1. 20th Century Fox Fanfare (Alfred Newman, 1954) (0:21)
2. Main Title/Ice Planet Hoth (8:08)
3. The Wampa's Lair/Vision of Obi-Wan/Snowspeeders Take Flight (8:48)
4. The Imperial Probe/Aboard the Executor (4:24)
5. The Battle of Hoth (Ion Cannon/Imperial Walkers/Beneath the AT-AT/Escape in the Millenium Falcon) (14:48)
6. The Asteroid Field (4:15)
7. Arrival on Dagobah (4:52)
8. Luke's Nocturnal Visitor (2:35)
9. Han Solo and the Princess (3:26)
10. Jedi Master Revealed/Mynock Cave (5:44)
11. The Training of a Jedi knight/The Magic Tree (5:15)
1. Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme) (3:02)
2. Yoda's Theme (3:29)
3. Attacking a Star Destroyer (3:04)
4. Yoda and the Force (4:02)
5. Imperial Starfleet Deployed/City in the Clouds (6:03)
6. Lando's Palace (3:53)
7. Betrayal at Bespin (3:46)
8. Deal with the Dark Lord (2:36)
9. Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader's Trap/Departure of Boba Fett (11:50)
10. The Clash of Lightsabers (4:17)
11. Rescue from Cloud City/Hyperspace (9:08)
12. The Rebel Fleet/End Title (6:26)
To review a score as classic as this, a score that so many knows so well, and already has a firm opinion of, is not an easy task. Well, in one way it is a very easy task, since there is not even any question about the rating. A more solid five star score hardly exists. But, it is not possible to treat this score like just any score when reviewing it, due to a number of reasons. There is the already mentioned fact that so many already know it, and then that this is only one part of a series of scores, where all of them are closely related, and next that this is not in anyway new when I am doing the review – even this particular release is older than six years. So, I will not pretend that the world is new to this music, nor will I pretend that I do not know the music for the other four Star Wars episodes. But I will try to state why this so clearly, perhaps more clearly than almost everything else, is a five star score.
The score for The Empire Strikes Back adds a large number of new themes to the Star Wars musical universe, both major and minor. For the first Star Wars film, Episode IV, Williams created major themes for Luke, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi/The Force, Darth Vader/The Empire and The Rebels. Williams also wrote a theme for the droid-scavenging Jawas and a motif for the Death Star. The two latter themes are not featured in The Empire Strikes Back for natural reasons (no Jawas or Death Stars in the film), but four of the other themes are featured throughout the score. The theme for Darth Vader and the Empire in Episode IV was however rather weak - an eleven-note theme without much potential, and was therefore replaced in Episode V, by the now very famous Imperial March. This new march theme for Vader and the Empire is featured a lot in the score and is, with its harsh brass character, very fitting for the Empire. Moreover, the Princess Leia theme has been complemented by a new theme for the relationship between Han Solo and Leia; a very straightforward, classic love theme. Also, the introduction of the Jedi master Yoda is accompanied by a theme for him. Apart from these three major themes a playful theme for R2D2 and C3PO, a march for Lando Calrissian and his mining city in the clouds and a two-note motif for the bounty hunter Boba Fett are also featured in the score.
Overall the scored is filled with classic Williams' brassy orchestrations and fast-paced action, together with an absolutely exquisite use of the Wagnerian leitmotif technique. The themes are combined in different ways depending on the action on screen, changing all the time, but sometimes a theme is allowed to soar all by itself, in full symphonic treatment. The score is full of all this diversity and full symphonic thematic moments, so it never gets boring as it is represented on these 2 CDs. (Which by the way is arranged into film order.) In regular intervals one of the themes always pops up and makes sure you will continue to listen until the appearance of the next theme. In between the thematic moments there is classic Williams brassy action music, with enclosed themes, and there are atonal moody moments of the kind Williams does so good. The orchestration features everything in the traditional symphony orchestra, and it is as skilfully done as ever by Williams, with almost every instrument in the orchestra getting its moment of glory. Among the more unusual instruments Williams favours we find the piano and celeste, as well as different mallets. The master of the orchestra is truly at work here, as always.
Highlights of the album are hard to point out; everything is so good that it is all one big highlight! But, great moments include the great thematic work right at the beginning of the film, where both the Han/Leia theme and the Droids’ theme are introduced, as well as the development of Yoda’s theme from its introduction as a playful woodwind and plucked strings ditty in “Luke’s Nocturnal Visitor” to a full symphonic statement in “Yoda and the Force”. Great action music is featured in “The Asteroid Field”, and in the battle scenes on the ice planet Hoth, where the Imperial March is extensively used. The scenes where the protagonists approach and enter the cloud city of Bespin is also very well scored, and is a moment worthy of remembrance. The finale of the movie and the end credits is also one of the very best Star Wars ending sequences, mainly because the themes are so well known and memorable. A line-up with the Imperial March, the Han/Leia theme and Yoda’s theme can’t be anything else than great!
The score is presented on this double disc album as it is heard in the film and the release also includes music written but never used in the final film. The concert arrangements of Yoda’s Theme and the Imperial March are also included. Also worth noting is that the album opens with John Williams’ new recording of the 20th Century Fox Fanfare. The album presentation stands as a whole above all criticism. You never need to wonder if any music is missing – it’s all there, and the chronological track order creates, thanks to the diverse nature of the score, a great listening experience. The sound quality is superb, and the London Symphony performs in a manner that makes one understand why they are regarded as one of the world’s best orchestras.
In my opinion The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars score so far. To me, the diversity and thematic richness in Empire rise this score one level above the others. But, you ask, don't the other Star Wars scores also have those two things? Yes they do, but in The Empire Strikes Back all the elements that define the “Star Wars sound” are present and, to get personal, I like all the themes in this score, too. No themes are weak, all main characters have a memorable theme being developed during the course of the movie, and the way this score changes mood and character all the time makes for an absolutely perfect listening. If I were to recommend one Star Wars score to buy I would without doubt recommend The Empire Strikes Back. This is the very core of Star Wars music. And, to be frank, in my opinion this is one of the one of the best examples of great film scoring. A masterpiece.
While favourite scores often come and go as tastes change, I think I'd have to be pretty impressed for any score to displace The Empire Strikes Back as my favourite score.. The middle chapter in Lucas' original trilogy is arguably the best of the Star Wars films and for me has the most diverse, inspiring and operatic; the music tells the story even more strongly than Star Wars, or indeed any other Williams score to date. This is obviously helped by the almost wall to wall scoring and this definitive expanded release contains every note of Williams' music we're ever likely to hear, including several segments that weren't used in the film. Essentially, the album can be regarded as a tone poem based on the film, even though it compliments and enhances the film in every respect.
The leitmotivic elements of the original Star Wars are expanded with themes that are arguably even more memorable than those already in place. The most famous is undoubtedly Imperial March, full of low snapping brass triplets and sharp percussion. It looms over the entire score like the Empire looms over our heroes throughout the film. While strong and imposing, it is occasionally used in a more suspenseful and subliminal way. Yoda's theme is a more delicate affair; a lullaby infused with wisdom and sincerity. However, it still receives some surprisingly dynamic renderings, notably in the frantic escape from Cloud City. Han and Leia's love theme has been turned into a concert arrangement that is actually quite wonderful, but was only done after the original score had been written and recorded and so it is heard only in context. It is one of Williams' most striking and old-fashioned romantic themes and suggest the Hollywood of fifty years previously.
Despite the 2 hour running time, there is never a dull moment, none of the music gives the impression of being merely functional and every minute enhances either the emotion or the narrative - usually both - in some way. The early Hoth scenes are scored with an eerieness that is somewhat unexpected, but a perfect depiction of desolation and a somewhat uncertain beginning. Of course no Star Wars film would be complete without some thundering action and Empire has it in spades and then some. The Battle of Hoth is possibly the most interesting and sustained action cue Williams has ever written. Those who recall it from earlier releases of the score will notice the episodic nature of the structure of the fifteen minute piece, but it still flows perfectly from one moment to another, by turns grave and heroic as the fortunes of the Rebels change.
The middle of the film jumps between the dangers faced by Han, Leia and Chewbacca as they attempt to escape the Imperial Fleet, nowhere more exciting than The Asteroid, a wild scherzo that is almost unimaginably exciting on its own and played with precision and excitement by the London Symphony Orchestra. Although Williams re-wrote the piece into a concert suite, it remains much more compact in its original form and the concert arrangement misses off the gloriously romantic ending as the Millenium Falcon flies into one of the Asteroids. One of the most delicate renditions of the love theme occurs in Han Solo and the Princess, although interrupted both musically and in the film before one of several segues to music accompanying the Imperial Fleet.
Luke faces his own fears on Dagobah as he is trained by Yoda and despite being generally quiet, these scenes constitute some of the most diverse writing of the score. Luke's Nocturnal Visitor is lightly comedic as Luke finds himself in the company of a creature he doesn't for a minute deem to be a Jedi Master. A brisk pizzicato string passage covers Luke's initial training, while the Magic Tree highlights some of Luke's fears very tangiably. Yoda and the Force brings suggests the extent of Yoda's powers as he lifts Luke's X-Wing from the swamp, but even this has a certain restrained dignity.
For the final act on Cloud City, the full dramatic extent of the story is revealed, culminating with the surging music for Han's carbon freezing, the frenzied light sabre duel between Luke and Vader and the final excitement as some of our heroes escape from Cloud City. Unlike the brassy ceremony of The Throne Room sequence in A New Hope, the uncertainty at the end of Empire is reflected by Williams' sobering music, although the expertly arranged end title medley doesn't disappoint, ending as it does with the soaring romance of Han and Leia's theme.
In terms of actual innovation of musical style, I suppose you could argue that Empire doesn't really have a great deal. Even in terms of film music, the entire Star Wars musicology is something of a retrograde step. However, for sheer bravura, technical achievement and an emotive scoring, it is hard to beat. Action and adventure films in the wake of Star Wars attempted to imitate Williams, but rarely even approached reaching the same standards, although the same could certainly be said for the films. Lucas gave Williams an epic canvas to paint his music upon and in return, Williams gave us all one of the a magnificent and memorable score that will probably remain a highpoint of both the Star Wars saga and of Williams' career.