04 May 2016

Playlist - Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker

Newer fans will know that today has become Star Wars Day because the Internet community loves puns ("May the Fourth Be With You"), but older fans will recognize the significance of the subtitle I've given this playlist. The novelization ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster from George Lucas's screenplay to the original movie was published with the branding, "From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker". That was printed on all ten of the novels published during the time of the original trilogy: Foster's own Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Brian F. Daley's Han Solo trilogy, L. Neil Smith's Lando Calrissian trilogy, and the adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. My use of it here is to signify that the scope of this playlist is confined to that specific era.

All music composed by John Williams and performed by London Symphony Orchestra, except where noted.

1. Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare with CinemaScope Extension
From Star Wars Trilogy: Original Soundtrack Anthology | Composed by Max Steiner

Though the Fox Fanfare will no longer play before Star Wars movies, it was the first music we viewers heard in theaters or on VHS. It felt especially appropriate for this playlist to open with it.

2. "Main Title" from Star Wars
From Star Wars - Original Soundtrack

It may be fashionable these days to go instead with the film version, "Main Title/Blockade Runner", but I have a soft spot for the album version which segues into an abridgment of the end titles fanfare. That's the genius of John Williams: he understands music for film, but he also understands it for the album format. Plus, "Princess Leia's Theme" appears in the middle of this arrangement.

3. "The Desert and the Robot Auction" from Star Wars
From Star Wars - Original Soundtrack

I loved the Super Star Wars video game, particularly because it let me spend uncounted hours zooming around the desert of Tatooine blasting Jawas to Kingdom Come. Contemptuous as I became of those little snots, I've always dug their musical motif. "The Little People Work" is fuller, but "The Desert/Robot Auction" is shorter and perfectly sufficient for the purpose of this playlist. Plus, this piece concludes with the upbeat theme for Luke Skywalker, which I think helps set up the next track nicely.

4. "Lando's Palace" from The Empire Strikes Back
From The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture - The Empire Strikes Back

Williams's Cloud City theme is appropriately airy and inviting, conveying the kind of idealistic society that seemingly exists in that lofty place on Bespin. Seguing directly from Luke's theme at the end of "The Desert/Robot Auction" into this piece feels right. Halfway into the piece, the tone changes as the film scene shifts back to Dagobah, where Luke is troubled by his vision of his friends in danger. A forlorn version of the Force theme underscores his debate with Yoda, and the piece that began so optimistically ends with uncertainty.

5. "The Forest Battle" from Return of the Jedi
From Return of the Jedi - The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Just as John Williams understands music for film as well as album, he also understands it for concert performance, and that's what this piece is. I placed it here because it was time for some action, and I think it represents a decisive turn away from the ending of "Lando's Palace". Also, because this piece incorporates the theme for the Ewoks, it retains a certain levity that felt right at this point.

6. "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" from The Empire Strikes Back
From The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture - The Empire Strikes Back

The levity and triumph of "The Forest Battle" is short lived, snuffed out by what may be the single most iconic composition in the entire Star Wars library. "The Imperial March" dominates the soundscape of this storytelling universe, and it was high time to introduce it in this playlist.

7. "Brother and Sister" from Return of the Jedi
From Star Wars Trilogy: Original Soundtrack Anthology

Central to the Star Wars Trilogy is the Skywalker family, the full scope of which is finally revealed in this moment, when Luke tells Leia that not only is Darth Vader his father, but hers, too. I went with "Brother and Sister" instead of the fuller, concert arrangement "Luke and Leia" for a few reasons. For one thing, it's more thematically complex, including reprisals of "Princess Leia's Theme", "The Imperial March", and the love theme for "Han Solo and the Princess" at the end. Also, it's shorter than "Luke and Leia" by a minute or so. This piece wasn't included on the truncated original soundtrack album, and only appears in a ten minute suite on the expanded 1997 & 2004 releases, which is why I selected it from the Anthology box set.

8. "Yoda's Theme" from The Empire Strikes Back
From The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture - The Empire Strikes Back

What makes "Yoda's Theme" so terrific is that it's elegant, but it's also whimsical. I think Yoda has come to occupy a place in our collective consciousness of dignity, which is deserved, but I think we've forgotten just how goofy he was when we first met him. Sure, we're meant to accept that he was just messing with Luke at that point, but there's a certain mischievousness that's conveyed in his theme that's worth remembering, too.

9. "Han Solo and the Princess" from The Empire Strikes Back
From The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture - The Empire Strikes Back

If I have one disappointment, it's that this love theme -- perhaps my single favorite theme in the entire series -- has never had its own concert arrangement. Halfway through, this film track shifts to "The Imperial March" and Darth Vader's conference with The Emperor. It's effective and helps keep that theme central to the musical narrative, at least.

10. "Cantina Band" from Star Wars
From Star Wars - Original Soundtrack

There aren't many places to insert "Cantina Band" where it isn't a conspicuous jump from whatever played before it. I elected to place it here, back-to-back with "Jabba the Hutt", as a sort of interlude in the overall narrative.

11. "Jabba the Hutt" from Return of the Jedi
Performed by The Skywalker Symphony
From John Williams Conducts John Williams - The Star Wars Trilogy

Jabba's theme appears as part of the film cue, "Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt)", but I have a strong preference to this concert arrangement from an album Williams recorded with the Skywalker Symphony. The tuba is terrific, and the theme is so fascinating to me that I felt it deserved to be represented all on its own, even if it meant going outside the official soundtrack recordings.

12. "Princess Leia's Theme" from Star Wars
From Star Wars - Original Soundtrack

Sometimes I'm in love with the elegance and romanticism of this piece, and sometimes I wish it was about a minute and a half shorter. In any event, I like the idea of opening "Act II" of this playlist with it. Initially, it doesn't feel like a dramatic leap from "Jabba the Hutt", but as it progresses, it leads us further back to the overarching aesthetics of the soundscape of the Star Wars galaxy.

13. "The Emperor Confronts Luke" from Return of the Jedi
From Star Wars Trilogy: Original Soundtrack Anthology

We're back to the central conflict of the Trilogy, now introducing The Emperor's haunting theme. I considered "The Emperor" from the original soundtrack album, which is shorter, but it doesn't feature the choral singing that makes this piece so eerie. This piece was retitled "The Emperor's Throne Room" for the 1997 & 2004 expanded soundtrack releases.

14. "The Asteroid Field" from The Empire Strikes Back
From The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture - The Empire Strikes Back

"The Emperor Confronts Luke" is dark, but it's also a bit sedate. "The Asteroid Field" is still dark -- it's dominated by "The Imperial March", especially early -- but it's also frenetic. Our heroes score a much-needed victory here, celebrated with a triumphant reprisal of "Han Solo and the Princess", but that fades out with some uncertainty...

15. "Final Duel" from Return of the Jedi
From Star Wars Trilogy: Original Soundtrack Anthology

Getting our paws on this cue was perhaps the single most compelling reason to own the Anthology box set. It was subsequently included in the 1997 and 2004 expanded soundtrack albums, but there as part of a longer suite. The sweeping strings and solemn choral vocals elevate this from mere fight to something far larger. Our understanding of what is at stake is informed directly by this composition.

16. "Here They Come!" from Star Wars
Performed by The Skywalker Symphony
From John Williams Conducts John Williams - The Star Wars Trilogy

Because "Final Duel" ends with the fanfare that accompanies the Rebel assault on the Death Star, it seemed appropriate for this cue here. This is a concert arrangement of the music that accompanies the dogfight between the Millennium Falcon and TIE Fighters. I favored this version performed by the Skywalker Symphony over the film and soundtrack version, "Ben's Death and TIE Fighter Attack" chiefly because it gets straight into the action. The death of Obi-Wan Kenobi is important, but its musical representation has always felt a bit odd out of context to me.

17. "Darth Vader's Death" from Return of the Jedi
From Star Wars Trilogy: Original Soundtrack Anthology

Old timers may recall resorting to buying a re-recorded album by Varujan Kojian and the Utah Symphony Orchestra for their version of this before the Anthology box set finally made the original version available to us. What may be perhaps the most interesting thing about "Darth Vader's Death" is how it repurposes "The Imperial March" into something somber and surprisingly tender.

18. "Ewok Celebration [Film Version from Return of the Jedi]/End Credits [from The Empire Strikes Back]
From Star Wars Trilogy: Original Soundtrack Anthology

Firstly, "Ewok Celebration" had to be part of the From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker playlist, because its replacement in the Special Edition was such a big deal for fans of that earlier era. This recording is the one from the film, which differs noticeably from the soundtrack album version. That kind of made it feel like the right version to represent the movies, but there were other reasons I went with this track. I felt that the Ewok and "Luke & Leia" themes that were revisited in the Jedi end credits were sufficiently represented elsewhere. The Empire end credits suite includes "The Imperial March", which emerged as probably the most important theme of the trilogy, plus it also gives me one last burst of "Han Solo and the Princess". Lastly, this is just such an anomalous rarity, and I dig including those things in playlists.

19. "Star Wars Main Theme/Cantina Band" [12" Disco Mix]
From Star Wars Main Theme/Cantina Band promo single by Meco

As a sort of "encore", I felt obliged to include this hit disco take on the "Main Title" and "Cantina Band" arranged and performed by Meco. This 7:34 extended version was released for DJ's, and was included in the 1999 CD issue of the original Music Inspired by Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk LP.

20. "Lapti Nek (Jabba's Palace Band) Club Mix" from Return of the Jedi
Vocals by Michelle Gruska | Music by John Williams, Huttese lyric by Annie M. Arbogast
From Special Extended Dance Remix of "Lapti Nek"

"Lapti Nek" was lifted from Return of the Jedi: Special Edition in favor of "Jedi Rocks". But 14 years before it was deemed replaceable, it had at least two single releases. One is where I got this extended version. There's also a 12" single credited to "Urth" featuring "Lapti Nek Overture", which amalgamates "Lapti Nek" and "Ewok Celebration". The vocals on that version were recorded by Joseph Williams, son of John Williams, who also composed the English lyrics.

21. "A Day to Celebrate" from The Star Wars Holiday Special
Vocals by Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
From The Star Wars Vault

To this day, I've never seen The Star Wars Holiday Special, but this recording appears on the first of the two CD's included with the massive Star Wars Vault hardcover book featuring reproductions of all manner of memorabilia. It seemed the right way to close out From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker.