The force of marketing is strong in this one.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
George Lucas may not have invented movie merchandising, but he refined it into a science and an art form like no one before or since. The latest and final installment of the Star Wars saga is no exception; toys and games bearing the Revenge of the Sith logo have been available since shortly after New Year's. For months, anyone with a couple of bucks to spend and a high tolerance for spoilage has been able to read first the screenplay and later the novel to learn all the secrets of this final Star Wars flick.
As with previous prequel installments, the soundtrack CD has been available for some time before the film's theatrical release. What makes the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith soundtrack unique is the inclusion of a special bonus DVD entitled Star Wars: A Musical Journey. This 70 minute clip show, narrated by Ian McDiarmid, marries some of the highlights of John Williams's distinctive music with the "greatest hits" of the six episodes.
The program is broken into sixteen chapters, each with optional introduction by McDiarmid and dealing with a specific aspect of Star Wars lore. It makes a nice primer for the uninitiated, and a pleasant trip down memory lane for the rest of us. Star Wars: A Musical Journey reminds us all, in the words of the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been. The visuals are nice, but the real star here is John Williams, whose compositions often transcend and elevate the more mundane happenings on-screen. It is amazing how well much of the Star Wars cycle works as silent film accompanied by Williams's rousing score. Even the monotone Natalie Portman and her equally uninspiring leading men, Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, come across quite well with Williams backing up their performances and dialogue kept to a bare minimum.
Those looking for Episode III insights prior to opening night are likely to be disappointed. Chapter 5, entitled "A Hero Falls," features music from Revenge of the Sith and focuses primarily on the clash between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. There are a few new surprises, primarily in the form of action footage, but most of the visuals in this chapter have already been seen in the trailers. Of course, even though Revenge of the Sith deals primarily with Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader, Chapter 3: "A Hero Rises" and Chapter 6: "An Empire is Forged" serve to remind us that John Williams has already told the story of that transformation. Chapter 3 features the soft, melodic, innocent "Anakin's Theme" from The Phantom Menace, while Chapter 6 gives us The Empire Strikes Back's "Imperial March in all its thundering glory. Taken together, these two pieces of music tell of Anakin's fall to the dark side more eloquently than mere words in a script ever could.
Given that this DVD comes with the Episode III soundtrack, I found it surprising how eager the producers seemed to be to leave the prequel trilogy behind as soon as possible and reenter the comfortable territory of the classic Star Wars films. Out of sixteen chapters, only the first five deal much with the prequels, while the bulk of the program deals with the more engaging and exciting action of the original trilogy. This provides the opportunity for some obvious comparisons. For example, scenes in the Jedi Council chambers and scenes on Dagobah serve to remind us that foam rubber and latex blow away pixels any time. Perhaps most striking is the contrast between Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Natalie Portman as Queen/Senator Padme Amidala. They obviously never appear in the same scenes together, but Fisher blows any lingering memories of Portman off the screen.
Star Wars: A Musical Journey may by a nifty little trip through George Lucas's universe, but all is not perfect. McDiarmid's intros give the audience the impression that he'd really rather be demonstrating his "force lightning" abilities on his agent for not reading the fine print in his prequel contract. Some chapters feature remarkably amateurish animations, some use concept art thrown in with the film footage. Also, the editing is maddeningly random. For example, Chapter 14: "A Sanctuary Moon" is a recap of the climactic battle on Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi. For whatever reason, scenes from The Phantom Menace's battle on Naboo appear randomly intercut with this footage for no apparent reason. Even in chapters dealing with specific events from the original trilogy, it is not unusual to find, say, scenes from Bespin or Hoth appearing randomly in the midst of the Death Star rescue/escape from A New Hope. There are instances where this sort of thing works well; Chapter 16 manages to mix footage from Jedi and Phantom Menace in a surprisingly moving way, juxtaposing the young, innocent little boy known as Anakin Skywalker with Darth Vader's funeral pyre.
Perhaps most annoying is the insistence on incorporating random snippets of dialogue from the films into what are essentially music video montages. Sometimes this works well, but more generally it is jarring and detracts from the effects of the music and accompanying visuals.
All told, Star Wars: A Musical Journey is a pleasant stroll through the highlights of the six Star Wars films. Your own counsel must you keep as to whether or not it makes the otherwise underwhelming Revenge of the Sith soundtrack worth a purchase.
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