Tag Archives: Battle of the Heroes

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi “Final Duel” (1983)

While it’s fairly common now to have epic lightsaber duels with equally epic soundtracks backing them up, it’s easy to remember that this wasn’t always the case. The first lightsaber duel (in Episode IV) had no music until the very end, and even the iconic duel in Episode V has minimal music in the background. The action was more of the focus at this time, music just didn’t play that large a role, presumably because it was felt it would be a distraction.

And then came Episode VI, with the final lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader (with the Emperor watching).

This duel changed everything as far as the relationship between lightsaber action and film music is concerned. For the first time, the music firmly established the tone of the fight, not only that, it also illustrated what was at stake. For this reason and more, I need to talk with about the “Final Duel” cue in Return of the Jedi.

 

This cue comes at the very end of the duel between Vader and Luke. It starts when Luke has fallen from the gantry and Vader is hunting for him in the shadows below the Emperor’s throne. I’m pretty sure this is low woodwinds in the beginning, but it could easily be low strings as well. Regardless of instrumentation, this opening portion screams of the menacing evil personified in Vader as he hunts for his son. Furthermore, Luke himself is fighting the urge to give in to the Dark Side, something the music could also be symbolizing.

 

But this is just the beginning. After Vader comes to the conclusion that Luke has a twin sister (note the *crash* in the music as Vader makes the connection), the music ups the ante. Take note, when Vader begins the line “If *you” will not turn to the Dark Side…” listen to how the strings begin to rev up and join the melody. They sound tightly coiled, as if ready to spring and boy, do they ever! Once Vader makes his threat to turn Luke’s sister to the Dark Side, all hell breaks loose, both physically and musically speaking. (And on a practical note, the sudden appearance of the strings could also be helping to transition between the opening part of this cue and the climax).

For over twenty years this has been my favorite piece of music in all of Star Wars. When Luke gives in to his anger and lunges at Vader with all of his fury, you KNOW this is it, this is the critical moment, and it’s all because of the music. This is the first time John Williams paired a choir with the lightsaber duel, and it works to perfection. The chorus is mournful as we watch Luke chase Vader across the scene, a reminder that this is a BAD thing we are watching, if Luke goes all the way, he’s doomed. This all culminates in a series of brass “strokes” not quite timed with Luke’s own hits until finally…WHAM!! There’s a musical “blow” as Luke cuts off Vader’s hand, effectively ending the cue as the music transitions to the Emperor’s Theme in full force (no pun intended).

I have to go back through, to the key moment in the duel when Luke gives in to the Dark Side because I can’t emphasize enough how powerful this part is. The music here is simple, but extremely effective. Sure, it’s child’s play compared to “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes” but it’s safe to say that “Final Duel” provided the genesis of both of those themes by proving that film music and lightsaber duels work very well together.

If you’re going to properly appreciate all of the lightsaber duels and their music, then you really need to start here, with the climax of Luke and Vader’s duel in Episode VI. This scene laid the foundation for so much that was to come later and I will defend the awesomeness of this scene forever.

Let me know what you think about “Final Duel” in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

The Empire Strikes Back: “The Imperial March” by John Williams

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Kylo Ren’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi “The Spark” (2017)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker “Kylo Ren’s Theme (Redeemed Version)” (2019)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Bad Batch Theme” (2020)

Star Wars: Rebels “It’s Over Now”

Film Soundtracks A-W

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

Alright, admit it: from the moment the prequel trilogy started, THIS is the movie you were waiting for. Everyone wanted to see Anakin make his final transformation into Darth Vader, and oh boy, did this film deliver!

This entire film is a giant climax of sorts, because there’s precious few moments when there isn’t some action of some kind going on. The tragic thing is, things start out so well for Anakin and secret wife Padme at the start of the film: Anakin returns to a hero’s welcome after saving the Chancellor (he also killed Count Dooku in cold blood but since Palpatine was the only witness, he doesn’t mention that part), he finds out Padme is pregnant AND, not long after, he’s informed by Palpatine that he wants him (Anakin) to be his representative on the Jedi Council.

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Anakin (in typically arrogant fashion) believes that this means he’s also being promoted to the rank of Master, since traditionally only Jedi Masters sit on the council, but while a seat is granted to him, his dreams of glory are shattered when the promotion is not given (even though Obi-Wan assures him that it will come soon enough). Anakin has been thoroughly manipulated by both sides (Jedi and Palpatine) at this point, and is growing increasingly tired of it. Palpatine is aware of this and uses Anakin’s frustration and growing mistrust to finally push him over the edge (where he’s been teetering ever since Attack of the Clones).

Palpatine’s gambit is impressive: he admits EVERYTHING to Anakin, that he’s a Sith Lord, that he knows about Padme being his wife and furthermore, that he can prevent her from dying in childbirth (Anakin has been having recurring dreams about Padme dying, similar to what happened right before his mother died).

Anakin draws his lightsaber and almost kills Palpatine on the spot (in fact, during this moment, I was practically begging Anakin to do exactly that, even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen), but he needs to do “the right thing” so he leaves to inform the Jedi, who try to arrest Palpatine, who kills them all (ultimately with Anakin’s help) and from this point on the Jedi are doomed/royally screwed.

Revenge of the Sith “The Jedi Purge”

But as agonizing as Anakin’s turn to the dark side is (that scene with the younglings in the temple KILLS me every time), it’s what comes after that is the real highlight of the film: Anakin and Obi-Wan’s final confrontation on Mustafar. There’s actually something of an urban legend regarding that final duel and the entire sequence in fact. The story goes that Steven Spielberg happened to be visiting the set that day and Lucas asked him, half-seriously, if he wanted to direct this scene. And allegedly, Spielberg accepted (without taking credit) and that’s supposedly why the entire Mustafar duel is so freaking awesome. I don’t know if it’s true (but I’d kind of like it to be).

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Revenge of the Sith “Battle of the Heroes” (2005)

The music for the Mustafar duel was dubbed “Battle of the Heroes” and is just amazing (Williams really outdid himself there). The moment when Obi-Wan finally realizes that there is no way to pull Anakin back from the dark side and that he MUST kill him, is just so heart-wrenching to watch. Of course, in the end, Anakin’s arrogance is what does him in. Even though Obi-Wan warns him that he (Obi-Wan) has the high ground (and therefore the advantage), Anakin leaps anyway and loses the rest of his natural limbs as a result. I still find the burning scene difficult to watch (I know people criticize Christensen’s performance, but I really think he nailed it here).

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And finally, I have to talk about that “transformation” scene when Anakin finally becomes recognizable as Darth Vader (in the armor and helmet). This scene, if you think about it, is really the lynch pin that ties the prequels into the original story. Everything that has happened has been slowly building up to this moment, and it’s really perfectly done.

Revenge of the Sith “Anakin becomes Darth Vader” (2005)

And quick question, did anyone else geek out just a little bit when the newly rebuilt Darth Vader spoke and it was James Earl Jones’ voice? That little detail also helped to tie things together, and was an excellent choice. Also, the birth of Padme’s twins answers the age-old question of whether Luke or Leia is older, and the answer is: Luke!!!

Revenge of the Sith is often called the best film in the prequel trilogy and I absolutely agree with that assessment. What did you think of the conclusion to the prequel trilogy? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

*film poster is the property of 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)

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

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

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

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

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