Ewok Battle' is also arranged into a concert suite at the end of the album, renamed 'The Forest Battle' for some reason.

As the three-pronged battle continues, the editing between the different locations becomes more rapid, leading to tonal U-turns of 'The Battle of Endor II'. After momentary statements of Leia’s and the Love themes, 'Leia is Wounded' features a clever moment from Williams: after the Ewoks and Rebels have improbably turned the tide of the battle, a flute performs the death motif in a major key, filled with a mix of relief and incredulity at our heroes’ success. 'The Duel Begins' takes us back to the throne room, where instead of setting Luke and Vader’s themes against each other, Williams toggles between the Emperor’s theme and the Force theme, emphasizing the battle between Luke and the Emperor for Vader’s soul. Some standard action music serves as an interlude when Han destroys the bunker, before we arrive at another highlight of the score, 'The Dark Side Beckons'. First, a solo bassoon builds the suspense as Vader looks for and taunts Luke. A timpani crash marks the moment Vader discovers Leia is Luke’s sister, followed by a string crescendo when he threatens to turn her to the Dark Side. What follows, as Luke explodes in fury, is a massive assault of strings and demonic choir. The tragic, operatic stakes are cranked up to 11, as the choir and strings, slightly out of sync, reprise and develop the music from Yoda’s death with greater histrionics.

Or…it should do that. This is the one spot where the lesser sound quality sticks out. The entire emotional moment feels stifled, and the choir doesn’t echo the way it ought to for the best dramatic effect. However, it’s barely noticeable in the film, so it still hits its mark where it matters.

This big, dramatic moment culminates in Luke disarming Vader and cutting off his hand, leading to a triumphant performance of the Emperor’s theme, complete with devilishly swirling strings. The brass hang in suspense as Luke regains control of his emotions, and the Force theme, with a nice bass backing, comes to his aid as he defiantly refuses to join the Emperor. A cliffhanging crescendo takes us back to Endor, and the successful destruction of the shield generator, with a string of triumphant brass runs, complemented with a statement of the Rebel fanfare as the fleet begins to attack the Death Star (funny how all three plots climax at the same time). As we swivel back to the Throne Room, low brass and string tremolos lead into an inversion of Vader’s theme, the Dark Side not yet defeated. Once the Emperor begins torturing Luke, his theme steps out of the shadowy bass region and into the higher registers, just as he has now revealed his true might. The suspense builds as it seems that Luke is doomed, only for the Force theme to appear in its most urgent incarnation, when Vader, successfully returned from the Dark Side, betrays Palpatine and throws him off the balcony. As Palpatine falls to his demise, the throat singers fall in pitch and fade in volume.

The trio of cues that comprise 'The Battle of Endor III' make for a frustrating listen with its blend of both great and painful moments. In 'Superstructure Chase', Williams again cribs moments from A New Hope, opening with music from 'Tie Fighter Attack' and following it up with more music from 'The Battle of Yavin', before a single reprisal of the four note Death Star theme when Vader’s flagship crashes into the battle station. Given the similar endings of the two films, Williams’ quotations are understandable. What is unforgiveable is the poor sound quality and the numerous missed notes by the brass, particularly when the same London Symphony Orchestra played the same bars to perfection in A New Hope. A string of timpani rolls and brass blasts takes us back to Luke, trying to escape the Death Star with Vader (I guess I should call him Anakin the rest of the way?). A harp descends down the scale in counterpoint to Vader’s theme, played on high winds, as his life twinkles away. The harp gets the final rendition of Vader’s theme as he passes and Luke mourns. When we cut back to Lando and Wedge flying into the Death Star, there’s a brief tracking in the film of the wonderful 'Hyperspace' cue from Empire Strikes Back before the beginning of 'The Main Reactor'. The brass section takes control here, first in the major key when the reactor is destroyed, then briefly in the minor key when it seems Lando and the Falcon might not make it, before culminating in a brief statement of the main theme and the same victorious finale from 'Sail Barge Assault'.

'Leia’s News' bears another performance of the sibling theme, which segues effortlessly into the love theme when Han realizes that Luke is no longer his romantic rival. The second half of the track is 'Light of the Force', a final, solemn rendition of the Force theme during Vader’s funeral. It’s nicely developed, and creates an aural poetry; we heard it first when Luke looked into the future, and we hear it for the final time as he reflects on his father and his past.

And so we reach the end of the trilogy, the culmination of approximately six hours of film and music, and we conclude with…more tribal music? With chanting? Yes, for some reason, Return of the Jedi originally concluded with 'Ewok Celebration', affectionately referred to by some as 'Yub Nub', before a transition to the end credits suite. Fortunately, this cue was replaced, like 'Lapti Nek', in the 1997 Special Edition rerelease of the film with 'Victory Celebration.' While it maintains a tribal feel, it has a beefier orchestral backing and switches out the Ewok singing with an actual choir to complement the changes to the film, as the Special Edition also features scenes of celebration on other planets. Many fans hold 'Yub Nub' dearly in their hearts; I believe 'Victory Celebration' is the superior cue. The problem with the new track is that it doesn’t seamlessly merge into the end credits on album, leaving a brief awkward gap. The difference in sound quality between 'Victory Celebration' and the end titles is significant enough to increase the awkwardness of the jump a little more. The end credits bears a strong resemblance to those for A New Hope, including development of the main theme at the outset and conclusion of the credits. Sandwiched in between are nice arrangements of the Ewok themes and the Luke and Leia motif. The score concludes almost identically to the ending of A New Hope, but with Leia’s theme as added counterpoint to the final fanfare.

One note needs to be made about the arrangement of the album. While virtually every track is included on the two disc release, it’s not very well arranged. Cues that don’t flow into one another are often part of the same track, leaving a number of tracks of great length, sometimes with a standout cue in the same track as a less impressive cue, making it difficult to cull the highlights for an abridge listening experience. Additionally, the “source cues” from Jabba’s palace and the Ewok village are tacked onto the ends of both CDs, as well as an alternate cue and a concert suite. Throw in the two thematic suites at the beginning of disc two, and the album effectively takes a break from the film’s narrative for 20 minutes at the end of disc 1 and the beginning of disc 2. Why not either a) place the source cues in film order in between the non-diegetic tracks, or b) tack them on the very end of the album with the thematic suites and alternate cues? However, my concern is less with the album arrangement and more with the score itself.

So how does Return of the Jedi hold up? When compared to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, it does pale in comparison. The new themes are not as well-developed, and the different parts of the score do not tie together as cohesively under a single thematic identity. But consider the film. It conveys vastly different tones between the gloom and otherworldly danger of Jabba’s palace, the playful and fluffy sections on Endor, and the dramatic, emotionally charged confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. To try and achieve musical cohesion between such drastic tonal shifts would be a challenge even for a composer of Williams’ caliber. Similarly, the themes are less developed due to the nature of the film. Of the four major ideas introduced in Return of the Jedi, two are for villains (Jabba and the Emperor) who appear, do their bit, and then die. The third theme, for the Ewoks, does get a solid workout, considering it’s introduced halfway through the film. Finally, Luke and Leia get little more than a single scene for any in-depth character development, so how could their theme receive the treatment in the film that it deserved? At its core, the main story is of Luke’s mastering of the ways of the Jedi and Darth Vader’s redemption. As such, it is fitting that Williams gives ample screen time to the Force theme and Imperial March. Plain and simple, Williams scored to the film he was given, and did so well that his score suffered for the flaws of the story.

Famed film director Howard Hawks defined a great movie as “three good scenes, no bad ones.” If we apply this same criteria to Return of the Jedi, then this is undoubtedly a great score. The flaws of the score are hardly fatal, as the moments of power, majesty, terror, and elation still shine through. Return of the Jedi expands the musical world of the Star Wars franchise and brings the original trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. You can purchase Return of the Jedi on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.



Additional notes about release: this review is concerned with the 1997 RCA Special Edition release of Return of the Jedi (identical in content to the 2004 and 2007 Sony releases). 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 / Approaching The Death Star / Tatooine Rendevous9:21
3.The Droids Are Captured1:17
4.Bounty For A Wookiee2:50
5.Han Solo Returns4:01
6.Luke Confronts Jabba / Den Of The Rancor / Sarlacc Sentence8:51
7.The Pit Of Carkoon / Sail Barge Assault6:02
8.The Emperor Arrives / The Death Of Yoda / Obi-Wan's Revelation10:58
9.Alliance Assembly2:13
10.Shuttle Tyderium Approaches Endor4:09
11.Speeder Bike Chase / Land Of The Ewoks9:38
12.The Levitation / Theepio's Bedtime Story2:46
13.Jabba's Baroque Recital3:09
14.Jedi Rocks2:42
15.Sail Barge Assault (Alternate)5:04
Disc Time:73:23

Disc 2:
1.Parade Of The Ewoks3:28
2.Luke And Leia4:46
3.Brother And Sister / Father And Son / The Fleet Enters Hyperspace / Heroic Ewok10:40
4.Emperor's Throne Room3:26
5.The Battle Of Endor I (Into The Trap / Forest Ambush / Scout Walker Scramble / Prime Weapon Fires)11:50
6.The Lightsaber / The Ewok Battle4:31
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 Force3:24
10.Victory Celebration / End Title8:34
11.Ewok Feast / Part Of The Tribe4:02
12.The Forest Battle (Concert Suite)4:05
Disc Time:74:53
Total Album Time:148:16

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