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SK 94220

Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Lucasfilm Ltd; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



And so it ends (for now)


A long time ago, in a galaxy not really very far away, film music wasn't in the best of health.  After The Graduate and others, orchestral scores were simply not in demand, and many of the finest composers - Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, John Barry and co - while still writing excellent music for films on occasion, were often consigned to scoring tv movies of the week and the like.  Then, when George Lucas made Star Wars in 1977, he took the obvious decision to make a return to the sounds of the golden age and in doing so, ushered in a new era of orchestral film music.  We're now desperately in need of another kind of injection of energy into film music, but fortunately there are still films being made which call upon talented composers to write fine orchestral music and, of course, the Star Wars saga has provided John Williams with ample opportunities to do just that.  The saga now ends - for now, at least - with Revenge of the Sith, the sixth film in the series, though positioned (of course) chronologically in between the fifth and the first.

As well as rejuvenating orchestral film music, Williams also took the opportunity with Star Wars to do something which had barely been done since the days of Korngold's classic scores of the 1930s, which was to write in a Wagnerian leitmotivic style, something he maintained with each of the original sequels.  One of the aspects of the prequels - and I think this has as much to do with the nature of filmmaking today, with last minute editing and so on, as it does with Williams changing as a composer - has been that the scores have been much more conventional "through-composed" efforts, consisting of a series of set piece cues rather than being written genuinely in a leitmotivic style.  In The Phantom Menace, Williams was notably still making some sort of effort to do so, but the fact that the film was simply not set in stone until virtually the day before being released meant it was very difficult, and he pretty much abandoned the approach with Attack of the Clones, which made it sound far less like a "Star Wars score", confusing a few listeners.  Revenge of the Sith takes things even further, almost abandoning leitmotifs all together.  Of course, themes for various characters are still present, but they're used in a much broader way, following the telling of the story far less precisely.  Lucas has often said that he sees the Star Wars films as being essentially "silent movies with dialogue", meaning that the story of the film is basically being told through the visuals and the music, and I think that was very much true of the original trilogy, but sadly because of his use of new technologies it just hasn't been possible for Williams to do that for the prequel trilogy.

Indeed, Revenge of the Sith not only does that, but Williams has only really come up with one new theme of note.  "Battle of the Heroes" is it, though reflecting what I've just written about leitmotifs, it isn't written for a character, but instead written for one specific scene, the battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, with the track bearing the name presumably being just a fleshed-out version of the music heard in the later piece "Anakin vs Obi-Wan" and not actually being written for a specific scene itself.  For a Star Wars score, it's very disappointing to only get one new theme, and not even have that associated with a character.  Sure, there's a bit of a theme for General Grievous, but you're not going to go away humming it in the way you could be sure of doing with at least two or three new themes in the previous five scores.  Fortunately, "Battle of the Heroes" is quite a theme.  It's vaguely reminiscent of The Phantom Menace's "Duel of the Fates", but it's a broader, more epic piece, featuring wordless choir and some trademark Williams brass writing.  It's probably not quite so memorable as "Duel of the Fates", but it's impressive nonetheless (though, as previous mentioned, is barely heard within the body of the score itself).

The most notable aspect of Revenge of the Sith is probably the proliferation of choral music; there's simply far more of it than in any of the other Star Wars scores.  Aside from its prominent role in "Battle of the Heroes", Williams puts it to maximum emotional effect in various other cues, particularly "Anakin's Betrayal", a very moving and tragic piece.  It plays as a lament, almost like a funeral cue, full of anguish and torment.  It's Williams at his very finest and is the best track on the album.  Another fine set piece is "General Grievous", an action track very much in the style of "Chase Through Coruscant" from Attack of the Clones, and just as exciting in its way (though obviously not so fresh).  "Grievous and the Droids", which follows shortly afterwards, is virtually as good.  It's definitely a darker kind of action music for a Star Wars movie, though - befitting the darker nature of the film, no doubt, but the brightness of the action music from the original films was one of the things that made them so special.  A hint of this can be found in "Anakin vs Obi-Wan" because, amongst sections of "Battle of the Heroes" comes a lengthy passage taken straight from The Empire Strikes Back which somehow sounds fresher than any of the new music Williams has created and is a reminder of just how very good that score was.

"Anakin's Dark Deeds" is a fine cue, featuring some more excellent choral writing (this time sung, recalling "Duel of the Fates") and some tremendous brass work.  It's still very dark, but there is a real sense of energy and excitement about it.  Seeing the track title "Enter Lord Vader" on the tracklisting a long time before hearing the album gave me a special sense of excitement - this had, after all, really been what the three prequels had been building up to.  Given that, it's a surprisingly subdued piece, nothing like the spectacular music many may have been expecting.  Oddly, there's no Imperial March in sight, though there is a nice quote from the Emperor's Theme late on in the track.  It's a kind of sweeping cue but doesn't really pack the kind of punch I'd been expecting, at least not until its excellent conclusion.  It's immediately followed by an unusual track for a Star Wars movie, but one of the album's highlights - "The Immolation Scene".  It's a portrait of devastation and destruction and is extremely moving; if anything, it reminds me of the elegy Williams wrote for JFK.  It's a stunning piece of music.  "The Birth of the Twins and Padme's Destiny" is almost as good, this time including a choir as well; it's reminiscent of the funeral music from The Phantom Menace, and is another beautiful piece.

Having said what I did about Williams abandoning the leitmotif approach, don't take that to mean that the familiar themes aren't here.  They are!  They're just used in a different way.  By far the most-used is, somewhat surprisingly, not The Imperial March (which doesn't appear on the album as much as it did on Attack of the Clones) but the Force Theme, heard numerous times (even a fleeting appearance in "Battle of the Heroes"), including in the post-credits music in the first track, "The Revenge of the Sith", which is perhaps the most impressive of all the films' equivalents (though whether it actually appears immediately after the opening titles won't be known until the film is released).  A fairly dark, brassy action piece, with numerous heroic quotations of the Force Theme, it's great stuff.  Other old themes making appearances are, of course, The Imperial March (though, as I said, not nearly as much as you may have expected), the Emperor's Theme, Across the Stars from Attack of the Clones (whose arrangement in "Anakin's Dream" is arguably better than any in the previous film) and Princess Leia's Theme.  So, on the album at least, surprising absentees are Yoda's Theme, Anakin's Theme and Luke and Leia from Return of the Jedi, which one may have expected to be used to underscore the two characters' births (I'm especially disappointed by its absence because it's one of my favourite themes from the entire series).

While all of the Star Wars albums do of course have their highs and lows, it's very rare for them to feature any tracks which really are just dull, but there are two of them here.  "Palpatine's Teachings" drones on for five minutes without doing much of anything and is a very weak track and a very surprising choice to put on the album; and "Padme's Ruminations" introduces something I bet not many people would have predicted being in a Star Wars score, wailing middle eastern vocals, the scourge of modern film scores.  While nobody's going to mistake it with Gladiator, it sounds ill-at-ease amongst the far more illustrious music surrounding it, and is another weak inclusion.  Surely there must have been some better music in the film which didn't make the album than those two tracks.

The final 13-minute track is almost exclusively the end title music (must be a lot of credits).  As an opportunity for Williams to close the book on over ten hours of music he's written over nearly thirty years, it was always likely that he was going to round things off with reprises of familiar music from the past, and that's certainly the case.  "Battle of the Heroes" is the only new music from this score which appears, in a truncated version, in a piece which also includes lengthy presentations of Luke Skywalker's Theme and Princess Leia's Theme, though the centrepiece is the composer's extended concert arrangement of "The Throne Room" from the original film, his own favourite piece from the Star Wars saga.  While it arguably goes on a bit too long, I think it's a nice way to round things off.  It's surely impossible for a film score fan to not get shivers down his spine at the rousing (if familiar) conclusion to the track - and the saga.

The album comes with a bonus DVD, running 70 minutes, featuring 16 key pieces from all six scores by Williams set to visuals from the films (not necessarily the scenes the pieces originally underscored), with each section introduced by Ian McDiarmid, whose portrayal of the Emperor over the six films has been arguably the acting highlight.  It's an intriguing and welcome concept; while the dialogue excerpts mean you can't just sit and enjoy the music by itself (which surely would have been better), it works quite well and I applaud Sony for taking the extra step when they didn't really need to.

Revenge of the Sith is really a very difficult score to sum up.  On the one hand, it's undoubtedly brilliant music, but you can't help but feel a little bit let down by the album: of its 70 minutes running time, almost 20 minutes is music which is quoted by and large verbatim from the previous movies, and another ten minutes really just aren't very good.  The remaining 40 minutes are good, but they can't hold a candle to even Return of the Jedi, clearly the weakest of the original scores.  There was a degree of innocence inherent in the original films, before the time when the whole films were designed as opportunities to create as many marketing tie ins as possible, which is completely missing from the prequels, and this is of course reflected in Williams's scores.  It's not his fault at all, but it's still there.  It's doubtful there will be many, if any, other scores this year with so much excellent music in them, but there is always the feeling that Williams isn't coming close to reaching the heights he did with, certainly, the first two scores of the series.  It's probably more enjoyable and more rounded than The Phantom Menace's score was, but it doesn't have the same raw excitement.  It's completely inevitable that the sixth score in a series is never going to sound as fresh and exciting as those that went before, and it's that raw excitement that just seems to be missing.  The highlights of this album are the grand, sweeping tracks of music like "Anakin's Betrayal" and "The Immolation Scene"; however good the action music may be, there is a certain staleness to it.  

I suppose it's best summarised by observing that this is a great score in the context of film music of 2005, but in the context of the rich musical tapestry Williams has woven with the Star Wars saga it does fall short.  Listening to this album simply doesn't provide the kind of satisfaction that listening to the other scores of the series (except The Phantom Menace) does; but it provides so much more satisfaction than listening to 99% of modern film music, it's untrue.  Whatever this score's slight shortcomings, what Williams has achieved with the Star Wars scores is stunning; and the fact that those six scores barely scratch the surface of his overall contribution to 20th (and 21st) century orchestral music equally so.  But however well he has done elsewhere, it is his work on Star Wars for which Williams will always be best-remembered, and rightly so.  Revenge of the Sith, despite its faults, is still a monumentally entertaining album of music.

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

Bonus DVD

  1. A Long Time Ago (Fox Fanfare / Star Wars)
  2. Dark Forces Conspire (Duel of the Fates)
  3. A Hero Rises (Anakin's Theme)
  4. A Fateful Love (Across the Stars)
  5. A Hero Falls (Battle of the Heroes)
  6. An Empire is Forged (The Imperial March)
  7. A Planet That is Farthest From (The Dune Sea of Tatooine / Jawa Sandcrawler)
  8. An Unlikely Alliance (Binary Sunset / Cantina Band)
  9. A Defender Emerges (Princess Leia's Theme)
  10. A Daring Rescue (Ben's Death / TIE Fighter Attack)
  11. A Jedi is Trained (Yoda's Theme)
  12. A Narrow Escape (The Asteroid Field)
  13. A Bond Unbroken (Luke and Leia)
  14. A Sanctuary Moon (The Forest Battle)
  15. A Life Redeemed (Light of the Force)
  16. A New Day Dawns (Throne Room)