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John Williams and Star Wars go hand in hand. They are the perfect marriage of splendiferous visual chemistry and robust musical opera. They go together like bread and butter, like Laurel and Hardy… I think you get the picture. But put simply, one wouldn’t seem right without the other. Together, John Williams and George Lucas have made cinema history with both their magical talents, and I am proud to present to you a very special DVD that showcases this talent; Star Wars: A Musical Journey.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
The Album / Soundtrack
As far as I know, you cannot buy this DVD singularly, it has to be bought via the Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith official soundtrack, which is available now pretty much everywhere as I write this review. Aside from this specially included DVD, which is well placed on what might be the last ever John Williams Star Wars soundtrack, the CD album itself is astonishing. But before we get into the Musical Journey, let me first talk about the actual Revenge of the Sith soundtrack. Seen as how both are included in the package, it only seems fair to cast some light on the CD.

I have to admit that at first I wasn’t particularly taken with John Williams’s new approach to scoring Star Wars. Something seemed amiss, as if the whole tone of the saga had just taken a completely new path – which seemed pretty bizarre. Why would the musical direction suddenly take a drastic step away from tradition after five motion picture releases? Perhaps the answer to that lies within the dramatic undercurrents of Lucas’s newest instalment to the series…

At the time of writing; Saturday the 14th of May 2005, Revenge of the Sith is still a few days from release so I am somewhat limited by what most of this music means and is going to look like onscreen. I have of course seen the trailers for this film about a bazillion times so I think I can improvise for the most part based on that. Now, this is one very dark soundtrack. In fact there were some themes, particularly the quieter, more moody tracks such as ‘Palpatine’s Teachings’, which reminded me of John Williams’s Schindler’s List score.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Some have also said that his Sith score lacks any one central theme; this is certainly the case. Unlike his previous five soundtracks from the series, Williams, it seems, has opted for a more mature and adult-like approach to this finale. And while ‘Battle of the Heroes’ is a damn fine theme in and of itself, the best on the album actually, even that is hardly ever heard outside of this one track.

There is a slight hint of it again in ‘Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan’, but that’s pretty much your lot. Instead, the soundtrack has an oddly disjointed feel about it. Not in a bad way, but in a way that suggests this film is going to throw around a lot of different emotions, thoughts and feelings. Based on what footage is available, this appears to be the case. Lucas himself has described the film as a kind of ‘ Titanic in space’. Now depending on what your filmic tastes are like, that statement will either bring a smile to your face or make you puke in the nearest oval shaped basin. As for me, I am quite optimistic.

One thing that did come as a bit of a disappointment here was the opening credit theme. If you listen to any of the first five Star Wars soundtracks, you can separate each of the opening suites from one another quite easily. There are slight variations between them that give each of them away, and so there should be; Williams re-recorded the opening suite for each of the other films in the series, but not for Sith. For some reason he chose not to do it this last time, which does come as a bit of a letdown, but it’s no biggie.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
The rest of the score is simply beautifully orchestrated once again, and the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Voices are breathtakingly powerful, as you’d expect. The music itself could be constituted as a stoke of genius on Williams’s part – it is certainly a refreshing and dark soundtrack to be sure. But is it on par with his other efforts from the series? While it is a different score in almost every way, ultimately I’d have to say yes. I feel it is definitely the best of the prequel trilogy, but outside of that it more or less stands on its own. If you’re a John Williams fan then you really do owe it to yourself to pick up this soundtrack, even if it’s only for the included DVD – which we are now going to move onto.

There are a total of sixteen chapters on this DVD, and each tells the story though both the music and the visuals from all six films. If you choose, legendary actor Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) will narrate the story in small segments between the musical pieces. I highly recommend you listen to his commentary; it is beautifully written by a fellow named Jamie Richardson and exquisitely narrated by McDiarmid himself. Plus it also makes this watch a more memorable experience. Just of note, you can either view these chapters individually or as a whole; I’d recommend the latter.

The DVD also does an excellent job at telling the epic story spanning the six film saga, and for most this will be one hell of a nostalgic trip, especially for long-time fans. Ian McDiarmid is sat right in the heart of the Star Wars musical experience; the Abbey Road Studio, where Williams orchestrated all of his Star Wars scores. It is probably best to think of this whole musical journey as an epic hour-or-so-long trailer for the saga, though it’s clearly also a passionate nod to both Star Wars and John Williams. Just sit back, crank up the volume, and let this musical voyage soothe your aches and pains. Let’s begin…

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Chapter 1: A Long Time Ago
"20th Century Fox Fanfare" / "Star Wars Main Title" from all six films


After Ian McDiarmid has laid the foundations of the story, we immediately dive straight into the first chapter. First we get a glimpse of George Lucas and John Williams in their lengthy collaboration, and then the all too familiar main title appears amid the vast gulf of space. We witness what must me about a thousand clips spanning all six films and all of which are accompanied by the Star Wars Main Title.

It’s a wonderful setup for the rest of the chapters, and perhaps the most action packed and exciting of them all. It’s also great to see all these clips mesh so nicely together; perhaps a tribute to how well Lucas planned this saga? The last shot of this chapter is pretty intense; it is the infamous ‘evil Anakin’ shot from the Revenge of the Sith trailer.

Chapter 2: Dark Forces Conspire
"Duel of the Fates" from The Phantom Menace


The best track from the Phantom Menace score comes to a fantastic musical collision here in the second chapter of this musical journey. Expect lots of lightsaber duels and some of the best action scenes from the entire saga, plus lots of Darth Maul! If you love the feeling of goose-bumps all over your body, this chapter will do just the trick. The word brilliant isn’t justice enough for this one. It’s a great look at the action side of Star Wars.

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Chapter 3: A Hero Rises
"Anakin's Theme" from The Phantom Menace


This is another one of the key themes from the Phantom Menace score, but I honestly didn’t expect the team who put this DVD together to conjure many great images to this track; how wrong I was. Though most of it is focused on the younger Anakin, it both looks and feels great, but most importantly, it sounds wonderful. It’s amazing how this music, coupled with these carefully selected clips, can make The Phantom Menace look like a great movie. There’s a time and a place to debate if this movie is good or not, and here isn’t one of them, but I will say this; here the film looks superb! That’s reason enough to sit though this chapter.

Chapter 4: A Fateful Love
"Across The Stars" from Attack of the Clones


One of the greatest themes from the saga – this time from Attack of the Clones – has been taken and placed with some classic imagery. Here, some of the best shots from Clones ties in romantically with the beauty of this particular track. It almost brings a tear to the eye… One might think this could be a potential suck-fest seeing these two love-birds intermingle and share a kiss or two, but actually I found it to be a very nice, perhaps even very pleasant watch. Again, this chapter somehow makes what was essentially a boring romance in that film, look fresh and believable.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Chapter 5: A Hero Falls
"Battle of the Heroes" from Revenge of the Sith


The best track from the Revenge of the Sith score is turned into a decidedly evil and surprisingly emotional fifth chapter. There are lots of great shots from the newest and last movie in the saga, most of which are ripped from both the teaser and full theatrical trailer. Some of the shots were new, but not many unfortunately.

I was worried that perhaps they would only show very limited bits from Revenge of the Sith, making this six-film musical journey a little uneven. But to my delight they pretty much have all of the trailer footage in there, which has been cleverly edited to feel natural and seamless with the other films. The new footage also makes for a welcome addition and offers yet more tantalising glimpses of the new movie.

Chapter 6: An Empire Is Forged
"The Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes back


This track is, in my honest and humble opinion, the best damn piece from ‘any’ of the Star Wars scores. I could scout the Oxford English Dictionary all day and night for a word to best describe this track, but none of them would do it any justice. Here the story takes another dark turn as Darth Vader becomes the star of the chapter. It’s basically a homage to the dark lord himself.

Most of the footage was taken from The Empire Strikes Back, but there are so many cool clips that are so perfectly placed this ultimately has to be a favourite. That and the brilliant music make this three or four minute piece one to cherish and watch many, many times.  

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Chapter 7: A Planet That Is Farthest From
"The Dune Sea of Tatooine" / "Jawa Sandcrawler" from A New Hope


All Tatooine based, but much of the imagery is pure nostalgic. I love this track; it’s so cheeky and mischievous yet so brilliantly woven into the mythology of Tatooine and the destiny of the inhabitants there. We spend most of the time with the lovable droid duo R2-D2 and C3PO in this chapter, but it does stray off to other parts of Tatooine’s history from time to time.

Chapter 8: An Unlikely Alliance
"Binary Sunset" / "Cantina Band" from A New Hope


Yet more Tatooine, but this one is better than the last thanks to the powerful ‘Binary Sunset’ track. Once that ends and the ‘Cantina’ montage beings, more cheekiness and fun from Tatooine unfolds. Of course, the star of this chapter is Han Solo and his walking-carpet friend, Chewie.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Chapter 9: A Defender Emerges
"Princess Leia's Theme" from A New Hope


Perhaps the most melodic track from the A New Hope score, ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’, is very much present here in this happy-feeling ninth chapter. Leia was the heart of the original trilogy and her central theme is a colourful mix of emotion and courage. I was surprised they didn’t include perhaps her most famous line from the original trilogy, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope…”, but all the footage was wonderful and truly heartfelt that I didn’t really care by the end.

Chapter 10: A Daring Rescue
"Ben's Death / Tie Fighter Attack" from A New Hope


Chapter ten is a mixture of darkness and light as the story reaches a chilling climax. There’s also lots of action and subtlety within these scenes. As you’d expect by now, everything is well blended and seamlessly paced. Some of the cues from this track feature prominently in most of the Star Wars trailers and overall action scenes, and I am pleased to report the chapter doesn’t fail to deliver on its promises.

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Chapter 11: A Jedi Is Trained
"Yoda's Theme" from The Empire Strikes Back


Another one of the most prominent and thematically infamous tracks sees the most joyful and emotional chapter of the lot. Yoda is key to the Star Wars story, and here we see the little green dude in all his glory. The end is particularly sad; I do confess that a single tear rolled down my face as Yoda vanishes into thin air. Beautiful perfection.

Chapter 12: A Narrow Escape
"The Asteroid Field" from The Empire Strikes Back


This is my second favourite of all John Williams’s themes, and the collage of footage within this chapter fits the exact feeling I get when I hear that music played. It is pure science fiction goodness and seems to tap into the mystery and vastness of space like no other track I’ve heard, at least from the Star Wars collection. I loved this chapter; it’s easily one of the best.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Chapter 13: A Bond Unbroken
"Luke and Leia" from Return of the Jedi


We are drawing to an end now, and this great piece of footage and music feels pretty bittersweet. Luke and Leia discover their bond is no accident as we famously saw in Return of the Jedi, but most of the footage here comes from all three films in the original trilogy. I like how we see their growth both though the footage, though the music and though the artistic illustrations present.

Chapter 14: A Sanctuary Moon
"The Forest Battle (Concert Suite)" from Return of the Jedi


Epic and quite fun, though with a streak of that lingering darkness streaming though it, this fourteenth chapter sees the final battle between good and evil come to a head at last. The action footage here is well balanced with the often ferociously paced music. We see a myriad of battles ranging from The Phantom Menace all the way though to Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Chapter 15: A Life Redeemed
"Light of the Force" from Return of the Jedi


Aptly titled and such a tear jerker, this penultimate is an indescribably great chapter. Ian McDiarmid’s narration here is sensational and very powerfully delivered. Just with the last line he delivers, Ian proves to us exactly why he is one of the greatest actors of his generation. Only he and a handful of others could have driven this commentary with such passion and might. The chapter itself is just breathtaking and is the last stretch of this epic story.

Chapter 16: A New Day Dawns
"Throne Room / Finale" from A New Hope


A fitting farewell and a memorable send off, the legendary ‘Throne Room’ track send us out with a celebratory nod to the Star Wars saga. The spherical blackness closes around the images, and the ‘Finale’ fanfare begins with those same blue letters whizzing up the screen.

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
The End.

Well, thank you for joining me on this little musical expedition. I had the time of my life watching this DVD and you will too if you are a both a Star Wars and John Williams fan. His music is legendary and will most likely outlive all of us. This DVD, a mere bonus inclusion on the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack, is frankly one of the best DVD’s I have ever had the pleasure of watching, ever. In all honesty, this is a must for all fans and belongs in your collection right alongside the entire Star Wars DVD collection and any Star Wars merchandise you own.

Right after watching this you will have to restrain yourself from one of two things: watching all the films and listening to all of the accompanying soundtracks. George Lucas, thank you for giving us this story and these images and thank you John Williams for writing us perhaps the greatest music of all time. May the force be with you, always…

Star Wars: A Musical Journey
Audio
In the options sub-menu you are given a number of audio choices: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and PCM Stereo Sound. You have also got the option to turn the Ian McDiarmid commentary on or off. You have also have subtitles in French, German and Spanish.

So, how does this DVD sound? Well the Dolby Digital 5.1 option is the only way to go if you want the best audio experience, and it sounds sensational. There is plenty of LFE Subwoofer action, which is gorgeously deep and rich. When it thuds and rumbles away during the action and musical crescendos you are going to need to hold onto your chair for dear life!

Ian McDiarmid’s narration and the few spurts of dialogue coming from the clips also sound pleasing to the ears. Everything seems crisp and clear for the most part. But as the music is naturally the main feature here, how does that sound? In a word: Awesome! Full-on 5.1 surround sound for the Star Wars music is a dream come true for most fans, and it all has such a rich clarity to it.

Every speaker is put to good use and at one point I had cranked the volume up so much I swear I heard the floor beneath me crack. Surround speakers were surprisingly active during the runtime, though mostly everything was coming from the front channel speakers and the sub. I don’t think the neighbours were too happy about the volume levels but sod them; this is one DVD musical experience to rule them all. I loved every single minute of it and you will too.

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Video
Considering all of the footage comes directly from the DVD’s and that the quality is identical in pretty much every way, you can expect a good show. Some of the footage has been altered slightly, such as the flashback scene from chapter four. Also, one or two pieces were slowed down, such as when the Death Star explodes, for dramatic effect, but other than that everything looks the same as you’d find on the individual DVD’s. Basically this means everything looks absolutely amazing, pin sharp and totally crisp.

All the footage has been kept in the traditional 2.35:1 aspect ratio which should please the fanatics. One thing you might notice is very slight visual differences between each film. You can sometimes notice this in fast cuts between two or more different films. This has nothing to do with the cinematography of visual effects of each film (that’s an obvious give-away) but of the DVD image quality of each release. It’s not a major thing or anything to be concerned about, and it never gets in the way of the overall experience. Most will probably not even notice it, but techno-buffs might.

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Extras
I am not really sure how to go about writing this section of the review as there really aren’t any extras, well save for a choppy Revenge of the Sith videogame preview. The extras on this set is the DVD itself. But there are two ways of looking at this: If you buy the set for the DVD, then the extra is the included Revenge of the Sith soundtrack. Or, if you buy the set for the CD, then the DVD is the extra. Considering I am only really focusing on reviewing this Musical Journey DVD, I will take the CD as being the extra feature.

In this case, the set scores big. As stated above, the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack is fantastic in its own right and, while it takes a bit of getting used to, I found it to be one of the most rewarding soundtracks in quite some time. Regarding the included trailer, I do find it puzzling as to why no Revenge of the Sith movie trailer has been included on this DVD. Why include a videogame preview and not a high-def movie trailer? Perhaps they thought there was enough Sith footage on the DVD to counteract this, but that isn’t the point.

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Overall
If you are going to buy this, and I really implore you to do so, I suggest you buy it from Amazon.co.uk where a very pretty red slipcase comes with the set. It’s totally exclusive to their store so you never know; it might be worth a bit in a few years. And while only a minor thing, it does looks gorgeous with its silver embroidery on the title font. It looks bloody fantastic! The double disc package also contains a foldout poster and a touching message from George Lucas to John Williams. You also get the full CD and DVD track listings on the reverse of the poster.

Every Star Wars fan ought to have a copy of Star Wars: A Musical Journey on their shelf. Simple as that. There are just too many great things to list that make this DVD a must, but one thing I really love about this is the seamless editing. When Williams’s music bangs, clashes or bounces, clips perfectly suited to that exact cue seems very well placed and perfectly timed. It’s a true marriage of perfection.

And though most of the sounds and dialogue are muted during the clips, the occasional sound effect and quote filters though into the music at just the right moment. In a nutshell, this DVD is damn near perfection and you simply have to experience it for yourself. Go out and buy it this very instant and never look back. If you have already got it, stick it on again and revel in the greatness of it all.


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