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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Album Cover Art
1985 Polydor
1992 Varèse
Album 2 Cover Art
1993 Fox
Album 3 Cover Art
1997 RCA
Special Edition
Album 4 Cover Art
1997 RCA
Album 5 Cover Art
2004 Sony
Classical Set
Album 6 Cover Art
2004 Sony
Classical Individual
Album 7 Cover Art
2007 Sony
Corellian Edition
Album 8 Cover Art
2007 Sony
30th Ann. Set
Album 9 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:

Co-Produced by:
George Lucas

Orchestrated by:
Herbert W. Spencer

Performed by:

1993, 1997, and 2004 Albums Produced by:
Nick Redman

1997 and 2004 Albums Produced by:
Michael Matessino

RCA Re-Recording Produced and Conducted by:
Charles Gerhardt

RCA Re-Recording Performed by:
The National Philharmonic Orchestra
Labels Icon

Varèse Sarabande

20th Century Fox
(November 9th, 1993)

RCA Victor
(Special Edition)
(January 14th, 1997)

RCA Victor
(S.E. Re-Pressing)
(August 26th, 1997)

Sony Classical
(Individual and Set)
(September 21st, 2004)

Sony Classical
(Corellian Edition)
(October 2nd, 2007)

Sony Classical
(30th Ann. Edition)
(November 6th, 2007)
Availability Icon
All of the CD albums were regular commercial releases at their outset. Both the original 1985 album and 1992 Varèse Sarabande Gerhardt album historically have been available used for about $5 to $7.

The 1993 Fox Anthology was believed at the time to be the most collectible soundtrack CD set in existence, and has retained its original street value because of its relative scarcity and packaging.

The 1997 RCA Special Edition albums came in two forms, the black booklet format available early that year and the slimline format in August, 1997 to coincide with the VHS release of the revised films. The latter albums (with poster art on the covers) have fallen completely out of print, and while new copies of the 'black book' formatted RCA albums of early 1997 are also difficult to find, they have remained readily available for sub-retail price on the used market.

The 2004 Sony Classical products are bargain priced, though you receive no additional packaging benefits from buying the trilogy as a set outside of the silver and black holding box.
The 2007 Sony Classical albums contain no additional new contents or remastering. The "Corellian Edition" compilation, which was leaked as a promotional teaser in some 2005 pressings of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, is sold alone as a regular commercial release (with two different cover art variants) and is included as CD7 in the concurrently offered "30th Anniverary Collector's Edition." That set, featuring original LP packaging, was electronically numbered up to 10,000 copies and initially retailed for $80. Its value soon plunged, in part due to production problems that caused the wrong combination of CDs to be included in the set. temporarily pulled the product due to complaints.
Winner of a Grammy Award and a BAFTA Award. Nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on the 1997 "Special Edition" albums over all others because they feature the best combination of outstanding packaging and a complete presentation of John Williams' incredibly memorable sequel score.

Avoid it... on the 1985 to 1993 albums because of poorer, archival sound quality and incomplete presentations, as well as the 2004 and 2007 re-pressings that are identical to the 1997 albums in contents but without the superior packaging.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 1/27/97, REVISED 9/1/11
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: (John Williams) One would have imagined that George Lucas would have no financial difficulties producing a sequel to his classic Star Wars three years later, but dwindling funds were just one of many challenges the concept's creator faced when assembling The Empire Strikes Back. Although Lucas decided not to direct the picture, reportedly choosing to concentrate on his greater role in producing the movie amidst clashes with banks and Twentieth Century Fox, the remainder of his cast and crew carried over for the 1980 follow-up. Freakish weather events, the desire to keep the truth about Darth Vader's identity a secret, and a budget that bloated well beyond its original boundaries all conspired against The Empire Strikes Back, and critics were initially not overwhelmingly receptive to the film. Time proved very kind to it, however, and in retrospect, The Empire Strikes Back is widely considered to be among the best sequel films of all time, and, for some, superior in many regards to its predecessor. Nobody could contend that the special effects of Industrial Light & Magic hadn't improved in the prior three years, but some in the audience did not care for the fact that the movie was part of a larger plotline, its narrative conveying no distinct beginning or satisfactory end. Indeed, this aspect of filmmaking was a tough pill to swallow at the time, as was the truth about Vader, though a definitive conclusion to the arc in Return of the Jedi largely resolved such issues. The entirety of The Empire Strikes Back essentially involves a protracted interstellar chase, the alliance of rebels from the first film now on the run from the Galacic Empire and Vader leading the charge to find Luke Skywalker at all costs. The protagonist, meanwhile finds himself training with Jedi master Yoda to become a knight and makes the choice to abandon that regimen to save his friends when Vader uses them as bait. The overwhelmingly downbeat note on which the film ends has added to its mystique through the years, making it a sharp contrast from those that came before and after in the franchise. Playing this melodramatic despair to the maximum is composer John Williams, who was in the middle of the most productive time of his career at the start of the 1980's and had firmly established himself popularly as "the maestro."

Within a period of six years, Williams wrote Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and Return of the Jedi, and yet, even in that incredible bracket of time, some collectors of the composer's music maintain that The Empire Strikes Back is the finest score of the lot. Other debates exist about The Empire Strikes Back as the best of the classic Star Wars trilogy of scores, to which you'd probably get less resistance if you argue on its behalf. Following Star Wars: A New Hope was no easy task; the film had set all world box office records and the LP record album of the soundtrack had sold over 4 million copies, easily becoming the top-selling score of all time. This concerned Williams, for he wished to maintain the Wagnerian approach to 19th Century Romanticism in his music and balance the previous film's primary themes with several new ones. Offering a retread was the last thing he wanted to do. After the saga stretched into to two trilogies, you might get the feeling from The Empire Strikes Back that Williams was creating a monster, setting a standard of incorporating new and old themes into each picture that would eventually make the idea of that very incorporation quite daunting by the final venture (given the wealth of previous themes he had established). With a budget of $250,000 in hand for the recording of the score for The Empire Strikes Back, Williams returned to the London Symphony Orchestra, the majority of its performers veterans of the first score's original performance. Consisting of 18 recording sessions over two weeks, the task of assembling the score for the sequel was made more difficult by the fact that it was roughly 40 minutes longer than A New Hope. With the same supporting crew, however, Williams succeeded in his recording and debuted the score's two primary themes to great applause in his first conducting appearance at a concert with the Boston Pops several weeks before the release of the film. The double-LP album for The Empire Strikes Back sold over a million copies in just four months, but never unseated its predecessor in record sales, like the box office returns finishing firmly in the #2 position. The legacy of the sequel score was cemented not long after its release, however, its main identity for Darth Vader and the Empire becoming so famous as a motif of evil symphonic determination that it has made The Empire Strikes Back as popularly recognizable as both A New Hope and, more interestingly, Jaws.

In terms of its grandiose space opera personality, The Empire Strikes Back is every bit as impressive as its predecessor, exhibiting the same leitmotif techniques and transparent orchestral bravado that A New Hope had popularized. Its scope remains on par with the rest of the franchise and its thematic applications are boosted in dramatic appeal to match the shocking shifts of love and hate in the story. Williams likely did not intend for "The Imperial March" to dominate the franchise in public perception so many years later, but given its effectiveness as a representation of the villains in the tale, it's hard not to become fixated on it. The idea's incredibly simplistic, minor-key structure is devilishly successful in conveying determination and evil while, at the same, expressing itself in enjoyably bombastic, self-important fashion. Because the structure of its primary phrases is so basic, Williams could interpolate it into any of his other themes, and, as heard in the prequel scores, insert it with great stealth as a foreshadowing device. The key to its memorability is the fact that each of its three phrases, including the longer interlude sequence, conclude on the same three note figure, making those notes so easy to integrate that they alone could finish any of the other themes as a reminder of who's doing the chasing in the story. Williams adapted elements of the progressions from the "Imperial March" into everything from Nixon to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, whether they involved the opening three notes on key or that ominous three in conclusion. Its place in cinematic history was initially underplayed by critics who perhaps devalued the theme because of its existence in a sequel score (and maybe that's why it lost its bid for an Oscar), but it is still played endlessly in sports arenas and other public venues in post-2000 America. Its application as a tool of parody didn't take long to become engrained in the public's imagination, too, used commonly in the 2000's by the media to represent the much despised New York Yankees baseball team. So far-reaching is its influence that an official Al-Queda propaganda video near the time of the 9/11 attacks of 2001 used Williams' "Imperial March" beneath its Arabic dialogue to represent the "Imperial United States" and its worldwide Christian crusade against Islam (one has to wonder what Williams thinks about such things). The prequel scores in the Star Wars franchise extended the theme's life as well, starting as a hint in "Anakin's Theme" in The Phantom Menace and experiencing its magnificent announcement at the end of Attack of the Clones as the Empire is born.

In its different incarnations resulting from The Empire Strikes Back, the "Imperial March" is best known for its concert version, the aggressively chopped string rhythms launching the idea with extreme deference to the root key. In the film, this arrangement is heard during the introduction of the Star Destroyer fleet near the beginning of the film, though the use of the concert version in this placement was actually as a substitute for an arguably superior recording of the "Aboard the Executor" cue. The rejected version, with harsh and pulsating brass performing the bass rhythm instead of the straight strings, long remained the hidden gem of the score, tantalizing fans with its reinsertion into the appropriate place in the corresponding radio drama for The Empire Strikes Back and only finally available on album by the time of the 1997 Special Editions. Different versions of the "End Credits" suite also exist, once again leaving the better, album rendition of the "Imperial March" out of the original cut of the film. Fans' frustration with the incomplete album presentations prior to 1997 often revolved around the lack of the "Imperial March" statements that you hear throughout the film whenever the scene shifts to Vader or a Star Destroyer. Williams is extremely predictable in his usage of the theme, referencing it in resolute, partial ensemble phrases when Vader is seen stomping around the ice planet or cloud city and elongating its meter to represent the character's use of the Force or, at the end of the chase in "Hyperspace," when he quietly leaves the bridge of his ship after losing his prey. Occasionally, Williams adds a pronounced pause after the first three notes on key (as in the quick cloud city departure reference), infusing a touch of hanging suspense in the melody. The reminders of the theme during special effects shots of massive Imperial spacecraft yield the score's guilty pleasure moments, much the same as the equivalent shots of ships arriving at the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Conforming to Williams' usual method of operation for the films in this franchise, this major theme is joined by two other primary new identities in an "End Credits" arrangement bookended by the famous title theme from the previous movie. Although the main Star Wars theme is heard in all of the sequel and prequel films, its application diminishes with each successive entry, and you can hear immediately in its frightfully diminished role in The Empire Strikes Back that the composer was trying to avoid redundancy. A lack of truly heroic and swashbuckling moments in this darker movie also contributed to an arguable inability of Williams to state the heroic fanfare in any particular sequence.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.32 Stars
***** 5,775 5 Stars
**** 1,929 4 Stars
*** 1,069 3 Stars
** 396 2 Stars
* 293 1 Stars
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John Williams OWNS Star Wars!!!!!
TDK - April 7, 2010, at 4:33 p.m.
1 comment  (2738 views)
Brass Section (London Symphony Orchestra)
N.R.Q. - July 11, 2007, at 5:53 a.m.
1 comment  (4203 views)
Even better than Episode IV
Sheridan - August 20, 2006, at 4:43 a.m.
1 comment  (3352 views)
Your favourite Main and End title sequence (in terms of music) ?   Expand >>
Mark - 224 - January 12, 2006, at 2:21 a.m.
6 comments  (9070 views)
Newest: April 10, 2007, at 9:29 a.m. by
Ivan orozco
Recordings and more recordings... They all can have beautiful packages but....
Titus - January 9, 2006, at 12:33 p.m.
1 comment  (2630 views)
Unused tor missing track?   Expand >>
Reggie - December 18, 2005, at 10:15 p.m.
2 comments  (5011 views)
Newest: January 12, 2006, at 2:15 a.m. by
Mark - 224

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1985 Polydor Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 41:40
• 1. The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme) (3:03)
• 2. Yoda's Theme (3:29)
• 3. The Asteriod Field (4:12)
• 4. Han Solo and the Princess (Love Theme) (3:28)
• 5. Finale (6:28)
• 6. Star Wars (Main Theme) (5:49)
• 7. The Training of a Jedi Knight (3:08)
• 8. Yoda and the Force (4:05)
• 9. The Duel (4:06)
• 10. The Battle in the Snow (3:48)
1992 Varèse Gerhardt Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 45:12
1993 Fox Anthology Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 108:46
1997 RCA Special Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 124:21
2004 Sony Classical Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 124:21
2007 Sony Corellian Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 54:57
2007 Sony 30th Ann. Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 124:23

Notes Icon
The 1985 Polydor album contains no information about the film, score, or recording. The 1992 Varèse Sarabande Gerhardt product contains notes from both Robert Townson and John Williams, as well as multiple color pictures of the composer at work on the score. The 1993 Fox Anthology has extensive notes and pictorials in an oversized booklet with information written by John Williams, Nicholas Meyer, and Lukas Kendall. The 1997 RCA Special Edition albums with the black book format include extensive notation from album arranger Michael Matessino regarding the film, score as a whole, and each cue. A recording log for Star Wars in this 1997 album also includes information about each take. The 1997 RCA Special Edition slimline format lacks the same level of detail. The 2004 Sony Classical products (available both as a set and individually) include a fold-out poster, but sadly no extra information about the film or score. The packaging of Sony Classical's 2007 "Corellian Edition" is minimal, though the label's "30th Anniversary Collector's Edition" includes the original LP packaging for each score and a bonus CD-ROM with additional material. The detailed Matessino notes about the scores are once again missing from the 2007 products.
Copyright © 1997-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back are Copyright © 1985, 1992, 1993, 1997, 2004, 2007, Polydor/Polygram, Varèse Sarabande (Gerhardt), 20th Century Fox (Anthology), RCA Victor (Special Edition), RCA Victor (S.E. Re-Pressing), Sony Classical (Individual and Set), Sony Classical (Corellian Edition), Sony Classical (30th Ann. Edition) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 1/27/97 and last updated 9/1/11.
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