STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE
Music composed and conducted by John Williams
Re-released on CD and available for online download by SONY CLASSICAL
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Way back in 1995 when STAR WARS creator George Lucas announced to an overjoyed world that he was returning back to his beloved fantasy universe for what would be three eventual Prequels, fans thoughts, imaginations and expectations of what was to come, of what we’d finally, longingly see on the big screen went into creative, salivating overdrive with the endless possibilities such new storytelling would present (who didn’t want to behold epic Jedi battles, the previously mentioned mystery of The Clone Wars, and evocatively realised alien worlds populated with incredible heroes, beautiful heroines, the nastiest of villains and the most weird and wonderful creatures and droids ever imaginable?) alongside the much anticipated and what would surely be truly ambitious and thought-provoking back story that conclusively, and powerfully, showed us the final cataclysmic events that destroyed a once mighty Galactic Republic into an evil Empire, and saw in the corruption of the innocent, concurrently watching helplessly the young Jedi hero, and champion protectorate, Anakin Skywalker, go the way of Lucifer, God’s most loved angel, in succumbing to dark temptation and a thirst for power: in this case, becoming the fearsome Sith Lord, Darth Vader.
Even with all this promise of incredible visionary storytelling, however, an equally as important question in co-relation to it was being asked across the globe: what was the all-defining music to the new epic mythos, once again by the also returning and accomplished film score composer extraordinaire, John Williams, going to sound like? The truth was that the collective gestalt that is STAR WARS fandom, along with anticipating movie-goers and excited film industry pundits, couldn’t wait to hear what the score legend/maestro was going to musically accomplish this time alongside Lucas’s big screen endeavours-especially as Williams rich work on the previous STAR WARS Classic Trilogy had been of such symbiotic importance that things wouldn’t be the same on the Prequels without his key input and, even more importantly, his finely tuned sense of additional character and story building contribution skills. That timeless and wondrous extra voice skill of his that communicates, enhances and heightens the emotional resonance of what’s shown to audiences embracing the silver screen.
Williams musical work, backed up by the first rate talent that is the London Symphony Orchestra, on the original STAR WARS Classic Trilogy was a rich and incredibly exciting affair for fans across the world soon blown away by the likes of fantasy realms and characters never seen before in any kind of reality- the music accompanying it being an intoxicating collection of stirring and memorably absorbing themes and joyous artistic expression. The original first movie in 1977 had an accomplished joie de vivre score that was a romantic, swashbuckling brew that stirred the heart and the imagination to make us all feel young and happy again, The Empire Strikes Back was an ever richer tapestry of old and new themes, and also at times a much darker and more percussive based score full of foreboding, danger and revelation to come, alongside the Wagnerian militaristic theme for the merciless, quenching villainy of Darth Vader, whilst Return of the Jedi, the finale chapter of the original trilogy, mixed lots of the classic motifs from the previous two films alongside quirky fun and action with the likes of gross-out alien gangster Jabba and his cronies and the spirited forest dwellers of Endor, leading into the subtle and building emotional crescendo of clashing ethos and lightsabers between father and son, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, as they are both manipulated and emotionally abused by the dark powers of the evil Emperor Palpatine, his lethal and callous personality realised through Williams music by an effective blend of subtle low key orchestral accomplishment and the malevolent murmurings of a male choir.
Building and expanding on such a tremendously rich and varied body of prior work would surely be an incredible but satisfyingly inspirational challenge for the composer with the arrival of EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (now re-released on CD from SONY CLASSICAL, to tie in with the re-release of the movie in theatres, and in 3D!) but the end result, different to the Classic Trilogy in a more mature almost operatic way, still embraces the best of the STAR WARS tradition, more than ably speaking for itself in its story setting, character revealing build-up and identity, ultimately paying rich creative dividends and warm emotional satisfaction to both STAR WARS fans and lovers of beautiful orchestral music with continual airings.
|George Lucas and John Williams re-unite in 1999 to record the EPISODE I score in London. Image: LUCASFILM.|
It’s a new baptism of fire musically for Williams, who presents the equally fresh looking and even bigger in visual scope saga with a richly accomplished and intriguing score, full of imagination and enthusiasm towards the packed to the brim CGI universe being unleashed on viewers senses, alongside a new pantheon of characters appearing on screen that would soon become a vital part of the entire collective STAR WARS saga, and which, over time, would become equally iconic in many important respects to those characters we’d previously loved with that first amazing trilogy 15 years previously. Williams makes a worthy film like EPISODE I just that little bit better.
This premiere tale also provides him with a rare chance to explore his back catalogue of old themes (including the stirring and unforgettable main STAR WARS opening (which always gets the hairs at the back of my neck raised!), The Force/Obi-Wan Kenobi /Yoda themes) and use them in new ways, subtly for a lot of the time in EPISODE I as ground establishing genesis pieces, alongside key on-screen moments from Lucas (small and large) that will build and address the importance of what’s to come later down the line for our Prequel heroes and villains when ultimately watched in numerical order alongside the classic films. There’s also a lot of fun to be had listening to Williams new scores incorporating or adapting classic prior motifs, too: look out for the clever re-arranging of the evil Emperor’s theme from JEDI as a now child choir singing, celebratory composition for the films finale scenes of joy and hope for the people of the newly liberated Naboo (amusingly titled Augie’s Great Municipal Band), whilst the Prequel Trilogy’s star character Anakin Skywalker, the gifted and cherubic lad who soon turns the tide in that battle, has a lovely melodic theme of eagerness and youth, a decomposition and instinctual rearranging/reconstruction of the Darth Vader/Imperial March theme, that now impresses with its warmth and beauty, but also shows subtle hints at the darkness to come…
Other fine themes adding greatly to the saga include a bold and majestic one for Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (though, ultimately, this is far too short a piece to hear than I’d have liked: it deserved a full length orchestral composition) and the incredible, Sanskrit language incorporating Duel of the Fates –the timeless continuing clash of good and evil, most notably by the Jedi against the now returned Sith sect, which would become the staple element of the Prequels (and reused to great dramatic effect and importance in its final chapter: REVENGE OF THE SITH). Duel is easily one of Williams modern classics for the new STAR WARS saga, and as good as anything he had prior composed for the Classic Trilogy.
Duel music video: john williams - duel of the fates - YouTube
Duel music video: john williams - duel of the fates - YouTube
|John Williams and the LSO return to the STAR WARS main theme in early 1999.|
Amongst the other attentive music sections there’s the action and adventure of themes like The Droid Battle (incorporating the frenzied vertigo of the space battle atop the Neimoidian Droid Control Ship in orbit over Naboo), there’s also the continued and admired opportunities by Williams to enrich the beauty and evocative sweep of the STAR WARS visual narrative, helped by the music in such themes as The Swim to Otoh Gunga (showing us the Gungan’s ethereal underwater cities) and The Arrival at Naboo and Queen Amidala and the Naboo Palace which includes in its music mixing the stately grandeur of the city world of Coruscant, the heart of the Republic about to collapse under the soon towering greed and underbelly created by the resurrected Sith.
Previously appearing in the Classic Trilogy, the wild desert world of Tatooine also has some eerie and fascinating compositions and, amongst the best of all the tracks on the disc, is the stirring and totally hummable The Flag Parade Pod Race musical motif, which wonderfully captures the exhilarating and heart pounding build up to the Boonta Eve Classic and the later triumphant victory of Anakin Skywalker.
|The boy who will become...The classic teaser poster art for EPISODE I from 1998.|
With the bonus edition CD re-release including a movie dialogue version of Duel of the Fates, the landmark soundtrack’s return to official availability is a welcome move by SONY/LUCASFILM, and one which we hope is successful enough to also see in more complete soundtrack releases of the STAR WARS legacy with EPISODEs II and III in the not too distant future.
No doubt your old CD copy bought in 1999 (with the then unforgettable spoiler music titles (remember “Qui-Gon’s Noble End”!?)) is showing signs of wear and tear from constant play, so why not indulge yourself with a pristine new version of the soundtrack and start your love affair with Williams beautiful Prequel Trilogy music all over again?
STAR WARS AFICIONADO RATING: 4 out of 5
Get the EPISODE I soundtrack from AMAZON here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Star-Wars-Episode-Original-Soundtrack/dp/B006TWPUQC/ref=sr_1_15?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1331227490&sr=1-15