Category Archives: Star Wars

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

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She’s gone. Our Princess Leia, heroine extraordinaire of the Star Wars Universe, has passed away several days after suffering a heart attack en route from London to LAX. And she was only 60!!

I’d actually thought I was numb to the loss that this year has inflicted. After all, think of everyone who has been taken: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, John Glenn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the list stretches on and on. There’s been so much death and there’s only so much of it I can process before my mind retreats for the sake of its own sanity. But then THIS happened and it hurts like a knife plunged straight into my heart.

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I actually thought she was getting better, reports had said she was stable (which is good) and I was looking forward to hearing word of her recovery. And then, not even ten minutes ago, I saw the news…that she was gone.

I’m probably going to spend the next few days raging at the injustice of it all, not to mention binging on the classic Star Wars films.

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The other role I loved her in: Jake’s jilted bride in The Blues Brothers

As raw as this wound is, i can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen with Episode IX (filming having wrapped for Episode VIII). Before Rogue One, I presume they would’ve tastefully either explained her absence or killed the character offscreen (or something of the sort), but after Rogue One….I hope and pray that they don’t do what they did with Tarkin. I don’t care if the actress gave permission for her image to be used for such a thing, if they attempt to “resurrect” her for Episode IX, I won’t forgive them, ever.

I’m hurt, I’m angry, and most of all I’m upset that yet another amazing, talented person was taken away from us by a cruel year. Rest in peace Carrie Fisher, to me you’ll always be Princess Leia.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), My Thoughts!!

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Warning!!! This review spoils EVERYTHING about Rogue One, if you haven’t seen the film and DON’T want to know, stop reading NOW!!!

Still here? Okay, continue!! (But remember, you were warned!!)

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, OH.MY.GOSH!!! Thursday night, 9:45 p.m., the long wait finally ended and I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first stand-alone Star Wars film in the Anthology series. And oh boy did it deliver!! The film does have one flaw, but I’ll get to that after a bit, let’s start with one of the best parts of the film…

DARTH VADER IS BACK!!!

Let’s all be honest, I think most of us who have gone to see this film did it because Vader was showing up (I know that certainly helped to sway my decision). This is the first time Vader (in all his armored glory) has graced the cinematic screen since Revenge of the Sith in 2005 (though granted that was a very short appearance). In Rogue One, Vader is at the height of his power and general nastiness. Believe it or not, he’s in the film for not quite ten minutes (split into two appearances): his first scene takes place on the lava planet Mustafar where he’s since built an imposing castle-fortress to reside in when he’s not on some mission for the Emperor. I THOUGHT I recognized the planet, but I wasn’t sure until a YouTube review from @StupendousWave (my favorite source for Star Wars news) confirmed my suspicion. Not only do we see this amazing fortress, we also see Vader, briefly, as we’ve never seen him before: completely armorless in a bacta tank. It’s only a few glimpses, really, but it was more than enough to show how little remains of Vader’s human body before he re-armors in order to greet Director Krennic properly.

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Speaking of Krennic, he’s the main antagonist for most of the film, or at least he tries to be. Krennic comes across as one of those villains who assigns to himself more importance than he actually has. For instance, a major sticking point (with Krennic) is that he receive the proper credit for developing the Death Star for all these years. When this credit is about to be taken away from him (by a certain character that I will discuss shortly), Krennic dares to whine about this to Vader, who Force chokes him for his troubles.

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I really thought that Krennic would meet his ultimate fate at Vader’s hands, but what really happened was almost as good. The film’s climax takes place on the tropical planet of Scarif, where the Death Star plans are stored in an archive. The Rebels, led by Jyn Erso and company, infiltrate the base, and Krennic (arriving around the same time) moves to stop them. Ultimately, the Death Star arrives and after a long engagement with the Rebel fleet, the Death Star is ordered to fire on the base, destroying it. Krennic, badly wounded from a blaster shot, is trapped on the base’s communication tower and witnesses the weapon he helped create firing on the planet, knowing there is no way he can escape the shock wave in time. Talk about irony!!

And who orders the Death Star to fire? Who is taking the credit for this great achievement away from Director Krennic? Why, Grand Moff Tarkin of course! You know, the villain portrayed by Peter Cushing in the original Star Wars film in 1977? Yes, him!!

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But wait, I hear you all say, didn’t he die back in 1994? Yes, yes he did! And yet, here he is! I confess, I did NOT see this moment coming. I partially blame this on being buried in dissertation work, but also on a slight misunderstanding on my part. I, of course, heard the news very early this year that Disney was working on a CGI replication of Cushing’s character. However, when the main villian was announced to be Director Krennic, I was under the impression that they had scrapped the CGI-Cushing idea. It never dawned on me that they were going to do both!

I mentioned that the film has one flaw, and, please don’t be upset, but that flaw is Tarkin. Don’t misunderstand me, the character as he appears on screen is a remarkable achievement. Digital creations of a human character have come lightyears in terms of appearance and believability and Tarkin is so realistic it’s scary. But…it doesn’t quite work. The first time we see Tarkin, he has his back to the audience (though you know instantly who he is). The big reveal comes when he turns around, and the moment I saw him, I KNEW what they had done. You can see the CGI elements in the way Tarkin moves his head and speaks. The “uncanny valley”, as it were, is still in effect. I WAS able to suspend my disbelief some of the time though, so for me it wasn’t a fatal flaw. I am curious to know what you all thought of seeing Tarkin brought back to life again.

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Moving on to the rest of the story and our heroes, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor and K-2SO make a great trio. Jyn is the daughter of Galen Erso, a brilliant scientist forcibly returned to the Death Star project by Krennic, and also the man responsible for placing the fatal flaw inside the Death Star that leads to its destruction in Episode IV. Jyn, his only child, has lived on her own for years, and loves her father very much. She is initially recruited to the Rebellion because the Alliance is searching for her father, and a Rebel extremist named Saw Gerrera has in custody a defecting Imperial pilot who came from the installation where Galen works (it’s a little complicated, but still good!)

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Outside of Jyn, K-2SO might be the best character on the side of the heroes: he’s an Imperial droid reprogrammed by Cassian and he has the snarkiest sense of humor you’ve ever seen, but his loyalty to Cassian (and the Rebellion) is unquestionable. He and Jyn do not get along for most of the film, but by the end, they’ve earned each other’s respect.

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My other two favorite characters are Chirrut and Baze Malbus. They were formerly Guardians of the Whills (they served at the local Jedi temple on the planet Jedha, they can feel the Force, but can’t actively control it the way a Jedi could) before the Empire, and now they are inseparable. Chirrut still believes in the Force after all this time, while Baze has become more of a skeptic. Chirrut has this habit of praying over and over “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, etc.” He’s actually blind, but is so in tune with the Force that he can fight as well as any sighted person.

And speaking of the end, deep down, I think I knew this was going to happen, but I was secretly hoping at least one of them would get out alive. Yes, you heard right, in the end, none of them make it off Scarif. Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze, even Bodhi (the defecting Imperial pilot who has been helping them), one by one, they all die. Jyn and Cassian are the last, they successfully transmit the Death Star plans up to the fleet, but immediately afterward, the battleship fires on the planet. It’s not enough to break up the planet itself (the weapon isn’t quite finished yet), but it is enough to destroy the base. The blast is set out in the nearby ocean so it takes a few minutes for the destruction to reach the pair. Jyn and Cassian have just enough time to reach the beach, reflect on what they’ve done and embrace before they meet their end in a fiery cloud of death. It’s terrifying to me because as they sit meeting their end, Jyn is facing the shockwave as it comes, and you can’t help but wonder what she’s feeling, knowing her death is seconds away.

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And the Easter eggs in this film boggle the mind, simply because there are so many of them! Let me see if I can name more than a few: there’s several sightings of Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits reprising his role from the prequel trilogy); Jyn and Cassian (literally) bump into the pair that tries to assault Luke in the cantina on Tatooine (“He doesn’t like you, I don’t like you either…”); R2 and C-3PO pop up for a split second at Yavin base; in possibly one of the best Easter egg moments, the characters of Red Leader and Gold Leader are featured, briefly, in the climactic battle over Scarif in a clever re-use of some footage from Episode IV; and there are several references to the Star Wars Rebels series (listen for the page asking for “General Syndulla”). There’s more, but that’s most of them.

Lastly, I have to talk about the music. I was so nervous about Michael Giacchino composing the score for this film, and I was terrified it wouldn’t be any good. While I still need to go back and analyze the score, my first impression was very favorable. It definitely helps that Giacchino re-used several of Williams’ themes at key points in the story (particularly the Imperial March, I would’ve been furious if he’d left THAT out). The music definitely isn’t bad, but how GOOD it ultimately is I can’t say just yet (I need to listen to the soundtrack separate from the film before I can give a definite opinion).

Final thoughts:

Rogue One is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon, though it treads dangerously close to the line with its use of CGI to recreate certain characters. The Easter eggs make this film a fun watch for any Star Wars fan.

It was WEIRD having no opening crawl (and no Star Wars fanfare), I almost wish they would go back and recreate the opening to have a crawl anyway.

It was cool (and a little freaky) to see Peter Cushing’s Tarkin walking and talking again, they’ve almost nailed recreating a human character in full CGI (but NOT QUITE)

Ending the film moments before Episode IV begins was a nice touch, though I am somewhat not okay with how they recreated Princess Leia. I would have preferred seeing her from the back only.

I am so happy we got to see Vader use his lightsaber!!!!! After the first scene, I was terrified that we weren’t going to get any more Vader, not even with his lightsaber, so seeing that at the end was fantastic!

And those are my thoughts on Rogue One. What did YOU think of the film? Loved it? Hated it? Already in line to see it again? Let me know in the comments below (first chance I get I’m going to see this film again, that’s for sure).

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See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

My Thoughts on: Solo: A Star Wars Story (with spoilers!) (2018)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The Lightsaber Duel at Cloud City: A Nightmare in Three Stages

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The lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back is often referred to as the greatest saber duel of the saga, and for good reason. The staging is perfect, the tension is spot on (and it happens to feature the biggest cinematic twist of all time).

I already wrote about the duel somewhat here but now I’d like to go into a bit more detail.

As I see it, the duel is divided into three stages, with a different setting and feel for each.

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Stage One is set in the carbon freezing chamber on Cloud City (where Han Solo was recently frozen into carbonite) and is also where Vader plans to do the same thing to Luke. At the beginning of the duel, Vader believes that Luke will be a pushover, so he’s not really expending a lot of energy. Quite the opposite, he lets Luke initiate the duel (Luke activates his saber first AND he makes the first attack), Vader only parries the blows in response. In fact, Vader isn’t even holding his saber with both hands, whereas Luke is clearly expending a lot of energy early on (and getting nowhere).

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There is a bit of taunting (on Vader’s part) but not too much, as he wants this duel to end quickly. It doesn’t take much to get Luke down the stairs and right in front of the pit as Vader activates the machine with the Force. And then Vader gets cocky: forcing Luke down into the pit, he boasts “all too easy” and flips the switch. But Luke (thanks to his training) is able to leap out a split second before the freezing process begins, much to Vader’s surprise (he says he’s “impressed” but I really think surprised is the better word). Clearly, this duel is not going to be a quick pushover, so once Luke kicks Vader off the edge of the platform (and I somewhat believe Vader let that happen), the Dark Lord disappears to regroup for Stage Two.

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Stage Two takes place in an abandoned hallway deep inside Cloud City. And even before it begins, Luke has a choice to make: at this point, Vader has vanished to who knows where and Luke doesn’t HAVE to follow him (I know I wouldn’t, I mean really, venturing into a dark hallway in search of a ticked off Dark Lord with a lightsaber? NOPE!), but of course he does.

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There’s a literal transition point as Luke comes to a brightly lit service corridor that takes him to the location of stage 2: the abandoned hallway with a large octagonal window looking out into the air shaft of Cloud City. And once Luke reaches that point…the breathing begins (a moment that always sends a shiver down my spine). Luke re-ignites his saber (Vader’s is already activated), but instead of launching back into the duel, Vader decides a “lesson” is in order (this is discussed more in the radio drama version of ESB and as far as I know is canon): sure, Luke is (at best) a competent duelist, a skill surely inherited from his father, but what experience does he have against a veteran Force user who can duel AND manipulate objects in the Force at the same time? Of course Luke doesn’t have any such experience which is why he gets the crap knocked out of him by various flying debris. At this point, Vader is still somewhat toying with Luke, but things are definitely more serious (I’m still not sure if Vader intended to have Luke go flying out the window, cause after that moment Vader comes over to look like “did I kill him?”)

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Fortunately, Luke doesn’t go falling to his death, but instead manages to make his way to a platform station of some kind even lower down the air shaft, the setting for Stage Three (and the end of the duel) But he barely has a chance to look around before Vader shows up, and this time the Sith Lord isn’t messing around. His strikes come fast and hard, and Luke is quickly chased backwards out to the near edge of the platform. Vader (holding Luke at saberpoint) declares his opponent beaten, it’s time to give up. Unfortunately, Vader also taunts Luke by saying “Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did” reminding Luke about how Vader killed Obi-Wan in front of him. This visibly angers Luke and he stages a miraculous (and brief) comeback, which ends when he manages to score a partial blow on Vader’s shoulder.

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That this not-even-half-trained-would-be-Jedi managed to score a blow on him enrages Vader and pushes him over the edge. He pushes Luke back again and in a short series of moves deprives Luke of his lightsaber…and his right hand!! (For years I dreaded this moment, because it always seemed to come out of nowhere, and I hated Luke’s scream of pain).

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Now the fight is really finished, but Vader isn’t done yet. Now that Luke is cornered (literally), he makes his “pitch” for Luke to join the Dark Side. Of course Luke refuses, pointing out that he (Vader) killed his father. This prompts the biggest cinematic twist of all time:

“No” (Vader says) “*I* am your father.”

On the one hand, it makes no sense because Episode IV clearly establishes Vader and Luke’s father as two separate people. And yet….why would Vader lie? Luke knows there’s no reason for Vader to lie, hence his (understandably) upset reaction.

With the duel over, it appears Luke has no place to go except with Vader, but Luke figures he still has one way out: he’s at the edge of the main air shaft of Cloud City, and he’s not sure what’ll happen down there, but it has to be better than going with Vader…so he lets himself fall! There’s more, but that’s a separate scene.

Fun notes:

I remarked in my earlier post that Vader was played by master fencer Bob Anderson for this entire duel (David Prowse kept breaking the saber blades), hence  the reason this duel is shot from so many unusual angles (looking down at Vader, looking up at Vader, a lot of close-up shots) because Anderson was nowhere near the height and size of Prowse.

Only Mark Hamill, George Lucas, and one other writer knew the truth about the big twist. Everyone else was given a fake page of script where the “twist” was given as “You don’t know the truth, Obi-Wan killed your father.” (I mean that WOULD have been a pretty epic twist in and of itself)

The hallway seen in stage 2 is the same hallway Rey sees early in her Force vision in Episode VII. I really hope they explain at some point how Maz got the lightsaber, because last time it was seen, it was tumbling into the atmosphere of Bespin.

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Anticipating Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

(I know that Rogue One isn’t scheduled to be released until December, but I couldn’t hold my thoughts in any longer!)

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When Disney announced their plans to release a new Star Wars film every single year, I was understandably skeptical. The release of a Star Wars film was meant to be a special event, and if a new film came out every year there would be a huge risk of over-exposing the product and subsequently ruining it. As a result, when the first images for Rogue One were announced, I initially didn’t pay any attention.

Then the first teaser trailer for Rogue One was released. And that changed EVERYTHING for me.

Rogue One: Official Teaser Trailer

I’d decided to watch the teaser out of curiosity and before I knew it, there I was, back on the edge of my seat, just like with The Force Awakens. In case you don’t know, here is the gist of Rogue One: The story follows Jyn Erso, a woman recently recruited into the Rebel Alliance, who is tasked with leading a team that will steal the plans for the soon-to-be-completed Death Star. These are the same Rebel spies alluded to in the opening crawl of Episode IV, placing the events of Rogue One just before the start of A New Hope.

When the full trailer finally released during the recent Olympic Games in Rio, excitement for the film exploded all over again, and it will be interesting to see how Disney continues to build the excitement in the final months leading up to the premiere.

Rogue One: Official Trailer (Full)

So far, the visuals for this film look absolutely STUNNING. I love the look of Scarif (the tropical planet with the AT-ATs seen in the previews). The film (judging from the previews) has the look and feel of the original trilogy. And that’s a good thing: the over CGI-d look of the prequel trilogy is part of the reason it was so badly received. One of  my favorite shots so far is the brief image of the Death Star orbiting over a large planet (I believe it’s been identified as Jedha). The following shot of the Death Star blocking out the sun gave me goosebumps (and probably doesn’t bode well for the planet if I had to take a wild guess).

The casting looks phenomenal as well: according to imdb.com, Rogue One includes a number of actors who have already appeared in Star Wars. Jimmy Smits is reprising his role of Bail Organa (Leia’s adoptive father); Genevieve O’Reilly reprises her role as a younger Mon Mothma (a role that would’ve appeared in Episode III except those scenes were cut); Warwick Davis (the Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi) is returning in another role and in the biggest news of all, James Earl Jones is returning to voice Darth Vader. That’s right, the Dark Lord of the Sith is going to be making an appearance. What exactly this will look like has been the topic of endless speculation, but we have been assured that Vader will show up at a “critical moment.”

Now musically, Rogue One will be very different, because this is the first Star Wars film to be scored by anyone other than John Williams. I’m not terribly worried because Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel; Argo; The Imitation Game) is a wonderful composer, but it will still be odd to have a score created by someone other than Williams. I have no doubt that Desplat’s score will be heavily influenced by the themes already created for the Star Wars universe (as it would be utter madness to not musically link Rogue One to the other films).

One detail that concerns me is that the film will (allegedly) have no opening crawl. I feel like that’s wrong, as it would set Rogue One apart from the other seven Star Wars films. I understand that the anthology films are considered stand-alones, but I think they should still have an opening crawl, to maintain a sense of visual continuity (these films do all take place in the same universe after all). But this is really a small concern in the big scheme of things: I have a feeling that Rogue One is going to impress just as much as The Force Awakens did last year, if not more.

Are you also excited about the upcoming release of Rogue One? Do you think it might do even better than The Force Awakens? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think 🙂

Star Wars: Rebels “It’s Over Now”

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Right, so I know this blog is about films and film music, but I simply had to make an exception when I heard THIS:

Star Wars: Rebels “It’s Over Now” (2016)

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If you’re not familiar with Star Wars: Rebels, let me explain (and I’ll try to be brief). In a nutshell, Rebels takes place in the years between Episodes III and IV when the Rebel Alliance is just beginning to form and Darth Vader is still on the prowl for remaining Jedi. At the conclusion of season 1 (or maybe the beginning of season 2, I forget), it is revealed that the contact for our particular group of heroes is none other than Ashoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s one-time Padawan, last seen in the final episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (which ends not long before the events of Episode III). Having for years believed her master died in the Jedi purge, Ashoka has come to learn the terrible truth: Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are one and the same. And once Vader becomes aware that his former apprentice is still alive, a conflict between them is inevitable.

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Fast forward now to the end of season 2: Ashoka, Ezra (a young Padawan in training) and Kanan (a surviving Jedi training Ezra) travel to a dark planet named Malachor to retrieve a Sith holocron before the Inquisitors can seize it for the Emperor. While on the planet, our heroes come across a number of surprises (including a still-alive Darth Maul, there’s a long story in and of itself), but ultimately they reach the holding place for the holocron. But now they’ve got company: Darth Vader himself has arrived (James Earl Jones returned to reprise his role as the Dark Lord of the Sith).

Star Wars Rebels: Ashoka vs Darth Vader

Vader is confronted by a furious Ashoka, who vows to avenge Anakin’s “death” at Vader’s hands. The two engage in a lightsaber battle for the ages, and the fight (along with the music) really has the feel of a Star Wars film, not an episode from a television series. As the two fight on a ledge, Vader succeeds in Force-pushing Ashoka off and she disappears, but she isn’t dead! As Vader attempts to pull the holocron out of Ezra’s hands, Ashoka comes running out of nowhere and lands a direct blow on Vader’s helmet. With the holocron removed, the Sith temple everyone is standing in is getting ready to explode (the holocron was keeping it stable), and Ezra is screaming for Ashoka to hurry and join them, but then…

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“Ashoka…Ashoka…” Gasps all around because that isn’t Darth Vader’s voice…that’s Anakin’s voice (both in-universe and in real life, the voice actor who portrayed Anakin in The Clone Wars returned specifically for this episode). Ashoka has always felt guilty about leaving Anakin and vows that this time, she will not leave him. Vader considers this for a moment, but the one visible eye hardens and Vader growls “Then you will die!” The last we see of them before the temple explodes, Ashoka and Vader are furiously dueling.

(apologies for the long description, but it’s the only way to set up this musical moment properly).

“It’s Over Now” begins as Kanan and Ezra are returning to the planet Lothal and Kanan comforts Ezra by telling him “It’s over now.”

Star Wars Rebels: End of the Episode

As the ship descends to land, the music becomes so very powerful. There’s a full chorus and a strong brass melody that screams the style of John Williams (even though it isn’t). Even if you never saw an episode of either The Clone Wars or Rebels, you know that this is a profound moment of sadness for all of the characters. The main brass theme sounds like a cross between the main “Force theme” and “Yoda’s theme” both from the original Star Wars films. This music though was not composed by John Williams but by composer Kevin Kiner (who has scored both The Clone Wars and Rebels)

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The most powerful moment of all comes immediately after this reunion, when we return to the surface of the planet to see Vader staggering away from the temple, badly injured. Given the ferocity of the fight, since Vader is the one walking away, one could presume that Ashoka is dead…but is she? There is a brief glimpse of Ashoka disappearing back into the temple, but is she alive or is that her Force ghost? Either is possible, but we won’t find out until season 4 for sure.

 

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After I listened to this piece, and then watched the scene in context, I could not stop listening to this music over and over again. The one word that keeps coming into my mind is powerful, you can feel the emotion surging through the soundwaves.

I had not watched any of Star Wars: Rebels until I heard about the Ashoka-Vader fight, but if this gorgeous music is typical of the series, then I will be making plans to go back and watch the entire series. I hope you enjoy “It’s Over Now”; like I said, I don’t normally do television music, but I think you’ll agree after listening that this piece of music is special.

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My Thoughts on: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

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Until the release of The Force Awakens (2015), Return of the Jedi stood as the definitive conclusion to the Star Wars saga. And what a conclusion it had to be, there were multiple loose ends to tie up: Han Solo had to be rescued from Jabba the Hutt; Luke needed to reconcile/accept the fact that his father was Darth Vader; the Rebel Alliance needed to defeat the Imperial fleet and most importantly, the Emperor needed to be defeated.

It might seem strange that the Emperor would choose to build another Death Star (considering what happened to the first one), but then again I can only presume that this one had been modified to have no weaknesses like before, that’s why it had to be destroyed before it was completed.

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Return of the Jedi Speeder Chase (1983)

For a long time Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars film: it has the speeder chase, Ewoks, and it also has that final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. I know some people don’t like the Ewoks, but I love them, they’re cute (The scene between Leia and Wicket is awesome). I have a goal to visit the forest they used for filming the speeder chase, it looks absolutely gorgeous!.

Return of the Jedi- The Emperor’s Throne Room (1983)

The final duel comes at the climax of the movie. While the Rebel Alliance attempts to put their plans into motion, Luke has turned himself in to Vader and is taken to see the Emperor. Considering this is the first movie to have the Emperor in the flesh, he’s quite menacing (the eerie music accompanying him helps with that impression a great deal). The Emperor insists that Luke is on the edge of falling to the Dark Side of the Force and that he is already a servant to him (which Luke denies). The whole time, Luke’s light saber is kept in plain sight, tempting Luke to try and take it and strike the Emperor down. While Luke resists for a while, he inevitably gives in and the duel commences.

As with the Cloud City duel, Vader is portrayed by Bob Anderson, with a number of different camera angles used during the fight (to great effect I might add). There’s an interesting moment towards the end, when Luke has vaulted up onto a catwalk and is looking down at Vader. Someone (I wish I could say who to give proper credit, but I honestly don’t remember) pointed out that this mirrors the situation at the conclusion of the Mustafar duel in Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan has the high-ground above Anakin, but Anakin jumps anyway and that’s when he loses. Now that Luke is in the same position as Obi-Wan was, Vader has seemingly learned his lesson and instead of jumping up after him, he throws his lightsaber instead.

Now, the big moment in this duel is when Luke finally snaps and attacks Vader in a fury when the Dark Lord threatens his sister (who we all know to be Leia). However, this detail had NOT been established when the script was written. All Lucas had written for this point was “Vader taunts Luke/Luke snaps and attacks.” They’d always put off exactly WHAT Vader does to cause this issue, and finally it got down to the wire and they had to come up with a reason, and as they considered what Vader could possibly say that would get Luke to go off, and finally the light bulb went off as they realized “Leia is his sister and Vader threatens Leia!” That’s right, up until that moment, Leia had NOT been identified as Luke’s sister, and I’m tempted to say that the only reason she was identified as such is because they needed a reason for Luke to snap. That being said, I’m still not entirely convinced that Vader knew that Leia was Luke’s sister. In the dialogue, he only discovers that a sister exists and refers to her strictly in the abstract as “she.” He may never have made the connection that Leia and Luke’s sister were one and the same.

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Return of the Jedi- Final Duel (1983)

Return of the Jedi- Final Duel (Soundtrack Version) (1983)

One moment in the duel that I’ve heard get a lot of flak is the very end, when Vader 1) discovers that Luke has a twin sister and 2) teases that he’ll get her to join the Dark Side if he won’t, inciting Luke’s fury. The problem (people argue) is, considering how powerful Vader came across in Empire Strikes Back, how is it that Luke can suddenly overpower him? It does seem odd, and for a while I couldn’t answer this argument at all, until I gave it some thought. There are several ways to solve this puzzle, and I’ll list a few here:

Solution #1: Vader’s lightsaber skills aren’t what they used to be. Yes I know how he came across in Empire Strikes Back, but in that duel Luke wasn’t fully trained and he certainly didn’t have control of his emotions (which is key if you’re going to engage in a duel with a Sith Lord). If you think about it, it’s really been close to 20 years since Vader has faced an equally powerful and skilled opponent, his fighting skills had to have deteriorated over time.

Solution #2: Vader’s connection to the Force (which helps his fighting abilities) is severely weakened. If we (reluctantly) assume that the midichlorians are canon, then Vader can’t possibly have as strong a connection to the living Force as he used to. By my calculations, the only human parts of Vader left are his torso and his head, which would have severely decreased his midichlorians, and thus his ability to use the Force.

Solution #3: Vader is not fully committed to killing Luke. Vader seemingly has no problem with potentially killing Luke in Empire Strikes Back; as he tells the Emperor “He will join us or die.” But now, in Return of the Jedi, it’s become obvious that Vader is torn between his son and his duty to the Emperor. This emotional conflict (which Luke can sense) is throwing Vader off, influencing his fighting abilities.

Solution #4: Luke is simply more powerful in the Force than Vader. Being his son, this is certainly possible, and unlike Vader, Luke has only lost a hand at this point. Also, he is fully engaging in the Dark Side of the Force and his fury has magnified his abilities many times over.

Any of these could be viable solutions (or a combination of all four), and therefore I have no trouble with Luke overwhelming Vader at the end. This is really the first moment where the music plays into a lightsaber duel in the same way that “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes” will in the prequel films. The chorus is eerie and foreshadowing: by attacking Vader in anger, Luke is basically throwing himself off of a cliff into the Dark Side, and if he’d cut off Vader’s head instead of his hand, there would’ve been no going back. The Emperor knows this, that’s why he pushes Luke to finish the job. But for once, the Emperor has gravely miscalculated. The last time he tried this (pushing Anakin to kill Dooku), he was able to succeed because Anakin had no blood connection to Dooku, in fact, he had every reason in the world to kill him. But with Luke…he’s asking Luke to kill his own father, and that’s something the Jedi can’t do, no matter what Vader has done.

Of course the Emperor responds by trying to kill Luke with Force Lightning, and the sight of his own son being tortured finally snaps Anakin back into existence and he throws the Emperor down the core shaft, where he (presumably) dies (but I have my own theories about that which I’ll discuss another time, especially now in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker).

To summarize the ending, Luke and Anakin make their way to the shuttle, but the former Sith Lord has been too badly injured and makes a last request to see Luke “with his own eyes”, leading to an all too brief reunion between father and son. I honestly wasn’t sure what to think when Luke went through the motions of taking the helmet and mask off. Considering how terrifying Vader looked (and sounded), there was no telling what might be found underneath the mask. I thought Sebastian Shaw’s brief performance as the redeemed Anakin was good though. The final touch on this scene that I’ll mention is, just after he dies, there is a final refrain of the Imperial March, plucked out on a harp. It’s fitting and symbolic of how Anakin was finally brought back to the Light Side of the Force.

Return of the Jedi- ORIGINAL ending (1983)

Now, the ending of Return of the Jedi…well, I have a lot to say (I probably need to make a separate post on my feelings regarding the various changes). I for one, liked the original ending with the cute Ewok sound. True, what John Williams created to replace it is also good, but I didn’t feel the change was necessary. I did like how Luke looked back and saw the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda with Anakin appearing to join them (I still think it was wrong to put Hayden Christensen in that scene, but at least they didn’t put Ewan McGregor in Obi-Wan’s place too). And at the very end, all the heroes are together, celebrating, the Empire has been overthrown…or has it?

For over thirty years the impression was given that the Empire was dead and the good guys had won. But now, with the Expanded Universe being discarded and a new Star Wars Universe coming out instead, we know this isn’t true. The victory at Endor was not total, and it now seems that the fight is far from over.

I still like watching Return of the Jedi, even though Empire Strikes Back is now my favorite, and I hope that someday, somehow, I can watch the original cut of this film again. Hope you enjoyed this, I know it ran a little long (but then again I had a lot to say, lol).

*all images are the property of 20th century Fox/Walt Disney Studios

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See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

My Thoughts on: Solo: A Star Wars Story (with spoilers!) (2018)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

My Thoughts on: Star Wars (1977)

I have to start this post with a significant piece of irony: everyone knows that the Star Wars franchise is now owned by Disney, but did you know that it was almost that way from the beginning? Believe it or not, when George Lucas created Star Wars, he initially thought of it as a Disney film and took the story to Disney (back in 1976)…and Disney turned him down!! Over thirty years later, they bought the entire franchise from Lucas for a sweet $4 BILLION dollars (of course no one could’ve foreseen that before the movie premiered in May of 1977).

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Star Wars (1977) was a cinematic revolution on multiple levels. Along with the release of Jaws (1975), Star Wars introduced Hollywood to the concept of a “blockbuster”: a single film on a relatively small budget that brings in HUGE profits (Hollywood still exists on this model today). The film also proved revolutionary in the realm of special effects; raising the bar so high that hitherto successful stop-motion films fell flat in the wake of this phenomenon (an example being Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)). Using what was then state of the art technology, George Lucas created lightsabers, huge starships that filled the screen, lasers that blew up planets and fantastic droids of all shapes and sizes. (of course many of these practical effects were ruined by the later updates, but that’s a discussion for another time).

The original Star Wars is responsible for introducing audiences worldwide to a “galaxy far, far away” and the adventures of Luke Skywalker, who finds himself thrust into a life of adventure after two droids crash land on his home planet. Not only that, but old Obi-wan “Ben” Kenobi reveals that he was once a Jedi Knight, the same as Luke’s father. According to Ben, Luke’s father was betrayed by a fellow Jedi named Darth Vader and murdered! As if these revelations weren’t enough, Luke must also rescue Princess Leia and safely deliver the plans for the dread Death Star battle station into Rebel hands before the Imperial fleet discovers the location of the hidden base (wow, there’s a lot going on!) Then there’s the climactic battle to destroy the Death Star, the nefarious Darth Vader on the prowl in his specially designed fighter, and the question of whether the base can be destroyed in time!

Star Wars Original Trailer (1977)

The cast was a mixture of old stars and complete strangers. Among the notable actors appearing were Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. The three principal leads went to complete strangers: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

Of course, for me, the film music scholar, Star Wars also gave composer John Williams the chance to create some legendary music.Keep in mind that prior to Star Wars, science fiction music was largely considered to sound “futuristic” and “alien”, as in the complete opposite of a traditional orchestra (check out the soundtrack for Forbidden Planet on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean). From the minute the overture sounds at the beginning, you just KNOW that this film is something different. And truthfully, it’s somewhat wrong to call Star Wars “science fiction”, “space opera” is really the preferred way to describe this genre, both musically and visually.

Absolutely no one expected Star Wars to do very well at the box office, 20th Century Fox was essentially going out on a limb by agreeing to distribute the film at all. In fact, Lucas convinced himself that the film was going to bust and even told Steven Spielberg (who was working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)) that his film would surely blow Star Wars out of the water. And then the movie came out…and the movie world has never been the same since. It blew away all expectations and made a killing at the box office (my dad remembered the original film played at the local cinema for well over a YEAR after release). I remember, being rather young, asking my dad just how successful the first Star Wars was (since he saw it in theaters the first time). He put it to me like this: the original film (he said) was so profitable, that George Lucas, and Hamill, Ford and Fisher could have retired then and there and been set for life. It’s a pretty accurate statement, but I for one am glad that Lucas kept going because otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten The Empire Strikes Back.

I wish I could remember the first time I saw this movie, I can’t even tell you how old I was, but I can imagine that I sat there, bug-eyed, as this huge drama played out in front of me. I was fortunate in that my parents had recorded a copy of the original, unaltered Star Wars on a VHS tape, and so that was the version I knew first.

Trivia time!!!

There’s a very good reason why James Earl Jones dubbed over David Prowse as Darth Vader: Prowse has an exceptionally noticeable Welsh accent that, unfortunately, makes him sound the complete opposite of menacing. Allegedly, Prowse had no idea he’d been dubbed over until he watched the premiere of the film.

Darth Vader as voiced by David Prowse

Peter Cushing/Tarkin’s boots pinched his feet horribly so he wore them only when a full body shot was absolutely required. Any other time that he is on camera and his feet are not visible…he’s wearing slippers.

Right up until the first day of filming, Luke was still known as “Luke Starkiller”

Obi-Wan was NOT supposed to die in the original script. He was supposed to make it off the Death Star with everyone else and help begin Luke’s proper training with Yoda in the next installment. What happened is, Lucas looked at the outline of the story and realized that for the rest of the film and a big chunk of the (intended) sequel, Obi-Wan had absolutely nothing to do so, in an 11th-hour decision, Lucas decided to kill the character off (a decision that Guinness was not pleased with).

As strange as it might look, that is a real sword fighting style that Obi-Wan is using against Darth Vader.

This is the only Star Wars film (prior to The Force Awakens) where the Emperor does not appear in some way or another (Tarkin makes a few passing comments about the Emperor dissolving the Imperial Senate, but that is all).

*all images belong to either 20th century Fox/Walt Disney Studios

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

My Thoughts on: Solo: A Star Wars Story (with spoilers!) (2018)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), My Thoughts!!