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Artwork copyright (c) 1997 Lucasfilm Ltd; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Routine score for three banjos and a kazoo

What can I say about Star Wars that hasn't been said before?  The film, constantly voted the greatest of all time in polls of popular (rather than critical) opinion is undeniably brilliant.  It seems odd, but everything that made it so good is what George Lucas seems to have abandoned in his prequels - whiter-than-white heroes you can cheer, blacker-than-black villains you can boo, a simple plot that goes from A to B, no technical mumbo-jumbo or unclear motives or subterfuge.  And, of course, a score that is just allowed to tell the story with music, not messed around or tracked in from other films.

Williams's score does just that - it is musical storytelling.  There is no attempt to get underneath the characters, no particular emotion very often, it's just musical commentary, in the style of silent films of days gone by.  And it does it brilliantly, absolutely brilliantly.  Can there ever have been a more portentous musical opening to a film than Star Wars?  Alfred Newman's classic Fox Fanfare introducing Williams's brilliant main title, one of the all-time-greats, followed immediately by the thrilling "Imperial Attack".  There's no Imperial March yet, and Williams uses another motif for the Empire and Darth Vader this time, perhaps not quite as instantly recognisable, but no less thrilling or superb.  (Williams has apparently said that he is to rescore Star Wars in 2005 so he can insert the Imperial March into it - no doubt also coinciding with an "Extra Special Edition" on DVD - and while I can see the sense in it in that there will be greater musical continuity, it does seem a shame that we will no doubt lose some brilliant music as a result.)

Highlights come thick and fast - in fact, it's no exaggeration to say that even at 105 minutes, the score simply doesn't even threaten to drag at any moment.  Each track is a self-contained piece that can be enjoyed on its own, and each forms part of a brilliant whole when put together.  The incredible "Binary Sunset", which introduces the Force theme, the moving "Burning Homestead", the beautiful Princess Leia's Theme, the thrilling "Chasm Crossfire", the breathtaking "Battle of Yavin", the wonderful "Throne Room" music, even the groovy "Cantina Band" stuff - these are all marvellous pieces that all of us know and have heard countless times.

I asked earlier what I could say that hasn't been said before, and probably not much, but there are various things said about Star Wars that make me a little unsure.  First and foremost, that it ushered in a new generation of orchestral film scoring - while obviously things like The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy had opened the floodgates for pop song-based soundtrack albums, these never really went away after Star Wars and most high-quality orchestral music was written by Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Jarre and so on afterwards just as it had been before - and composers like Harold Faltermeyer, Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis were still to come.  So no, I don't think it did that - what it probably did do was help inspire the next generation of film composers who were waiting in the wings, like James Horner, Michael Kamen, Thomas and David Newman, and the other great film composers who emerged during the 1980s.

It cannot be escaped how many things pretty directly seeped into the score from the temp-track either, from Holst, Wagner, Walton, Korngold, Herrmann, Rozsa, even Goldsmith (the climatic battle was temp-tracked with The Blue Max, and you can't tell me it doesn't show).  But some people offer this up as evidence of some sort of laziness on Williams's part, but I would strongly disagree - he took orchestral works of the past as his base, but this is far from pastiche, and is absolutely packed with Williams's own stamp and full of his considerable musical personality.  In this case, I think it's fair to say it really is homage, not plagiarism.

This album, the most recent (but surely not last) presentation of the score, was released by RCA Victor to coincide with the Special Edition of the film in 1997, the original film's twentieth anniversary.  The sound quality is crisp and delightful and there are lengthy liner notes by Michael Matessino.  There's even a listing of which cues were recorded on which days, and which takes of which cue were used to make up the album!  An extra bonus is a recording of an alternate take of "Binary Sunset" (and you can see why it wasn't used) along with all the recorded takes of the opening theme that still exist, which offer a fascinating insight into how Williams evolved the piece in the studio, but which I have to say you'd be pretty sad to sit and listen to very often!  Two different versions were released simultaneously, one in cardboard packaging with pretty picture discs, the other (and cheaper) in a standard jewel case.  I opted for the more expensive version which, six years down the line, is falling apart - I never did understand why "collector's" versions of things came in cardboard and not more sturdy plastic!

All in all, this is a wonderful release of one of the all-time-great film scores, probably Williams's finest.  In the unlikely event that you don't already have it, get it.

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Disc one

  1. Twentieth Century Fox fanfare (:23)
  2. Main Title / Rebel Blockade Runner (2:14)
  3. Imperial Attack (6:43)
  4. The Dune Sea of Tattoine / Jawa Sandcrawler (5:01)
  5. The Moisture Farm (2:25)
  6. The Hologram / Binary Sunset (4:10)
  7. Landspeeder Search / Attack of the Sand People (3:20)
  8. Tales of a Jedi Knight / Learn About the Force (4:29)
  9. Burning Homestead (2:50)
  10. Mos Eisley Spaceport (2:16)
  11. Cantina Band (2:47)
  12. Cantina Band #2 (3:56)
  13. Binary Sunset (alternate) (2:10)


Disc two

  1. Princess Leia's Theme (4:27)
  2. The Millennium Falcon / Imperial Cruiser Pursuit (3:51)
  3. Destruction of Alderaan (1:32)
  4. The Death Star / The Stormtroopers (3:35)
  5. Wookie Prisoner / Detention Block Ambush (4:01)
  6. Shootout in the Cell Bay / Dianoga (3:48)
  7. The Trash Compactor (3:07)
  8. The Tractor Beam / Chasm Crossfire (5:18)
  9. Ben Kenobi's Death / Tie Fighter Attack (3:51)
  10. The Battle of Yavin (9:07)
  11. The Throne Room / End Title (5:28)