Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ (Remastered)

Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ (Remastered)

Star Wars: A New (Reissued) Hope

(C) 2018 Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On May 4, 2018, Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm released Star Wars: A New Hope (Remastered), the latest re-issue of the original 1977 soundtrack album featuring music composed and conducted by John Williams. Digitally remastered from analog sources by a team led by Shawn Murphy, Leslie Ann Jones, and Danny Thompson, this album is a 21st Century reconstruction of the 2-LP set produced 43 years ago by George Lucas and originally released by 20th Century Records – presented in one compact disc.

 This, of course, isn’t the first major re-issue of Maestro Williams’ score for the film originally titled Star Wars (it wouldn’t be officially renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope until its Summer 1981 re-release): including the 40th Anniversary vinyl 2-record set dropped by Walt Disney Records, the music from the first movie – in release order – of the Skywalker Saga had had six major releases prior to May 4, 2018. They are:

  • The 1977 Gatefold Double-LP Album (20th Century Records, aka 20th Century Fox)
  • The 1993 The Star Wars Trilogy Anthology (Arista/20th Century Fox Records)
  • The 1997 Star Wars: A New Hope Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA Victor)
  • The 2004 Star Wars: A New Hope Original Motion Picture Soundtrack DSD (Sony Classical)
  • The 2007 The Music of Star Wars: 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Sony Classical)
  • The 2016 Star Wars: The Ultimate Soundtrack Collection (Sony Classical)
  • The 2017 Star Wars: A New Hope 40th Anniversary Double-LP (Walt Disney Records)
The original 1977 double-LP gatefold album. (C) 1977 20th Century Records.

Technically speaking, the 1977 album (and its expanded 1993 edition) and the 1997 RCA Victor “Special Edition” soundtracks (and its Sony Classical reissues) are distinctly different records. Though they present music composed and conducted by John Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, they differ both in running time and aesthetic choices.

The 1977 double-LP has a running time of around 74 minutes, divided into 16 tracks. It’s not really a soundtrack that retells the film in musical fashion. The album only contains a little more than half of the complete score, and the material is not presented sequentially. So basically this album is more of a musical suite from Star Wars, with cues from different parts of the movie edited to form new compositions. (The 1993 expanded edition of this recording tweaks the track list a bit by shifting the order around a bit, restoring deleted material to Imperial Attack, and taking out the Cantina Band track and relegating it to the Bonus Disc in the 4-CD set.)

In contrast, the 1997 Special Edition soundtrack’s two CDs presented the complete score, in sequential order, as it was heard in the original 1977 film. (One track that retcons Jabba’s Theme from 1983’s Return of the Jedi and was used to underscore the restored Han-Jabba confrontation in Docking Bay 94 is not included in the 1997 2-CD set or its three reissues.)

The 2018 Walt Disney Records 1-CD set is a jaunt back to 1977 and the “musical suite” that fans listened to when Star Wars: A New Hope was known simply as Star Wars. Its 16 tracks are:

  1. Star Wars (Main Title)
  2. Imperial Attack
  3. Princess Leia’s Theme
  4. The Desert and The Robot Auction
  5. Bens Death and TIE Fighter Attack
  6. The Little People Work
  7. Rescue of the Princess
  8. Inner City
  9. Cantina Band
  10. The Land of the Sand People
  11. Mouse Robot and Blasting Off
  12. The Return Home
  13. The Walls Converge
  14. The Princess Appears
  15. The Last Battle
  16. The Throne Room and End Title

My Take

(C) 2018 Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I first heard the music presented in Star Wars: A New Hope (Remastered) when I received the original 20th Century Records double-LP gatefold album for my 15th birthday in March of 1978. Since then, I’ve owned the same album – with its starkly simple white-on-black front cover and its iconic rendering of Darth Vader’s baleful visage on the back cover along with the track list – in different formats: eight-track cassette, audio cassette, double-CD, extended edition CD, and now, remastered single-CD.  

I no longer have my original vinyl or eight-track editions; I might still have my audiocassette tape stashed somewhere, but even if I had it on-hand (as it were), I have no tape player to listen to it on. I still have both the Polydor double-compact disc that I bought in 1990 and the 1993 The Star Wars Trilogy Anthology extended version CD. Considering that they’ve been played often since I bought them three decades ago, they’re still in great shape.  

Considering that (a) I still have the same musical material in other CDs from other record labels and (b) that I also own different iterations of the 1997 Special Edition of the original soundtrack from Star Wars: A New Hope, why did I get this 2018 remastered version from Walt Disney Records?

Well, for one thing, the 1977 soundtrack is my favorite album of all time. Even taking into account that it’s abridged, includes music that wasn’t even in the film (Princess Leia’s Theme is, technically speaking, a concert hall arrangement), and is, for lack of a better term, a musical suite assembled from disparate parts of the score, this is the album that I listened to when I was at that awkward age when I wasn’t a child, but not yet a young adult. And in these troubled times that seem to have sprung out from a dystopian novel, I find comfort in the familiar music that took me to distant galaxies and on countless imaginary battles in my imagination.

So, yes. Just as I bought the eight-track and audio cassette versions of the original 20th Century Records double-LP when I had working players for those two tape formats, I’ve purchased every reissue of the CD first released back in the mid-1980s by Polydor (I bought mine in 1990, the year that my late mother bought me a portable stereo with a compact disc player). Partly as insurance in case my Polydor CD gets scratched or lost, but mostly out of curiosity and a habit of collecting Star Wars music albums.

Interestingly, Shawn Murphy, the sound engineer who has worked on the various Prequel and Sequel Trilogy soundtrack albums, has taken a new approach to this recreation of the original 1977 soundtrack. The new mix is not derived, as one might expect, from LP-specific mixes and subsequent mixes. Instead, Murphy and Skywalker Sound have reassembled the 1977 Star Wars album directly from new 24/192 transfers of the original score.

I’m not an expert on the esoteric art of recording albums, and my hearing is not sharp enough to discern such things as the texture of a musical piece and the subtle differences one is supposed to discern when listening to the same recording but on different media.

I do know, however, how John Williams’s symphonic scores for Star Wars and the other eight films of the Skywalker Saga make me feel when I listen to them. And this particular version of the Star Wars: A New Hope soundtrack is, for all its infidelities to the film’s narrative thread, is the one that takes me back to the era in which I first became a Star Wars fan.

As much as I like the more complete 1997 Special Edition double-CD album – and I have multiple editions of that one, too – the material in Star Wars: A New Hope (Remastered) is my favorite. I love the overture-like ambiance of Main Title, which was made by splicing the first three minutes of Main Title/Blockade Runner with the second half of Williams’ End Title cue. That’s the arrangement I heard for the first time in 1978 on my 15th birthday, and it’s the one that most orchestras perform, with minor adjustments made by Maestro Williams for concert hall “covers” in live performances or albums such as 1983’s The Star Wars Trilogy.

And although there are no bad tracks in this album, other favorite selections include:

  • Imperial Attack
  • Ben’s Death and TIE Fighter Attack
  • Cantina Band
  • Mouse Robot and Blasting Off
  • The Return Home
  • The Last Battle
  • The Throne Room and End Title

One benefit I enjoyed when I bought the disc version of Star Wars: A New Hope (Remastered) on Amazon is that the purchase entitles me to get, for free, the digital copy on Amazon Music. That means that I can listen to the album’s MP3 version on my Amazon Music app, which I have on my PC, my smartphone, and my Amazon Fire HD tablet. I can choose to play the CD on any of our Blu-ray players or my computer’s DVD-ROM drive, or sans the disc using the Amazon Music app.

Star Wars: A New Hope (Remastered) is a worthy heir to the legacy of the seminal 1977 gatefold double LP. Overall, I like what Walt Disney Records has done with the music, especially the fact that Shawn Murphy and Skywalker Sound teamed up with Bernie Grundman Mastering of Hollywood (CA) to reassemble the original record and gave it crystal-clear digital sound.

Clearly, then, this is the score you’re looking for. May the Force be with you, and until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things!

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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