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More news than you can shake a stick at.
This page: Tracks 12, 14, 7, 4-- Page 2:  5, 9, 10, 6-- Page 3: 11, 3, 1, 2-- Page 4: 8, 13, conclusion

Well, kids, while we were updating the news tonight, an email came in from correspondent Vladimir. Right now we've got six tracks; more will be added as he downloads and reviews them, so check the page listings above. (Thanks again!)
Update: we've got all the tracks in now. Also, the AICN film review by Harry Knowles to which he refers can be found here; another AICN reporter reviews the score here. Without further ado, Vladimir:

This is a track-at-a-time review of the soundtrack to Star Wars Episode II, Attack of the Clones. It has appeared on the Usenet tonight, courtesy of a person operating out of Dalnet. As it is four weeks before the CD hits the stores, in all its four-different-covers glory (well, LotR had twice as many, to milk the poor collectors properly), I'm just going to download as many tracks as I can right now and give you a rundown.

Two things to keep in mind, though.

One, I live in Croatia, where my ISP limits the size of newsgroup messages, meaning it doesn't carry anything bigger that 195KB. As the average Usenet MP3 post is usually split into much larger chunks (this SW one being 401KB per part), I am forced to use a free news server, which deletes messages after four days. It is also rather crowded, making the average download speed less than 36 kbps, so it's taking me hours to download a single track. This means that I won't be able to hear more than a few of the soundtrack's 17 tracks before they all disappear. Which is fine with me, since I do plan to buy the CD as soon as it hits the online stores, and I want it to hold a few surprises aside from the expectedly horrid packaging. Hope that's fine with you too.

Two, I've been a rabid soundtrack enthusiast since I was a kid, and that was a while ago. I own every single incarnation of the Star Wars soundtracks, aside from everything else, and have read up on them more than I care to admit. So I do consider myself as knowledgeable in this field as your average online reviewer, and thus hope that reading this review, however partial, will be worth your while.

On to the track reviews. I will be updating them as I download them, God and Cleo permitting.

Track 12: Love Pledge and the Arena (8:29)

SHORT DESCRIPTION: Hearts breaking for a minute and a half, then everything else
breaking royally for seven minutes.

LONG DESCRIPTION: Funny I should choose one of the last tracks to start it off, huh? Well, I really don't want to begin with hearing the same main title that everyone knows inside out, however much some people might be dedicated to dissecting the various changes in its orchestration for the various films in the series. No, I want to start with something big and representative, and I knew this would be it. Remember Harry's review up on AICN? How he described the way in which Anakin and Amidala finally realise they love another just as they are being carted into that arena where doom awaits? Yeah, I'm a sucker for that sort of highly charged moments, and as Harry made a special mention of the music in the scene, off I went.

After the orchestra strikes an ominous note, the track begins with the most expected tune of the film - Across the Stars, the single, you know, the love theme for Anakin and Amidala. Every Star Wars film has a grand soft theme, and true to form, this one receives a full suite treatment in Track 2. We get a minute and a half of it here, in the pledge scene, long enough to dissect most of its innards.

It is beautiful. And weird. The strings make the first statement, and it sounds familiar. Yes, I realise with a giddy horror: it's Nixon! Nixon, of all things--you know, Williams' score to the 1995 Oliver Stone film! [Cleo's Sudafed-druggy note: "Dude, I love that movie!"] The one dismissed as being "too much like the Imperial March," only it's not, it's magnificent in its depiction of the complexities of the Prez Who Resigned. And Williams is coming full circle here, dropping it into Star Wars for real this time. This is just a few bars, not the entire Nixon theme, just the bit that depicted the vulnerable side of Nixon there. Here, they quickly morph into something else: an oboe picks up the theme and gives a variation which immediately changes its melodic structure, giving it an air of suppressed yearning. Next, first cellos and then violins repeat the secondary thematic phrase, which begins grounding the entire theme - and now it resembles some of the more mature passages of Hook. Finally, a very tender flute gives the third variation, supported by glockenspiel: this has gotten very interesting very fast! Instead of the straight Wagnerian leitmotif, Williams is using a Classical theme-and-variations approach here, and hitherto none of the material sounds like anything musically connected with Anakin or Amidala in the earlier films. This is not aping anything, this is gaining new musical ground for the series.

And then the strings repeat the secondary phrase, and boom: The Grand Reveal. I can tell why Harry compared this to the Twin Suns scene in A New Hope--it is that powerful. And the theme reaches full leitmotivic maturity, only to end abruptly.

What comes next is funky suspense music played on wooden percussion, creating yet another aural ambience for an alien species in the saga, and completely defusing the emotion that just went by. It is not particularly dangerous per se, but soon some snare drums and nervous glissandi start pitching in, and after a minute we are in full martial mode.

A march appears, sounding like a twin to the Federation Army March from The Phantom Menace. And, similarly, it goes through a few iterations, only it too soon starts reminding me of certain (different) passages of Nixon. Was it intentional? Well, Williams is too smart for it not to be. And it gives the track a cohesion only nerds like me can appreciate.

Martial mode soon becomes battle mode, and we're in the territory of Rancor music by the halfway mark: only what was merely chaotic there is musically much more interesting here, as the new march plays off the various bursts of energy from the orchestra. This is quite similar to the various action tracks from the Williams Blockbuster Backlog, and particularly the battle of Naboo, of course, only the structure is quite clear at all times. Love theme rears its head for a moment--it sounds quite buccaneerish now. Soon the action gets scored by an ostinato from the strings and percussion sections, over which the brass plays another martial motif. The ostinato then becomes the support for a childishly playful scherzo of flutes and wooden percussion, before the love theme regains its full power. And then the most powerful theme of the entire Star Wars canon comes to fore amidst frenetic orchestral energy: the Force theme, giving me goosebumps. It is utilised here in a much more integrated way from its only action appearance in Menace, as damn well it ought to be from now on.

The love theme shrieks hysterically at the end, giving the ending of the track a very worrying note. I don't read spoilers, so you might know more about it than I do: I prefer to have these two months before the release of the film just to myself and Williams, who has excelled again, quite obviously.

Track 14: On the Conveyor Belt (bonus track) (3:07)

Mickey Mouse meets Star Wars, and lives to tell.

Whatever the reason may be to include a bonus track on the first album release, traditionally incomplete and serving primarily to present the score as a standalone composition, I've gone and downloaded it too as I was writing this--it's not that long. And yes, my hunch was correct: much like The Forest Battle on the latest Return of the Jedi soundtrack, this is a standalone concert piece--and again a scherzo, albeit not a particularly grand one.

In fact, it really sounds like cartoon music most of the time. Is that good? Oh, it is very energizing, to be sure, but it just doesn't take itself seriously--which is fine with me, since you just can't make a scene that deserves a title like this and then ignore its comedic tradition, from Charlie Chaplin to Chuck Jones.

It begins ominously enough, with the sounds last heard when Indiana Jones was dealing with various bugs, so we're somewhere in the creepy underground, in Williams-speak. But blink a few more times, and the scherzo starts. It never develops much of a melody, just bounces off the various parts of the orchestra, letting the chaos of the machinery dictate its rhythm and keeping things light and bouncy. A few motifs do gel here and there, and the various "watch out!" bursts from the orchestra soon join the fun, making this probably the most light-hearted self-contained piece of music to emerge from the Star Wars canon. Of course, the current generation of the Star Wars fan prefers its saga dark and powerful, so it's probably wise that this Music to Chase Your Cat Around the
House To got relegated to the bonus track status.

Track 7: Jango's Escape (3:48)

We fight, we escape, we listen to some ethnic elevator music in Slave I as we chill out.

LONG DESCRIPTION: "They are using a bounty hunter named Jango Fett to create a clone army!" And he escapes. Fine with me, really, as this is all I want to know about the subject matter of this track. (Good show, John, for not including any major spoilers in the track titles this time around, by the way.)

Musically, I do want something resembling Jango's theme here. His son Boba (short for Slobodan in Serbian, funnily enough) had a low, menacing motif in Empire which developed throughout the Bespin scenes. I thought it might be reused here in the same way the Emperor's theme from Jedi became the Sith theme in Menace, but no--not here, anyway. There IS another motif--not a real theme, no--which starts pounding right away as the manic intensity of this track unfolds.

It is quite close to the Escape from Naboo music from Menace (you know, the one they used in the podrace too), in that it has this exciting 5-note motif playing around the swells of excitement from the entire orchestra. Only this time the motif cannot provide the entire structure of the track: the musical situation is much more eclectic, so after the first 30 seconds all the motif can do is surface for a bar or two and get drowned in various happenings. This is the 'good guys in peril' approach from all the post-New Hope scores: those scenes never get a nicely rounded melodic treatment from Williams, who opts for mayhem instead. As mayhems go, this is a niche above that on the conveyor belt.

By the end of the third minute, celestial music brings the action to a slow, reminding us in the classic Star Wars tradition that we've escaped into space. The motif doesn't come back: a melody sounding a bit like the source tracks in Menace comes to the fore instead, sounding Oriental only tentatively. This is not Jango's music, this is the music Jango chills out to, and it is just a musical reminder of his being different from the heroes.

Track 4: Yoda and the Younglings (3:55)

Kids, love, Yoda, and the Force. Not as worrying as it sounds.

LONG DESCRIPTION: Oh, I so wished to be trained by Yoda as a kid, and now a bunch of ingrate Aussie kids get to play his pupils! Grr. Ah well, the wise little floating frog in his new CG incarnation is at least followed by Williams with consistence from his previous outings. No, there are no pizzicatos here, as in that great teaching track from Empire that didn't get included in the final cut. Yoda teaches differently when he's not a refugee in hiding...

Instead, we get a short, sweet children's theme at the very beginning, which shows up on a flute, enchants, and leaves. Where did it go? Some mood-setting strings take over, making space for a citation of the new love theme on the woodwinds, and finally for Yoda's theme--not as prominent here as I expected, so whoever watches the saga sequentially in the future will probably have to wait till Empire to hear it played out in full.

The celestial ambience comes back to the love theme in a medley that so far sounds surprisingly one-of-a-piece, before we get lifted up on a cloud of female voices. This is not as similar to the underwater scenes in Menace as to the childhood remembrance scenes from Empire of the Sun and Hook. Finally, the track gets a bit more serious with a subdued statement of the Force theme, and then the love theme swells to scene-ending proportions, with just a short ominous note thrown in in the last bar, to remind us that all this non-syrupy sweetness is not going to end well.

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
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Star Wars: Episode II
"Attack of the Clones"
soundtrack review

4/7/02 12:00 pm