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,
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
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.
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
JK: The bridge right out of
the main title music is really neat in this. It goes right into a big
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Tracks 4 and 5 "Anakin's Betrayal" and
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
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
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
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"
DA: People were saying that Grievous was going to have a lot of
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
JK: I think it's because
Grievous is from Isengard.
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
AK: I just heard Luke's Theme.
JK: It's in the low brass.
DA: Oh that's great harmony on
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Track 13 "Grievous Speaks to Lord
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
Track 14 "The Birth Of The Twins and
JK: This starts with creepy
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
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
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
AK: But it's cool because I
think it's the first time the Force Theme has ever appeared in the end
JK: I'd rather have four less
minutes of Throne Room music and eight more minutes of Revenge of the Sith underscore.
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.