Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Soundtrack by John Williams (1983)
Get it: If you like the previous two works in the series and look forward to a further development of the music
Don’t get it: If you’re looking for a soundtrack that has a consistent action-oriented quality to it and doesn’t focus on themes
We’ve made it this far. The first post of this series, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, was published last year in December. Now, we’ve come to the end of the series as it currently stands. However, this December, we will put up the review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII). For now, though, here’s the review for the final film in the current series.
The soundtrack to Return of the Jedi is, as it should be, a development of the style and themes created in the previous two films in the franchise. The style matches the progression of the film as well. Early on, when the story is placed in the middle of a gangster’s desolate location, the music is correspondingly lonely yet intimidating. When, also early on, the main villains of the series (the Imperials) enter, the music is a progression from the Imperial themes from the movie before it. The pomp and grandeur are minimized, while the threatening elements receive more of a focus. As the action increases with the characters, the music matches the pace. However, the listener doesn’t really notice a sense of real familiarity with the music until the characters make it off the dangerous planet and are flying in space. This was no accident, since that is also visually what was familiar – the characters were back together and flying through space in their most recognizable spacecraft.
The reuse of themes, with changes appropriate to the film, is done especially well. When “Yoda’s Theme” is used, it is done so in a much more subtle, gentle way, as the character is. The overall feel of the score is a little stronger, again matching the characters. One of the bigger parts of this score is the introduction to the “Emperor’s Theme.” It is much more dark and intimidating than the “Imperial March,” and shows more control. As mentioned in that review as well, it is very interesting how this theme is used, though in a sped-up and lighter manner, in The Phantom Menace.
It wouldn’t be a thorough review if the different versions were not addressed. The original soundtrack from 1983 had a few elements that the current ones do not. Perhaps the most disputed difference is in the added track, “Jedi Rocks,” and the finale. Regardless of opinion, however, this soundtrack does a fantastic job of pushing the perception of the characters and stories in the proper direction. Imagine this film with the soundtrack to A New Hope. It doesn’t work, does it? It’s not supposed to. Williams made an incredible body of work with this franchise, and when each individual piece is examined, more brilliance can be found through the specific elements unique to each part of the series.
Now, we’ve come to the time where we wait and see what the next sound for the Star Wars universe will be. Until then, listen to a part of the score below and check out where you can grab the soundtrack.