A Long Time Ago, In a CD Box Set Far, Far Away...

Well, here I go again ... nothing reeks of laziness more than writing one post that will update two blogs at the same time. Well, maybe waiting a freakin' month to make said post is just as lazy. But I warned you not too long ago that this blog was probably going to get quiet. I honestly haven't been in a blogging mood much lately. But with any luck that'll turn around after my vacation at the end of this month (during which, yes, it'll be really quiet ... but not like that's a big change, right?). Anyway, I hope you enjoy my latest topic, as it's close to my heart....

Before Greedo shot first ... before Han stepped on Jabba's tail ... before the digitally-botoxed "Special Editions" turned them into Episodes IV, V, and VI -- in other words, before George Lucas got all full of himself -- they were just Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. As relatively recently as those days were, it's already getting hard for me to remember them. It's also hard to believe that, until the 1993 box-set release of "The Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology", most of the music from this phenomenally successful movie saga had never been available on CD before.

The original CD issue of the Star Wars soundtrack was a generous, two-disc, track-for-track replication of the vinyl release, but the Empire double-LP's run time was chopped nearly in half when squeezed onto a single CD, and Jedi only ever saw a skimpy one-disc release on any format. And those were the only compact disc releases that these awesome scores saw for nearly ten years, until this lush cornucopia of audio bliss came along. Sure, there had been a few other albums featuring music from all three films, but those were re-recordings by other orchestras ... and as any film music buff or Star Wars fan -- both categories in which I freely admit that I belong (albeit to different degrees now than I did back then) -- could tell you, they just don't hold a candle to the actual soundtrack recordings.

Not only did this release give us the second Cantina Band song in its entirety for the first time, as well as the haunting male chorus during Luke's final furious duel with Vader under the catwalk in the Emperor's throne room, but it's noteworthy for other reasons too. It was the last release of the original soundtrack recordings before the "Special Edition" revamping of the movies in 1997, which means that the Jabba jam "Lapti Nek" and the original tribal-drum vocal version of the Ewok Celebration got their final album appearances here before being usurped by the silly "Jedi Rocks!" and the tepid instrumental "Victory Celebration" (sorry, John Williams, I love your stuff, but the original source music was better).

But there's a more subtle aspect to this release that makes it a bittersweet one. Since 1997, the Star Wars soundtrack releases seem to have been preoccupied with delivering the music in an "as heard in the film" fashion, which to my ear makes the compositions flow much less gracefully. I don't know if it's the obsessive film music snobs out there who are to blame or if it's Lucas, but I find so much more beauty in the thematic structure of the pieces on these earlier discs. Who cares if they're arranged more for a concert hall performance than for accompaniment of the visuals in the movies? That's kind-of what I buy soundtracks for in the first place: to hear the music in a way I didn't hear it in the film ... after all, it'll still remind me of the fun I had watching the movies, which is the real point in a soundtrack release.

For a while, I did own the two-disc releases of the Star Wars Trilogy: "Special Edition" soundtracks, but I found them far inferior to the music on this collection and I ended up trading them in. For those of you who don't have the "Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology" box set, believe me that you'd be doing yourselves a favor picking it up ... it's out of print, but still reasonably available from third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay. After all, nobody doesn't like Star Wars, and anybody who doesn't like the music of Star Wars -- well, they just shouldn't be taken seriously about anything, now should they?

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