Joel McNeely – Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

shadows of the empire

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire at itunes Shadows of the empire at amazon enhanced cd

In 1996, LucasFilm embarked on a multi-channel marketing project in an effort to make more money off the aging Star Wars franchise. The result was Shadows of the Empire, a venture that involved all the machinations of a movie marketing and tie-in campaign, without the production of an actual movie. In total, the endeavor included a novel, comic books, video games, trading cards, toys (of course) and, most relevant to this site, a soundtrack.

Not surprisingly, John Williams was approached to compose the score, but he declined, instead recommending Joel McNeely for the job.

McNeeley’s results are quite surprising and offer a unique look at Star Wars music. In contrast to Goldsmith’s approach with SG-1, McNeely almost completely abandons the established music for the franchise. Beyond the opening titles, there’s scantly a mention of any Star Wars motif or cue. No location cues for places featured in the films, and no character motifs save for a short mention of Leia’s theme. There’s a single quote of the "rebel fleet" cue from the end of The Empire Strikes Back and brief blast of the force theme. The Imperial March makes two brief appearance. Beyond that, the music is wholly original.

Listening to the soundtrack this past week, I couldn’t help but hear this music as I would some romantic-era "program music." Indeed, that’s what Shadows of the Empire essentially is. As a soundtrack without a film, each track works as a symphonic poem that exists to convey the ideas, settings and emotions of the story, without being tied literally to the images on a screen, leaving sonic imprints of peoples, places and events that can only be imagined.

Easily highlighting the score is track seven: The Seduction of Princess Leia, which is built around a fabulous freakin’ waltz, a first for Star Wars. The rest of the album is equally intriguing, invoking fantastic settings in a way reminiscent of the late romantics. Imagine Debussy or Holst writing music for Star Wars; the results would probably be similar to this.

tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

Continue reading

woohoo to 4 digits!

at 5:19 pm eastern, i officially crossed into 4 digit territory. i now have less than 10,000 songs to go before i complete the tunequest. that is of course if i don't add a lot of new songs to my library…

for those who are interested, the lucky song was the first movement from dvorak's symphony no 1 performed by the royal scottish national orchestra. good piece, that is. 

April 10 – 91 songs played. 5 removed.

what a day! 91 songs played and 5+ hours of listening. that’s what i need to be doing everyday. it’s not likely to happen, but it is something to strive for.

also, it seems that this tunequest page has managed to obtain a google pagerank of 4 in just over a month. from what i understand, that’s pretty good, so huzzah for tunequest!

  • bjork [selmasongs]
  • blind melon [blind melon]
  • massive attack [blue lines]
  • danny elfman [batman returns]
  • matmos [a chance to cut is a chance to cure]
  • franz waxman [bride of frankenstein]
  • danny elfman [batman]
  • savath + savalas [apropa’t]

i’ve mentioned before about the randomness of the ipod and, despite allegations that the device isn’t very random in the first place, one shouldn’t read too much into supposed patterns of play.

nevertheless, it is disconcerting that my ipod chose to play not only danny elfman’s batman and batman returns, but a performance of the adam west batman theme by the royal scottish national orchestra. the ipod even tried to play batman again after i was forced to stop and restart at one point. it’s all randomly possible, i know, but is still wiggy. not that it matters, elfman’s batmans are classics and his theme is, of course, instantly recognizable. recommended all around. •

speaking of scores, i had pegged bride of frankenstein as one destined for my dust bin. after a careful listen though, i must say that i am fascinated by it. it was composed in 1935 and sounds much more like an orchestral suite or ballet than a film score. it turned out to be quite the highlight of the day. •

also some good trip hop by the likes of massive attack and some excellent spanish-influenced melodic downtempo by savath + savalas (aka prefuse 73 amongst other things). •

and a final note about blind melon, a group whose music it seems i should have outgrown by now. i’ve had the album for 13 years now, and it is inseparably linked to and trapped in time with the alternative explosion of the early 1990s. sometimes i think it’s time has just come and gone, but fads aside, it features song really decent songwriting with catchy hooks and impressive guitar noodling. blind melon’s debut is more mellow, groovy and musically complex than many of its contemporaries. though i feel like i should let it go, but just can’t seem to make myself do it. •