Author’s note: When I took this project on, I did not take into account the fact that I would have little means to write about the score for The Rise of Skywalker without (a) writing out a lot of spoilers and (b) having any accuracy for cues without seeing the movie at least three times. So it’s January, and Star Wars hype has cooled, so lets dust off this saga and continue.
So… some stuff happened in that second movie, I guess. I was a chore to get through, but there was that lovely theme as well as some allusions to themes established in the original trilogy. So in Revenge of the Sith, we the viewers finally get to the destination we knew we would arrive at someday. This is the “good one” of the prequel trilogy, but let us not lose sight of how much we rationalize when that label is applied. This movie, much like The Phantom Menace has a scene at the end that almost fools you into believing you didn’t waste your time. In that scene, John Williams is at his best.
So much of the score for this trilogy seems like just ensuring that there is a minimum number of crescendos in each film, and I can’t blame Williams for it. There is not much to work with here in terms of musical representation. Maybe that’s why the force theme gets used in places that otherwise wouldn’t make too much sense. Take for instance, the opening sequence, when our duo of insanely powerful space wizards (plus a space warlock) crash onto Coruscant.
Shortly thereafter, we get a brief dusting of that love theme, “Across the Stars” as Anakin and Padme are reunited. She tells him she’s having his baby and he’s into it.
And then we come to the most meme-able scene of the movie. It’s the weird opera scene where Chancellor Palpatine tells Anakin about the “Tragedy of Darth Plaugeis the Wise”, aka that time he killed his own boss. There is this rather unique bass choir that totally doesn’t sound evil at all!
A large amount of this movie in particular is heavy on letting the actors voices register much stronger than the score. Ian McDiarmid’s voice is gorgeous, so its cool, but there is some lovely ominous scoring happening underneath.
I know this is jumping around, but I’m not trying to hold your hand through these prequels. You don’t have the time for it and I don’t have the will to listen to the wet cardboard dialogue that Anakin blurts out.
So that’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. Anakin is dead. Vader is born. Its pretty cool and well done, and there is that on-the-nose Imperial March.
The Jedi are to be eliminated, and Anakin is ready to kill some
In just a matter of seconds, we get the final evolution of the Droid Invasion and Clone Army themes when Anakin approaches the Jedi Temple. Chaos reigns throughout the galaxy as clones are given the order to purge the Jedi. The choral arrangement, which has been so strong in this trilogy, appears again as Yoda feels a disturbance in the force, likely one he has never felt before.
So when Anakin’s betrayal comes to a head, he must face his old master, Obi-Wan. The harrowing strings underline the pain in Obi-Wan as he realizes he must now destroy perhaps the person he loved most.
The fight goes on a while, and it takes ridiculous turns onto a river of lava and all that. I pulled a version of the music from Battle of the Heroes. This is when scoring is at its best- you can listen to this piece and picture who has the upper hand at any given point just by listening for that tried and true Vader music.
When the battle meets its climax, Williams turns the dagger in your stomach. You knew this was coming, yet somehow you’re emotionally pulled in and compelled to feel emotion for two men and a green screen.
There are shades of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in there. Here that is in full, one of my all time favorite pieces of music.
So how do we get Padme out of the picture, since she’s not there in Episode IV? Let’s have her die of sadness. Whatever. This next clip features a medley of the Force Theme, Imperial March, and the choral arrangement we heard earlier before the Obi-Wan and Vader battle. The juxtaposition of the birth of Luke and Leia and the birth of Darth Vader proper is a poignant mix of desperation and solemn joy. Padme dies, and James Earl Jones is paid to yell NOOOOOOOOOO.
The babies are separated for their own safety. Leia goes with Jimmy Smits, who will be blown up in Episode IV, and Luke goes… wait… he goes back to his father’s home planet and stays with people his father knew and they don’t even change his last name?!?!? Goodness gracious I need to call this one cooked. Here’s the outro with Leia’s Theme on Alderaan, Luke’s Theme on Tattooine, and finally a retelling of Twin Sunset, the best score cue in the saga.
I know that these prequel posts have not been as in-depth as the original trilogy, and there is good reason for that. John Williams relied heavily on the prior works in order to formulate what is essentially one movie stretched to three. The sequel trilogy is a return to form, and I am very excited to dig in deeper.
NEXT TIME ON TMOSW: We jump a few decades into the future, into the age of Disney’s control over the saga. New characters! Old characters! Another desert planet! And of course- John Williams is back to focusing on brilliant themes. Its 2015’s The Force Awakens!
Bonus Video: An edit of the first two trilogies that really ties Obi-Wan’s arc together. Its gorgeous and better than the prequels themselves.