Spinema Issue 59: My Vinyl Weighs a Tauntaun. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Symphonic Suite Returns!

The EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Suite is back on vinyl after being unavailable for more than 40 years

Star Wars scores have been widely available in different editions, but a unique lesser-known representation of the music of The Empire Strikes Back makes its triumphant return this week from Varese Sarabande.

Known formally as the “Symphonic Suite from the Original Motion Picture Score”, the Symphonic Suite has been out of print on vinyl since its 1980 release.

But what is it, exactly?

Unlike the score, which was designed to accompany and complement the film, the Symphonic Suite is a listening experience first and foremost — a cohesive album. John Williams describes it in the liner notes as “specially written and adapted for concert performance”.

It’s the familiar music of The Empire Strikes Back that you know and love, but in a unique arrangement created by Williams and Charles Gerhardt, and conducted by Gerhardt. The music’s arranged differently, not only in the musical sense of the term, but also chronologically: the music’s sequenced for listening pleasure rather than in narrative order from the film.

Whereas many film scores have a terrific main theme and are otherwise unremarkable, John Williams’ music for the Star Wars films is teeming with familiar and beloved melodies throughout. And among those scores, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite, building on the established themes from the first film and adding its own iconic additions.

Unquestionably, the biggest breakout piece from the sequel is “The Imperial March”. Menacing and bombastic, it serves as the theme for the Emperor and Vader, but on another plane it’s also a reflection of the film itself. A darker middle chapter in which the stakes are raised and the Empire gets the upper hand, ending on a note of struggle with our heroes staggering from defeat.

Other standout pieces abound. The surprise invasion of Hoth is captured in “The Battle in the Snow”, while the frenetic and bouncy “The Asteroid Field” is one of the saga’s most memorable action melodies. “Yoda’s Theme” and “Han Solo and the Princess” slow things down a bit but are nonetheless full of excitement and wonder.

With its unique arrangement, the Symphonic Suite is a terrific experience for Star Wars fans, with the familiar music you love but with presented in a way that’s fresh, scratching that fan itch for wanting “the same, but different”.

The Package

Rather than reworking the design, this release is a reproduction of the classic LP, keeping not only the wonderful artwork by William Stout, but the layout and liner notes as well.

The notes are a treat. There’s an essay by Ray Bradbury extolling film music as an evolving artform. Another by Christopher Palmer examines the work and history of John Williams. And the maestro himself includes a few words about the concept of the suite and his excitement to partner with Charles Gerhardt for its execution.

In addition to the standard black vinyl, some limited exclusive variants are also being made available: 
“Ice Planet Hoth Blue” — Vinyl Me, Please
Imperial Grey Marble” — Newbury Comics
Cloud City Orange” (Canadian Exclusive) — Sunrise Records

As a side note, vinyl coloration is inherently not an exact science, and individual records uniquely vary by design. I was provided with a review copy of the Newbury variant and in my case it was almost entirely a rich gold color despite the “Imperial Grey” designation. “C-3PO Goldenrod”, if you will.


Side One

  1. 20th Century-Fox Fanfare (0:21)
  2. Main Title/The Imperial Probe (5:25)
  3. Luke’s First Crash (2:29)
  4. Han Solo And The Princess (4:26)
  5. The Asteroid Field (4:12)
  6. The Training Of A Jedi Knight and “May The Force Be With You” (1:56)
  7. The Battle In The Snow (3:06)

Side Two

  1. The Imperial March (3:21)
  2. The Magic Tree (3:38)
  3. Yoda’s Theme (3:34)
  4. The Rebels Escape Again (3:01)
  5. Lando’s Palace, The Duel (Through The Window) (5:01)
  6. Finale (4:39)

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