Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Original Soundtrack’ (International Edition’)

The front cover illustration for Polydor’s 1985 compact disc edition of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’s soundtrack, based on the RSO “international edition” from May 1980. Photo Credit: Copyright 1985 Polydor and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

On May 16, 1980, five days before the theatrical release of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, RSO Records released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: Original Soundtrack on vinyl, eight-track cassette, and audio cassette formats. Featuring a front cover that shows Darth Vader’s menacing mask against the backdrop of space and a back cover illustrated with Roger Kastel’s now iconic “Gone with the Wind”-style poster, this album presented an abridged suite from composer John Williams’ score for the second film – in release order, at least – in the Star Wars saga.

Curiously, RSO Records (the initials stand for “Robert Stigwood Organisation”) released two radically different versions of the album: the 2-LP gatefold album sold in the U.S. and Japan featured almost 75 minutes of musical material composed and conducted by Maestro Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, while the “international” edition released in Great Britain and elsewhere contained just over 41 minutes’ worth of music.

Here’s the track list for the 2-LP edition sold in the U.S. and Japan as it was presented in the vinyl record set:

1.“Star Wars (Main Theme)”5:49
2.“Yoda’s Theme”3:24
3.“The Training of a Jedi Knight”3:17
4.“The Heroics of Luke and Han”6:18
5.“The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”2:59
6.“Departure of Boba Fett”3:30
7.“Han Solo and the Princess”3:25
9.“The Battle in the Snow”3:48
10.“The Asteroid Field”4:10
11.“The City in the Clouds”6:29
12.“Rebels at Bay”5:23
13.“Yoda and the Force”4:01
14.“The Duel”4:07
15.“The Magic Tree”3:32
16.“Lando’s Palace”3:52

Total Time: 74:34

And here is the track listing from RSO Records’ “International Edition”:

First release on CD by Polydor.

  1. “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” – 3:00
  2. “Yoda’s Theme” – 3:27
  3. “The Asteroid Field” – 4:10
  4. “Han Solo and the Princess” – 3:26
  5. “Finale” – 6:25
  6. “Star Wars (Main Theme)” – 5:48
  7. “The Training of a Jedi Knight” – 3:05
  8. “Yoda and the Force” – 4:02
  9. “The Duel” – 4:03
  10. “The Battle in the Snow” – 3:48

Total Time: 41:23

The cover for the 2-LP album features the art from the 1979 “Coming to Your Galaxy Next Summer” teaser poster for Empire. (C) 1980 RSO Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

At the time of the Empire soundtrack’s release, the mostly-disco RSO label was at the apex of its success in the highly competitive recording industry. It was coming off a string of hot-selling records, including the soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Grease. However, it was also entering the twilight of its 10-year existence; Robert Stigwood, the label’s co-founder, had produced the box office disaster known as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the Bee Gees (which were managed by RSO) had filed a successful $200 million lawsuit alleging mismanagement,

I don’t know whether or not the behind-the-scenes drama at RSO Records influenced the label’s decision to create two vastly different editions of the Empire soundtrack. It did sell well, and along with the older soundtracks from Grease and Saturday Night Fever, it helped keep RSO alive until 1983, the year that it was absorbed by its London-based parent Polygram.

My Take

My Take

I have reviewed the more complete Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back -Original Soundtrack Album (Special Edition) elsewhere; there’s no need for me to repeat my remarks about John Williams’ skills as a composer/conductor or the London Symphony Orchestra’s peerless performance of the score in this space. 

Instead, I’ll confine my comments to this lackluster recording by saying, “Don’t buy this album unless the seller only asks $1.00 for it at a garage sale.” 

Seriously. It’s really that bad.  The producers and engineers at Polydor/Polygram should have at least asked someone to get the original recordings of the 2-LP album and given the Empire soundtrack the same level of attention to detail that they gave to the 2-CD album of Star Wars music. Certainly, someone had access to the complete master tapes from the 1980 recording sessions. Otherwise, how could soundtrack specialist Nick Redman have restored the scores to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in 1993 for the The Star Wars Trilogy: The Soundtrack Anthology for Arista Records/20th Century Fox Film Scores and later for RCA Victor’s 1997 Special Edition albums? 

I am a huge John Williams/London Symphony Orchestra fan. I’m also, in case you just happened to start reading my blog, a die-hard Star Wars fan. So for me, this recording was an insult, not just to my intelligence as a soundtrack aficionado, but also as a consumer. (The CD came wrapped in that thin plastic shrink wrap that covers all brand-new jewel cases; this one also had a round “Super Saver Price” sticker affixed.) I only own it because it was the only edition that was available when I was starting my CD collection back in 1990.

Now, this edition of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Original Soundtrack is no longer “in print,” as they say in the industry. It was supplanted long ago by the more complete versions released by Arista Records, RCA Victor, and Sony Classical. 

And even the new (2018) Walt Disney Records digitally remastered re-issue of the 1980 album, which doesn’t contain Williams’ complete score but replicates the 75-minute vinyl edition, is better than this CD. 

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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