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FSM Forum: Star Wars Episode III

A First Listen To Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

FSM presents its writers numerous opportunities to pen reviews, analyses, interviews, etc., but we, like anyone else, still love to experience the pure, simple joy of listening to finely crafted film music with our friends and colleagues.

As listening experiences go, there's always something special about the first. But first impressions can be dangerous beasts. They're seldom well informed, they rarely reach the most profound conclusions and they're susceptible to outbursts of scattershot enthusiasm. Still there's something strikingly honest about these knee-jerk reactions.

So, bearing this tolerance for passion, half-baked thoughts and snap judgments firmly in mind, please join Jon and Al Kaplan and Doug Adams as they take their first listen to John Williams' Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. This is not a review, not an analysis, nor anything else so lofty. This is just three friends enjoying a last first: the final Star Wars score. Real reviews are on the way as soon as time allows. In the meantime, beware of SPOILERS, and enjoy.

Doug Adams: This will be something we revisit later, hopefully much more intelligently. But, tonight we're in a hurry.

Al Kaplan: Wow…

Jon Kaplan: Overall it's quite good.

AK: The older themes, this time they're not just friendly quotations, they're actually developed and re-explored in the score.

JK: It actually does function as something of a bridge between the prequel scores and the original trilogy.

DA: So, do you think we're actually going to be able to listen all six scores at some point and feel like there's a logical progression of material?

JK: Uh, no. But at least between III and IV.

DA: [Laughs]

AK: I just wonder how much this album is just scratching the surface. There's no rebel fanfare, which is supposedly in this score, there's no Duel of the Fates. No Anakin's Theme. No Yoda's Theme.

JK: There's a bit of the choral and brass writing from Duel of the Fates, but no overt statements. Overall, this score is better than I thought it would be. It's a very solid album! The first five tracks are just rock solid first time through. They play very well together.

Track 1 "Star Wars and The Revenge Of The Sith"

JK: The bridge right out of the main title music is really neat in this. It goes right into a big action cue.

DA: That's outstanding. He plays with those final bitonal arpeggiating chords that I've always loved for years and charges right into it. That's the best transition out of the title since Empire. Star Wars and Jedi just hit a pedal tone and moved into something, but here the action comes right out of the theme. Empire's is still better, I suppose, but this is a great segue.

AK: It's a nice surprise. Then there's a big gung ho version of the Force Theme almost right away.

JK: I think there's some more bitonal stuff during the end of the Force Theme.

DA: Yes! That's the most I've heard anything sound like the original trilogy since 1983.

AK: Yeah, this is much closer than the other two scores.

JK: This track is seven minutes long, so it probably is pieced together from different places. There's a big chunk that sounds just like Zam the Assassin developed in a lot of great ways. That may be because the battle is above Coruscant. I hope it is, because if not I can't think of a reason for it to be there.

Track 2 "Anakin's Dream"

AK: There's a solo violin counterline to the Across the Stars theme.

DA: Solo violin is something Williams hasn't used in Star Wars since Leia's Theme, has he?

JK: It's beautiful here.

DA: I prefer that to the big orchestral swells of that theme in Episode II. I like it treated as a tragic theme. This is gorgeous.

JK: It's funny because there's a tracked called "The Immolation Scene" later on the album, and when I read that I was immediately thinking Schindler's List, and now here in track two it's a totally Schindler's List arrangement of Across the Stars.

DA: And then the Force theme comes back again.

AK: The Force Theme really comes into prominence during this score. It's just all over the place because the Jedi are more important in this film. It's the fall of the Jedi.

JK: Melodically it pretty much stays the same every time.

DA: But accompaniment-wise…

JK: It certainly plays through some different textures and over very different harmonies, but mostly just playing through them. He's not always harmonizing the melody itself. Either way, the Force Theme is a major, major presence.

DA: I felt it was in Episode II too much... though maybe I just didn't enjoy the developments as much as I did in the others.

JK: Here the uses are less expected. It's even threaded through the more sinister material, like it's for Grievous or Evil Anakin. Hopefully.

Track 3 "Battle Of The Heroes"

DA: [Laughs] So is it a Dies Irae quote, or not?

AK: No.

DA: Sometimes I get tired of such tenuous connections being drawn between works. I mean if you really want to get into it, "Stars and Stripes" begins with the "Dies Irae." I see the connection, and I'm not even saying that it's unintentional, but I think people may read too much into it. Anyway, it sounds like Berlioz's take on "Dies Irae" more so than just the liturgical hymn.

JK: I think this is terrific, but it's generally another "short ideas" kind of piece.

AK: It's cut from the same cloth as Duel of the Fates without being Duel of the Fates. It sounds like an evil version of one of his olympic pieces.

JK: It sounds like the Force Theme also. It's actually much better than Duel of the Fates. But I like this better in other guises when it's in 4/4, not as much here with the 3/4 feel.

DA: You like the applications better?

JK: Yeah. There are concert type versions of it later on during big action pieces ("Anakin vs. Obi Wan"). I love the major four chord, where, in minor, it goes i – VI – IV, and that's usually there, especially under the prime version of the melody. The melody isn't part of the IV chord, but that just adds another half-step and makes it better.

AK: I think this is all that you could ever want to hear for a fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Maybe it won't be in the movie. Doesn't Ben Burtt want silence for the last duel?

Tracks 4 and 5 "Anakin's Betrayal" and "General Grievous"

JK: Track 4 is a loose variation on Across the Stars that starts to make more sense toward the end of the track. At first I thought it was a bit meandering, but not anymore. Not remotely. It's very strong.

AK: The General Grievous stuff sounds like Droid Factory stuff that was thrown out of Attack of the Clones.

DA: That may be my favorite cue from Attack of the Clones. It's almost Williams in Temple of Doom mold.

JK: There's a bit at the end that sounds like that General Evil Menace theme from Clones [and Harry Potter 2].

AK: The Galactic Conspiracy Theme.

JK: There's a ton of that gesture for Grievous. I think it might shift over to Anakin or Vader later in the album, but it's hard to tell with the track titles. It's basically three core notes, but he messes around with it a lot. A lot of the versions end up sounding like the opening phrase of Black Sunday.

DA: This is definitely modern Williams here. You can hear his sense of voicing in the brass, especially. It's much less triadic now, it's much more based on open intervals or quartal and quintal combinations, but it's much more Star Warsy sounding than the first two scores.

JK: And yet the fragmented brass gestures are still very much in the prequel world.

Track 6 "Palpatine's Teachings"

JK: The track, overall, is fine. But this is one of those things where there's literally a 90-second long drone at the beginning of the track in low voices. It's 90 seconds! Way to go, Ken! No one's gonna believe this when they hear it. Especially since the album is short to begin with and the end credits are repetitive.

Track 7 "Grievous and the Droids"

People were saying that Grievous was going to have a lot of percussion.

JK:  It's percussive writing, but there's tons of brass. There's also a lot of 7/8. I guess that's because he's mechanical.

AK: Robots are odd so they have odd meters.

JK: I think it's because Grievous is from Isengard.

DA: No...

JK: Right, not that there's any connection besides "mechanical things get mechanical meters."

DA: One of my favorite consistencies through the Star Wars scores is Williams' use of metallic sounds for evil machines. There are always anvils and xylophones and the extended high woodwind section. That goes through Phantom Menace, Empire, little bits are in Jedi near the end battles. Here it is again.

AK: I just heard Luke's Theme.

JK: It's in the low brass.

DA: Oh that's great harmony on it.

AK: It sounds like Hoth to me.

JK: It's Hoth with the quick brass motives from Phantom Menace.

DA: Yeah, it's almost a quote of when they're trying to get Threepio out to the ship near the beginning of Empire.

AK: There's that Black Sunday-like motive that's creeping around.

DA: There are much longer ideas here than in many other spots in the prequels. In Attack of the Clones, so many of the motivic ideas were rhythmic in nature. These are now formed melodic thoughts. They may be shorter, but they're from a different line of thought.

AK: He's sticking with the themes longer in this one.

Track 8 "Padme's Ruminations"

JK: We would like to welcome someone very special to the Star Wars universe. A very special friend that you might know: Moaning Woman!

DA: Is Padmé's mother Anne Lively?

JK: It's more Middle Eastern. Maybe it was Russell Crow's wife. At least it doesn't sound improvised.

AK: The legacy of Gladiator has spread to Star Wars! This is even more like moaning woman than Minority Report.

JK: Much more. It's not a Middle Eastern scale, but…this is a lousy track. It's the only bad track on the album, I think. There's nothing happening. It's like it's here to show you that the Moaning Woman is in this.

Track 9 "Anakin vs. Obi-Wan"

JK: This starts with Battle of the Heroes.

DA: Great harmonies on that again. Some nice two-voice writing in the brass.

AK: He threads the Bespin fight music throughout this!

JK: It's that short brass fanfare that builds into Han Solo and the Princess in Empire. This is a terrific track. The best on the album. He's going back to that exact quotation of when Vader is throwing the boxes at Luke's head. He's literally just went back to the original score for that. He changed a few little things in it, but it's so neat to hear it go somewhere new.

AK: It's awesome to hear him revisit that. Incredible!

JK: There are a couple of places where the changes are a teeny bit abrupt, but overall it's great. It's so thrilling to hear that Empire cue spin off in another direction -- to hear that running string line go into a different pattern. Pretty damn exciting.

AK: My brains fell out.

DA: That will work great dramatically. The next time you hear that, it will be for Luke Fighting Vader. Those close-spaced string clusters are straight out of Empire also. He hasn't written like that since that period. His string cluster writing has been scored high-end ever since Jurassic Park. To do those mid-range clusters again, right above the staff, right in the heart of the instrument with that fleshy tone, that's such a throwback. Even the woodwind runs are out of his '80s writing.

JK: He must have taken out the written score for Empire. He wasn't doing that from memory.

DA: That's fine. People have tried to recreate the John Williams Star Wars sound for everything -- other movies, videogames, theme parks.

AK: But this is the real deal!

DA: Right! This is the genuine article. He's going back to it in this track, but he's reinvigorating it at the same time.

AK: I'm glad he did it for the third one of these, because it makes it feel special, important.

DA: I know listeners picked through the first two prequels saying, "Well, this part doesn't sound like Star Wars, but this part sort of does…" But it makes more sense now. It built into this sound. The Star Wars scores, because of how they've been written, can never take a perfectly straight road thematically. I mean, Vader's now the main character but his theme disappears for an entire film. But the sound of the score -- the style, the voice -- now we can see the throughline. And if he had been doing this sound for the past two films, we'd have lost the shape. And number three wouldn't have felt so well earned.

JK: That's in terms of overall approach, but this track in particular is thrilling. There aren't too many times when somebody revisits one of your favorite tracks from 25 years ago and then spins it off in new directions.

DA: And it's not just that he did it, but that he did it so well. Interesting and incredibly dramatic.

Track 10 "Anakin's Dark Deeds"

AK: It's the Seduction of Anakin Theme!

JK: Wow, it really is the Seduction of the Ring Theme. It's over the open fifth, even the bass drum stoke is down there. The rest of the track has some choral Duel of the Fates-type stuff and more of the Grievous theme. Unless it's not really for Grievous.

Track 11 "Enter Lord Vader"

JK: There are E.T. triplet rhythms at the beginning here. More '80s stuff.

AK: This has the album's only full version of the Emperor's Theme, I think.

JK: More Force Theme. The Imperial March… well, not the march, but Vader's Theme.

DA: I miss the triplet ostinato. I wish that had appeared again.

Track 12 "The Immolation Scene"

AK: This sounds like similar immolation music from Rosewood. This is the most elegiac of the prequel scores.

JK: Really thick string orchestra writing.

Track 13 "Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious"

JK: The beginning doesn't sound at all like a conversation, but the middle is more subdued. That three-note motive from the first Grievous track…

AK:The Black Sunday thing?

JK: Yeah. I like it. There's a lot of Black Sunday in this score.

Track 14 "The Birth Of The Twins and Padme's Destiny"

JK: This starts with creepy baby music.

AK: There's a very nice reprisal of the Qui-Gon funeral music.

JK: A huge reprisal. Why is Qui-Gon's funeral music here?

DA: Was that music ever specific to Qui-Gon? It's just funeral music, I think. Lamentation music. It's not a recurring theme until it's recurred.

AK: Here it could be for another funeral, or maybe it's here because the prophecy Qui-Gon talked about is really going to be fulfilled -- that Anakin would bring balance to the force. Not Anakin directly, but his children.

JK: Or maybe it's just another funeral.

Track 15 "A New Hope and End Credits"

JK: This is a 13-minute track and I would say 11 minutes or so are end credits. The finale before the credits is subdued.

AK: You've got Leia's Theme, Luke's Theme, but no Luke and Leia Theme.

DA: That theme, beautiful as it is, is rarely in Jedi. I wonder what it would have been like to place it here so prominently. Maybe a missed opportunity, but maybe a good call.

JK: It finishes up with the Force Theme…

AK: …But the entrance of the end title music is kind of jarring.

JK: There's a slight build but it doesn't go on for very long so it feels a little abrupt.

AK: It's a weird key change.

JK: A lot of them have weird key changes into the end credits. This one does too. It's fine.

DA: Some of those bother me some don't. The scores are so chromatic, it's not too out of character.

JK: The credits showcase the Star Wars march (which, I think it the slowest I've ever heard it, but it's not too slow), a big Leia's Theme that's either a concert version I don't remember or maybe it has a new ending section…

AK: …then Battle of the Heroes…

JK: …which, I think is a different version from the concert track on this album. But we have to hear it again.

AK: And then a bunch of versions of the Throne Room music.

DA: It's the concert version that Williams recorded with the Skywalker Symphony, isn't it?

AK: Yes, it is kind of like that. The oboe on the Force Theme in a B section.

JK: There are a couple of bad transitions, I think. At one point it ends and then starts again briefly.

AK: But it's cool because I think it's the first time the Force Theme has ever appeared in the end credits.

JK: I'd rather have four less minutes of Throne Room music and eight more minutes of Revenge of the Sith underscore.

AK: Maybe...

JK: Then it goes back to the Star Wars main theme for the finale of the credits, so we get that twice in one track. This is like having the end credits of A New Hope in Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. This would've made more sense if it were the end credits of Episode IX or something, but if you're supposed to watch these in order from Episode I through VI...?

AK: They just serve as a big preview for Episode IV.

DA: As they should.

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