The final installment of the Star Wars saga not only brings closure to the story of the Skywalker family, it also closes off a legacy of around ten solid hours of some of the most memorable music of the past 50 years – and note that I didn’t narrow that down to “film music” either. John Williams returns to cap off the musical story with his intense, dark score for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith, and it’s an appropriate musical summation of both the underrated prequel trilogy and of the saga as a whole.
“Revenge Of The Sith” packs a surprising punch, coming out of the familiar main title music not with a gentle, sinister interlude, but with a tradition-shattering, in-your-face battle sequence that simply does not let up; at nearly eight continuous minutes, it’s breathtaking stuff. (Though it’s also savagely edited – if you’ve seen the movie, you know that we still got the traditional sinister interlude at the beginning.) Stylistically, there’s something about this track that screams “prequel trilogy” at me – it’s from the same sonic continuum as Episode I‘s rousing podracing music (reused for battle scenes in Episode II and, indeed, in this movie) and the final battle from the same movie.
Track 2, “Anakin’s Dream”, opens up with a surprisingly intimate reading of the Anakin/PadmÃ¨ love theme from Episode II before treading into darker, murkier waters, twisting that theme subtly until it’s disturbingly dissonant.
“Battle Of The Heroes” is to this score what “Duel Of The Fates” was to Episode I, and in fact I seem to remember reading in 1999 that Lucas had earmarked “Fates” for a reprise during Obi-Wan’s final battle with Anakin. And while “Fates” does make a reappearance in the movie – over Yoda’s epic battle with Darth Sidious – I’m glad that Lucas changed his mind on this front and decided that the Anakin/Obi-Wan battle needed something different. “Heroes” and “Fates” are nice companion pieces, but “Heroes” is brimming with an appropriately tragic inevitability, played out on an operatic scale. “Duel Of The Fates” may have been a little catchier with its low, urgent ostinato – “Heroes”, by contrast, has an undulating, long-lined melody that changes subtly over the course of the piece – but a straight reprise of “Fates” by itself wouldn’t have had the same emotional dynamic that this movie needed. And now we can happily sit and listen to the two of them back-to-back.
“Anakin’s Betrayal” has something of the same operatic sensibility as “Battle Of The Heroes”, and something of its tragedy as well, but it’s a much slower build, almost a stately funeral procession. And we’ll get back to that idea a bit later.
“General Grievous” drags us back into fast-paced action music whether we’re ready for it or not, with busy, dissonant, stabbing brass stings, and low, dark iterations of the Force theme shared by both trilogies; musically, it has a lot in common with the chaotic action scenes toward the beginning of Episode II.
“Palpatine’s Teachings” startled me with how Goldsmithian it was; it’s all low meditations on the established themes for the Emperor and Vader, with solo French horns standing out in stark contrast, and menacing strings that almost make it sound like Jerry Goldsmith returned from the other side just to score a cue for the last Star Wars movie. The cue ends with a triumphant restatement of the Coruscant music from Episode I, one of my favorite pieces of music to have emerged from the prequel trilogy, though it’s used here to represent Senator Organa’s ship: it’s become a theme for the last shards of the Republic’s democracy, not merely a particular place.
“Grievous And The Droids” gets us back to some action music which is probably as close as this score gets to the action cues of the original trilogy. “PadmÃ¨’s Ruminations” is another more atmospheric track.
“Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan” starts out in much the same vein as “Battle Of The Heroes”, but it is this cue where we get the first full-blooded statement of Vader’s theme (a.k.a. “The Imperial March”, heard here in a form very much like the scenes from Return Of The Jedi in which Vader watches Luke’s torture at the hands of the Emperor. Eventually the music returns to “Battle Of The Heroes”, but not after a full musical notification that we’re reaching the point of full circle (and, plotwise, the point of no return) with the original trilogy.
“Anakin’s Dark Deeds” is apocalyptic, operatic, and quite chilling. I’m not sure what else I can say here or what else really needs to be said. “Enter Lord Vader” is dark, but far more bombastic. There’s a quiet interlude for a mournful rendition of the Anakin/PadmÃ¨ love theme again, but after that, for all intents and purposes, the music accomapnies the footsteps of evil, concluding in another full-blast iteration of Vader’s theme. The next track (I’m deliberately not mentioning the title here, though it is in the track list toward the bottom of this review) covers one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes with the right doses of horror and sympathy.
“Grievous Speaks To Lord Sidious” opens up with another blast of operatic fury, but then settles into something quieter but still sinister. “The Birth Of The Twins” and “PadmÃ¨’s Destiny” brings back the music from Qui-Gon’s funeral in Episode I, but on a far more grand scale – think along the lines of a gigantic Catholic Mass, and you’ll get the idea.
“A New Hope and End Credits” puts us firmly on the road toward the original three films, with gentle, childlike renditions of Luke and Leia’s theme, followed by a lonely restatement of the “Binary Suns” cue from Star Wars as Obi-Wan begins his exile. From there we segue into the traditional end credits which, for the first few minutes, are virtually the end credits from the original Star Wars – the full recaps of Luke and Leia’s themes act as a bit of musical foreshadowing, eventually leading us to “Battle Of The Heroes”. After that, however, Williams starts reaching much further into the original trilogy, bringing us up to the end of the first movie with several repetitions of the Rebel medal ceremony. This last cue is over 13 minutes long – that’s a lot of credits – and while I find the choice of music fascinating and appropriate, it’s really my one disappointment with the CD as a listening experience. With that kind of running time, it just seems as though Williams squandered his opportunity for one final summation of the entire saga, from Phantom Menace through Return Of The Jedi. There was certainly enough time to something more than eight minutes of the medal march. Something marrying Anakin’s themes from the first two prequels with the themes of his children might have been more appropriate. I wouldn’t be griping, except that I’ve always loved how John Williams synthesizes all of the major themes of a given film in his end credit suites – it’s always been where he shows off some of his most ingenious work. With this kind of running time, this is a grand finale that just doesn’t seem grand enough. To be fair, however, the decision to use – and re-use and re-re-use – that theme may have been made by someone other than the composer himself.
With the movie’s music itself, and not just what’s heard here on this CD, there is the same slight gripe that I had after seeing Attack Of The Clones – there’s a lot of material lifted from earlier movies, though I strongly suspect that some of it was spliced in during editing in order to keep the music coming. The score for Revenge Of The Sith is almost continuous – there are very few scenes that don’t have something in them. I suspect we won’t see an expanded release of this score or the score from Clones, simply because so much of it is edited in from the Phantom Menace score. I was surprised – though I shouldn’t have been – to hear the rousing action music from Anakin’s podrace reprised yet again during the escape from Grievous’ ship. I’m not sure if the decision to do stuff like that was made by the composer or by the director, but that kind of “tracking from library,” from my perspective, denied us the chance to hear Williams strut his stuff one last time. Even though I was underwhelmed with portions of Clones, I still think that giving John Williams a chance to create new soundscapes can only be a good thing. To do otherwise turned portions of each subsequent movie into, effectively, a greatest hits album. I know that podrace music is hard to beat for pure, pulse-pounding action, but does that mean we’re not going to give the man a chance to try?
So there it is, the final Star Wars movie score – at least where Star Wars movies made by their creator are concerned. I realize the word “tragic” probably appears 45 times in the above review, followed immediately by you, the reader, saying “well, duh!”, but that just means that the music hit its marks, doing what John Williams’ music does best and serving as a Greek chorus all its own. There are TV projects waiting the wings, and whether or not Williams is involved with those, or if others add their own music to the legacy or merely re-edit or re-interpret Williams’ themes, there’s no way to deny that he’s made an indelible mark on film music, and on the musical consciousness of at least two generations. It’s hard to really calculate the impact he’s had, but it’s easy to say that it’s been a great ride.
- Star Wars and The Revenge Of The Sith (7:31)
- Anakin’s Dream (4:46)
- Battle Of The Heroes (3:42)
- Anakin’s Betrayal (4:04)
- General Grievous (4:07)
- Palpatine’s Teachings (5:25)
- Grievous And The Droids (3:28)
- Padmè’s Ruminations (3:17)
- Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan (3:57)
- Anakin’s Dark Deeds (4:05)
- Enter Lord Vader (4:14)
- The Immolation Scene (2:42)
- Grievous Speaks To Lord Sidious (2:49)
- The Birth Of The Twins and Padmè’s Destiny (3:37)
- A New Hope and End Credits (13:06)
Released by: Sony Classical
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 70:51