Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – John Williams



Original Review by Craig Lysy

The stunning success of Star Wars caused George Lucas to rethink his original vision of a single stand-alone film. He now saw opportunity for a story arc, which would span additional films. To that end, he hired veteran science fiction writer Leigh Brackett to write the next screenplay, based on his story titled The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas did not like her first draft, and when she died shortly there after of cancer, he was left to rewrite the script himself. He shifted the story into a much darker narrative, which critics today acknowledge as the best film of the franchise. Lucas did not want to direct and so brought in trusted friend Irvin Kershner, his former professor. Most of the original cast would reprise their roles; Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Kenny Baker as R2-D2, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, and David Prowse as Lord Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). Joining them would be Frank Oz as Yoda, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, and Jeremy Bulloch as Boba Fett.

It is three years after the rebel victory in the battle of Yavin, but the rebellion is reeling from the relentless assaults of an invigorated Empire. A surprise attack by the Imperial fleet and army against the rebel base on the ice planet Hoth results in a crushing defeat for the rebels who flee for survival. Luke is counseled by the spirit of his old tutor, Ben Kenobi, to fly to the planet Dagobah to complete his training under the Jedi master, Yoda. His training in the Jedi arts is progressing well, but he is unable to complete his training when he receives a vision that Lord Vader has captured Han, Leia and Chewbacca. Although Yoda counsels him not to challenge Vader with his training incomplete, Luke bolts, determined to save his friends. All goes as Yoda feared, as Luke is no match for Lord Vader, who severs his right hand and then shatters him with the revelation that he is his father. Luke is wounded in body and spirit, but manages to escape, while Han is frozen in carbonite and taken by Boba Fett for the bounty promised by mobster Jabba the Hutt. The story ends with uncertainty as Luke receives a robot hand and Lando and Chewbacca set off in the Falcon in hope of recovering Han. The film was a huge commercial success, eventually earning $538 million worldwide, or more than 16 times its production costs of $33 million. It also received critical acclaim securing three Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Sound and a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects. Today Lucas’ handiwork is ranked #3 on Empire’s list of the 500 greatest films of all time, and was selected by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for preservation.

There was no doubt in Lucas’ mind that Oscar winner John Williams would score the film. Yet this was a very different film, with a much darker narrative, which did not afford Williams the scenes where the heroica of Luke’s and the Force Themes could shine. Indeed in this film the Dark Side descends as a grim, suffocating pall of blackness, which brings fear, uncertainty and despair. As such Williams understood that he needed to juxtapose the forces of light born of Luke’s and the Force Themes with a new construct of evil. I speak of the Imperial March, which also serves as Darth Vader’s identity. This new theme replaces the Imperial Motif from f the first film to empower the forces of darkness. This theme has passed unto legend and reveals genius in its conception and expression. It emotes as a forceful and aggressive marcia del terrore full dread and menace. All the instruments play in their lowest register offering dark harmonics and chilling dissonant minor modal chords, which sows a palpable fear. Also brilliant is that the melody trends ever downward, an allusion that a crushing and irresistible evil pall is descending upon the rebel cause.

The second new primary theme is Yoda’s Theme, which serves as his identity. The A Phrase emotes with warm and serene strings, offering a calm gentility, and reserved nobility. The B Phrase is surprisingly playful, expressed with an incredible lightness of being. The third new primary theme is Han and Leia’s Love Theme, one of the finest in Williams’s canon. The theme speaks to their tempestuous love-hate relationship, and one discerns immediately sadness in the notes. The theme will evolve over the course of the film, gaining both intensity and ardor, reflecting their growing love for each other.

Five secondary themes are also introduced, including Boba Fett’s Theme, which serves as his identity. It emotes darkly, in the lowest register by a grim descending staccato bassoon figure, which speaks of his rogue mercenary menace. Lando Calrissian’s Theme also known as the Cloud City March offers a bright and optimistic marcia regale, which speaks to Lando’s pompous yet very engaging and charismatic demeanor as ruler of this splendid cloud city. The Droid Theme serves as R2-D2 and C-3PO’s collective identities. Its playful bouncing rhythms with woodwinds animato are both funny and endearing. The Traveling Theme is associated with the riding of Tauntauns. It has a martial underpinning, is propelled by tuba, and emotes with the sensation one associates with riding, Lastly, we have the Bespin Theme, which supports this strange planet with descending horn glissandi and exotic woodwind adornment.

We open grandly with Alfred Newman’s iconic “20th Century Fox Fanfare”, which supports the studio logo and later, Lucasfilm Limited. The film’s setting is established with a display of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” “Main Title” provides a rousing, powerful and full rendering of the Main Theme. The theme is unleashed in all its resplendent glory, supporting the film’s Title and narrative crawl upon the screen, which establishes the storyline about to unfold. Williams once again provides one of the most powerful film openings with a reprise of this iconic piece. As the crawl dissipates a diminuendo upon descending flutes at 1:18 carries the camera’s descent of a Star Destroyer probe to the planet Hoth below. At 1:26 we segue into “The Ice Planet Hoth”, which supports the probe reaching the surface and offers a reprise of many themes. Williams provides a wild torrent of woodwinds, rising trumpet counters, and Darth Vader’s Theme on piccolo, informing us that this is his handiwork. The Imperial March begins to coalesce, bringing a growing menace. Luke arrives riding a tauntaun supported by a martial, tuba powered Traveling Theme, replete with trumpet declarations of his theme.

At 3:18 warm horns emote the Han and Leia Love Theme as he speaks to Han. A cacophony of chattering trumpets and drums support an attack by the Wampa beast. As Han rides into base the martial riding rhythms of the Traveling Theme support his progress. When he finds out that Luke has not returned at 4:25, the B Phrase of Luke’s Theme sounds on trumpets and violins. As Han enters the Command Center to speak to Leia at 4:43, her theme is reprised beautifully, first on flute and trombones, and then flute and oboe with harp adornment. As they quarrel at 5:20, their Love Theme graces us for a wonderful rendering. At 6:26 as the two droids argue, their playful flute theme carries the comedy. We conclude with Han’s departure, which is supported by interplay of Luke’s, Han and Leia’s and the Traveling Themes. Williams’ scoring of this complex multi-scenic passage is brilliant.

We begin a ternary cue with “The Wampa’s Lair” Luke wakes, hanging from the ceiling by his feet. Horns announce his waking and a formless, ever shifting textural milieu swirls around him. As he spots his light saber below, he at 0:54 summons the Force to lift it to his grasp. Growling horns resound over a swirling sea of strings to usher in the Force Theme, crowned by his theme on trumpet as he frees himself and cuts off one of the Wampa’s arms. He flees the lair carried by furious flight music. At 1:48 as Han receives news that Luke is declared missing, he resolves to go search for him riding a tauntaun. Williams supports his departure with thematic interplay of the Traveling Theme, Rebel Fanfare, Droid Theme and an ethereal rendering of Luke’s Theme. We segue at 2:43 into “Vision of Obi-Wan” where an exhausted Luke receives a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi advising him to seek out Yoda on the planet Degobah. The Force Theme supports his vision. As Han rides to him a driving Traveling Theme, carries him. They are beset by fierce howling winds, and freezing as Han slices open the dead tauntaun to keep Luke warm while he builds an igloo. Williams supports the scene with interplay of a plaintive Luke’s Theme, the Imperial Motif, Ben’s Theme, and eerie textural writing. At 6:57 we conclude with “Snowspeeders Take Flight”, who soar aloft the snowy vistas in search of our heroes. Williams propels them with an ostinato by strings energico, bubbling woodwinds and horns animato. In “The Imperial Probe” Han and Chewbacca leave to investigate an imperial probe, which Williams supports with a mysterioso and Darth Vader’s Theme on piccolo. The probe self-destructs when discovered and we segue at 1:14 into “Aboard the Executor”, a Dreadnaught, which serves as Vader’s flagship. When Lord Vader sees the probe’s photos, he orders the fleet to the Hoth System. His theme slowly coalesces from a sea of dissonant textures until resounding at 2:44 to support his ship and malevolent presence.

“The Battle of Hoth” offers a massive 15-minute cue, a score highlight, which supports the battle. As Luke bids Han goodbye a tender clarinet carried statement of his theme speaks of their bond. As the Imperial fleet arrives, they are carried by a martial rendering of Darth Vader’s Theme. A funereal demurring of the theme supports Vader’s murder of Admiral Ozzel for losing the element of surprise. A scene change at 2:06 to the Command Center reveals Leia instructing her troops, supported by martial snare drums and impassioned strings. A quiet interlude with shifting chords supports the deployment of the rebel forces. All Hell breaks loose at 4:06 as the first rebel ships escape, covered by the ion canon’s salvos. Williams unleashes a torrent of competing themes to support the battle including Darth Vader’s Theme, the Rebel Fanfare, and Luke’s Theme. At 4:02 a grim and menacing mechanical rhythm by low register piano and timpani animate the approach of Imperial Walkers. Horns of doom and a counter string ostinato with metallic percussion are unleashed in a fierce orchestral torrent to drive the battle, with a significant loss of consonance. A string interlude at 6:36 supports a scene change to the Command Center as Leia orders the evacuation to pick up pace. As we rejoin the battle at 8:10 the orchestral torrent returns with thematic interplay from the Rebel Fanfare, as well as Darth Vader’s, Luke’s and the Force Themes. The destruction of the rebel power generator at 8:10 portends defeat, as Darth Vader’s Theme announces his arrival. As Han, Leia and Chewbacca depart on the Falcon at 11:40 we have sterling thematic interplay of Leia’s, Han and Leia’s, and Darth Vader’s Themes. We close with Luke’s departure in his fighter supported by a sumptuous rendering of the Han and Leia Love Theme.

“The Asteroid Field” offers an astounding score highlight, one of the best in Williams’ canon. Star Destroyers empowered by Darth Vader’s Theme are pursuing the Falcon and the failure of the hyper drive forces Han to take desperate action – flying full speed into an asteroid belt! As the Falcon weaves to and fro barely missing several collisions, Williams supports their progress with amazing flight music consisting of staccato woodwinds and string figures with counter staccato horn declarations. At 2:17 horns dramatico usher in a new melody, which raises the stakes. As the last pursuing fighter crashes at 3:20, Han takes the Falcon into a cavernous asteroid to hide, supported by a warm rendering of the Han and Leia Love Theme. In “Arrival on Dagobah” Luke crashes on the tropical swamp planet atop a muted rendering of his theme. Williams creates a mysterioso of eerie formless textures, joined by the Droid Theme as R2-D2 falls into the water, is eaten, only to be spit out! We change scenes at 2:40 atop a resounding Darth Vader Theme as he orders his admiral to find the Falcon at all costs. Horns of doom support their futile efforts to find the Falcon. At 3:32 we return to Dagobah and the eerie mysterioso appears, with a Force Theme phrase, which informs us that Yoda has arrived. “Luke’s Nocturnal Visitor” reveals Luke traveling with Yoda to his hut with a gentle prancing rendering of Yoda’s Theme, including its playful B Phrase carrying their progress. We conclude with an extended rendering of Yoda’s Theme by multiple instruments as Yoda cooks dinner for Luke.

“Han Solo and the Princess” reveals Han flirting with Leia where we see her defenses beginning to succumb to his charm. Williams supports the scene with a warm rendering of the Love Theme, yet the moment is spoiled when C-3PO interrupts. At 1:31 we change scenes to Darth Vader’s Dreadnaught atop his theme, as he demands his commanders to find the Falcon. At 2:06 his theme swells with percussive accents as he is commanded to make contact with the Emperor. His audience is supported by an eerie shifting string tremolo, celeste, harp, and ominous horns as Vader is warned that Luke is his son. He vows to the Emperor to turn him to the Dark Side or he will be killed. In “Jedi Master Revealed” Yoda reveals his true identity and questions the wisdom of Ben advocating for Luke’s training in the Jedi arts. What supports this scene is a magical score highlight where we are graced with mystical interplay Luke’s Theme, the Force Theme, and Yoda’s Theme. We change scenes at 2:12 to imperial forces scouring the asteroid belt, trying to flush out the Falcon, carried by Darth Vader’s Theme born by horns brutale. At 2:12 we change scenes to the Falcon in Mynock Cave” carried by eerie textures of harp, celeste and strings, which unsettle us as Leia alerts the crew of a beast outside. As they search the eerie textures return but give way to staccato horns and churning strings as they shoot some Mynocks. The unsettling textures, now adorned with metallic twinkling and stingers, sow tension as Han begins to realize their circumstances. A cacophony of shrill dissonance supports the killing of a Mynock swarm. At 4:31 Han shoots the ‘ground’ and all Hell breaks looses as he realizes they reside in the belly of a great beast and must flee. A harsh sawing string ostinato and staccato horns drives the scene with great urgency as the Falcon desperately flies through the jaws of a great worm to freedom.

“The Training of a Jedi Knight” reveals Yoda and Luke bonding during his training as he educates him on the duality of the Force, its Dark and Light sides. Pizzicato strings join with Yoda’s Theme on English horn and then flute as travel music, as Luke runs with Yoda on his back. Portentous strains of Darth Vader’s Theme intrude, and unsettle us, but give way to the Force Theme. The theme fades as a mysterioso as Luke visits a great tree at 1:38 in “The Magic Tree”, for it is strong with the Dark Side of the Force. A shimmering mysterioso unfolds with a muted rendering of his theme as he descends into a cave. He is unsure of what awaits him and is tense. At 2:46 ominous darkness rises up from the orchestra’s lowest register sowing fear within its grotesque shifting dissonant textures. The trilling piccolo portends danger, heralding Vader’s approach. At 3:39 a grotesque and horrific cacophony swells with horns of doom as Darth Vader appears. Both draw sabers, and fight with Luke decapitating Vader. In the aftermath, a muted statement of his theme joins with Yoda’s Theme. As Darth Vader’s helmet explodes to reveal Luke’s own face, Darth Vader ‘s Theme resounds to shatter Luke. “Attacking a Star Destroyer” reveals Lord Vader recruiting Boba Fett and other bounty hunters to track down and capture the Falcon. Boba Fett’s Theme emotes darkly, in the lowest register by a grim, descending staccato bassoon figure, which speaks of his rogue mercenary menace. At 0:29 we change scenes to the Falcon struggling to escape a Star Destroyer after the hyper drive again fails. Vigorous horns energico join with woodwinds animato to propel their escape efforts. Han turns on the destroyer makes a suicide pass over the bridge and vanishes from the destroyers tracking screen, as they have cunningly attached themselves to its hull. A mysterioso of uncertainty unfolds as the Captain leaves the bridge to update Lord Vader. We conclude the cue at 2:07 with a return to Luke’s training, which goes awry when his handstand fails due to lack of focus, causing he and Yoda to tumble to the ground. A twinkling ambiance ushers in an orchestral decent to support the fall, and we conclude on Yoda’s Theme with portentous strings.

In “Yoda and the Force” Luke reaches out to the Force to raise his sunken X-Wing fighter from the swamp and fails. A shimmering ascent supports his efforts with his forlorn theme informing us of his failure and disappointment. The Force Theme adorned with shimmering textures joins with Yoda’s Theme to fill us with wonder as Yoda lifts the fighter out of the swamp. The Force Theme resounds on horns trionfanti to celebrate the feat, as Luke stands awestruck. We close with a warm and reassuring rendering of Yoda’s Theme as he counsels Luke. We change scenes at 3:41 on Darth Vader’s Theme to the Dreadnaught as Lord Vader accepts Captain Needa’s apology by crushing his trachea. In “Imperial Starfleet Deployed” Lord Vader orders the fleet to pursue the Falcon’s last know trajectory supported by his theme and dire horns. Han detaches the Falcon from the destroyer’s hull with shimmering textures crowned by the Love Theme as Leia kisses him. At 1:51 an undetected Boba Fett follows the Falcon carried with menace by his theme. We return to Luke’s training, yet he is distracted by a vision, which is supported by a flute born Force Theme cloaked in a shimmering string tremolo. Yoda’s Theme joins with mystical celeste and chimes as he explains the vision to Luke, closing on a diminuendo of uncertainty. At 3:45 we segue into “City in the Clouds” where the Falcon arrives at the planet Bespin. The arrival is supported by the exotic auras of the Bespin Theme and ethereal female chorus, which join in a wondrous synergy with the cinematography of fire lite cloudscapes. We discern the lurking menace of an unformed Darth Vader’s Theme. We close with tense uncertainty atop a string tremolo and timpani as Lando greets Han.

“Lando’s Palace” offers a splendid introduction of the Cloud City March, which carries Lando’s escort through this magnificent cloud city. At 1:04 ominous horns and string sinistre support C-3PO wrong turn and being shot by storm troopers. We close on Dagobah as Luke rejects the counsel of Yoda and Ben to not face Vader only partially trained. To their dismay, he leaves to battle the powerful Sith Lord. Williams supports the powerful emotions of this scene with interplay of Yoda’s, Luke’s and the Force Themes. In “Betrayal at Bespin” Luke’s Theme with embellishments carries his flight to Bespin. As we join Leia and Han in their guest room, plucked harp ushers in a romantic rendering of the Love Theme, which carries the moment. Ominous, portentous strings support their departure as Lando escorts them to dinner. The pleasant cadence of the regal Cloud City March, adorned with the muted Rebel Fanfare carry their progress. To their horror, when the door opens they are greeted by Darth Vader, who disarms them and is then joined and Boba Fett. An unholy joining of these two villain’s themes supports the ambush. A harp glissandi ushers in Luke’s Theme on flute as he enters the Bespin System. At 2:44 a tender line supports Chewbacca’s reassembly of C-3PO. We close darkly atop Darth Vader’s Theme, which supports his torture of Han. “Deal with Dark Lord” reveals Lando’s dissatisfaction with events and the deal he struck with Lord Vader. Darth Vader’s Theme full of menace stills Lando’s protest. A playful rendering of the Droid Theme supports a return to Chewbacca’s repair efforts. As Lando returns at 0:36, Han and Leia rebuke his explanation. Plaintive strings and woodwinds join with the Love Theme to inform us of their anguish, and feelings of betrayal. We close on dark woodwinds, forlorn horns and the Love Theme as Leia comforts Han.

This ternary cue offers a supreme score highlight, and its emotional apogee. In “Carbon Freeze” Luke finally arrives at the Cloud City carried by repeating statements of his theme by trumpet, flute, and kindred horns. As Han is escorted into the carbon-freezing chamber, Darth Vader’s Theme resounds with both cruelty and dark purpose, emoting as a marcia funebre. At 1:34 as Han kisses Leia and is moved into position, the Love Theme swells with unabashed power, achieving a breath-taking crescendo, so full of heartache, as Han is lowered to his doom. As he is frozen a cadence dire horns and pounding timpani resounds, crowned with Darth Vader’s Theme, as Han is lift out, encased in carbonite. A quiet interlude supports Vader reneging on his deal with Lando, now demanding Leia and Chewbacca by turned over to him. A plaintive Love Theme full of despair returns as Lando confirms

Han remains alive in stasis. Dark strings evoking auras of the Dark Side with Darth Vader’s Theme support Luke’s movement through the corridors. A dirge commences at 4:59 as Luke sees Han being taken away by Fett and stormtroopers. At 5:35 we segue into “Darth Vader’s Trap” atop an accelerando, which supports Fett’s blaster fire at Luke. Luke returns fire supported by his theme, but there are too many guards to overcome to free Leia. As Luke continues his journey to the freezing chamber, Williams sows tension with dark, portentous celli, kindred strings, drums of doom and rumbling piano, with interplay of a confident Yoda’s Theme. We are bathed in darkness with Luke’s entry into the chamber where he meets Darth Vader. Dire horns of doom inform us of Vader’s menace, and usher in a dirge, as Luke draws his light saber and is lured to his doom. We conclude at 8:12 with “Departure of Boba Fett” as Lando frees Leia and Chewbacca from the stormtroopers, the menacing march rhythms of the Dark Side dominate. Now free, Leia rushes to save Han with a desperate, yet impassioned rendering of the Love Theme supporting her efforts. She arrives too late to stop Fett’s departure. We close a Darth Vader and Luke duel, supported by a sterling interplay of Darth Vader’s, Luke’s, Yoda’s and the Force Themes.

“The Clash of Lightsabers” sustains Luke and Vader’s duel. Vader uses the Force to fling several large objects against Luke, who is blown out into the ventilation shaft when a window is shattered. An eerie shimmering tremolo supports Luke’s search for Vader, with dark horns sowing fear. As Vader strikes, his theme resounds, buttressed by a grotesque cacophony of evil as he gains the upper hand in battle. Swirling strings and harp glissandi sweep Luke onto the catwalk as dire horns support Vader as he moves in for the kill. We change scenes atop a fierce accelerando at 1:38 as Leia, Lando and Chewbacca battle the stormtroopers. Pandemonium breaks out as Lando orders an evacuation of the city. Interplay of a churning ostinato, Yoda’s Theme, the Rebel Fanfare, the Love Theme and the Cloud City March joined by trumpeting fanfare empower the action and drama. As R2D2 opens the landing pad door at 2:52, trumpets attending the Love Theme carry them to the Falcon, and support their escape. We conclude with an eerie violin sustain as Luke navigates the catwalk.

“Rescue from Cloud City” offers a powerful scene and score highlight. Vader gains the upper hand in the duel and severs Luke’s saber hand, leaving him defenseless. As Luke is cornered, menacing strings and dire woodwinds portend his demise. At 0:53 Vader shatters Luke with the revelation that he is his father. A timpani roll ushers in a deafening declaration of Vader’s Theme adding potency to the devastating revelation. He attempts to seduce Luke to join him to rule the universe, but is rejected as Luke cast himself off the platform and apparently falls to his death. A swirling, descending motif carries his fall, to a precarious perch on the city’s lower weather vane. In a moment of desperation, Luke calls out to Leia using the Force. At 3:23 the Force Theme emotes with one of its most stirring and rendering in the film as Leia hears his cries in her mind and orders the Falcon back to save him. As Vader departs, his theme carries his departure supported by swirling strings and dire horns, which are sustained as the Falcon returns for Luke. We segue aggressively into “Hyperspace” at 5:07 as TIE fighters begin their pursuit. A fierce churning string ostinato and horns dramatico propel their relentless pursuit. As Vader confirms the hyper drive was deactivated his theme supports his satisfaction. The TIE pursuit ostinato returns with interplay of the Droid Theme as R2D2 moves to reactivate the hyper drive. We close with statements of Darth Vader’s Theme as he uses telepathy to seduce Luke, and the churning TIE ostinato. Celebratory fanfare supports the Falcon’s escape, and we close darkly on a grim sustain as Darth Vader departs the bridge.

“The Rebel Fleet” offers a masterpiece cue, perhaps the finest in the franchise. Lando and Chewbacca depart in the Falcon to rescue Han, as Luke receives a mechanical prostatic hand. The Force Theme shines as never before with a profoundly evocative statement. Refulgent strings attend the theme, and swell to a truly bittersweet statement, as uncertainty reigns, and the Empire seems ascendant. We conclude with a sweeping statement of the Love Theme, reflecting Leia’s hope for Han to conclude the film. At 1:58 we segue into “End Title” where Williams graces us with a parade of his primary themes; Luke’s Theme, the Rebel Fanfare, a full rendering of Yoda’s Theme, Darth Vader’s Theme, The Love Theme, before concluding in a glorious Rebel Fanfare flourish!

I assess two bonus cues, the first being the concert version of “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”, which emotes as a forceful and aggressive marcia del terrore, full dread and menace. All the instruments play in their lowest register offering dark harmonics and chilling dissonant minor modal chords, which sows a palpable fear. Also brilliant is that the melody trends ever downward, an allusion that a crushing and irresistible evil pall is descending upon the rebel cause. Lastly we have “Yoda’s Theme”, which offers a full rendering, with embellishments of the theme, with both its gentle A Phrase and playful B Phrase. Williams perfectly captured the nobility, wisdom and gentility of Yoda, bringing him to life before our eyes.

I would like to thank Sony Classical for this enhanced and remastered presentation of John Williams’ masterpiece. The sound quality is exceptional, and provides a superior listening experience. Star Wars was, many, including myself, believe this score to be the best of the franchise. The themes for Luke and the force were reprised wonderfully and joined by exceptional new themes for Darth Vader, Yoda, and Han and Leia. Indeed, I believe the Imperial March has passed unto legend as an iconic piece so perfect in its conception and application as to expose the inadequacy of all other cinematic villain themes. Like Sergei Rachmaninov’s famous Prelude in C# Minor, fans with every concert appearance of the composer demand it be played, which offers a testament to Williams genius. In scene after scene Williams’ score fleshed out the many powerful emotions of this film’s narrative. The thematic interplay was of the highest order, and Lucas, to a great extent owes the success of his franchise to Williams’ composition gifts. The score is a masterpiece, the best of the Star Wars franchise, the best in Williams’ canon and a late Silver Age gem. I highly recommend this score’s purchase as an essential part of your collection.

Buy the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • 20th Century Fox Fanfare (composed by Alfred Newman) (0:22)
  • Main Title/The Ice Planet Hoth (8:08)
  • The Wampa’s Lair/Vision of Obi-Wan/Snowspeeders Take Flight (8:48)
  • The Imperial Probe/Aboard the Executor (4:24)
  • The Battle of Hoth: Ion Cannon/Imperial Walkers/Beneath the AT-AT/Escape in the Millennium Falcon (14:48)
  • The Asteroid Field (4:15)
  • Arrival on Dagobah (4:52)
  • Luke’s Nocturnal Visitor (2:35)
  • Han Solo and the Princess (3:26)
  • Jedi Master Revealed/Mynock Cave (5:43)
  • The Training of a Jedi Knight/The Magic Tree (5:16)
  • The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) (3:02)
  • Yoda’s Theme (3:29)
  • Attacking a Star Destroyer (3:04)
  • Yoda and the Force (4:02)
  • Imperial Starfleet Deployed/City in the Clouds (6:03)
  • Lando’s Palace (3:53)
  • Betrayal at Bespin (3:45)
  • Deal With the Dark Lord (2:36)
  • Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader’s Trap/Departure of Boba Fett (11:50)
  • The Clash of Lightsabers (4:17)
  • Rescue from Cloud City/Hyperspace (9:08)
  • The Rebel Fleet/End Title (6:27)

Running Time: 124 minutes 13 seconds

Sony Classical SK-92951 (1980/2004)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Herbert W. Spencer. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Score produced by John Williams. Album produced by Nick Redman.

  1. June 20, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    My favourite score, I think. Way back in 1980 I had the double-album for Christmas and spent hours listening to it on my headphones. I adored The City in the Clouds track, it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle whenever I hear it. Just such an incredible score so full of melodies and ideas and so richly, vividly orchestrated. You can hear the story without needing any images. Great review/summary as always!

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