Return of the (Original) Jedi Soundtrack
On May 4, 2018 – “Star Wars Day” – Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) released remastered versions of the first six original soundtrack albums from the “George Lucas Era” Star Wars films on compact disc, digital, and vinyl formats. Among the sextet of albums is the reconstructed “original soundtrack” from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, featuring the music composed and conducted by John Williams as presented in RSO Records’ 1983 1-LP release. Digitally remastered from analog sources by a team led by Shawn Murphy, Leslie Ann Jones, and Danny Thompson, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Remastered) marks the first new reissue of the album with the original tracks Lapti Nek and Ewok Celebration and Finale in nearly 30 years.
Of course, isn’t the first re-issue of Maestro Williams’ score for the film originally titled Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi: including this 2018, the music from the third Episode – in release order – of the Skywalker Saga had had six major releases prior to May 4, 2018. They are:
- The 1983 1-LP Album (RSO Records/Polydor)
- The 1993 The Star Wars Trilogy Anthology (Arista/20th Century Fox Records)
- The 1997 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA Victor)
- The 2004 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi 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)
Technically speaking, the 1983 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, there are vast differences among them, including:
- Track Listing: The original LP, vinyl, and compact disc releases from ‘83 have fewer tracks than the Special Edition 2-CD sets issued between 1997 and 2016
- Content: Album producer John Wiliams and recording engineer Eric Tomlinson followed the conventions of the original soundtrack genre and chose the 1983 album’s music for aesthetic reasons and ignored the chronology of the film, whereas the “complete score” Special Edition album presents the music as heard in the movie.
Of the three Original Trilogy films, Return of the Jedi is the film with the shortest soundtrack album; compared with the over-70 minutes of musical material presented in each 2-LP album for Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), RSO Records only saw fit to release a Jedi soundtrack with just under 45 minutes’ worth of themes (mostly present as “concert hall” or “soundtrack album” arrangements) in 11 tracks.
There are two reasons for this discrepancy: the decline of vinyl records just as a new format was emerging, and the changing fortunes of Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records, which would soon be absorbed by Britain’s Polydor Records.
Around the same time that composer-conductor John Williams was working on the score for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Dutch and Japanese inventors had perfected the first iteration of a new digital disc format called the compact disc (CD). Designed to be smaller and more durable than 33-RPM vinyl records, CDs allowed recording companies to record and store an entire one-hour-long album on one disc and in more compact packaging than the average LP album. First generation CDs had just enough storage capacity for your average 1-LP pop music album or – as the story goes – the running time of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The storage limits of 1982-1983 CDs meant that if RSO/Polydor planned to release Jedi’s soundtrack in the new format as well as vinyl and audiocassette, the label had two choices:
- Release the Return of the Jedi as a double album on vinyl and CD, which company execs figured would be too expensive
- Release Jedi as a 1-LP album with only 11 tracks with a running time of 44 minutes and 59 seconds, thus giving all of the editions (vinyl, CD, and cassette) the same content and avoid the then-standard operating procedure of deleting several tracks from vinyl recordings from the CD edition (as was the case with Warner Records’ CD release of Superman: The Movie)
RSO Records was then embroiled in a legal dispute with The Bee Gees over money owed to the group by Roger Stigwood; RSO lost in court and had to pay the Bee Gees a reported sum of $200 million. That, in conjunction with the failure of the 1978 musical film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, hurt its financial bottom line and sealed RSO’s fate. So although RSO’s 2-LP gatefold album of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was a best-seller, the company could not afford to manufacture a 2-LP album and a matching 2-CD version for Return of the Jedi.
Consequently, on May 25, 1983 – the same day that the film opened in “wide release” in the U.S. and Canada, RSO records released Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as a 1-LP vinyl record in a gatefold album cover, as well as on cassette tape and the new compact disc format.
This is the track listing of the 1983 CD from RSO’s successor Polydor, which is identical to the one on the vinyl and cassette editions:
- Main Title (Star Wars: The Story Continues) – 5:09
- Into the Trap – 2:36
- Luke and Leia – 4:43
- Parade of the Ewoks – 3:24
- Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt) – 4:07
- Lapti Nek – 2:48
- The Forest Battle – 4:01
- Rebel Briefing – 2:19
- The Emperor – 2:40
- The Return of the Jedi – 5:00
- Ewok Celebration and Finale – 7:57
I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I saw the original film in the fall of 1977. I became a fan of Maestro Williams’ music then, even though I had watched quite a few films (and even some TV shows) that he composed or arranged way before I ever heard his Main Title from Star Wars.I loved his symphonic, almost 19th Century-styled themes and incidental music, and soon I was enamored of classical music and the film score genre in general. So every time that a new movie with “music by John Williams” was out in theaters, I’d get the soundtrack album, usually with money I earned by doing household chores and sticking to my mom’s simple rules.
By the time RSO “dropped” the Return of the Jedi soundtrack, I was having difficulties finding a new stylus for my British-made Grand Prix stereo’s record-player component, and eight-track tapes had gone out of fashion, so when I bought my copy it was in the cassette format. And, having owned the 2-LP soundtracks to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, I had – and still do – mixed feelings about the original 11-track album.
On the one hand, I loved how Maestro Williams blends existing themes such as the Star Wars main theme, The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme), The Force, and the love theme for Han Solo and Princess Leia with new ones along the lines of the bright and playful Parade of the Ewoks, the gentle and noble Luke and Leia theme that evokes the familial bond between brother and sister, and the sinister, menacing new theme for The Emperor, which would later recur in other films of the Skywalker Saga, especially in the Prequel Trilogy. Williams knows his Wagner operas well and uses the leitmotivtrope of writing specific musical themes for characters, settings (Williams composed a motif for the Death Star in his score for the original Star Wars film that recurs in other films which feature the Empire’s planet-killer, including Rogue One, Return of the Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker.) The basic themes can be arranged in countless ways to evoke different emotions – The Imperial March, for instance, can be played “straight” to reflect Vader’s status as the Emperor’s enforcer, or, as in Williams’ Death of Darth Vader (a cue not included on this album), can be presented as a gentle but sad dirge for the dying Anakin Skywalker.
On the other hand, I was surprised that RSO had released such a short soundtrack album for what, at the time, looked like it would be the last movie in the Star Wars series. I was unaware that RSO was having financial troubles or that a new recording format – the CD – was emerging. All I saw when I bought my cassette edition for the first time was that the Return of the Jedi soundtrack only had 11 tracks, far less content than the albums from Star Wars and Jedi.
I swallowed my disappointment; it was what it was, and I was mature enough to accept that this was the soundtrack I was getting, not the one I had expected to get. I still loved John Williams’ stirring action themes, such as The Forest Battle (Track 7) and The Return of the Jedi (Track 10), as well as his collaboration with his son Joseph Williams (Ewok Celebration, the song known by many fans as ”Yub Nub” and replaced in the 1997 Special Edition of Return of the Jedi by the new (and maybe too Yanni-like) Victory Celebraton.
Of course, when the expanded edition of this album came out in 1993’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology box set, I bought it, not just because It was more of what I had in mind before I bought the 1983 album on tape, but because it tried to place the tracks in a chronological order that more closely matched the film’s storyline. Ditto for the 1997 “complete score” Special Edition 2-CD album from RCA Victor and its various reissues by Sony Classical from 2004 to 2016, after which the rights to Star Wars’ music went to Walt Disney Music.
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 1983 RSO/Polydor 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 1983 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi 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 Jedi soundtrack, despite its musical deviations from the film’s internal chronology, is the one that takes me back to the era in which I first became a Star Wars fan.
Do I have any favorite tracks from this album? Yes, they are:
- Luke and Leia
- Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt)
- The Forest Battle
- The Emperor
- The Return of the Jedi
- Ewok Celebration and Finale
I do like the other cues, such as Parade of the Ewoks and The Return of the Jedi, although I wish that John Williams – who produced the original 1983 album – had shifted the track order of those two.
A bonus that I received when I bought the disc version of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (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: Return of the Jedi (Remastered) is a good (if all-too-brief) reconstruction of the 1983 gatefold single LP from the now defunct labels RSO and Polydor. Overall, I appreciate 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.
As a certain Dark Lord of the Sith might put it, this album truly is “impressive. Most impressive.” It might be the shortest of the original 1977-83 recordings, but this reconstructed 2018 remastering is definitely nostalgia inducing. May the Force be with you, and until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things!