May 22 2011

Asteroids do concern me, Admiral

There is little doubt that the finest Star Wars film is the much-lauded The Empire Strikes Back. This is cinematic fact: if you don’t like it, hurry back to your Stargate DVD box set or your Transformers 2 Blu-ray and don’t come back.

Like that superior sequel – and, of course, its ground-breaking predecessor – much of John Williams’ score for the original trilogy is held in stratospheric regard. The original Star Wars theme and that which accompanies the throne room scene at the close of the first film are instantly recognisable, conjuring up images of heroic space-based daring-do, epic clashes between good and evil and lots of awesome Muppets doing cool stuff. Darth Vader’s theme – otherwise known as the Imperial March – is similarly evocative, despite not appearing in the first film at all. The Cantina band’s catchy, quirky slice of space funk-pop is another bona fide classic. Leia’s Theme actually elicited a tear from at least one jaded thirtysomething when it resurfaced at the close of the otherwise turgid Revenge of the Sith; such is the power and resonance of its sweeping, epic, David Lean-worthy strings. And, hey, everyone loves that Ewok yub yub song, right? Right?

However, arguably the finest piece of music to feature in the original trilogy – on The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack, naturally – remains largely ignored. The piece in question is, of course, The Asteroid Field. Beginning with a reassuring burst of the Imperial March, the score that accompanies Han, Leia and Chewie’s escape from Vader’s fleet then segues into what might initially be written off as a piece perfunctory Williams-lite chase music. But this is not some off-the-shelf tune that might slot just as easily into an Indiana Jones soundtrack or some later, lesser work – a Star Wars prequel, even. No. Instead, after a short but tense build up, the strings section bursts into life, spiralling to new, dazzling heights that perfectly score the Millennium Falcon’s pirouettes and plunges through the space worm-harbouring asteroids. TIE fighters screech to their doom in satisfying fashion, a harp underscores the softening relationship between the princess and Han “I’m nice men” Solo and it’s over, with the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than ten parsecs safely ensconced in the entirely stable asteroid cave.