Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First’

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. © Copyright 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Prologue.

Outer space.

Enter CHORUS.

CHORUS  Alack! What dreadful turmoil hath beset

The strong Republic and its bonds of peace.

O’er distant trade routes all do sigh and fret

As fears of grim taxation do increase.

The greedy, vile Trade Federation hath

Created a blockade none may pass through.

With deadly battleships they block the path

Unto the little planet call’d Naboo.

Whilst politicians endlessly debate,

The Supreme Chancellor plies strategy.

He sends two Jedi to negotiate – 

They who keep peace within the galaxy.

In time so long ago begins our play,

In troubl’d galaxy far, far away. – Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First

On April 7, 2015, Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First, the fourth installment of author Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. It is a retelling of George Lucas’s 1999 space fantasy film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, written as an Elizabethan era stage play by none other than the Bard of Avon himself.

Doescher – with the blessing of Lucasfilm Ltd. and its book publishing arm Lucas Books – follows up his best-selling pastiche of the original Star Wars Trilogy – with a sendup of the Prequel Trilogy, starting with William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Menace: Star Wars Part the First.

O Threepio, Threepio, Wherefore Art Thou, Threepio?

Join us, good gentles, for a merry retelling of Star Wars Episode I as only Shakespeare could have written it. The entire saga begins here, with a thrilling tale featuring a disguised queen, a young hero, and two fearless knights facing a hidden, vengeful enemy.

‘Tis a Shakespearean drama, filled with sword fights, soliloquies, and a doomed romance, all in glorious iambic pentameter and coupled with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations. Hold on to your midichlorians: The play’s the thing, wherein you’ll catch the rise of Anakin! – Publisher’s dustjacket blurb, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First

In this clever and amusing sendup of Lucas’s prequel to the 1977-1983 Star Wars film trilogy, the galaxy far, far away is in turmoil. The Galactic Republic is in its twilight years, rotting from inside as greedy corporations corrupt the once-trustworthy Congress in a bid to gain more political power and wealth. Led by the Trade Federation, these large for-profit entities are up in arms – literally – as a weakened Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum presses for new taxes on interstellar trade routes.

Nicolas Delort remakes Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala in the style of Queen Bess.

In a bid to force the Republic to repeal the Chancellor’s tax proposal, Viceroy Nute Gunray and his Neimoidian underlings – goaded by the Sith Lord Darth Sidious – deploys a fleet of battleships to enforce a blockade of the planet Naboo. This small world in the Outer Rim is ruled by a democratically elected queen, Amidala, who is only 14 and has been on the throne for only a few months. Sidious has assured the Neimoidians that Naboo is an easy target – Amidala is young and naïve, and the Senate will not interfere with any move by the Trade Federation once the queen is forced to see reason and signs a treaty that accepts the Federation’s terms – including occupation by a droid army.

Into this web of political intrigue and danger walk two Jedi Knights: the veteran Qui-Gon Jinn and his 25-year-old apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sent on a secret mission at the bequest of Chancellor Valorum, the two Jedi are ordered to negotiate with the Trade Federation and peacefully resolve the blockade of Naboo.

But a peaceful negotiation to the Naboo Crisis is the last thing that Sidious desires:

Enter DARTH SIDIOUS in beam on balcony, speaking with NUTE GUNRAY and DAULTAY DOFINE.

SIDIOUS: What is ’t?

DAULTAY:  – The scheme that you have schem’d hath fail’d,

Lord Sidious. Our ruse – e’en this blockade –

Is finish’d, for would we dare fight against

The Jedi? Nay! It would be foolishness.

SIDIOUS: [to Nute Gunray] Hear me now, Viceroy; I’ll not

                                                            have this this filth,

This stunted slime of rank and worthless nerve,

This craven, simple-minded lump of flesh

Within my presence e’er again. Put not

Such weak examples of resolve and will

Before a mighty Sith.

                                                [Exit Daultay Dofine.

                        This recent twist

Of Fate’s blind spinning wheel hath luckless been.

We must, therefore, accelerate our plans:

Begin to send the troops unto Naboo.

NUTE: My lord, your words astound! For shall the law

Be with us in this action we shall take?

SIDIOUS: I tell thee, I am arbiter and law:

It shall be legal if I make it so.

NUTE: What shall be done with these two Jedi, then?

SIDIOUS: ‘Twas ill-conceived of the chancellor

To bring the Jedi into this affair.

Hear my command and follow :kill them both!

NUTE: Indeed, my lord: as you wish, it shall be.

                                    [Exit Darth Sidious from beam.

                                                Exit Nute Gunray.

The two-headed, four-armed sportcaster from The Phantom Menace as reimagined by Nicolas Delort. © Copyright 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Lo! Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan use their Jedi training and Force-enhanced abilities to survive this dastardly plot and make their way down onto Naboo by hiding on separate Trade Federation transports. Their plan: to warn the Naboo of the impending invasion and somehow contact Chancellor Valorum and the Galactic Congress.

Along the way, however, they encounter Jar Jar Binks, a member of the amphibian species known as the Gungans. The Gungans are intelligent and boast technology on par with the human Naboo, but the two dominant species have mutual distrust and, in the past, have quarreled. In this version of The Phantom Menace, the often clumsy and irritating Jar Jar isn’t as clueless as George Lucas wrote him in the 1999 film; here he is a radical who is at odds with Gungan society over his political views. Knowing that humans look down on those who seem less intelligent or – at best – naïve and easily manipulated, Jar Jar deliberately plays the part of the Fool to use the Jedi for his own purposes.

Nicolas Delort depicts Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala in the styles of Trisha Beggar and Shakespeare’s “Good Queen Bess.” © Copyright 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace sticks to the plot of Star Wars Episode I faithfully; it follows its two Jedi leads as their mission to warn the Naboo swiftly turns into an improvised and daring extraction of Queen Amidala and her handmaidens that climaxes with a hair-raising running of the Federation’s blockade aboard a Royal Naboo cruiser.  

During this harrowing escape – in which R2-D2 plays a key role – the Queen’s cruiser’s hyperdrive is damaged. The Jedi and Amidala’s small retinue – including security chief Captain Panaka and pilot Ric Olie – agree that they need to land somewhere to repair the ship, but when Obi-Wan suggests a small, out-of-the-way planet called Tatooine, Panaka objects:

PANAKA; What confidence have you in this remark?

QUI-GON: The planet is controlled by the Hutts.

PANAKA: The Hutts indeed. Such lowly gangsters of

Base reputation, fill’d with avarice:

Their minds on money, money on their minds.

Such lowly, wormlike villainy as theirs

No royalty should e’er bear witness to,

Or forced be to find the strength t’ endure.

O nay, ye Jedis, find another course:

Pray, let us not take her to Tatooine!

QUI-GON: E’en if they discover her, ‘twould be

No diff’rent than if our lame ship were bound

For any place the Federation holds.

Except, my friend: the Hutts expect her not,

Nor are they searching for the noble queen.

We do, then, have a strong advantage here –

Thus let us land, with hopefulness sincere.

                                    [Exeunt.

The Plot Thickens…and a Hero Rises

Qui-Gon’s choice to land on Tatooine – whether prompted by what he calls the “living Force” or mere circumstance – is perhaps the most fateful event in the Skywalker Saga. For it is on this world – described by Obi-Wan as “as small and poor, and far from ev’rything” – that Queen Amidala (disguised as a humble handmaiden named Padmé), her two Jedi protectors, and their reluctant Gungan companion Jar Jar meet a nine-year-old slave named Anakin Skywalker.

Our brave little band of refugees meets Anakin in his Toydarian master Watto’s junkshop, one of the many small independently owned businesses in the small town of Mos Espa.  Watto won ownership of Anakin and his mother Shmi from Gardulla the Hutt in a game of chance several years earlier. He’s not a harsh master, but he is not above risking Anakin’s life by making him a Podracer pilot in high-stakes races that entertain local moisture farmers and attract many gamblers. The Hutts, led by the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt, have their fingers in the smuggling and gambling rackets on Tatooine, while Watto is notorious for his gambling habit.

Qui-Gon soon realizes that while Watto does not accept Republic credits, his gambling habit is a vice that can be exploited. And keen observation of the boy named Anakin – or maybe a stirring in the Force – tells the experienced but upstart Jedi that there’s more to the nine-year-old slave than meets the eye.

Anakin, too, is drawn to the strangers for several reasons. In Qui-Gon, who is disguised as a Tatooine farmer but doesn’t convince anyone, the young Skywalker sees both a father figure more benevolent than his current master Watto, as well as a possible deliverer from his (and his mother’s) state of bondage. Spying Qui-Gon’s lightsaber, Anakin intuits that the “moisture farmer” is really a Jedi.

Of more import, however, is the beautiful Padmé, who catches young Skywalker’s precocious eye at first sight;

ANAKIN: [aside:] Though I am young and burden’ by the shine

Of too much sunlight here on Tatooine,

Still I can tell the presence of a light

Far brighter than e’er I dream’d possible.

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

[to Padmé] Excuse me this intrusion, madam, but:

Are you by some celestial body sent?

Did you make home beyond the galaxy,

Whence you did come to bless my little life?

PADMÉ: What didst thou say?

ANAKIN:         – Are you celesti’lly born?

These pilots who do wander deep in space

Do tell of beings so pure and undefil’d:

Such beauty’s in their aspect and song

That all who hear their music ‘gin to weep

And long to be forever in the sway

Of their most splendid, perfect melody.

Methinks they live upon the moon Iego

And there they play their notes for all who pass.

PADMÉ: Thou art a droll, audacious little boy.

How comes this knowledge from such youthful lips?

ANAKIN: I do but listen: train my ear toward

The traders and the pilots who traverse

This lonely planet. Truly, I do call

Myself a pilot, too, and shall one day

Fly far beyond this planet’s stifling reach.

PADMÉ: Thou art a pilot?

ANAKIN:     – Troth, for all the days

I have upon this barren planet dwell’d.

PADMÉ: What is the number of those days thereon?

ANAKIN:  O, since I was a lad of but three years.

My mother and myself were peddl’d to

Gardulla of the Hutt, who did but lose

Her new investment gambling o’er the pods.

PADMÉ: Thou art a slave?

ANAKIN:  – O appellation dire!

Pray, when you think of me think not of slave,

Think not that I am baseborn, made to work,

Think not of one who lives by harsh commands,

Think not of one whose destiny’s controll’d,

Think rather of my worthy qualities,

Think of my name, good lady: Anakin.

PADMÉ: And so I shall, hereafter. Pardon me,

For I do not full understanding have

Of this strange place, which is still new to me.

And so begins a fateful relationship, perhaps the most fateful in the history of that galaxy far, far away. As unlikely as it seems at this point in the Star Wars story, Anakin (the young hero) and Padmé (the disguised queen) and the two (Jedi) knights will join in an adventure that will change their destinies – and that of the Galactic Republic – in ways that they did not foresee.

Author Ian Doescher once again transformed writer-director George Lucas’s three-act screenplay into a five-act stage play written in the style of Shakespeare. Many of the conventions Doescher introduced in his adaptation of the original Star Wars trilogy are present here: the use of a Chorus to introduce the play and – sometimes – indicate transitions or comment on the action, dialogue written mostly in iambic pentameter (with a few notable exceptions, including Jedi Master Yoda’s haikus, Chancellor Valorum’s tendency to have weak endings in his lines, and Mace Windu’s allusions to movies that feature actor Samuel L. Jackson in his dialogue), and sparse stage directions should be familiar to readers of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series.

There are also some new refinements, including the addition of a sinister counterpart to the Chorus. This dark and forbidding new voice is called Rumor, and she’s here to inject a sense of darkness and doom that matches the mood and arc of the Prequel Trilogy. Rumor – like the Chorus – appears only in a few scenes, but when she does, the reader knows that she is an ill omen. Or, as many characters have oft observed in the Star Wars films, you’ll have a bad feeling about things when Rumor speaks.

Doescher also admits that with each book in his series, he adds little but important touches that make his writing more “Shakespearean.” In the Afterword to The Phantom of Menace, for instance, the author has this to say about language and distinctions in social status between characters:

In Shakespeare’s time, generally speaking, (though with Shakespeare there are always exceptions) “thou” is used informally, as between friends, and “you” is used more formally. “Thou” is also used to express superiority over someone – if you are my subordinate, I will refer to you as “thou,” but you will refer to me as “you” as a sign of respect. In the original William Shakespeare Star Wars trilogy I was looser about “thou” versus “you” – beginning with William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace, the distinction is, hopefully, clearer.

Up Front: The Cover

Once again, illustrator Nicolas Delort returns to give Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala, Queen of Naboo, a decidedly Elizabethan makeover, making her look more like England’s “Good Queen Bess,” albeit when Elizabeth I was a young woman. Because Delort matches the styles worn by European nobles in Shakespeare’s time and Trisha Beggar’s designs for Portman’s character in The Phantom Menace, the central figure on the book cover is an interesting synergy between the “look” of the late 1500s and the late 1990s.

The central illustration of Padmé-as-Queen is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) the Royal Naboo Cruiser, a Trade Federation battleship, Anakin’s Podracer ,Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul. Like all of the characters in this series, the Jedi and Lord Maul wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from The Phantom Menace, looking like personages from the late 1500s rather than 1999-era space fantasy movie characters.

The Book

Nicolas Delort’s take on the iconic “reveal” of Darth Maul’s two-bladed lightsaber in The Phantom Menace. © Copyright 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The hardcover edition of William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First is not a large work; the book is only 176 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword (in which Doescher discusses how he coped with the issue of Jar Jar Binks, explains some of the techniques used to seamlessly blend The Phantom Menace with the plays of William Shakespeare, and reminds readers what iambic pentameter is), and the Acknowledgments page.  It measures 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches and weighs less than 1 lb.

My Take

Enter Rumor.

RUMOR: E’en as the Jedi fret to find their part,

New enemies do move to work them woe.

The Sith hath come, with evil in his heart,

Equipp’d with might to rise against his foe.

Replete with thoughts dark and insidious,

The Sith, Darth Sidious, doth plan his move.

He – with Darth Maul, apprentice hideous –

Expects they shall their obstacles remove.

So come they now, these men of vice and fear,

Illicitly to make all bend the knee,

Till they’ve the power, which they hold so dear,

Help’d by this Rumor through the galaxy.

                                    [Exit

The eight books of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series in a publicity photo. © Copyright 2018 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I bought this book via pre-order on Amazon, so I have owned William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace (a play on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice) since April of 2015. I didn’t “deep read” it at the time; in that spring of 2015 I was dealing with many issues at the same time. My mother was gravely ill and suffering from dementia; my older half-sister was making life miserable in her efforts to exert her wishes against mine because she was angry that Mom had given me the reins of the house instead of her; our original home health aide had quit only a week before after my half-sister manipulated events to set up a confrontation in front of Mom; and I was both depressed and worn out after five years of dealing with one crisis after another.

Still, I managed to read just enough of Doescher’s fourth installment of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series to be able to write a review for the now-vanished website Examiner. At the time, I was the company’s Miami “Examiner” in three categories: Blu-ray & DVD, Star Wars, and Books, so when I wrote my critique of The Phantom of Menace, I probably submitted it to the latter category.

Now that we live in the time of the novel coronavirus and lead a somewhat less stressful life, I’ve found more “downtime” to read books. So I have been revisiting and really digging into books that I hadn’t had the time to read before.

For a few years I have avoided re-reading and reviewing The Phantom of Menace; on the “ex libris” page I still have one of those little labels that bears my old house’s address; that’s a reminder of where I was and what my life was like when I bought the book half-a-decade ago.

I also remember that this was the last William Shakespeare’s Star Wars volume I received while Mom was still with us – and that her cognitive issues were so bad that she did not understand what was so cool about a mashup of the works of William Shakespeare and those of George Lucas. Before her illness, my mother had been quite the avid reader and remembered watching a few Shakespeare plays in both English and Spanish. She was also a Star Wars fan – the last movie she saw in theaters before her declining health prevented her from going to the nearby theaters was Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and we watched the first six films of the Skywalker Saga on DVD or Blu-ray many times.

I still feel a twinge of sadness when I look at Nicolas Delort’s charming cover illustration because I remember my mother holding the book to her face, looking at the image of Padmé Amidala in Elizabethan regalia…and not really understanding what was so cool about it. She liked it, don’t get me wrong; but she no longer remembered who Shakespeare was, much less what defines a “pastiche” or a “parody.” And of course, I feel more than a twinge of sadness when I recall that this was the last “new book” I had the chance to show her; the next book in the series was published 12 days before Mom died. (She was in the hospital when William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh arrived at our house on July 7, 2015, and she wasn’t able to look at too many books or TV shows during her last days.)

But even though it’s quite a challenge for me to read these books – I’m more a fan of Star Wars than I am of Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth, plus I still have a lot of emotional impedimenta I do enjoy them immensely.   

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First does something unexpected: It takes my least favorite Star Wars film and adds depth and emotional weight to its characters, especially the nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker and the goofy, clownish Jar Jar Binks.

Now, I don’t hate Anakin, Jar Jar or the actors who play them in The Phantom Menace. I probably would have been happier if “Ani” had been 13 or so in Episode I so that his fixation with Padmé wasn’t so…so…weird, but then again my opinion doesn’t change the reality that George Lucas wrote the story he wanted to tell.  As a writer, I respect that. My issues with a young Ani stem more from my impression that he really isn’t that fleshed out in the film version.

As for Jar Jar – I don’t hate him, either. But he’s definitely not my favorite comic relief character. R2-D2 and C-3PO fill the bill for Star Wars’ version of Abbott and Costello – from a certain point of view.

In William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace, Anakin has far better lines to deliver, not just because Doescher gives him lyrical dialogue, soliloquies, and asides, but he also seems more developed dramatically. His story arc doesn’t change; but the presentation – obviously – does.

As a writer and long-time reader, I have come to realize that Shakespeare was a genius on many levels, and that his skills were legion. He not only was a great poet and dramatist, but he understood the human condition. So many of his phrases (“the milk of human kindness,” “elbow room,” “faint-hearted,” and “star-crossed”) are part of our modern language, and many of the themes he explored in his histories, comedies, and tragedies have been used time again by many storytellers, including, of course, George Lucas and his creative heirs in the Lucasfilm Story Group.  That’s why his 37 or so plays still stand the test of time, and that’s why The Phantom of Menace is more than a fun-but-smart parody of a space-fantasy film.

In many ways, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Menace is an excellent way to get “into” Shakespeare. Doescher is such a Bard expert and a Star Wars fan that he can draw upon the works of a man who died in 1616 and skillfully combine famous lines from various plays with the 20th and 21st Century works of George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Jonathan Hales, and, later, J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, and Rian Johnson. The resulting alchemy: a series of plays that pulls off the illusion that indeed, William Shakespeare wrote the Skywalker Saga!

As Boing Boing’s book critic wrote in 2014 about the original William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy:

“Not a campy or goofy parody, but a surprisingly well-done tribute, this is a special treat. The artwork is also fantastic.” – Back cover blurb, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace

 This is a witty, well-written work. It is full of drama, comedy, action, and – if you are new to the Star Wars saga – even some suspense. Moreover, since it is a pastiche, it is a good way to introduce younger readers – say, of high school age – to the style of William Shakespeare before tackling a play like The Taming of the Shrew or Othello. And most of all, it’s full of puns, clever wordplay – Shakespeare loved playing with the English language and added much needed humor in his works – and pop culture references, some of which are not remotely related to either Shakespeare or Star Wars.

As someone who loves good writing and the Skywalker Saga, I heartily recommend William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First.

Coming Soon to ‘A Certain Point of View, Too’ & Sunday Thoughts

“Every Saga Hath a Beginning…” William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is one of the various media products I plan to review this week. Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Hi, there, Dear Reader. I hope this post finds you safe, healthy, and reasonably sane after almost two months of social distancing and stay-at-home orders issued by the authorities in your home state or country. It’s Sunday, May 3 where I am, and in my part of Florida, it’s almost 2 PM as I start writing this post.

Publicity photo of 1993’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology. (C) 1993 Arista Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

So far it has been what some of my fellow Americans call a “lazy Sunday.” I woke up way too early this morning after going to bed way too late last night, so I haven’t really felt up to writing anything until now. Instead, I listened to my John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits CD and the 1993 Expanded Edition of the soundtrack from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, one of the four discs from that year’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology box set.

(C) 2006 Delacorte Press/Random House LLC.

I also did some reading; not a lot, mind you, but I read part of a chapter from G.J. Meyer’s The World Unmade: The History of the Great War, 1914-1918. It’s a well-written book about the First World War, the cataclysmic event that set in motion a series of events – mostly bad ones, such as the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany and virulent militarism in Japan, the Second World War and the Holocaust, the Cold War, and the Arab-Israeli conflict – that still shape our lives and affect our political and philosophical worldviews. I’m only halfway through Meyer’s book, and as soon as I finish I’ll tackle the companion book, The World Remade: America in World War I.

Photo Illustration: Pixabay

As for what I have in store for A Certain Point of View, Too….

Well, tomorrow is May the Fourth Be With You Day, so it is likely that I’ll review Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First, a pastiche that blends George Lucas’s 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace with the works of William Shakespeare. I have already reviewed Doescher’s Shakespearean takes of the original Star Wars trilogy, so I figured I’d write about the other five books in the series; to date, Quirk Books of Philadelphia has published eight William Shakespeare’s Star Wars volumes, with a ninth (The Merry Rise of Skywalker) due out in July.

Beyond tomorrow, though, I haven’t a clue. I will probably review other books, movies, music albums, Star Wars figures (Yes, I collect those!), or even a computer game or two. Like Rick Blaine, I don’t like planning things too far ahead, so I don’t know. If I’m desperate enough, I might even do a political post even though I usually don’t delve into politics on this blog. That’s not a topic I enjoy writing about, even though I have plenty of posts on it at my original A Certain Point of View blog over on Blogger.

Anyway, that’s all the news that’s fit to print; I have a hankering to go watch a movie out in our TV room, so I’ll close for now. So please, stay healthy, stay safe, and to flatten the curve and ease the strain on our doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, stay at home! I’ll catch you later!

Music Album Review: ‘John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits’

© 2004 BMG Heritage/RCA

John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits is a two-CD compilation of the best songs written or performed by the late singer/songwriter/activist John Denver (1943-1997). Produced by Rob Santos and put together by Gary Pacheco for BMG Heritage and Denver’s original label RCA, this 24-track collection was dropped on October 4, 2004 – the 35th anniversary of Denver’s first RCA album Rhymes and Reasons.  

Leaving On a Jet Plane was Denver’s first “great hit” back in 1969.

In the same vein as Sony Legacy’s more comprehensive The Essential John Denver, this retrospective follows Denver’s career from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, starting with the seminal Leaving On a Jet Plane and ending with 1983’s Wild Montana Skies.

The original version of Take Me Home, Country Roads

Disc 1

  1. Leaving on a Jet Plane
  2. Take Me Home, Country Roads (Original Version) [Remastered]
  3. Sunshine On My Shoulders
  4. Poems, Prayers & Promises
  5. The Eagle and the Hawk
  6. Rocky Mountain High
  7. Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning)
  8. Annie’s Song
  9. Back Home Again
  10. Sweet Surrender
  11. Thank God I’m a Country Boy
  12. I’m Sorry
  13. Calypso
  14. Fly Away
  15. Looking For Space
  16. Like a Sad Song
  17. My Sweet Lady
  18. Perhaps Love – John Denver, Plácido Domingo
  19. Shanghai Breezes
  20. Wild Montana Skies – John Denver Duet with Emmylou Harris

Annie’s Song: Denver wrote this song in July of 1973 as an expression of love for his first wife, Annie Martell Denver.


Disc 2

  1. Leaving On a Jet Plane (Babe, I Hate To Go)

  2. The Weight

  3. Annie’s Song

  4. Calypso

The second disc is surprisingly sparse. It only contains four tracks, but – until 2004 – they were either rare or previously unreleased. Three of the songs are acoustic versions of established hits, including an early recording of Leaving, On a Jet Plane (Babe, I Hate to Go) from 1966’s John Denver Sings, while a fourth, The Weight (written by Robbie Robertson) had never been released.

A live performance by John Denver of Like a Sad Song.

John came into the studio and played a song he called “A Song for Annie.” I said, “That’s the first measures of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, Second Movement.” It was also used for a pop song forty years ago called “Moon Love.” So John walked over to the piano, sat for a half-hour and changed it. So it’s semi-Tchaikovsky, mostly-Denver. It was John’s idea to do a whole chorus of humming. Back then you had to record every voice. Today you can do it with a couple of buttons. Tchaikovsky turned out to be a great co-writer. As “Annie’s Song,” it touched a nerve all over the world. – Milt Okun, in “Song-by-Song with Milt Okun,” John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits

John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits includes a fully-illustrated 20-page booklet with an essay by David Wild (“A Fan’s Notes” and a “Song-by-Song” breakdown by Milton “Milt” Okun, the famous producer and impresario who worked on most of Denver’s albums and helped make him a star.

Okun, who died in 2016 after a career that spanned almost 60 years, worked on all of the tracks when they were originally recorded and is, therefore, a trustworthy source of information.

My Take

Even though RCA and its eventual successor Sony BMG released several “Greatest Hits” compilation albums both during John Denver’s active career and after his tragic death in 1997, John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits is both succinct and subtle. Compilation producer Rob Santos gives listeners a good summation of Denver’s career while avoiding  gimmicks or dodgy tracks from live performances.

Despite its brevity, John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits is a good album for the singer’s loyal fans and newcomers to his music alike. Most of Denver’s best-loved songs are here, remastered with the utmost of care by Vic Anesini at Sony Music Studio in New York City. The tracks are all from the original recordings; they are not from re-recordings or from concert performances; the “Song-by-Song” analysis by Milt Okun also includes the dates in which each track was recorded and in which Denver album it was released.

If you like good music and deeply-felt, meaningful lyrics that come from the heart, I recommend John Denver: Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits. The songs in this album are melodic, wonderfully crafted, and have become part of the American musical canon.  So much so, in fact, that many professionals singers and producers put him on the pantheon of great American songwriters, in the company of Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and George and Ira Gershwin.

Perhaps Love teamed John Denver with tenor Placido Domingo in one of his last “great hits” back in 1981

As his long-time producer and friend Milt Okun said to David Wild in an interview for “A Fan’s Notes”:

“When I first met him, I thought he was a good folk singer. All his pop success startled me. And today I still think he’s a very good folk singer who picks up themes that are universal and positive and life-enhancing. To me, John Denver’s music represents the very best in art.”

Book Box Set Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set’

Promotional photo of Quirk Books’ William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On October 28, 2014, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books (home of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) released William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set, a collection of author Ian Doescher’s best-selling mashup of the works of George Lucas and William Shakespeare.

Comprised of Doescher’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth, and The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth, The Royal Imperial Boxed Set presents one-third of the popular space-fantasy series known collectively as the Skywalker Saga with a twist: What if the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO during the Rebellion against the evil Empire led by Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader were written in the Elizabethan era by the greatest dramatist in the English language?

Experience the Star Wars saga reimagined as an Elizabethan drama penned by William Shakespeare himself, complete with authentic meter and verse, and theatrical monologues and dialogue by everyone from Darth Vader to R2D2. – Publisher’s blurb, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set

The Packaging

Promotional photo of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Royal Imperial Boxed Set consists of a sturdy paperboard slipcover measuring 5.78 x 2.5 x 8.6 inches to hold three slim hardcover books, one for each play in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy series, as well as an 8-by-34-inch color poster illustrated by series artist Nicolas Delort. The slipcover art is a detail of this poster and features some of the trilogy’s heroes and villains, including Luke, Leia, Han, Jedi Master Yoda, Nien Numb, the droids, and – of course, Imperial baddies such as Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, and the scheming, cadaverous Palpatine, Dark Lord of the Sith and supreme Emperor of the strife-torn galaxy.

This Royal Imperial Boxed Set includes all three volumes in the original trilogy: Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; and The Jedi Doth Return. Also included is an 8-by-34-inch full-color poster illustrating the complete cast and company of this glorious production. – Publisher’s blurb, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set

Although the beautifully designed slipcover contains three hardcovers with a combined total of 520 pages, The Royal Imperial Boxed Set only weighs 2.2 lbs. and doesn’t take up much room on a bookshelf. Additionally, the enclosed poster can be unfolded and framed; it makes a fine and charming decoration for fans of either Shakespeare or the Star Wars franchise.

My Take

The Force.

The Force doth give a Jedi all his pow’r,

And ‘tis a field of energy that doth

Surround and bind all things

Together, here within our galaxy.  – Obi-Wan Kenobi, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, Act II, Scene 2

I purchased William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set five years ago. I was still living in Miami and taking care of my mother, who was suffering from a combination of health issues – including dementia – and was steadily fading away. I was also working as a contributor for the now-defunct Examiner.com website, where I was its Miami-based Examiner in three categories: Books, Blu-ray & DVD, and Star Wars.

I don’t recall what prompted me to buy this set in April of 2015; although I have seen a few filmed adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and studied Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew as a high school senior, I’m not a constant reader of the Bard of Avon’s canon. As I wrote in my review of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope:

Still, the notion of Star Wars reimagined as a 16th Century stage play intrigued me, and I definitely needed something to lighten my mood (the books are catalogued in the Humor genre, after all), so I bought the box set. I had a feeling that I would enjoy Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, so I might as well get the entire trilogy while I was at it. 

I mean, seriously. If you are a writer (or a lover of the written word, for that matter) and a Star Wars fan, how can you refuse when you stumble across a book that’s described thusly?

Authentic meter, stage directions, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout will entertain and impress fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike. Every scene and character from the film appears in the play, along with twenty woodcut-style illustrations that depict an Elizabethan version of the Star Wars galaxy. – Publisher’s blurb, Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

I didn’t have much time or energy to read any of the three slim volumes in this set thoroughly back in 2015; before mid-July of that year I was up to my eyeballs with caregiving and home-owning challenges. Even when my mother still lived, I was the de facto – if not de jure – head of the household, so I faced one crisis after another and didn’t have much leisure time in which I could read a book. My mother’s death on July 19, 2015 didn’t change this reality much; if anything, dealing with my difficult and greedy half-sister and the struggles to readjust to a new life as a homeowner took a lot of my time and energy. The most I could do at the time was to skim through the books; I basically read enough of each “play” in order to review them for Examiner, but no more than that.

In the five years since my mother’s passing, I eventually made the time to dive deeply into the books contained in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set, as well as these follow-on works by Ian Doescher:

  • William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First
  • William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second
  • William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third
  • William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh
  • William Shakespeare’s Jedi the Last: Star Wars Part the Eighth

And, of course, I look forward to reading Ian Doescher’s final book in his series of Shakespeare/Lucasfilm Ltd. works: William Shakespeare’s The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth.

If flurries be the food of quests, snow on. – Luke Skywalker. Act I, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth

Obviously, the Force, er, the verse, is with Quirk Books’ original William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set. Shakespeare aficionados will appreciate the wordplay and ingenious use of iambic pentameter, prose, songs, sonnets, and even haiku (the last being the form Doescher uses for Yoda’s lines) to pull off the illusion that the Bard wrote the Skywalker Saga. And Star Wars fans who aren’t necessarily into Elizabethan dramas, especially those by Shakespeare, might find new meaning in George Lucas’s films through the prism of these plays.

The Royal Imperial Boxed Set itself is an attractive addition to any book collection. Not only is the slipcover well designed and sturdy, but it’s also a joy to look at. The illustration by Nicolas Delort is not only humorous, but it also gives readers some idea of how the iconic Star Wars characters might have looked if Shakespeare had created the saga in his lifetime. I liked the cover illustration so much that I had it framed and now it hangs on a wall in my writing room.

As Obi-Wan Kenobi might have said, “This is the book box set you’re looking for.”

Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth’

Cover Illustration: Nicolas Delort (C) 2014 Quirk Books

Emperor:
This lightsaber that resteth by my side–
Thou doest desire it hotly, doest thou not?
The hate doth swell within thee even now–
It hath an aura palpable. Take up
Thy Jedi weapon, use it. I–as thou
Canst see–am quite unarm’d. So strike me down
With all thy hatred, let thine anger stir
Each moment thou dost more become my slave.
William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth, Act IV, Scene 3

On July 1, 2014, less than four months after Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth hit bookstore shelves, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books (a Random House imprint) published the third volume of the series, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth. Inspired in part by Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 parody smashup novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Doescher reimagines director Richard Marquand’s Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi as a five-act Elizabethan era stage play written by the Bard of Avon.

The author, who became a Star Wars fan at age six after watching Return of the Jedi during its 1983 theatrical run and fell in love with the works and writing style of William Shakespeare in middle school, retells filmmaker George Lucas’s space-fantasy tale set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” using the conventions of dramatic presentation of Shakespeare’s time, including minimal stage direction, a “chorus” to indicate changes in setting (analogous to the “wipes” and “dissolves” in the Star Wars films) or comment on the travails of our heroes (and villains), and exclamations, dialogues, asides, and soliloquies presented in “glorious” iambic pentameter.

Official pre-release YouTube trailer for William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return.

The epic trilogy that began with William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and continued with The Empire Striketh Back concludes herein with the all-new, all-iambic The Jedi Doth Return — perchance the greatest adventure of them all.

Prithee, attend the tale so far: Han Solo entombed in carbonite, the princess taken captive, the Rebel Alliance besieged, and Jabba the Hutt engorged. Alack! Now Luke Skywalker and his Rebel band must seek fresh allies in their quest to thwart construction of a new Imperial Death Star. But whom can they trust to fight by their side in the great battle to come? Cry “Ewok” and let slip the dogs of war!

Frozen heroes! Furry creatures! Family secrets revealed! And a lightsaber duel to decide the fate of the Empire. In troth, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return has it all! – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, The Jedi Doth Return

“Aye, pull – a princess’ vengeance! Die, thou brute!” Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Between the Covers


Such enterprise of pith and moment…
– Leia Organa, Act IV, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth

Doescher’s mashup/parody book revisits the events of director Richard Marquand’s 1983 conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy and stages them as a five-act stage play written in the greatest dramatist in the English language.

Chorus:
O join us, friends and mortals, on the scene–
Another chapter of our cosmic tale.
Luke Skywalker returns to Tatooine,
To save his friend Han Solo from his jail
Within the grasp of Jabba of the Hutt.
But while Luke doth the timely rescue scheme,
The vile Galactic Empire now hath cut
New plans for a space station with a beam
More awful than the first fear’d Death Star’s blast.
This weapon ultimate shall, when complete,
Mean doom for those witin the rebel cast
Who fight to earn the taste of freedom sweet.
In time so long ago begins our play,
In hope-fill’d galaxy far, far away
.

It begins with Lord Darth Vader’s arrival at the Empire’s new Death Star battle station, under construction in orbit above the Sanctuary Moon of Endor. The Emperor, apparently, is not pleased with Moff Jerjerrod’s crew’s apparent sluggish pace in building the larger, more powerful replacement for the original Death Star destroyed by the Rebels at the Battle of Yavin.

Vader:

Cease to persuade, my grov’ling Jerjerrod,
Long-winded Moffs have ever sniv’ling wits.
‘Tis plain to me thy progress falls behind
And lacks the needed motivations. Thus,
I have arriv’d to set thy schedule right

Jerjerrod:


We are honor’d by your presence, Lord.
To have you here is unexpected joy.

Vader:


Thou mayst dispense with ev’ry pleasantry.
Thy fawning words no int’rest hold for me.
So cease thy prating over my arrival
And tell me how thou shalt correct thy faults.
– Act I, Scene 1, The Jedi Doth Return

The “play” – which was officially licensed by Lucasfilm but (obviously) is not a canonical work – follows the basic plot of the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas and Lucas’s original story from Luke Skywalker’s carefully-plotted infiltration of Jabba’s palace on Tatooine to begin the rescue of frozen-in -carbonite Han Solo, Luke’s return to Dagobah just in time to speak to haiku-spouting Master Yoda one last time, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s account of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side, and the preparations for the Battle of Endor, especially those on the part of the more-Machiavellian-than-Machiavelli Emperor Palpatine.

A reading from The Jedi Doth Return by the one-and-only Ian McDiarmid, who plays Emperor Palpatine in six of the nine Episodes of the Skywalker Saga, as well in episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels

Doescher borrows liberally from some of the Bard’s plays – Macbeth, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hamlet (which is the most-oft quoted work in The Jedi Doth Return), Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III, and Henry V – and tweaks Shakespeare’s words so they mesh seamlessly with the characters, situations, and dialogue from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

“That blast hath emanated from the Death Star. O! ‘Tis operational.” Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Doescher injects a great deal of humor into The Jedi Doth Return, using different methods that include witty asides by characters who break the “fourth wall” and address the audience directly, inside jokes that refer to the Prequel Trilogy (which in 1983 were still 16 years from being produced and released), puns, and straight-out farce. (There’s a long scene, late in the play, where two guards on the Death Star discuss the apparent capture of Luke Skywalker on Endor and discuss the possibility, however unlikely, that things may not go as planned for the Empire this time.)

As in the previous two books in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy, the author includes an Afterword. Here, Doescher explains how he adapted Return of the Jedi (his favorite film in the Skywalker Saga) from a late 20th Century space-fantasy film into a stage play written according to the tropes and style of Shakespeare’s time. He explains, in terms that readers who are not Shakespeare buffs, what iambic pentameter is and how it should properly be read aloud.

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth features 20 woodcut-style illustrations by artist Nicolas Delort, who also did the illustration of Jabba wearing a 16th Century style costume in the vein of a Henry VIII portrait for the cover.

Admiral Ackbar: “Fie! ‘Tis a trap!” Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The central illustration of Jabba is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) a speeder bike, the second Death Star, Jabba’s Sail Barge, and. dueling on a stage below the evil Hutt, Emperor Palpatine and Luke Skywalker. Like all of the characters in this series, Palpatine and Luke wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from Return of the Jedi, looking like personages from the late 1500s rather than movie characters from a 1983 blockbuster.

In the same vein, Delort’s depictions of scenes from the film, including Leia’s reunion with Han, the battle between Luke and Boba Fett near the Great Pit of Carkoon, the speeder bike chase on Endor, and the Luke-Vader duel on the Death Star are depicted in a way that suggests how the stage designers and theater employees might have staged a space opera with the techniques available in Shakespeare’s time.

The Book

An interview with author Ian Doescher with Portland’s CBS affiliate KOIN-TV.

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return is not a large hardcover doorstop of a volume; the book is only 168 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword, and the Acknowledgments page.  It measures 5 ¼ x 8 inches and weighs less than 1 lb., so it doesn’t take up a lot of shelf space.

Underneath the dust jacket with its Elizabethan-era Jabba the Hutt  illustration, the slim volume looks like a weathered vintage  hardcover edition of a Shakespeare play, such as the ones you might see in a public library or a serious aficionado’s book collection. The cover looks “aged” and the typography on the front is designed to look like a book from the 1930s or ‘40s.  Zounds, the attention to detail paid to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Quirk Books’ designer Doogie Horner is worthy of praise.

My Take

I bought The Jedi Doth Return, along with Star Wars, Verily A New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back in Quirk Books’ William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Box Set in April of 2015.

Promotional image of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Box Set, showing the beautifully-illustrated slipcover and a suitable-for-framing promotional poster depicting the heroes and villains as reimagined by artist Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

When I ordered this box set five years ago, it was a dark time for my family and me. My 86-year-old mother was in failing health and confined to a hospital-type bed in what had been our guest room until 2010. She had convinced herself that she could no longer walk, and dementia was taking an awful toll on her mental and emotional health. Everyone involved in her care knew that she probably wouldn’t see Christmas 2015, although my older half-sister stubbornly refused to accept that sad and harsh reality.

I am not sure why I bought the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books at that particular time. I don’t read the Bard’s works often (I have paperback copies of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew that I bought when I was a senior in high school and our English class studied those plays as part of the curriculum), and I only have two Shakespeare-based films in my Blu-ray & DVD collection (Henry V and West Side Story). So I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado like author Ian Doescher, although as a writer I am aware of his influence on drama, the English canon, and the English language as a whole.

I am, however, a Star Wars fan from as far back as 1977, and knowing that George Lucas was inspired by many stories and myths from around the world when he created the first two-thirds of the Skywalker Saga, I was aware of the connection between the works of Lucas and the Bard of Avon.

I suppose that the fact that the books are an intelligently-written parody of two different sets of creative works intrigued me. We tend to need humor even in our darkest times in order to cope with stress and fear, and believe me, there was plenty of stress and fear in my Miami home during the spring and summer of 2015.

The Jedi Doth Return is a clever and entertaining book that made me see Return of the Jedi in a new light. Seeing the struggle of Luke Skywalker to accept several unpalatable truths (his father Anakin is Darth Vader, and his first Jedi mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, told the story of Vader’s origins from “a certain point of view” that wasn’t exactly a lie, but distorted the truth like a pretzel) portrayed as a Shakespearean tragedy gives Return of the Jedi a new layer of depth and meaning.

And, let’s face it; it is cool to see a film that many fans deride as being the lesser of the Classic Trilogy reimagined as a play by Shakespeare. The evil Emperor Palpatine (played in the Star Wars movies by Ian McDiarmid, who has played many Shakespearean roles on stage and film) seems more menacing, cunning, and evil in The Jedi Doth Return; Doetscher’s version of “Darth Sidious” is on equal footing with such formidable Shakespeare villains as Measure for Measure’s Angelo, Othello’s Iago, the titular protagonist of Richard III, or Cassius in Julius Caesar.

As in a real Shakespeare play, all of the characters, whether Rebel or Imperial, are recognizable not just as film or mythical archetypes, but as people with human needs and emotions. Even Star Wars’ Laurel-and-Hardy duo, C-3PO and R2-D2, have human qualities and flaws, though they are droids and not organics.

Official trailer for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.

I wasn’t able to dive deeply into the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series when I started buying these books during my last year in South Florida. My mom died that July, and the months that followed were full of stress, legal and financial challenges, and many changes that affected every aspect of my life. It wasn’t until 2017 or so that I was able to sit down and really read this series, which grew from the original William Shakespeare‘s Star Wars Trilogy to an eight-play (soon to be nine) series that includes Shakespearean interpretations of both the Prequel and the Sequel Trilogies. (In July, Quirk Books is due to publish The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth.)

So, read on, McDuff. The Jedi Doth Return is a fun and entertaining take on Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. I enjoyed it immensely; so much so, in fact, that I bought the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy on audiobook. Hearing professional actors and author Ian Doescher perform The Jedi Doth Return is an experience that is truly out of this galaxy.

Truly, the Force is with this book.

Blu-ray Box Set Review: ‘Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga’ (UK Import)

From a young Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side to the rise of the Resistance and their struggle to restore peace in the galaxy, the story that electrified a generation comes to a striking conclusion. The saga will end. The story lives forever. – Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga publicity insert.

On Monday, April 20, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. released its Blu-ray box set, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, for the UK/Western Europe market. Because the 18 Blu-ray discs (BDs) are region-free (meaning they can be played on any BD player regardless of its geographic region), BVHE – The Walt Disney Company’s home media distributor – also authorized U.S. retailers such as Walmart to sell this set as a less expensive alternative to the larger 27-disc set with nine 4K UHD Blu-ray discs and 18 HD BDs, which is a Best Buy exclusive.

Though both box sets share some commonalities – the packaging bears the same silver on black color scheme and a stark representation of a quadrant of the original Death Star on the side panels; and the distribution of HD BDs is identical (nine discs for the features, nine discs for the Bonus Features – there are a few differences as well.

The Packaging

The most obvious difference between the Best Buy-exclusive version of The Skywalker Saga and the import version from Walmart is the size and engineering of the packaging. Because the latter set only contains 18 1080p Blu-rays, BVHE opted to go with a smaller box which eschews the elaborately designed DigiBook with individual DigiPacks for each of the nine numbered Episodes in the “core” Star Wars saga.

Thus, the 18-disc edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga consists of the following:

  • An outer slip box with a flip-top, black with the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga indicia printed in silver-white letters on the top and front panels. To open the slip box, gently lift the hinged top panel; the front panel will drop, ramp—like, to reveal the DigiPacks. The inside of the front panel also features a thank you letter from Mark Hamill
  • Three white foldout-type DigiPacks, one for each of the Star Wars trilogies. Each DigiBook bears the Blu-ray, Lucasfilm, and Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga logos on the spine; each trilogy’s DigiPack bears a Roman numeral (I, II, and III at the bottom of the spine; on the front cover, under the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga title, we see the titles of the three Episodes contained herein – DigiBook I  houses The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, for instance
  • Each DigiPack, which folds out to reveal three compartments, holds six discs, in two-BD pairings (one feature film BD, one bonus features BD)

The Content

As mentioned above, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga rounds up the nine numbered Episodes of the Prequel, Original, and Sequel Trilogies in one 18-disc collection. These films represent the roles played by Anakin Skywalker and his descendants in a series of conflicts between the forces of good and evil “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Released over a 42-year span (1977-2019), the films that make up The Skywalker Saga are:

  • Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). Written and directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Written by George Lucas & Jonathan Hales. Directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). Written and directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) Written and directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Written by Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas. Directed by Irvin Kershner
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) Written by Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas. Story by George Lucas. Directed by Richard Marquand
  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt. Directed by J.J. Abrams
  • Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) Written and directed by Rian Johnson
  • Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Written by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and J.J. Abrams & Chris Terrio. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Each Episode is paired with a 1080p BD with the Bonus Features; the six “George Lucas Era” films come with a mix of extras made for the 2015 20th Century Fox/Disney digital release and “legacy” content from the 2001-2005 DVD editions and the 2011 Blu-ray bonus discs. The three “Disney Lucasfilm” Sequel Trilogy Episodes’ bonus discs are essentially the same ones from the 2016-2020 home media releases.

In total, the Walmart “import” edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga offers Star Wars fans 18 high definition Blu-rays in one compact slip box.   

My Take

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, this was the first iteration of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga I ordered back in February, which is when I found out that Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm were about to release a follow-on to the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga box sets released a year before Star Wars creator (and Lucasfilm’s CEO) George Lucas announced his retirement and his intention to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company. I ordered this set at Walmart.com because I initially balked at paying over $250 for a 27-disc set – with nine discs that I didn’t know when I’d watch, if at all – and figured I’d be better off with a cheaper set.

Well, I ended up ordering the Best Buy exclusive set. And in a series of weird Internet-related mishaps, I ended up with this set as well. I didn’t plan on it, but due to the complexities of dealing with Walmart Customer Service in the midst of a global pandemic, I decided to take the $141 hit to my wallet and keep the 18-disc set.

Besides my reluctance to call Walmart and start a returns process for my “import” edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, I also have good reasons to add it to my collection of Star Wars Blu-rays and DVDs.

First, after examining the Walmart set and comparing it to its larger, more elaborate, and pricier Best Buy counterpart, I determined that the import version of the BVHE/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is the set to get if you:

  • Don’t own a 4K UHD TV set and compatible 4K Blu-ray player and don’t plan to buy them in the near future
  • Don’t have the financial resources to buy the larger – and pricier – 27-disc version of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  • Don’t own any of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga films on Blu-ray
  • Are a Star Wars Blu-ray “complete collector” who must own every variant ever released
  • Want a less expensive Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga for everyday use and only watch the 4K discs on special occasions

Second, as nice as the Best Buy version – with its cleverly engineered collectible packaging and beautifully-illustrated DigiBook – of the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga truly is, I find that the more compact, three-DigiBook design of the import version is just more ergonomic and easier to handle. This is especially true in regard to taking the Blu-ray discs out of the packaging to play them and then putting them back after use.

With the Best Buy set, the discs (4K UHD as well as 1080p HD) are stored in niches set inside “pages” in a book-like disc container. You have to carefully tease the disc you want to play out of its compartment without damaging the playing surface with scratches or smudges from your fingertips. It can be done; the original 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Complete Saga from 2011 used a similar storage system, only the “niches” for the discs are located on the “side ”edge” of each page-like sleeve, whilst on the newer set, they are placed on the “top” edge of the sleeve. (And, of course, taking discs out from a brand-new DigiBook is a nerve-racking experience, because the discs are packed in their sleeves tight.)

I prefer the less showy but more practical and “old-school” plastic compartments on the foldout-design DigiPacks in the import version. The three DigiPacks aren’t as impressive in size and looks as the $249.99 (MSRP) Best Buy set’s single “Collector’s Edition” volume, but you can extract the discs more easily and without frying your nervous system worrying about damaging a disc in the process.

I noticed that the Blu-rays for the six films of the Prequel and Original Trilogies aren’t – like the individual disc reissues from late 2019 – merely relabeled versions of the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment BDs. Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm gave the 2020 discs for the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga sets a makeover that retains the geek factor from the earlier Blu-ray releases – the commentaries by George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, and other cast and crew members were ported over to the 2020 discs, for instance.

To reflect the changes of ownership of the Star Wars IP and the relationship between 20th Century Fox and Disney, as well as to allay fans’ fears that the 2020 discs are essentially the same as the ones BVHE issued less than six months before, the discs have – as Han Solo might say – “special modifications.”

First, the six films originally released by Fox between 1977 and 2005 come in discs with new menus. Even the cute “disc is loading” R2-D2 graphic is gone, which wasn’t the case with BVHE’s late-2019 reissue of these films. The menus are more in line with the ones in the 2016-2020 Blu-rays of the Sequel Trilogy and the Anthology standalones Rogue One and Solo.

Second, though the familiar 20th Century Fox logo and Alfred Newman’s classic Fanfare still introduce Episodes I-VI, the former corporate owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, is no longer mentioned in the Fox logo. So, even though the old studio that produced the original Star Wars film is now a subsidiary company of the larger Disney corporation, fans don’t have to fret about Star Wars history being erased by the House of Mouse.

The one other feature worth mentioning here is in one of the Sequel Trilogy discs. It’s unique to Star Wars Episode VIII’s disc, which is significantly different from the 2018 home media release. From what I understand, it’s the only Sequel Trilogy Blu-ray that underwent a total digital remastering process, and – in at least the import version – Lucasfilm added a “music-only” track that lets you watch The Last Jedi as a silent film accompanied by John Williams’ brilliant score. I looked for this option on the Best Buy set’s The Last Jedi disc, but either (a) the U.S. version doesn’t have a “music-only” audio track, or I didn’t look for it with enough tenacity.

Overall, I don’t regret that I was not able to cancel this “phantom order” of the 18-disc Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga import edition box set. If I didn’t have a 4K UHD TV and a compatible Blu-ray player, this would have been my preferred choice anyway; it just happens that I do have one, so the nine 4K UHD discs in the Best Buy counterpart will get played – eventually. But because I like this set’s more compact packaging and it’s far easier to handle the discs without giving myself a heart attack, I’ll probably use this one as my “everyday” use collection, while I’ll only trot out the 4K discs in the more expensive Skywalker Saga set on special occasions.

Updated to add: As it happens, the Best Buy exclusive set’s Blu-ray with Star Wars: The Last Jedi does, indeed, include the isolated music track option. Apparently, I tested that disc in haste and late at night (way past midnight, as a matter of fact), so I didn’t see the option on the Main Menu.

Odds & Ends: My ‘Star Wars’ Blu-ray collection has a new addition

Promotional photo of Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd.’s Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga 18-disc Blu-ray set. This is the UK/Western Europe region-free edition, and is available in the U.S. through Walmart. © 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Star Wars Blu-ray collection just got a little larger yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, FedEx dropped off the latest addition to my already-substantial treasure trove of Star Wars Blu-rays: the 18-disc 1080p Blu-ray-only edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Like the larger Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, this is a box set that collects the nine films that comprise the story of the Skywalker family, set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away amid a backdrop of galactic strife that begins with the rise of Sheev Palpatine to power and ends with the ultimate confrontation between the forces of good and evil in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy.

From a young Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side to the rise of the Resistance and their struggle to restore peace in the galaxy, the story that electrified a generation comes to a striking conclusion. The saga will end. The story lives forever. – Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga publicity insert.

Released simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic on Tuesday, April 20, this 18-disc set is a smaller and less expensive (with an MSRP of $129.99) version of BVHE and Lucasfilm’s larger and pricier Best Buy-exclusive Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga set, which has similar Death Star-themed packaging but includes a collectible DigiBook disc-holder, the 4K UHD Blu-rays of Episodes I-IX, an insert with the Movies Anywhere codes to download or stream the digital copies, and a letter, suitable for framing, by actor Mark Hamill.

Publicity photo of the Best Buy-exclusive 27-disc edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. © 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Back in February, this was the set I intended to buy; I have a 4K UHD and various peripherals for it, including a soundbar and a 4K Blu-ray player, but because they have not been set up yet, I didn’t think I needed to get the Best Buy version, which has a retail price of $249.99 plus state and local sales taxes.

So, in a convoluted sequence of events, as soon as I learned through Blu-ray.com (my go-to source for news about upcoming releases and price cuts on existing titles) about the Walmart option, I went to walmart.com (without logging on to my account) and ordered the 18-disc set.

Then, when I received my order confirmation in my main email account, I tried clicking on my order link. It led me nowhere…the site showed me a “Sorry, We Can’t Find the Page You’re Looking For” prompt. Thinking the order was lost in the ether, I then logged on to my account and ordered another set.

A few weeks passed. My girlfriend then informed me that in case she had to work from home due to Florida’s COVID-19-related orders to observe strict social distancing rule, she was also going to reorganize and redecorate the master bedroom, a project that includes setting up the new 50″ 4K UHD TV set and its peripherals.

This, of course, encouraged me to change my mind about the 27-disc Best Buy version of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. I figured that if the new TV was finally going to be set up and put to use, I might as well cancel the Walmart order and order the box set which included the 4K UHD discs instead.

So that’s what I did in the last week of March. I canceled the second order I’d made while logged on to my Walmart account, then went to Best Buy’s website and ordered the 27-disc Best Buy exclusive set, which I received on my doorstep on April 1.

Back in early December of 2019, I also bought six of the eight Blu-ray titles on this promotional image from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.© 2019 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Thing is, though, that even though I had canceled the order I’d made while logged on to my Walmart account, the original “lost in the ether” one was still, as far as Walmart was concerned, active. So on Monday I was notified that my order of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was shipping soon.

There wasn’t any way, short of calling Walmart on the phone, to cancel, so I decided to do nothing and just add the 18-disc set to my already well-stocked Star Wars Blu-ray collection. It arrived yesterday, and even though I’ll have to shell out $141 to MasterCard, it turned out to be a welcome addition to my Blu-ray collection.

I’ll be reviewing the box set tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Book Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Adaptation (Marvel Comics)

Cover art for Issue #1 of Marvel Comics’ seven-part adaptation of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Art by Phil Noto. (C) 2018, 2019 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On June 18, 2019, Marvel Comics published the trade paperback edition of Solo; A Star Wars Story, which collected issues 1-7 of writer Robbie Thompson and artist Will Sliney’s adaptation of director Ron Howard’s 2018 film about the early adventures of Han Solo, Chewbacca the Wookiee, and their first caper as smugglers in the early days of the Galactic Empire.

The paperback edition followed the release by Marvel of the ebook version by 13 days, and the publication of the last single issue (April 3, 2019) by eight weeks. Featuring the work of colorists Federico Blee and Andres Mossa and cover art by Phil Noto, Solo: A Star Wars Story reads like an expanded edition of the film, featuring slightly reimagined takes on the story written by Lawrence and Jon Kasdan and based on characters created by George Lucas.

The trade paperback features the same cover art by Phil Noto, with only a few modifications that reflect that this edition is a collection of issues. (C) 2019 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Learn the full story of the galaxy’s most lovable scoundrel in this adaptation of the blockbuster Star Wars prequel! After leaving the Imperial Navy, a young Han Solo seeks adventure by joining a gang of galactic mercenaries – and soon meets notorious gambler Lando Calrissian and a 196-year-old Wookiee named Chewbacca! Witness Han’s first flight in the Millennium Falcon – and join him on the legendary Kessel Run! But can even the fastest ship in the galaxy help Han accomplish an impossible heist for ruthless gangster Dryden Vos? There’s more to this story than you saw in any theater!

COLLECTING:STAR WARS: SOLO ADAPTATION 1-7 – Publisher’s back cover blurb, Solo: A Star Wars Story (Marvel Comics)

Thompson, who also wrote Solo: Imperial Cadet, a prequel to this story, as well as Marvel’s miniseries Star Wars: Target Vader, sticks closely to the Lawrence (The Empire Strikes Back) Kasdan and his son Jon’s script in this fast-paced adaptation of the star-cross’d second Anthology film. The comic book follows a Corellian “scrumrat” named Han in a fateful series of events that takes him from his Imperial-occupied home world into the service of the Empire, where the young hotshot hopes to become a pilot so he can return and save his girlfriend Qi’ra from the clutches of the vile gangster, Lady Proxima.

Like most comic book adaptations, Thompson’s script deviates a bit from the film. In one early scene, the writer adds an Easter egg that alludes to Raiders of the Lost Ark, a more Earthbound adventure written by Lawrence Kasdan for Lucasfilm nearly 40 years ago. There are also extra scenes set right before the start of the film in the opening panels, as well.

Unlike Mur Lafferty’s “Expanded Edition” novelization, Thompson doesn’t delve into the beginning of the Rebellion – although that’s alluded to in the Enfys Nest subplot – or Qi’ra’s past with Crimson Dawn. But it does recreate most of the best moments of Howard’s movie, including my favorite bit:

Lando: I hate you.

Han: I know.

Here is the cover for Issue 4 of the single copy edition of the Solo comics adaptation. Cover Art: Phil Noto. (C) 2018 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

Interestingly, Robbie Thompson’s script for this seven-part adaptation does have material based on Mur Lafferty’s novelization, especially in the “deleted scenes” stuff depicting Han’s dismissal from the Imperial Academy and reassignment to the infantry on Mimban. Thompson’s take is slightly different, but the basic plot point from the novel is still there.

Like all of Marvel’s new Star Wars film adaptations, the writer and artists incorporate the blue-on-black “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” card, as well as the same cards that take the place of the Skywalker Saga main title crawls:

CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources —
food, medicine and HYPERFUEL.

On the shipbuilding planet of Corellia, the foul
LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of
crime in exchange for shelter and protection.

On these mean streets, a young man fights for
survival, but years to fly among the stars….

The only continuity discrepancy in the Thompson script is that he gives Chewie’s age as 196. In the film, as well as in other canon sources, we are told that everyone’s favorite Wookiee copilot is 190 years old in Solo, and 200 during the events chronicled in Star Wars: A New Hope.

The art by Irish comic book artist Will Sliney is good; his style is more impressionistic than photo-realistic, so his renderings of a young Han, Lando, Tobias Beckett, Qi’ra, Val, Rio, L3-37, and Dryden Vos don’t always exactly match the characters as seen in the film.

I can live with that. After all, the artists who drew the six-issues-long adaptation of the original Star Wars film did not attempt to be photo-realistically accurate in their portrayals of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, or Chewbacca. (The latter character’s comic book persona, oddly enough, was more of a brute than the sometimes comical interpretation by the late Peter Mayhew in the film.)

My only complaint – and it’s really a minor one – is that the last two collections of comics based on Star Wars films (Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story were published as trade paperbacks rather than hardcovers. Visually, the trade paperbacks have the same style as far as cover designs and indicia are concerned, but they are smaller and, of course, less durable.

Music Album Review: ‘Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition’

The cover art of the 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition is based on the 1978 teaser poster for Superman: The Movie. 
 © 2019 Warmer Bros. Records, La-La Land Records, and DC Entertainment

In December of 1978, Warner Bros. Records released Superman: The Movie – Music from the Original Soundtrack, an album produced by the man who composed and conducted the score, John Williams.

Warner released the album in three formats, each one slightly different from the other. The vinyl LP version consisted of two 33 rpm records and contained nearly 78 minutes of themes and action “cues” from Maestro Williams’ score, which represents less than half of the film’s score. The eight-track edition had the same tracks and running time as the LP, but the cassette version omitted two tracks – Growing Up and Lex Luthor’s Lair – due to the limitations of the format.

The Superman: The Movie soundtrack, was edited by Williams to fit the aesthetics of the time and presented much of the music – including the iconic Main Title (March from “Superman”) and Love Theme from “Superman” – in concert hall arrangements that differ from the versions heard in the Richard Donner film.

In a similar vein, the 1978 record’s tracks did not quite follow the chronology of the film; for instance, the sixth track on the original recording is the romantic Love Theme from “Superman”; in the actual movie, the theme is heard during the second half of the end title sequence.

Maestro Williams was nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy for the record, which (as was the case with the Star Wars score in 1977) he had made with the London Symphony Orchestra. And even though it did not knock the 2-LP Star Wars soundtrack from its spot as the best-selling soundtrack of the time, Superman still sold a lot of copies over the next decade.

Superman made its compact disc debut in 1989. Once again, Warner Bros. Records dealt with the new format’s storage limits of 74 minutes’ worth of music – an issue that has since been addressed by advances in digital recording – by excluding two tracks. The complete 78-minutes-long soundtrack from 1978 was released by Warner Music Japan in 1990 – CDs made there met the country’s 80-minutes-per-disc storage standards, but this reissue was not widely available in the U.S. market.

In 2000, Superman and John Williams fans finally got the version of the soundtrack for which they had waited 22 years; Rhino Records and Warner Archives released for the first time a complete presentation of Maestro Williams’ complete score in a double CD album. Produced by Michael Matessino and the late Nick Redman, this version “combined the album master with various edited ‘pre-dub’ elements to reconstruct the score.”

The 2000 two-CD album might have been the definitive recording of Maestro Williams’ music for Superman if an employee in the London-area studio where the film was made had not made an unexpected discovery.

According to Matessino’s liner notes, shortly after [the Rhino soundtrack] release, 35mm magnetic film reels containing an earlier-generation 6-track mixdown were discovered at Pinewood Studios. This source was used for an audio remix for the film’s DVD release on DVD in 2001, with the score presented (in edited, truncated form to match the film) as an isolated track.

This find formed the basis for Film Score Monthly’s 2008 Superman: The Music (1978-1988) 8-disc box set. This might have been the score’s Ultimate Edition were it not for another accidental discovery: the original 2-inch 24 track masters used during the recording sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra at Anvil Studios. Warner Bros. had found the tapes, barcoded them, then locked them in a vault.

As a result, Mike Matessino, along with La-La Land Records’ MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys, associate producer Neil S. Bulk, and creative consultant Jim Bowers were able to put together a third (and possibly last) restored assembly of John Williams’ magnificent score for Superman.

A recent discovery of the score’s original 2-inch, 24-track music masters has led the way to a stellar, high-resolution transfer by Warner Sound. This first-generation element has been restored, remixed, assembled and remastered by album producer Mike Matessino, resulting in a stunning presentation of this legendary score that is unparalleled in its sonic quality.

The 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition

Released in mid-February of 2019 as a limited-edition commemorative set, this version of Superman: The Movie’s score contains three compact discs:

Discs One and Two present maestro Williams’ film score in its glorious, full form, while Disc Two also contains a bounty of alternate/additional cues (including an astonishing early version of “The Fortress of Solitude” that remained vaulted and unplayed for four decades), and Disc Three showcases the original 1978 soundtrack presentation, rebuilt and remastered from these newly restored recording elements. – La-La Land Records product description

Only 5000 units of this 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition of the Superman soundtrack were made by La La Land Records and Warner Bros. Entertainment. (C) 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment and La La Land Records.

Disc One

Score Presentation

  1.  Prelude and Main Title  5:06
  2.  The Planet Krypton and The Dome Opens  6:39
  3.  Destruction of Krypton (Extended Version)  7:57
  4.  The Kryptonquake  2:27
  5.  The Trip to Earth  2:33
  6.  The Crash Site  :39
  7.  Growing Up  2:01
  8.  Jonathan’s Death  3:27
  9.  Leaving Home  4:52
  10.  The Fortress of Solitude (Extended Version)  9:22
  11.  The Mugger  2:11
  12.  Lex Luthor’s Lair (Extended Version)  4:54
  13.  The Helicopter Sequence  5:59
  14.  The Burglar Sequence  and Chasing Crooks  3:21
  15.  Cat Rescue and Air Force One  2:17
  16.  The Penthouse  1:35
  17.  The Flying Sequence (Instrumental Version)  8:12
  18. Clark Loses His Nerve  :51

Disc One Total Time: 74:34

Disc Two

Score Presentation Continued

1.  The March of the Villains  3:37

2.  The Truck Convoy Sequence  3:27

3.  To the Lair  2:21

4.  Trajectory Malfunction  1:21

5.  Luthor’s Lethal Weapon  2:13

6. Superman Rescued and Chasing Rockets  5:01

7. Golden Gate Bridge and The Rescue of Jimmy  4:57

8.  Pushing Boulders and Flying to Lois  5:26

9.  Turning Back the World  2:06

10.  The Prison Yard and End Title  6:41

11.  Love Theme From Superman  5:03

Total Score Time:  1:56:36

 Additional Music

12.  Prelude and Main Title (Alternate)  3:49

13.  The Planet Krypton (Alternate Segment)  3:18

14.   The Dome Opens (Alternate)  2:31

15.  The Fortress of Solitude (Alternate Segment)  4:12

16.  The Mugger (Alternate)  1:29

17.   Prelude and Main Title (Film Version)  5:23

18.   I Can Fly (Flying Sequence Alternate Segment)  2:15

19.   Can You Read My Mind (Film Version)  3:04

20.   Trajectory Malfunction (Alternate)  1:04

21.   Turning Back the World (Extended Version)  2:20

22.   The Prison Yard and End Title (Film Version)  5:48

Total Time:  35:13

Disc Two Total Time: 78:00

 Disc Three 

Remastered 1978 Original Soundtrack

  1. Theme from Superman (Main Title)  4:29
  2. The Planet Krypton  4:49
  3. Destruction of Krypton  6:03
  4. The Trip to Earth  2:28
  5. Growing Up  1:56
  6. Love Theme From Superman  5:02
  7. Leaving Home  4:52
  8. The Fortress of Solitude  8:32
  9. The Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind  8:14
  10. Super Rescues  3:27
  11. Lex Luthor’s Lair  2:37
  12. Superfeats  5:04
  13. The March of the Villains  3:37
  14. Chasing Rockets  7:37
  15. Turning Back the World  2:06
  16.  End Title  6:36

Disc Three Total Time: 77:55

Three-Disc Total Time:  3:50:29

My Take

I have owned most of the Superman soundtracks that have been available in the U.S. since December of 1978 in almost every format except the eight-track version. The only major releases I have not purchased or listened to are the 1990 Warner Music Japan CD reissue of the 1978 soundtrack and the 2008  Superman: The Music (1978-1988) Film Score Monthly box set. And until I bought Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition to celebrate my 56th  birthday last year, I only owned the 2000 Rhino/Warner Archives 2-CD restoration, which Mike Matessino and Nick Redman had lovingly reconstructed two decades ago.

Naturally, much of the musical material in this limited edition is similar to that of the 2000 Superman: The Movie soundtrack album. There are differences, of course; some tracks have been expanded or re-edited, and as such have new titles. Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition presents the film’s music as it was heard in the film, which means that tracks such as Luthor’s Luau (which is a bonus track in the ’00 album) are incorporated into the score rather than as ancillary material heard after the main score.

The score for Superman is brilliant and suitably epic, with heroic marches and fanfares that represent Christopher Reeve’s eponymous hero and his dual personalities of Kal-El and Clark Kent; a romantic love theme for Superman and the reporter he falls for, Lois Lane (the late Margot Kidder, to whom this release is dedicated); a darkly mischievous March of the Villains that seems to foreshadow Parade of the Ewoks from John Williams’ yet-to-be-written score for Return of the Jedi; and scene-specific cues that utilize variations of these themes in a way that marries the music to the images shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (who died in October of 1978; he had completed work on Superman and was shooting Roman Polanski’s Tess in France when he had a fatal heart attack) seamlessly.

As I said in my A Certain Point of View review of the 2000 Rhino Records/Warner Archives album:

The result, of course, was one of the most memorable film scores in modern movie history. Maestro Williams’ Main Title March (especially in its abridged concert hall arrangement) is one of the composer’s best-loved works, on par with his Main Title from Star Wars, Flying Theme from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the “Raiders” March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the menacing motif from Jaws and its concert arrangement.

Another iconic theme from the Superman score is, of course, Love Theme from Superman. There are several versions of this work in this album, including the end credits arrangement that doubles as a concert arrangement, as well as the vocal-and-orchestra version heard during the somewhat syrupy “flying sequence” with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.

In addition, British lyricist Leslie Bricusse (who has also worked with Williams on songs for Hook and Goodbye. Mr. Chips) wrote the words to Can You Read My Mind, which was originally intended to be sung by Margot Kidder to the melody of the Love Theme. Director Richard Donner vetoed this idea, so the song morphed into a voiceover. Later, Maureen McGovern recorded Can You Read My Mind and had a modest pop hit with it in 1979, but the song has not aged well.

Maestro Williams’ LSO recording of the Love Theme, however, survived and thrived, and many orchestras, including the Cincinnati Pops and the Boston Pops Orchestra, have covered it in concert halls  and in recordings.

This three-CD edition contains all the music of the 2000 edition, albeit with new reconstructions and previously unreleased versions of The Fortress of Solitude. It also includes the complete 1978 album, plus alternate takes of classic tracks such as March from Superman and The Flying Sequence.

There is also A Score Takes Flight, a 43-page book of liner notes and the long history behind the movie score and the various recordings, It was co-written by Mike Matessino, Lukas Kendall, and Jeff Eldridge.

In my review of the 2000 Matessino/Redman reconstructed soundtrack album for my A Certain Point of View Blog I wrote:

I’ve owned several versions of the Superman soundtrack, including the LP, cassette, and CD editions of the ’78 album, over the past 40 years. Clearly, I have loved them all, but in my opinion, the 2000 Warner Archives extended edition is the best.

Although the 2000 Warner Archives/Rhino Records is still a great album (and the one I have in my Amazon Music digital collection), the 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition is, pardon the expression, really super, man.

Sources:

Michael Matessino, liner notes for Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition

La-La Land Records website

Book Review: ‘Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series – Volume One’

Cover Design by Pamela Notarantonio. (C) 2015 Abrams ComicArts, The Topps Company, and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

If you are old enough to remember when Star Wars hit the pop culture scene in May of 1977, you probably recall that in those last years before videocassette recorders became affordable enough for the average American consumer, there really weren’t many means for fans to “take the movie home” until 20th Century Fox saw fit to re-release it in theaters or allowed it to run on pay-per-view or premium cable channels such as HBO.

The options available to us fans 43 years ago were:

Star Wars novelization, in its original hardcover edition. Cover art by John Berkey. Note that the logo is slightly different (the “W” in “Wars” is from an earlier design, which was refined for the film by Joe Johnston.) (C) 1977 Del Rey Books and 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
  • Buy the Ballantine/Del Rey Books novelization
  • Buy the official Marvel Comics six-issue adaptation (in its various formats)
  • Buy the Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture 2-LP album (or its eight-track or audio cassette editions)
  • Buy the Super 8 or 35mm clips of film that 20th Century Fox released for promotional use (if you had a home movie projector, anyway)
  • Buy the Topps Star Wars Trading Cards
This Kenner Toys collector’s case could hold 24 Star Wars “mini-action figures in two compartmentalized bins, which doubled as display stands. I still have mine from 1978. Photo Credit: http://www.mycomicshop.com. (C) 1978 Kenner Toys (now Hasbro) and 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

After Kenner Toys’ production line finally caught up with the demand for its “mini-action figures” and related Star Wars vehicles and playsets in early 1978, fans (mostly kids, but also quite a few teens and even adults) could get Star Wars toys to recreate their favorite scenes or just show off in static displays.

Until I moved with my family to our then-new townhouse in Fontainebleau Park’s East Wind Lake Village condominium in February of 1978, I only had a paperback edition of the novelization and a plastic container full of Topps Star Wars trading cards to relive George Lucas’s space-fantasy film set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

As I recall, I first started collecting Star Wars trading cards a few months before we moved to our brand-new house. Sometime around November 1977 I began crossing a busy thoroughfare in Sweetwater, Florida known as Andrews Boulevard (aka SW 109th Avenue) to buy Star Wars trading cards at a nearby Safeway store.

 
The Topps Chewing Gum Company (now The Topps Company), like most of the licensees authorized by “the Star Wars Corporation” (and later, Lucasfilm) to create merchandise based on Star Wars, was caught off-guard by the film’s success, so by the time I began collecting its cards, stores still had Series One in stock. Lucky break for me, because I can honestly say, 43 years after the fact, that I got started at the beginning and didn’t miss getting the “blue series” cards.

In 1977, each pack cost 15 cents. The wrapper was waxy cellophane and bore the Star Wars logo and a “pop-artsy” drawing of a character or ship from the movie. Each pack contained six random cards and a sticker; for the first series, the major heroes and villains, and one “space dogfight” scene (taken from a publicity shot) were featured. 

A Series One pack of Topps’ Star Wars trading cards from 1977. Photo Credit: beckett.com. (C) 1977 Topps Chewing Gum Company and 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

I eventually bought enough packs to own all of the Series One cards and stickers, and most, but not all, of the subsequent card-and-sticker sets that Topps released from 1977 to 1979. And because I wasn’t educated about the proper way to collect cards, action figures, and other collectibles, I don’t think I have many of the Topps cards left. 

The Book

(C) 2015 Abrams Comic Art, The Topps Company, and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars—the original trading card series from Topps first published in 1977 and 1978—is reprinted here in its entirety for the first time, featuring all five sets of collectible cards and stickers. This deluxe compilation includes the fronts and backs of all 330 cards and 55 stickers (originally sold one per pack), including movie facts, story summaries, actor profiles, and puzzle cards featuring all your favorite characters and scenes from the very first Star Wars movie. Also features four bonus trading cards, as well as an introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani, the original editor of the Star Wars Topps series. A special afterword by Robert V. Conte spotlights the rare Star Wars Wonder Bread trading cards, also reprinted for the first time.– Publisher’s dust jacket blurb

On November 15, 2015 – during the prerelease runup to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Abrams ComicArts, an imprint of New York-based Harry N. Abrams Books, joined forces with Topps and Lucasfilm to publish Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One.

This 548-page hardcover is the first of three volumes devoted to the Topps Company’s various trading card series based on the classic Star Wars trilogy. (Volume Two covers the cards and stickers from The Empire Strikes Back, while Volume Three delves into those from Return of the Jedi.)

The book follows the same format as Abrams ComicArts’ 2008 and 2010 hardcovers devoted to Topps’ Wacky Packages trading stickers. The hardcover volume is compact-sized (6 x 1.8 x 7.5 inches) and smaller than coffee table-sized books in the Arts genre.

Card #10 of Star Wars Series One. Photo Credit: Wikipedia via cardboardconnection.com. (C) 1977 Topps Chewing Gum Company and 20th Century Film Corp.

And following in the footsteps of Neil Egan, Abrams’ designer of the two Wacky Packages volumes, series editor Nicole Scamla and designer Patricia Notarantonio give Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One the “Topps treatment” by evoking the look and feel of those 1977-1978 card packs. The dust jacket recreates the artwork of a Series One pack wrapper, and it is printed in the same wax paper Topps used to pack the cards, stickers, and stick of gum in. And speaking of Topps gum, the book’s front cover (under the dust jacket) features a facsimile of a stick of gum, which many customers usually discarded. Even the text of the blurbs in the inside cover flaps is printed in the same font used in the wrappers back in the 1970s.

My Take

I bought this book on Amazon in early 2018, around the time that I purchased the two Abrams ComicArts Wacky Packages books. I was feeling nostalgic for my former home in Miami and, by extension, my more carefree days as a 15-year-old just beginning to collect Star Wars memorabilia. I also ordered two other volumes of the series devoted to trading cards from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Of the many different collectibles I originally bought between seventh grade at Riviera Junior High in 1977 and the start of my freshman year at Miami-Dade Community College in 1985, my trading card collection fared the worst. I kept most of the Series One set in a plastic Tupperware container that my older half-sister Vicky gave to store them in, but I kept most of the other sets in a duffel bag, loose and not properly organized or protected.

As a result, not many of my Topps Star Wars trading cards have survived. Most got thrown away over the years because they were in poor shape. The few that I have left are the ones in the plastic container that Vicky gave me so long ago. And that item is in a bin in my study’s closet.

Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One, which was edited by Gary Gerani (who wrote the introduction and the commentary in the various chapters devoted to the card series) is a way to have my cake and eat it, too. The book is compact enough to sit in any bookshelf or on top of a desk or coffee table, yet contains every Star Wars card and sticker Topps published between 1977 and 1978.

This book is not perfect; some readers might find that there’s too much white space and not enough text (Gerani’s commentary is succinct and printed in small fonts), and the Star Wars trading cards are presented smaller than actual size.

Still, if you want to own all of Topps’ Star Wars trading cards without worrying about losing a card or how to store five different series of cards and stickers, this book is the least expensive and most efficient route to take. The entire collection can be found – and enjoyed – in one convenient hardcover volume.

Truly, the Force is strong with Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One.