Perhaps, by the year 2010 we shall be able to see all George Lucas’s Star
Wars episodes in sequence (maybe as a TV mini-series - we might have large
flat wall screens by then with magnificent sound). Then we shall be able to
appreciate John Williams’s grand design as it unfolds and builds in its true
sequential structure. Will it really be regarded as something akin to Wagner’s
Ring cycle? Whatever, here in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the
Clones he adroitly reiterates and develops much of the material of the preceding
episodes, especially in the Finale, besides introducing much new material.
It has to be said that this new score while showing much invention and imagination
does not contribute any spirit-soaring new themes. At the time of writing, the
film has yet to be released so I cannot comment on how well it fits the on-screen
action. The best of the music lies in its quiet introspective passages and the
weakest in its more violent combative elements, some even becoming tedious.
The fast and furious ‘Zam the Assassin and the Chase through Coruscant’, for
instance, has some ear-catching percussive effects and it is an interesting
mix of the eerie, the primitive, and the ‘popular’ cantina-like music we heard
in the first Star Wars but it outstays its welcome. Once again I find myself
complaining about Sony’s insistence on over-generosity, less is so often more.
‘Across the Stars’ presents the film’s love theme. It makes less of an impact
than many of Williams’s other romantic offerings (like Superman’s for instance).
Maybe this is because it is necessarily complex since the love between Anakin
Skywalker and Padmé Amidala is forbidden and doomed. It begins tentatively,
restrained, a harp solo implying its purity and there are liturgical strains
in the texture, together with pointers of nobility and aspiration. There is
turbulence too. But in ‘Anakin and Padmé’, there is a beguiling sense
of serene romantic rapture with a beautiful flute solo
‘Yoda and the Younglings’ is very appealing in its quiet, understated nobility,
lovely muted horn calls and that gorgeous women’s chorus delivered over thinned
out but heavenly textures. This is Williams at his magical best. I would have
this album for this track alone. Another slightly less inspired cue, is ‘The
Meadow Picnic’, a dream-like pastoral evocation, slightly reminiscent of Vaughan-Williams,
before clouds gather and thicken turning the idyll plaintive then uncertain
‘The Tusken Camp and the Homestead’ has some inventive percussive effects.
It is a weird and remote, then tense sound world. ‘Love Pledge and the Arena’
speaks of the passionate commitment of the lovers before Herrmannesque stabbing
chords and drum roles introduce gladiatorial music much richer and more impactful
A highlight of the finale is a melancholy, ghostly soprano solo that speaks
of remoteness, alienation and non-conclusion before many Star Wars themes
are paraded, including the Empire March and the new love theme - the saga goes
Gary S. Dalkin adds:-
The"film" isn't strictly a film at all, being shot on digital
video, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that while the soundtrack album
arrives on a shinny five inch disc it isn't a CD. But more of that later, first
what about the music?
For this fifth (or second) Star Wars movie John Williams has delivered
the most enjoyable original album since the double LP for The Empire Strikes
Back (1980), which was of course the second, (or fifth) Star wars movie.
Unlike the original album for The Phantom Menace (1999), the titles on
this disc stay close to the order of events in the film, with the only notable
deviation being the obligatory concert arrangement. This is a new love theme
called"Across The Stars", and is placed second on the album.
Some have found similarities to Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet theme (1968),
though other than in a general Italianate sensibility I don't hear any direct
derivation. Likewise and more sustainably, some have noted parallels with Williams'
own Nixon (1995) score. One particular phrase is very similar, but this
is barely surprising given how closely Nixon strayed to The Empire
Strikes Back. One might say Williams is restoring the material to the place
it belongs. It seems to me, just as Anakin's theme in The Phantom Menace
reverse engineered Darth Vader's theme from The Empire Strikes Back,
that"Across the Stars" subtly serves as progenitor of both
Princess Leia's and Luke Skywalker's themes from the original Star Wars (1977).
Not only ingeniously crafted and constructed, it is an immensely stirring piece;
romantic, impassioned and rhapsodic in the finest Wagnarian tradition, and one
of Williams most winning themes to date.
Even though the titles of the cues conform to the unfolding story not all of
the music does. It has been widely reported on-line that cues do not always
come from where they say they do, while the music in the final third of the
film is a melange of material drawn from the previous films in the series, with
large chunks of action music from The Phantom Menace.
Back to the album, and highlights include a furious ten minute action cue,
"Zam the Assassin and The Chase Through Coruscant", which
brings Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) style percussion to Williams
full scale orchestral arrangements. Played very loud, as no doubt it is in the
film, its an exhilarating piece. Romantic cues in"Anakin and Padmé"
and the"Meadow Picnic" offer variations on the love theme,
some delightfully delicate pastoral writing and elegant Italian-renaissance
touches. One look at some of the production art from the film suggests the Italian
influence is entirely appropriate. The penultimate track opens with an intensely
passionate statement of the love theme before delivering some of Williams most
wonderfully intense and crushingly powerful battle music. Driven by a remorseless
pulse this is the finest action music Williams has penned for a Star Wars
film since The Empire Strikes Back. The final track has a haunting soprano
vocal evoking memories of the climax of Vaughan Williams Symphonia Antarctica
(derived from his score for Scot of the Antarctic (1948)), the thrilling
return of"Imperial March" and an overwhelming statement of
"Across the Stars". This leads into the end title, where the
compulsory Star Wars main theme sounds rather light in comparison, breaking
up the darker mood of the new film. It's splendid stuff throughout and apart
from a slightly dry sound would normally would win an editor's recommendation
of the month.
However, and this is where we came in. Sony, regardless of any notion of innocence
until proven guilty, has decided its customers are potential thieves, and cripple
the album in an attempt to combat piracy. The album bears a logo which defaces
the front cover reading"will not play on PC/MAC".
And it won't. At least, it won't play in either on my CD-ROM drives. It's a
move guaranteed to annoy legitimate customers, and one which won't have the
slightest effect on piracy. Just look around the web. The album is available
for illegal down in MP3 format, and it doesn't take much finding. Anyone who
buys a CD has every right to play it in their computer, and to make a digital
back-up for personal use and protection in-case the original is damaged. But
Sony don't acknowledge or respect this right. Not surprisingly Phillips, inventors
of the CD format, have withdrawn the right for any company to use the CD logo
on any disc altered so that it won't play in all drives - as required in the
original Red Book specification for compact discs. There is no CD logo anywhere
on the Attack of the Clones album.
There are two other points bound to make fans of John Williams feel that they
are being treated with contempt. First, one track has been deliberately left
of the album, so that in the UK it can be included on a more expensive limited
edition, or appended to a version of the album sold only through Target stores
in the USA. The cue is called"On the Conveyor Belt", runs
3.07 and is a strong action track with compelling percussion. I wouldn't suggest
anyone download it and burn their own CD.
Finally, we all know there will be a complete, two CD soundtrack album next
year - though obviously not whether this will feature John Williams' score as
composed, or the music as edited in the film. Why not release it now along side
the one disc edition, and give fans the choice of which version they wish to
purchase? The single disc album for general fans, the two disc set for Williams
and Star Wars collectors and more serious fans. The answer is of course
that the mighty Sony Empire want to sell the same music this year and next.
You pay your money…
Gary S Dalkin
- Score and no stars for Sony
Addendum: since writing the above it has come to my attention
- in the July issue of PC Plus - that Sony have gone further. Several
recent Sony CDs, including the new Celine Dion CD single go so far as to crash
PCs and Macs. Apparently iMacs, crash and lock-up, proving un-rebootable without
special measures. Strange to think it was this same Sony, so concerned about
its customer's honesty, which was caught out only last year making up plaudits
from non-existent critics to promote some of its less than well received films.