Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(C) 2005 Sony Classical & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On Tuesday, May 3, 2005, Sony Classical released Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, a 73-minutes-long album featuring 15 selections from composer John Williams’ musical score for the sixth installment of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga. The 1-CD album, which was produced by Maestro Williams and mixed by sound engineer Shawn Murphy, presented themes and action cues performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Voices that were used as underscore in writer-director George Lucas’s dark and operatic film about the rise of the evil Galactic Empire and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker’s fateful fall from the light side of the Force and his transformation to Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith.

As in the five previous original soundtrack albums of the Star Wars film series – except, of course, the 1997 Special Edition reissues of the Original Trilogy soundtracks by RCA Victor and Sony Classical’s less-than-stellar 2000 Ultimate Edition of the score for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack does not include the entire score for the eponymous film, which hit theaters 16 days after the album’s release.

Instead, Williams’ long-time collaborator and music editor Ken Wannberg and Ramiro Belgardt chose to follow the traditional commercial soundtrack album approach and chose a collection of musical moments that capture the mix of heroic derring-do of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin, and the rest of the Jedi Order during the last battles of the Clone Wars and the dark, doom-filled tragedy that ends with the fall of the once-grand Republic, Anakin’s betrayal of his fellow Jedi, and the rise of Sheev Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) to the throne of a tyrannical and fascistic Empire as its first Emperor.

Thus, even though the Revenge of the Sith albumbegins with the traditional Star Wars Main Title march and ends with an End Titles symphonic suite that reprises a potpourri of music from the first two trilogies of the Skywalker Saga, the musical material is not presented in the chronological order in which it appears in the film.

Instead, Wannberg, Belgardt, Murphy, and Williams go more for the aesthetic effect of the music itself regardless of when it is heard in Lucas’s final blockbuster film as a writer-director. Some of the cues that are placed close to the beginning of the album are either from scenes that occur in the middle of the movie or even later; and the featured single from Revenge of the Sith, Battle of the Heroes, is presented here in its concert suite/music video version and not how it is heard in the film’s underscore.[1]

In the album’s liner notes, writer-director George Lucas wrote:

“Throughout the Star Wars films, John Williams has created a complete musical language to describe the characters and essentially tell the story of the saga. Episode III completes the Star Wars story; it also acts as a bridge to the original trilogy. In that way, the film has allowed John to add his own final chapter to the musical lexicon by creating brilliant new themes as well as drawing upon the rich legacy of music he has composed for the five other films over the past three decades. The film chronicles Anakin Skywalker’s tragic turn to the dark side accompanied by such aggressively ominous music as Darth Vader’s march, the Emperor’s theme and a sweeping new piece that underscores the momentous duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. In the end, the film reminds us that Anakin will eventually be redeemed through the determination and love of his children. John has beautifully captured this spirit of hope by reprising the most memorable music from the original trilogy, the themes of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. The balance of light and dark is central to Star Wars storytelling, and John has conveyed this expertly. His music for Episode III is joyous and adventurous at times, yet pulls us into the mournful and tragic as well. But as the saying goes, the darkest hour is always before the dawn, even the dawn of twin suns on a distant, arid planet.”

Track List:

No.TitleLength
1.“Star Wars and The Revenge of the Sith”7:31
2.“Anakin’s Dream”4:46
3.“Battle of the Heroes”3:42
4.“Anakin’s Betrayal”4:04
5.“General Grievous”4:07
6.“Palpatine’s Teachings”5:25
7.“Grievous and the Droids”3:28
8.“Padmé’s Ruminations”3:17
9.“Anakin vs. Obi-Wan”3:57
10.“Anakin’s Dark Deeds”4:05
11.“Enter Lord Vader”4:14
12.“The Immolation Scene”2:42
13.“Grievous Speaks to Lord Sidious”2:49
14.“The Birth of the Twins and Padmé’s Destiny”3:37
15.“A New Hope and End Credits”

My Take

Because Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was originally intended to be the final film in the (then) six-film saga (Lucas had, at the time, shelved plans for a Sequel Trilogy and stated many times that Star Wars’ alternate title should be The Tragedy of Darth Vader), the score is a musical bridge between the 1999-2005 Prequel Trilogy and the 1977-1983 Original Trilogy.

In that vein, Williams blends themes that are heard in both trilogies, including such standards as Star Wars Main Theme, Princess Leia’s Theme, The Force, The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme), The Emperor’s Theme, and Yoda’s Theme from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi with musical cues from the Prequels, including Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace and Across the Stars from Attack of the Clones.

Of course, as with every new score he has written for the nine-Episode Skywalker Saga, Maestro Williams composed new thematic material for Revenge of the Sith, including a brutal, almost Stravinsky-like piece for the villainous cyborg General Grievous and the “featured new theme” for the tragic clash between Obi-Wan Kenobi and his former Padawan, Anakin, Battle of the Heroes. As befits a film that shows the collapse of a once-idyllic Republic and the demise of the Jedi Order sworn to protect it, Battle of the Heroes evokes some of the tragic and doomed heroism of Richard Wagner’s music for the Ring Cycle’s final opera, Twilight of the Gods (Götterdämmerung).

Battle of the Heroes is a classic Williams piece that features a bravura performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Voices choir. It reflects the growing tension between the Dark Side of the Force and the Light Side, not just in that violent-and-tragic clash of lightsabers between two men who were once like brothers and are now on opposite camps, but also between the forces of good and evil in the galaxy as a whole. Williams uses both the theme for The Force and the Imperial March to good effect in Battle of the Heroes, as well as the new motif, which he introduces with the brass section at the beginning of the piece – almost like an overture – then turns it into a choral piece that is both rousing and elegiac.

As is the case with scores for a multi-film series, Revenge of the Sith is a soundtrack album that has flawlessly composed musical material yet suffers from the perception that it lacks brilliant originality. By the time of its release in 2005, the Star Wars saga was 28 years old, and the Prequel Trilogy was perceived by many fans to be inferior to the 1977-1983 Original Trilogy in many areas. And even though critics respected Williams’ undoubted talents as a composer, some believed that in Revenge of the Sith, the score was less powerful and focused than in the five previous films.

As the reviewer for Filmtracks.com wrote in his contemporary review:

Revenge of the Sith is a score that introduces several outstanding (and sometimes spectacular) ideas that are relatively fresh in the maestro’s career but does not follow through with them to a level that will stick in the minds of average movie-goers. Its personality is therefore quite nebulous, a very odd characteristic for a Williams score of this magnitude.

I’m not sure if I agree with that statement, at least not 100%. But I have owned this album since its release 15 years ago and, after the initial burst of excitement over it, it’s the least-played Star Wars CD in my collection of soundtracks.

My main criticisms about Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack are the same ones that I have about Sony Classical’s previous commercially-released Star Wars Prequel Trilogy soundtracks: their brevity and the label’s obstinate traditional approach to soundtrack albums.

I understand, of course, that Sony was burned – badly – by the lackluster sales performance of its one attempt to go the Special Edition route with the 2000 Ultimate Edition of The Phantom Menace score. But it seems to me that the executives who allowed that 2-CD album – which many John Williams fans had clamored for since 1999 – to be released with serious timing issues and no liner notes set themselves up for the poor sales and the bad reviews. So unless Walt Disney Records, the owners of the Star Wars soundtrack licensing rights, hires Michael Matessino to create properly-conceived and executed Special Edition soundtracks for the Prequels, the “Greatest Hits” collection of 15-of-41 cues in this 2005 album will have to suffice.

But…yes. I think that even with a running time of nearly 72 minutes, Revenge of the Sith is far too abridged for my taste, and the fact that Williams, Wannberg, Belgardt, and Murphy chose to showcase highlights from the score spliced together to create a concert suite-like program rather than follow the film’s story musically.

The only saving grace that the original 2005 release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was that the CD also included a DVD titled Star Wars: A Musical Journey. Produced by Lucasfilm in conjunction with Sony Classical, this  DVD featured sixteen music videos set to remastered selections of music from the six existing film scores, presented in a mostly chronological order, starting with The Phantom Menace and ending with selections from Return of the Jedi, although the final video featured the Throne Room and End Titles from A New Hope.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey is hosted by actor Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) and consists of the following 16 chapters:

• Chapter 1: A Long Time Ago (“Star Wars Main Title” from A New Hope)
• Chapter 2: Dark Forces Conspire (“Duel of the Fates” from The Phantom Menace)
• Chapter 3: A Hero Rises (“Anakin’s Theme” from The Phantom Menace)
• Chapter 4: A Fateful Love (“Across the Stars” from Attack of the Clones)
• Chapter 5: A Hero Falls (“Battle of the Heroes” from Revenge of the Sith)
• Chapter 6: An Empire Is Forged (“The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back)
• Chapter 7: A Planet That is Farthest From (“The Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler” from A New Hope)
• Chapter 8: An Unlikely Alliance (“Binary Sunset/Cantina Band” from A New Hope)
• Chapter 9: A Defender Emerges (“Princess Leia’s Theme” from A New Hope)
• Chapter 10: A Daring Rescue (“Ben’s Death/Tie Fighter Attack” from A New Hope)
• Chapter 11: A Jedi is Trained (“Yoda’s Theme” from The Empire Strikes Back)
• Chapter 12: A Narrow Escape (“The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back)
• Chapter 13: A Bond Unbroken (“Luke and Leia” from Return of the Jedi)
• Chapter 14: A Sanctuary Moon (“The Forest Battle” from Return of the Jedi)
• Chapter 15: A Life Redeemed (“Light of the Force” from Return of the Jedi)
• Chapter 16: A New Day Dawns (“Throne Room/Finale” from A New Hope) 

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is not a bad album. John Williams is too good a composer and his music is sans reproach, but I do wish Sony Classical had hired the same editorial team that handled the RCA Victor Special Edition albums for the 1997 re-release of the original three Star Wars films rather than take the familiar but bland “concert suite” approach used by recording companies for most commercial soundtracks. I don’t hate this album, not at all.

But I don’t love it, either.  


[1] Listeners who want to hear the album tracks in the proper “in-film” chronological orders would have to program their CD players to play the 15 tracks in this order: 1, 7, 13, 2, 6, 5, 8, 4, 11, 10, 9, 3, 12, 14, 15

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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