Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Sony Classical’s original marketing strategy included the release of the one-disc album with four different album covers, each sold separately. This is the cover from the album I own. (C) 2002 Sony Classical and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On April 23, 2002 – 23 days before George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones hit theaters in wide release – Sony Classical released Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, a 13-track[1] selection of themes and action cues composed and conducted by John Williams.

Like the previous four Star Wars soundtrack albums, including 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Maestro Williams’ symphonic score was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, with the London Voices providing the vocals for the track Return to Tatooine (which incorporates part of Duel of the Fates, a choral piece that Williams wrote for The Phantom Menace). It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, with mixing and sound engineering by Shawn Murphy.

Because the Skywalker Saga is a single story told in nine parts, Williams’ approach in scoring Attack of the Clones consists of mixing themes from previous Episodes (including the Main Theme from Star Wars, The Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme, The Emperor’s Theme, and Duel of the Fates) with one major new theme (Across the Stars [Love Theme from Attack of the Clones]) and new atmospheric cues for the various new characters and settings in a film set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace.

As Star Wars’ creator George Lucas wrote nearly 20 years ago in the liner notes for the soundtrack album:

John Williams had to create a score that truly expanded the musical palette of Star Wars. As always, he has more than risen to the occasion. His score takes us deep into the urban landscape of Coruscant with rich percussion. He complements the adventure on Geonosis with music that evokes the planet’s eerie atmosphere and insect-like population. He heightens the mystery and suspense that drives the first half of the film. And most importantly, he has created a grand love theme, the perfect accompaniment to the developing relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. Their love is complicated – pure yet forbidden, personal but with profound ramifications for an entire galaxy. Somehow, John has managed to convey all of that complexity in a simple, hauntingly beautiful theme. And that is the genius of John Williams!

As in the case of 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Williams – as the album’s producer – and Sony Classical went for the traditional “selections from the score” approach instead of the less-common complete-score multiple-disc one used by RCA Victor in 1997 for the Special Edition re-release of the Original Star Wars Trilogy.[2] This decision was made partly because most instrumental soundtrack albums are released in this “greatest hits” format, but mostly because Sony Classical’s 2000 attempt to release a “full score” 2-CD Ultimate Edition of The Phantom Menace’s soundtrack fizzled because it had serious timing issues and – worse – had no informative liner notes to give the listener context for the music on the two discs.

Sony Classical’s basic album – which was reissued by Walt Disney Records as part of its Remastered series of Star Wars music re-releases on May 4, 2018 – presents Maestro Williams’ fifth score for the story set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” thusly:

Track Listing

1.“Star Wars Main Title and Ambush on Coruscant”3:46
2.“Across the Stars (Love Theme from Attack of the Clones)”5:33
3.“Zam the Assassin and The Chase Through Coruscant”11:07
4.“Yoda and the Younglings”3:55
5.“Departing Coruscant”1:44
6.“Anakin and Padmé”3:57
7.“Jango’s Escape”3:48
8.“The Meadow Picnic”4:14
9.“Bounty Hunter’s Pursuit”3:23
10.“Return to Tatooine”6:57
11.“The Tusken Camp and The Homestead”5:54
12.“Love Pledge and the Arena”8:29
13.“Confrontation with Count Dooku and Finale”10:45
The “Target exclusive” CD included a bonus 14th track, On the Conveyor Belt. It added 3:02 to the album’s running time.

My Take

Another of Sony Classical’s covers for this 2002 release uses Drew Struzan’s art for the theatrical release’s poster. (C) 2002 Sony Classical and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Although the Star Wars fandom is divided when it comes to George Lucas’s Prequel Trilogy – especially about the first two films, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, the general consensus is that John Williams’ music is one of the few elements that is sans reproach.

Maestro Williams is, after all, the dean of the Hollywood film music community – as of this writing, in Academy Awards history alone, he stands second only to Walt Disney in Oscar nominations (52). He has gone home with the golden statuette for Best Original Score or Best Adapted Score (for 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof) five times. He has also won 25 Grammys, four Golden Globes, seven British Academy Film Awards, and six Emmys. His themes for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Jaws, and Harry Potter are now part of our global culture, and one critic has called him “the god of film music.”

Even in this abridged version of the score for Attack of the Clones, which mixes traditional symphonic music evocative of the styles used by 19th Century Romantic era composers – especially Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz – and more modern musical styles that include the use of electric guitars in Zam the Assassin and even the stylings of Williams’ fellow film composer Maurice Jarre, whose lush theme for 1965’s Doctor Zhivago seems to have inspired the melancholic-yet-romantic sensibilities of Across the Stars (Love Theme from Attack of the Clones).

Williams and sound mixer/engineer Shawn Murphy, as well as supervising music editor Ken Wannberg, don’t reinvent the wheel in this recording of the Attack of the Clones, either conceptually or in the track sequencing. For various reasons, some of the musical material (specifically the Main Title and End Credit introduction recordings) was lifted from The Phantom Menace master recordings.

Additionally, most of the cues in this album are actually “spliced” selections of music from scenes in Attack of the Clones that are sequentially apart from each other in the finished film. If you look at the track listing, you can identify them easily by the wording of the track name, i.e., “Star Wars Main Title and Ambush on Coruscant” or “Zam the Assassin and The Chase Through Coruscant.” (The “tell” is the inclusion of the word and in italics.)

This was not a new trend in Williams’ popular discography, nor is it unique to Star Wars soundtrack albums. Most instrumental film or TV soundtracks are produced and designed with aesthetics and marketability in mind; one-disc albums are less expensive and usually sell better than multi-disc releases of film scores. The 1977-1983 soundtracks from the Original Trilogy, as well as the ones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, E.T., and Jaws, were released this way; only much later, with the advent of the compact disc and digital streaming, did most of those soundtracks get a “complete score” treatment.

 Aesthetically, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is an enjoyable recording. My favorite new theme from the score was Across the Stars (Love Theme from Attack of the Clones), which recurs throughout the film in different musical moods and settings but is heard in its full version as the only new motif heard in the end titles sequence immediately after the traditional appearance of the Main Theme and Rebel Fanfare that Williams uses in all of the Star Wars finales. (Usually, the composer showcases two or three themes in a medley during the credits roll. Not in Attack of the Clones!)

Obviously, because Attack of the Clones chronicles some of the events that push Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) toward the Dark Side of the Force and his ultimate transition into Darth Vader, the iconic Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) is heard more frequently in Episode II than in The Phantom Menace. Whereas Williams slyly insinuated the theme he first introduced in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back into Anakin’s Theme in Episode I, he pushes it front and center in several key scenes when Anakin is giving in to the pull of the dark.

However, the March’s boldest appearance comes in a scene where Anakin is not even present: it is used to underscore a silent sequence in which Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and other Republic politicians watch as the new Army of the Republic sets off from Coruscant to fight in the recently-begun Clone Wars. Here, director George Lucas visually depicts the “birth of the Empire,”  even though Palpatine won’t proclaim himself as Emperor until 2005’s Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It’s obvious to anyone that here is where the Republic and democracy are doomed – Williams’ use of the Imperial March reinforces – effectively, too – Lucas’s plot point in musical terms.

While it is regrettable that film score fans will not get a full-score release for Attack of the Clones (or, for that matter, Revenge of the Sith), the 2002 abridged version is entertaining and fun to listen to. Contrary to fan complaints that Episode II “got” the shortest soundtrack release (at 73:43), that dubious distinction goes to the original 1983 RSO Records soundtrack album for Return of the Jedi, which only contains 46 minutes’ worth of musical material.  If we compare Attack of the Clones to the original 20th Century Records 2-LP album from 1977, it’s only a few minutes shorter than the 43-year-old recording’s running time of 74:58.

(Of course, if you compare Attack of the Clones’ soundtrack to the 1997 Special Edition double CD release by RCA Victor, all bets are off.)  

In any event, this album is a decent – if not particularly spectacular – Star Wars soundtrack, and I recommend it to fans of both the space-fantasy franchise and the music of John Williams.

[1] A “Target-exclusive” edition was also released with a 14th bonus track, On the Conveyor Belt, which added three minutes and two seconds (3:02) to the album’s 73:43 length.

[2] Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983).

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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