Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) (Revised Review)

Composed by John Williams

Return of the Jedi, the conclusion to the original trilogy, is widely regarded as the weakest of those films. I have to agree with that assessment, but I don’t think it’s as big a dip in quality as some people think. One flaw is a plot twist regarding Luke’s family that’s rushed and is just there to avoid any romantic love triangle. The other is the use of Ewoks, cute teddy bear aliens, in lieu of the originally planned Wookiees. However, the Ewoks’ ludicrous victory over the Empire does tie into the theme of oppressed underdogs taking down a tyrannical galaxy-spawning regime. Also, the rehashed plot of a Death Star portended the nostalgia-baiting of later entries. Otherwise I still love this movie. The Jabba subplot at the beginning seems extraneous, but was necessary to bring back Han and also showed how Luke has matured since Empire Strikes Back. The final space battle is neat and the three-way interaction between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the gloriously evil Emperor is as good as Star Wars gets. The music isn’t too bad either.

Return of the Jedi’s assembly of themes both old and new is very impressive and Williams does a good job balancing all of them out. The new themes aren’t as strong, but seeing how this is Williams at his prime that’s faint criticism. There are three new major themes. The one that gets attention on general John Williams compilations is the Luke and Leia theme. Leia is revealed to be Luke’s sister and Williams chose to create a new emotional theme. It’s a theme that’s emotional and melodic, but not romantic to show how their relationship has been reoriented. Its actual appearances in the film are sadly scarce, probably because they don’t actually share too many personal one-on-one moments. There is the glorious concert arrangement which of course is not in the film, but is echoed in the end credits. Its key appearance is in “Brother and Sister.” After that it appears briefly in “Leia’s News.” Despite its scarcity, this theme makes the strongest impression on an emotional level. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Revised Review)

Composed by John Williams

Here it is, my all-time favorite musical score ever composed for film! For its time Empire Strikes Back was surprisingly dark for an action-adventure film and the open ending was even more startling to audiences. The film’s mature continuation of the story and the elevation of Darth Vader to overarching villain cemented Star Wars as a long-running mega-successful franchise. It cannot be overstated that if not for the success of Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars franchise would have been yet another one-hit franchise and probably not the behemoth it morphed into over the decades. John Williams added to the film’s success with his continuation of his incredible music. His score develops some of the themes from the first film while creating a slew of new and just as powerful ones.

The most iconic theme from ESB and perhaps the most famous villain theme in history is the Imperial March. It not only replaces A New Hope’s Imperial theme, it also doubles as Darth Vader’s specific character theme. The core motif is a nine-note melody. Three repetitive descending notes start it and is followed by a repeat of a three-note statement. In the full theme the following motif is the same statement, but with three repetitive ascending notes at the start. Then there is the final part of the theme which runs longer but ends with the same repeating three-note statement. In its concert arrangement the theme is heavily militaristic, representing the might of the Empire. The militarism extends to the end credits arrangement and the scenes where mighty Imperial war machines are present. In moments that focus more on Vader as a single villain Williams scales down on the brassiness. The complete score is rife with references to Vader’s theme, intruding every time the film cuts over to the Imperials. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) (Revised Review)

Composed by John Williams

I don’t really need to say much about the start of the Star Wars franchise, since it’s pretty much common knowledge. It’s also commonly accepted that John Williams made grand, orchestral soundtracks popular again with his amazing well-known score for A New Hope, perhaps the most consistently entertaining and easy-to-listen-to entry in the Star Wars music saga.

Like the film it accompanies, Williams’ music was a throwback to earlier filmmaking. Most science fiction at the time was more serious and often dark in its themes. Star Wars was more of a space fantasy in the vein of Flash Gordon (in fact, Lucas originally wanted to make a Flash Gordon film, but could not get the rights). Likewise, most sci-fi music at this point was electronic, ambient, and experimental. This held true even for George Lucas’ first feature-length film THX-1138. Odd electronic keyboard music, however, wasn’t exactly fitting for a space opera. The original Flash Gordon serials did not boast their own original scores, but the main titles were provided with grand classical pieces of music. In fact the third set of serials, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, featured an opening title crawl for each episode! Williams went back to an earlier time, reviving the grand thematic style of earlier composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner and setting a new standard for blockbuster action scores. Continue reading

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Composed by: Bear McCreary

The sequel to the second American remake went through several delays, but finally hit theatres in May of 2019. I find it more enjoyable than the first film, but it’s propped up solely by the spectacle of seeing classic Godzilla foes rendered by a Hollywood budget (Rodan’s attack scene is an incredible highlight). Unfortunately the human characters are once again a weak point. They’re not as dull as the 2014 film’s cast, but many of them are entrapped in an overwrought family drama. Also, in the attempt to respond to the complaints that the 2014 entry kept cutting away from the monsters before the action picked up, the director over-compensated with outrageous battles that while fun often fail to convey the monster’s immensity. Overall, it’s a film that would be mediocre at best if made on the typical Japanese budget.

Alexander Desplat and his motifs did not return. Director Michael Dougherty instead used the talents of Bear McCreary. McCreary has primarily made his mark on television but has done quite a bit of films as well. McCreary gets away from the dissonant density and simple motifs of Desplat, which makes sense. While Desplat was supposed to score the giant monsters as natural disasters, McCreary is supposed to represent them as revived gods. This means a lot of choral chants and tribal percussion. McCreary also leans into the fan service by bringing back a couple classic themes. The question is, which American composer did it better? Continue reading