Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Empire Strikes Back: A Musical Masterpiece

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Although the entire Star Wars saga is epic and world renowned, The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the best individual movie.  It is almost perfect in every way, it outlines the journey of Luke, Yoda is introduced, Han is frozen, Vader cuts off Luke’s hand and admits to being his father; the list goes on and on.  But even with all of these fantastic elements and a strong plot, the movie would be nothing without one Key aspect: the music.  The soundtrack of The Empire Strikes Back was written by John Williams and it helps push the scenes forward, draw emotion from the viewer, identify when a character has arrived, set the pace for the scene, and make every scene feel “full.”  One specific scene I will analyze is the fight between Luke and his father, Darth Vader.

               To speak to the ethos of the soundtrack, John Williams, who wrote the music, ( is an incredible composer and conductor.  He had an already established career before Star Wars with movies such as Land of the Giants, Fiddler on the Roof (he was nominated for an Academy Award), The Cowboys, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to name a few.  His credibility and excellence speak volumes to the soundtrack of Star Wars.  After the saga, John Williams has sense written for the Indian Jones series, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, Superman, and many more.  For logos, each character, or theme in the Star Wars movies, has their own theme and score.  Some of the titles off The Empire Strikes Back sound track include “The Training of a Jedi”, “The Imperial March (Vader’s Theme)”, “The Heroics of Han and Luke”, and “Hyperspace”.  Every song is specifically crafted for the scene or theme that is trying to be conveyed.  The songs draw emotion from the viewer and allow them to be more in sync with the scene and character’s themselves.  Williams did an excellent job in making the soundtrack of The Empire Strikes Back emotionally compelling and a musical masterpiece.  Finally, to touch on pathos, each song is recognizable and brings back a memory.  I am sure that if you hear the “Imperial March”, you immediately think of Darth Vader, or if you hear “Star Wars (Main Theme)”, you immediately think of a time long ago in a galaxy far far away.  The songs are heavily linked to the characters and themes in Star Wars that they build an emotional connection between the audience and the Character, or the movie The Empire Strikes Back itself.  The Star Wars soundtrack is incredibly emotional and helps the audience bond with the characters and understand the scenes. 

               Now time for the fun stuff! Here is the scene I will analyze (below this paragraph).  At the start of the scene, there is no music (skip to 4 minutes if you want to hear music).  This was done intentionally to draw our attention to the sparse dialogue and intensity of the light-sabers in the fight.  The music is not brought into the scene until almost four minutes’ in.  When it is finally there, it is a mix of the “Imperial March” and the main theme.  This juxtaposes hope and the power of the dark side.  The music is constantly building and decaying.  Crescendo then decrescendo.  Intense then subtle.  This represents the highs and lows of the fight.  A violin is constantly slurring notes in the background at a faint level, the intensity is always there even if the volume is low.  The orchestra seems to reach a climax when Luke is thrown out of the control room window.  When Luke and Vader begin to duel again, the music has cut out completely.  It does not resume until Luke’s right hand is cut off.  It immediately decrescendos and continues to build up while Vader is talking until Vader confesses to being Luke’s father.  It reaches a melancholy climax at this point.  In my opinion, the uses and non-uses of music in this scene are perfect.  The music draws your attention to certain parts and makes you focus like nothing else can.  I give The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and use of music a 5 full nachos.  The critics seem to agree.  Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 94% and Common Sense Media rates it 5/5.

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