John Williams & the London Symphony Orchestra: ‘Star Wars IV A New Hope’ Review

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ps9brooklyn.org

With the imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I did a little geeking out and listened to the eminent composer John Williams’ Star Wars IV: A New Hope. It is one of my two favorite soundtracks. It, along with Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith demonstrate Mr. Williams masterful hand at moving us the story of his music with the film. The version of A New Hope to which you want to listen is the Collector’s Edition, Enhanced 2 CD version that came out in 2004. Even if you’re not into the alternate, multiple takes of Binary Suns (hey, I already admitted I’m a geek), this CD is the epitome of masterful mastering sound quality (and you can get as part of Prime Music if you’re a Prime member of Amazon). So, while Sony has caused some heartaches with fairly draconian anti-piracy practices, they did a beautiful job with this sparkling clear recording.

One of the things I love about this soundtrack is the sheer variety of music. You have big action sound in the “Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner”, the imperious and intimidating sound of “Imperial Attack”, the ethereal sounds of “The Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler”, the dramatic shift in “The Hologram/Binary Sunset” with a poignant pull on our hearts as we reflect on Luke’s future whilst he stares across the desert landscape on the two suns set. OK, I’m waxing a little poetic on Star Wars, but the music does a brilliant job of expressing and encouraging (dare I say, manipulating) these emotions. I could, and will go on, but the music is as epic in its scope as the series. Not only do you have shifts in tone, you have shifts in genre, to wit “Landspeeder Search/Attack of the Sand People” at one point melds into funky modern jazz heavily based on percussion. That jazz theme is, of course, brought home full force “Cantina Band” (and “Cantina Band #2”); listen for the steel drums for a little Caribbean theme from the Outer Rim.

There are few albums that will juxtapose some many sounds, genres and instruments against one another, even within the same track. This is not, however, variety for its own sake; it always undergirds and moves along the related story. Topping all of this off is the London Symphony Orchestra playing brilliantly. I’m especially pleased with how smooth and rich the brass sounds as it comes in. John Williams was near the top of his craft with this album (not to say the many, many other works he’s done aren’t iconic). The music pairs stunningly well with the thematic material of the movie.

There are some caveats to go along with my enthusiasm for this soundtrack recording. Even the most die-hard Star Wars (or soundtrack) fan will not want to listen to Binary Sunset (Alternate) (Archival Bonus Track) many times. It’s a brilliant track to listen to every now and again because it shows Mr. Williams progression of thought (as does Cantina Band #2) and multiple takes from the orchestra. It is, however, a bit like hearing a musical “making of” and the thrill wanes after few listens. It’s also almost 17 minutes long. So, you might want to make a playlist without those two; nicely enough, they’re the last two tracks of the album.

The second disk may be somewhat less iconic (with the exception of “The Thorne Room / End Title” but no less marvelous. “Princess Leia’s Theme” is at once hopeful and forlorn. The song paints a picture of being bereft of hope (except for Kenobi, of course) yet determined to fight the good fight to the end. “The Millenium Falcon / Imperial Cruiser Pursuit” evokes the skulking, escaping and the chase. “Destruction of Alderaan” portrays drawn out waiting and then surprise while the music becomes ominous yet full of focused purpose in “The Death Star / The Stormtroppers; it’s at this point that we drop into the lower registers. And so it goes, but with more swift action, especially starting with “Ben Kenobi’s Death/TIE Fighter Attack” and moving through “The Battle of Yavin IV” . The music simultaneously evoking the action and pursuits of the film while guiding our emotions.

There is so much memory and emotion tied up in “The Throne Room / End Title” for me. It wraps it all up to the conclusion of the celebration of our protagonists while playing off of the opening theme to bring it home. Nostalgia kicks in at this point bringing back memories when I first watched Star Wars (just old enough to have seen it when it originally aired) and when I first watched it with my children. (For the longest time, they thought the opening Twentieth Century-Fox Fanfare was unique to the Star Wars series. It was recorded for the first in many years for this film)   So go for it; be proud. Get your geek on with a little Star Wars soundtrack listen. Quite frankly, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you’ll like this music. In these recordings (especially with a good set of cans), you’ll find more present in the music than you ever thought possible.

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