STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) – Original Album Review


Investigating the Sony Classical CD of “Star Wars: Episode One”


Every saga has a beginning… but then again, every story about a score has a beginning, too…as well as a middle, and an end. So it is with “Star Wars: Episode One–The Phantom Menace”.

We have already covered, with great detail, the scores for the original three movies (which in literal, chronological order are episodes four through six, from “A New Hope” [aka “Star Wars”] to “Return Of The Jedi”). Now, with the passage of time and a great deal of patience, it is my pleasure to tackle the Sony Classical CD soundtrack release of the first prequel in George Lucas’ epic space soap opera.

It was obvious that the man to score “Episode One” was none other than the musical voice of “Star Wars” himself, maestro John Williams. There is really no one else in the composer realm who can effectively convey the musical message of “Star Wars”. For instance, it would have been odd for Danny Elfman to use his familiar “dark-tone” style of scoring for such a majestic film.

Williams himself knew that in order to create the score for “Episode One”, he would have to re-use some of his old, familiar themes. For example, the main theme (aka “Luke’s Theme”) being used as the main title would be forever established as the theme for the entire “Star Wars” saga since this is, essentially, the story of Luke Skywalker, and how he somehow is able to save his father Anakin (alias Darth Vader) from the Dark Side of the Force. Other familiar themes (Ben’s Theme, the Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme, the Rebel Fanfare) were reprised for the purpose of conveying the story. Of course, along the way, Williams was able to develop new musical passages, such as a march for the evil droids, a new duel theme for the Jedi Masters vs. Darth Maul, and themes for Qui-Gon Jinn, Jar-Jar Binks, and Anakin Skywalker.

Only one orchestra could give John Williams’ score for “Episode One” a musical “face”…the London Symphony Orchestra. This was the first time since 1983 that Williams was able to work with such a great orchestra (all his scores between 1983 and “Episode One” have been done with studio orchestras). The LSO’s lush orchestrations bring out the depth and epic scope of Williams’ music.

When the soundtrack rights were put up on the auction block by Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, many major labels were in contention, among them RCA Victor, which had done a fantastic job with their complete score releases to the “Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition”. In the end, however, Sony Classical was awarded the rights to release the soundtrack score. Ironically, at the time of “Episode One”‘s release, Sony Classical was Williams’ contracted label and had released several of Williams’ most recent soundtrack works.

Sony Classical’s releasing of the “Episode One” soundtrack allowed some artistic independence for Williams, in that he and music editor Ken Wannberg were able to produce and assemble the music presentation their own way, without outside help. Like the original soundtrack releases to the earlier “Star Wars” films, the tracks were presented out of film order for the purpose of providing “a more enjoyable listening experience” and “to provide musical variety”. No one took real notice at the time of the soundtrack CD’s initial release as it came out a few weeks before the actual release of the film in theatres. It was only after bootleg videos of the film came out (shortly after the original theatrical release) that Williams fans began to play their familiar “movie music game”. All people had to do was to become familiar enough with the content of the soundtrack CD, then watch bootleg videos of the film to find out where the CD’s tracks (and their portions) actually went.

Around the time of the film’s release, CD-ROMs based on “Episode One” started appearing in stores. Those computer wizards who really knew their computers were able to discover some hidden treasures…crucial music soundtrack cues that were not included on the original soundtrack album! Fans “ripped apart” the isolated music bytes, and using appropriate software, began the task of creating their own “expanded soundtrack” CDs!!! In almost no time at all, Internet websites began to be swamped with MP3s of re-edited cues culled from both the original soundtrack CD and the unreleased sound bytes to re-create the cues as they appeared in the movie (instead of in their CD jumbled/out-of-order formats). This became a haven for both “Star Wars” and film score buffs who preferred to have an “Episode One” soundtrack collection in original film order, although to this day many cues (mostly from the mid-section of the film) remain unreleased. It was not long after that CD-R bootlegs of the expanded score began turning up everywhere.

The irony of ironies is that had RCA Victor been awarded the soundtrack rights, we might have enjoyed a more officially expanded soundtrack release by now.

There is no doubt that in-depth reports of the entire “Episode One” score and its cues have been covered on the Internet. So rather than being a duplicate of these articles, we’ll deal only with the Sony Classical issue of the “Episode One” score. By doing so, we will unlock the key to the musical puzzle that has baffled even the most novice of “Star Wars” fans.

We shall begin by talking briefly about the major musical themes heard in the “Episode One” score.

“Luke’s Theme”–Its placement in the score now and forever establishes this as the main theme for the entire saga as the central theme is about Anakin Skywalker, his son Luke, and his redemption from the Dark Side of the Force.

“Ben’s Theme” (aka the ‘Force Theme’)–Another main theme (centered around the Jedi Knights and the Force itself) critical to the saga.

“Yoda’s Theme”–Introduced in “The Empire Strikes Back”, heard only once in the entire score (towards the end of the film).

“The Emperor’s Theme”–From “Return Of The Jedi”, used here as Darth Sidious’ theme, but it’s clear by its placement in the score that Darth Sidious IS Palpatine (future Emperor in later chapters of the saga).

“Jabba The Hut”–Also from “Return Of The Jedi”, used very briefly during the space gangster’s cameo during the Flag Parade.

“March Of The Droids”--First of the new themes, a march for the evil droids that will figure immensely in the story.

“Jar-Jar’s Theme”–Playful theme for the flying creature that aids our heroes.

“Qui-Gon’s Theme”–Minor key theme for the Jedi Master. Surprisingly, this was not heard in the original soundtrack CD.

“Anakin’s Theme”–Major key (for the most part) theme for the future Dark Lord. Represents the innocence of the 8-year-old child who longs for a future destiny. This is based in part on the Imperial March (in fact, a hint of this march at the end clues us in on the drama to come).

“Duel Of The Fates”–Last of the new pieces representing the ultimate duel between good and evil.

And now, here’s a rundown of the musical content of the Sony Classical soundtrack CD…

1. STAR WARS MAIN TITLE and THE ARRIVAL AT NABOO–First portion is the familiar “Luke’s Theme”, which forever establishes itself as the signature theme for the entire saga. The next portion (from 1:25 to 1:51) is the beginning of the opening sequence where we head for the Federation ship above Naboo, this will segue into music from later in the film where we arrive at Coruscant (the last section is repeated later on the CD).

2. DUEL OF THE FATES–Concert arrangement of a brand-new action theme that will be the general musical focus of this beginning trilogy. Actually, this was originally written and arranged as part of the film’s End Credits music, but George Lucas thought it was too good to not be used in the body of the film, so parts of this are scattered within the context of the score itself.

3. ANAKIN’S THEME–This is the flip side of the previous track. This is a sentimental theme for the innocent young child who will grow up to become the future Darth Vader. This major-key (for the most part) track is derived from the Imperial March (from “The Empire Strikes Back”).

4. JAR-JAR’S INTRODUCTION and THE SWIM TO OTOH GUNGA–The first section of the track, where we are introduced to Jar-Jar Binks, is dialed out in the film (although the first seven seconds of this are tracked onto a later scene), but then from 1:08 to 2:05 we head through the waters for Otoh Gunga. At 2:05 we segue into Tatooine where we visit with the Skywalkers, and then at 3:51 to the end we segue into an earlier scene underscoring a sandstorm (this takes place before the music in the previous section).

5. THE SITH SPACECRAFT and THE DROID BATTLE–The first 18 seconds of the track underscores Darth Maul’s ship landing on Tatooine. We then segue ahead at the :25 mark to crucial battle scenes that appear towards the end of the film, junxtaposing the droid battle on Naboo and the battle in space.

6. THE TRIP TO THE NABOO TEMPLE and THE AUDIENCE WITH BOSS NASS–Slightly edited version of a huge sequence where our heroes head for the temple on Naboo and Boss Nass revealing his plans for the battle to come.

7. THE ARRIVAL ON TATOOINE and THE FLAG PARADE–The first section underscores Qui-Gon, Jar-Jar, and Obi-Wan arriving on Tatooine to find replacement parts needed to fix their ship. At 1:52 we move ahead to a full version of the Parade music that preceeds the Pod Race, heard in edited form in the film.

8. HE IS THE CHOSEN ONE–Heard in its entirety in the film, we learn the results of Anakin’s tests, and that the boy is too old and fearful to become a Jedi, but Qui-Gon is determined that he is the one Jedi Prophecy calls “the one who will bring balance to the Force”. One of the best cues in the entire film.

9. ANAKIN DEFEATS SEBULBA–I’m still trying to make something out of this cue. This much is certain: the first 2:27 of this track was intended to underscore the beginning of the Pod Race, not the incident of the track’s title. The section from 1:17 to 2:27 is dialed out in the film, however section 1:38 to 1:51 is tracked later in the Pod Race scene itself. We also know that the remaining section (from 2:27 to conclusion) can be heard during the battle scenes towards the end of the film, however, Anakin’s theme can be heard at the end of the track, but Anakin was nowhere to be found at that particular point in the picture. Which leaves me with one question…was the second section really composed and arranged for the end of the picture, or was it intended for part of the Pod Race? The mind still boggles…

10. PASSAGE THROUGH THE PLANET CORE–This piece is heard in its entirety on this album as it is in the film. It takes place shortly after track 4 as our heroes go into the core of the planet itself.

11. WATTO’S DEAL and KIDS AT PLAY–Essentially the sections presented here are in reverse order of the film. Section one comes first as we learn of Watto’s plans for the Pod Race. At the 1:59 mark, we segue into an earlier scene where we learn about Anakin’s true parentage and his working on the Pod Racer he will use in the race.

12. PANAKA AND THE QUEEN’S PROTECTORS–Opens with the hangar battle sequence which precedes the climactic lightsaber duel (though portions are scattered out of original recorded order in the final film), followed at 1:58 by Anakin rescuing the Queen and taking off for the space battle, and seguing at 2:41 by the music from earlier in the film with the events leading to our heroes’ escape from Naboo for their trip to Tatooine.

13. QUEEN AMIDALA and THE NABOO PALACE–Roughly the first 2 minutes of this track underscore a chilly Anakin aboard the ship headed for Coruscant, this will essentially lead to a repeat of the “Arrival At Coruscant” music that ended Track 1. At 2:52 we segue to the opening scenes of the film where we are introduced to the Queen and her intentions to prevent starting a war (as heard in the film this will lead directly to the 1:06 mark of the next track).

14. THE DROID INVASION and THE APPEARANCE OF DARTH MAUL–An edited version of the Gungan March (heard as the Gungans prepare for a climactic battle) opens this track, which then segues at the :31 mark to the beginning of the ground battle on Naboo. At the 1:06 mark we segue to earlier in the film where the droids first land (after the music in the second section of the previous track). From 3:05 to the end of the track, we segue into the Bongo ship losing power as it escapes a “bigger fish”, followed by the music to the droids invading Theed.

15. QUI-GON’S NOBLE END–The opening 13 seconds are the very beginning of the climactic lightsaber duel as Darth Maul appears. From :15, we join in progress the heroes escaping from Naboo and the heroics of R2-D2 (from earlier in the movie). From 1:29 to the track’s conclusion, we move ahead towards the end of the film as we join the title scene as Qui-Gon is mortally wounded by Darth Maul, followed by Amidala capturing the viceroy.

16. THE HIGH COUNCIL MEETING and QUI-GON’S FUNERAL–Cue presented in its entirety as it is in the film. After the climactic events, Senator Palpatine announces his appointment as Supreme Chancellor, and Anakin’s fate is finally decided by Yoda. This follows in film sequence by Qui-Gon’s cremation ceremony as Yoda asks Mace Windu “always two there are…but which one was killed? The Master or the Apprentice?”

17. AUGIE’S GREAT MUNICIPAL BAND and END CREDITS–Immediately after the previous track (in film sequence), we are presented with a closing march (a major-key version of the Emperor’s theme) underscoring the Gungan’s victory and a promise of both hope and tragedy for the remaining episodes of the beginning trilogy. The mix presented on the CD is different than the one in the film. We then segue directly into the end credits, reprising Luke’s Theme, the Duel of the Fates, and Anakin’s Theme (all this was edited for the final film). Also, in the final film, we hear Vader’s breath, a premonition of the chilling events to come in Episodes Two and Three (you won’t hear them on the CD).

Now that you know the key to the Sony Classical CD, it’s time for you to explore other related pages that deal with the rest of the music for “Episode One”. You will find their links at JWFAN.

Until “Episode Two”, or a more officially expanded CD score release (whichever comes first), May the Force Be With You!!!