Monday, May 09, 2005

. . . And the Star Wars Geekery Shows No Sign of Abating

Been listening to John Williams' score to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, in anticipation of the film, and thought I'd share my reactions. To provide some context, I'm a huge fan of Williams and his Star Wars work, and think the full-blown themes he's provided for the first two prequel films (the Duel of the Fates theme, Anakin's theme, and the Across the Stars theme--the doomed love theme for Anakin and Padme) are some of his best work. My only criticism of his composing on the new films is that they seem less varied than his original trilogy work, with fewer new themes being played with per film than before. To be fair, though, this may have more to do with the fact that after so many Star Wars films he has a vast amount of thematic material to work with than any laziness or lack of inspiration on Williams' part.

After this new disc opens with the now-de rigueur traditional Star Wars fanfare, it segues into an extended action cut, prominently featuring snares, more military in style than previous Star Wars action cuts. The next track is entitled Anakin's Dream, and it starts with an almost Schindler's List-esque melancholy theme on the violin. Throughout the score's quieter moments I hear echoes of Williams' work on that film, which ranks easily amongst his best. From there, the piece segues into some ominous-sounding tense pieces, before moving into a quote from the Across the Stars theme and ending with quotes from the Force theme. Williams clearly seems to be playing with the more violent and tragic aspects of this installment's story here at the outset of the disc.

The centerpiece of the disc, this score's version of EpisodeI's Duel of the Fates and Episode II's Across the Stars, is entitled Battle of the Heroes, and it's a keeper. The main melody is more understated than most traditional Star Wars melodies, less sweeping and grandiloquent, and is sounded at the onset over some hurried violins by a sole horn, before being taken up by a full chorus. The simple melody itself, which if you listen closely is a kind-of minor-key version of the Force theme (it may not actually be in a minor key; my musical theory savvy is too limited to be able to definitively tell these things), has a sense of the tragic about it, the inevitable. About halfway through the piece Williams very ominously quotes the Force theme directly, with a kind of mocking sarcasm that's quite effective. It's a fitting sound for this last episode.

Another stand-out track is the very ominous, almost avant-garde Palpatine's Teachings, which opens with almost a minute of minimalist droning over a very low sustained tone, which sounds, to these ears at least, like Tuvan throat singing. Here again, Williams makes ironic use of the Force theme, marrying it with the Imperial March to comment on Anakin's fall. These quick quotes of original trilogy themes are in much more use than in the first two prequel films; they effectively serve to bridge this last installment from the first original trilogy film. He also continues to introduce new sounds into the Star Wars universe; with the last film it was the electric guitar, and here it's an almost Middle-Eastern-sounding mournful solo voice.

It will be interesting to see, given that this is the last film, how much of the wealth of thematic material he's stockpiled Williams will avail himself of in the film itself. The Emperor's theme, the aforementioned Duel of the Fates--none of these are featured in this disc. Nonetheless, the score is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. The next step I'd vote for, were I given a vote (last I checked, I'm not), would be for Williams to really take some time and boil down all of this material into one cohesive, musical piece--"Star Wars" symphony, much along the lines of what Howard Shore as done with The Lord of the Rings. As much as I love these scores, it's not often I'm going to listen to them in their entirety, whereas a one-CD symphony, clocking in at around an hour, that was more than simply a suite of the themes loosely strung together, but rather a rigorously cohesive new work built out of them, would, I'm guessing, get a lot of play in my jukebox.

Until Whenever

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