STAR WARS EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH
Music composed and conducted by John Williams
Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices
Sonny Classical, 2005
So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause …
Expectations for this (last?) STAR WARS film were raised exceptionally high. This would be it. After almost thirty years, we would finally witness and see what exactly pushed Anakin Skywalker over the edge and made him the most feared (but at the same time also the most beloved) villain in the galaxy. How the young and powerful Jedi by fighting his faith and destiny, only quickens its fulfillment and his fall into darkness.
For us film music fans, STAR WARS had always something extra to look forward to: a new score of Williams, who, at least me for me, has always been able to capture the real spirit of STAR WARS, wherever George Lucas painfully failed to do it.
If you feel empathy or sorrow or happiness you have Williams’s fantastic music to thank for.
The quality of the prequels is open for debate, but whether you like them or not, the quality of the music can’t be denied.
So it was with great excitement I picked up the score about two months ago (wow, time does fly!).
After my first listening, I felt rather disappointment: a couple of themes I had expected to hear (like Anakin’s Theme or Duel of the Fates) didn’t seem to appear on the album, and some others were too poorly represented (the Emperor’s Theme and even The Imperial March, which pops up but very occasionally and never in a very powerful statement).
On the other hand, the general tone of the music seemed quite right: dark, depressing and lots of action cues.
The more I listened to it, the more it grew on me. And of course, seeing and (above all) hearing the music in the film always helps to appreciate particular pieces and tracks.
Let’s examine the different tracks (a more detailed analyses will follow whenever I got the time). (01) Star Wars and the Revenge of the Sith
The indispensable main theme is immediately followed by rhythmic, militaristic action-music (strong percussion, lots of brass), interwoven with some familiar themes, like the excellent, quite triumphant rendition of the Force Theme (1’38-2’04). We plunge (quite literally) into the heart of the war that has been tormenting the Republic for the last three years and witness Obi-Wan’s and Anakin’s rescue mission to secure the kidnapped Chancellor.
Around 4’46-5’20, we encounter a new (pompous) theme that introduces General Grievous, the feared battle droid leader. This is followed by more subdued music performed by agitated strings and a fast percussion, gradually building to a climax but never quite reaching it, and at the end of the track the music faintly fades out. (02) Anakin’s Dream
One of my personal highlights of the album.
A solo violin brings, in interaction with a flute, a counter melody of Across the Stars. It is one of the most poignant renditions of the love theme and foreshadows perfectly the heartache that is inevitably to come. The lovers share one of their last tender moments.
The mood drastically changes (with a dissonant climax) when Anakin dreams of Padmé’s death.
Low, heavy strings accompany Anakin’s confession to Padmé about his dream.
The love theme is resumed (2’25) when Padme tries to comfort her husband but very soon the dark and brooding feeling reappears. Anakin still has doubts.
We can hear a very soft statement of the Force Theme (3’30) (with agitated strings – the “good side” begins to loose its influence on Anakin) as he tries to seek councel with Yoda, who (let’s be fair) doesn’t give much helpful advice....
The track ends with surpising flourishing music.(03) Battle of the Heroes
Kind of a pompous title for – er – pompous music. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like this new theme. Actually, I like it a lot. Comparisons with Duel of the Fates are not totally superfluous; there are some resemblances, for example the underlying string section in the beginning or just the pure gravitas of both themes.
Different is the approach: while Duel, though very beautiful, stays rather distant and refers to the more abstract rise of evil (Darth Maul is “cool”, kills Qui-Gon, but that’s about it, he’s just a character with no further great meaning or contribution to the story), Battle is much closer and direct. Here, evil has a face, a face of someone we have come to know and perhaps love. Here we observe the painful battle between two best friends who would never have suspected it would ever come to this, to this fight between darkness and light, between life and death.
The sudden impressive presence of the choir captures perfectly the heartbreaking and dramatic essence of the scene (where a great number of fan boys have been waiting for). Here and there (1’02 or 1’22 for example), the music almost sounds like a ballet; you see Anakin and Obi-Wan, jumping from platform to platform, trying to avoid each other strokes, as in some kind of twisted dance.
The Force Theme also makes its appearance (1’56), thus changing the whole rhythm and forming a small breathing space.
An oboe (3’11) repeats swiftly and softly the theme. The track ends with a “Williams-bang”. (04) Anakin’s Betrayal
Here we can finally hear some traces of Anakin’s theme (so it is present on the soundtrack!) performed by dark, descending strings in the beginning of the track.
Soaring strings, brass and powerful vocals create an agonizing lament that dominates the screen while we see the terrible consequences Anakin’s betrayal has for the Jedi Order.
This is the heart of Revenge of the Sith, the moment that leaves you in total silence and awe. (05) General Grievous
All the drama is followed by this more playful action cue. A strong almost ethnic percussion (which brings the scores of JURASSIC PARC and THE LOST WORLD to mind) urges the strings, brass and even a harp on.
Around 0’38 we can hear another short rendition of the Force Theme, brought in the same ethnic and driving style. In this movie, the Force Theme refers very often to Obi-Wan, like here, during his wild chase on Grievous on that (very annoying) lizard-thing. (06) Palpatine’s Teachings
A very dark and sinister beginning, above all mood music, sounding like a Tibetan chant.
Gradually, low strings and a solo trumpet interfere, playing an ominous melody. Things are turning bad, Palpatine’s influence begins to grow.
And then, for the very first time on the soundtrack, we can hear it, the theme we’ve all been waiting for; Darth Vader’s theme makes its first appearance (2’37). Anakin leans more and more to the Dark Side.
The Force Theme (2’59) follows suit, as some kind of antidote for Palpatine’s poisonous evil.
Around 3’40, low strings and mysterious voices bring a dark crescendo that fades away slowly, breaking apart. The track ends in the rousing Coruscant fanfare of THE PHANOM MENACE, thus breaking the sinister mood.
It’s a bit strange we never hear the Emperor’s Theme as one would expect. It nevertheless works and seems to focus more on Anakin’s internal battle.(07) Grievous and the droids
Another energetic action piece, with no distinct theme but the Force Theme (of course! it seems to appear in every track) which briefly pops in at the end and (more surprisingly Luke’s Theme !! (0’49 – I have no idea what for)(08) Padmé’s Ruminations
Another personal highlight. The most eerie piece on the soundtrack.
A woman’s voice sings a haunting, indistinct melody which really gives you goosebumps. It goes deep, creating a feeling of utter powerlessness and sorrow. Around 1’16 you can hear a creepy reminder of Across the Stars. Things are spinning out of control, and even love is unable to cope with the growing threat.
(This is also one of the most poignant scenes in the movie: Anakin thinking of Padmé, Padmé thinking of Anakin, and Anakin making his decision, aware that he is selling his soul to the devil).
The second part is a slow, dark crescendo, performed by strings and woodwinds. Anakin gets his first mission from Palpatine …
The ending note keeps hanging in suspense…09) Anakin vs. Obi-Wan
This is how Battle of the Heroes (approximately) can be heard in the movie. Strong percussion and heavy brass; it thunders above all the volcanic tumult. Here and there, it’s intercut with Vader’s Theme, performed similarly to Clash of the Light sabers in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. (Quite interestingly, Yoda says at this moment in the movie to Palpatine that his faith in his (Palpatine’s) apprentice might be misplaced. And indeed, when we hear this music in EMPIRE, it’s just before Vader asks Luke to join him, to rule the galaxy as father and son.
Finally, around 2’37, the choir makes its entrance. At 3’20, accompanied by the Force Theme, Obi-Wan and Anakin use the – er – Force on each other.
This track also ends a bit in suspense. In the movie, it is followed by Duel of the Fates, which unfortunately doesn’t appear on this soundtrack.
All in all, Anakin vs. Obi-Wan doesn’t reach the same strength as Battle of the Heroes, perhaps because the choir isn’t used that prominently.(10) Anakin’s Dark Deeds
The beginning sounds strangely LORD OF THE RINGS-ish (The seduction of the Ring theme), and even the choir that follows is quite similar to the Nazgûl theme.
The music is dark, heavy and becomes quite pompous around 1’44 (Palpatine installs the First Galactic Empire and raises dramatically his hands – great bombastic cinema!)
The second part starts with another crescendo (2’14), this one reaching a climax. The music grows in persistence: Obi-Wan informs Padmé of Anakin’s dark deeds. Low strings and brass keep repeating the same motive with slight variations.
Around 3’17 Obi-Wan (finally) understands that Anakin is the father of Padmé’s child and suddenly realizes how much his former Padawan has been able to keep secret from him. (11) Enter Lord Vader
This track opens with heavy brass that suddenly makes place for a soft intermezzo. Woodwinds and strings bring a soft, sad melody (with some traces of Across the Stars, totally decomposed?)
The brass section is repeated and further developed. Restless strings follow.
Around 3’01, the threat is immanent and around 3’19, Lord Vader makes his entrance at Mustafar, killing the Separatist leaders.
The Force Theme breaks through as some kind of last convulsion of the Good Side (3’43), but it is too late; the Dark Side has won (the Emperor’s Theme – one of my favorite SW-Themes – 3’49).(12) The Immolation Scene
Drama with a capital D.
Strings bring a very sorrowful and angsty melody, full of incomprehension of how it could have come to this.
The music becomes dissonant when Anakin’s clothes catch fire (0’57) and he yells full of hate at Obi-Wan.
Around 1’57, the music becomes more urgent but it doesn’t lose its sadness (Obi-Wan ponders the events remorsefully). (13) Grievous talks to Sidious
Great opening. Rhythmic music, performed by percussion and strings, lay the foundation for the brass which brings Sidious’s Theme. The choir adds an extra flavour of drama.
The rest is of the track is unfortunately underscore, with few striking moments, except perhaps the variation of Across the Stars (1’58) (Padmé leaves for Mustafar). The theme has lost all its flamboyance and grandeur and is reduced to this sad, urgent rendition.
Around 2’11, we hear the same string motif used in ATTACK OF THE CLONES, when Anakin hears about his mother’s fate and decides to go looking for her. Both times, the consequences are disastrous.(14) The Birth of the Twins and Padmé’s Destiny
A spooky lullaby accompanies the birth of the twins, which is actually intercut with Vader’s mechanical coming to be. This explains perhaps the “sterile” and distant music (and the absence of the wonderful Luke and Leia theme).
Around 1’12 Vader gets his mask (much to his chagrin) and becomes the dreaded figure we all know. The circle is complete.
The lament that follows (also used for Qui-Gon’s funeral in THE PHANTOM MENACE) is used when Palpatine tells Vader what he has done to Padmé. It is quite surprising that such “funeral” music is used. One would expect a triumphant rendition of the Imperial March. But none of that. Instead, we get a very emotional Vader, accentuated by this grave music. The music expresses the sweet victory of Fate or Destiny and the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. He himself is responsible for the thing he feared most.
(For Padmé’s funeral, another version of this lament is used, sung by woman’s voices. At one point it interacts beautifully with the Imperial March. Unfortunately, this version isn’t on the soundtrack…)(15) A New Hope and End Credits
Despite the dire situation, there is hope, in Anakin and Padmé’s children. Both are brought to their respectively new homes.
We first hear Leia’s Theme (0’07), as Bail Organa brings her to his wife. Luke’s Theme follows (0’28) (Obi-Wan leaves him in the care of his family on Tatoonie).
As Beru and Owen Lars stare at the binary sunset, dreaming of a better future, we hear the beautiful (and very famous) rendition of the Force Theme (also used when Luke stares at the same sunset about twenty years later), where a solo French horn first brings the theme (0’51), and strings help to complete it.
As in each STAR WARS film, the movie ends with the Main Title, here followed by a concert version of Princess Leia’s theme (a bit strange, perhaps it just refers to her future role in the rebellion).
Battle of the Heroes follows, and then, strangely enough, the Throne Room Music (6’43) from A NEW HOPE, which is actually a strong and rhythmic rendition of the Force Theme. Perhaps all this references to A NEW HOPE only want to emphasize that despite the rather tragic ending, a – er – new hope is on its way, and with it, redemption will come.
We hear some more variations on Luke’s Theme, a touching rendition of the Force Theme (8’59), and some more Throne Room Music.
At first glance, it seems a strange choice. But it does make the movie end with hope. If the dark music of the film would be heard again in the end-credits, audience would come out of the cinema totally depressed and suicidal…
For me STAR WARS is synonym to great film music and Williams truly delivered again with a score that meets the expectations.
It’s a pity not all good music is on the soundtrack, and some tracks on the soundtrack seem quite redundant (like Grievous and the Droids, to name but one).
I don’t know if there are any plans of releasing a complete soundtrack, but if anyone knows a petition, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to sign it.
Read other recent reviews by Marie-Lise Van Wassenhove: The Remains of the Day
, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
, The Killing Fields