Film Score Friday Top 5: “Star Wars” Cues Part II – The Empire Strikes Back

So yes, originally this post series was supposed to be an easy way for me to get through a packed few weeks…see how well that turned out?  Anyway, just because the reason has passed, doesn’t mean I’m not going to satisfy your curiosity about my appraisal as Mr. Williams’ work.  Same rules apply as before: no “Yoda’s Theme” or “Imperial March,” if the theme is what strikes, it must be referenced within context of a cue.  Also no opening theme music or end credit suites, but the music right after or before respectively are fair game.  Titles used are off the two disc editions.

1) “The Asteroid Field” – I know I keep referencing old memories when talking about things here, but as many have pointed out, music has a strong impact on memory recall.  In reference to this cue, I remember constantly replaying the Asteroid Field level on the Super Nintendo “Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.”  Not only is the film my favorite of the franchise, but the game had so many get aspects, and this level was my favourite, trying to navigate your way through the field.  One of the reasons I loved it was that it used this cue for the music.  The music also reminds me at times of the second movement of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, especially in the woodwind.

2) “The Rebel Fleet” – There is about a minute here of perfect music, in my opinion.  Pull out disc two of the set and listen from about 57 seconds in until the end credits come in (which we aren’t talking about), the swell of the music as Luke and Leia say goodbye to Lando and Chewie as they gaze out the window at the galaxy that they’re fighting for.  Yes, it’s a “down ending” in that Luke gets his hand chopped out and Han is captured by Boba Fett (thank you Kevin Smith for that analysis), but the music gives one so much hope for the future.

3) “The Clash of Lightsabers” – The first truly great lightsaber duel in the Saga, sure Luke get’s beaten up by Vader hurling stuff at him, sure Vader turns out to be his father…but Williams truly outdoes himself with this cue.  The tremolo strings, harp glissandi andbrass hits starting around 30 seconds in, which is just a great arrangement of Vader’s Theme.  And of course the cue ends as the picture settles back in on Luke and Vader (after showing us Lando, Leia, and Chewie’s escape from Cloud City).

4) “Lando’s Palace” – The main theme for Cloud City is such a peaceful and buoyant piece of writing, complete with Williams’ trademark glockenspiel that gives it all a nice shimmer.  Makes the viewer forget just how dark the whole thing is, but wait…what’s going on here?  And that’s the great part about the sequence and cue, it lures us in with the facade of the Cloud City theme only to rip the rug out from under us.

5) “The Battle of Hoth” – Stand by ion controlThe first transport is away, the first transport is away.  It really is too easy to include this epic fifteen minute cue on the list, but it really is great, and lays so much ground work aurally (and visually, and the editing of the two together) for what will be, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the audio-visual editing of the saga…The Battle of Endor, but that’s for next week.  This cue really does so much right, and it shows in that even now, as I’m listening to it, I know exactly what is going on on screen just from listening to the music (the AT-AT walkers are coming into view).  That is a sign that the composer was doing his job: the melding of music to image is so complete that one multiplies the effect of the other (I think Kurosawa said something to that effect).

So that’s it for FSF for this week, tune in next time for Return of the Jedi.

2 thoughts on “Film Score Friday Top 5: “Star Wars” Cues Part II – The Empire Strikes Back

  1. So we have a crossover factor of 3.

    The Battle of Hoth (specifically ‘Battle in the Snow’ as it’s called on the 1993 Arista box set)
    The Asteroid Field
    The Clash of Lightsabers

    The others would be:

    Yoda and the Force
    Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader’s Trap/Boba Fett’s Departure

    I realise the latter covers a multitude of scenes, but it still feels very much like one long piece of music constantly changing mood and texture. It’s also the one that took me the longest to really learn to enjoy but it’s one of my favourite sequences in the entire trilogy.

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