The Star Wars 4CD Anthology
Yesterday was November 23rd. And it fell on a Tuesday.
This rang a bell because it was on a Tuesday, November 23, 1993—28 years prior—Arista Records released the 4CD Star Wars Anthology box set, for which I wrote the track-by-track liner notes.
To say this was the highlight of my life would be an understatement. It was like being invited up onto Mount Olympus to work with the Gods themselves. Star Wars was my everything, and the unreleased music was the holiest of holies. (I was only 19.)
Unfortunately I don’t have very fond memories of the project. It was at the beginning of doing soundtrack “restorations,” as we later called them, and I was frustrated by the compromised sources (it was made with whatever could be found at the time) and the sequencing. It really needed to be six CDs—as were later released for the Special Editions—so being only four, a lot of great stuff was left off. This drove me crazy.
We tried to get Arista to release a “fifth CD,” after the fact, of additional unreleased cues—this was even sequenced and, I think, mastered—but they declined.
Or wait, maybe that was meant to be a bonus for a Fox video release? Something like that. Whatever it was, it didn’t happen. But I had a cassette of the master.
I think our biggest blunder was in restoring the opening track of The Empire Strikes Back with the unused music for the Rebel base, we had forgot to put the “This Is Not a Cave” music (formerly heard via a segue in that track) back in anywhere else. So it was left off. That was embarrassing.
This project was produced by Nick Redman, and we were very close at the time...but it was a difficult relationship. Nick hired Ford Thaxton to do the sequencing—because Ford already had the materials—and Nick told me, point blank, that if I tried to stick my nose into Ford’s work, he would fire me. I was like, gulp.
And, in hindsight, I resent that kind of bullying. Nick could be very generous, but also very controlling. And now he’s gone, so...it’s sad, and I don’t particularly want to talk about it.
I put everything I had into the liner notes...but after the fact, I was disillusioned that it was exactly the kind of programmatic commentary that I later found tiresome. (It was all, “And then Luke enters, and the trumpets come in.”)
I remember using “refuse” instead of “refuge” somewhere in the text (or possibly vice versa), and catching it at the last moment. That would have been embarrassing.
I do remember, before I started writing, Nick saying, “Whatever you do, do not write, ‘I was six years old when I first saw Star Wars, and I had all the toys, and wore the underwear...’ because nobody gives a shit.” I said, “No, of course not”—while privately becoming embarrassed, because that was exactly what I had planned to do.
I remember being very impressed by the art direction. Those guys at Arista did a great job.
And on November 23rd I spent an inordinate time in the computer lab (I was a sophomore at Amherst College) to check the old rec.music.movies group on Usenet, to pore over the reviews and reaction. (Forget about this being before cell phones, or wi-fi, it was before the Internet was commonly in use; there were no websites as we understand them today. We had “Vax” and “Unix” accounts at school, for rudimentary email, but most dorms weren’t even wired for computers.)
I think most people loved the box set, but there were also criticisms—most, I think, reasonable, which I shared.
Wait, now I remember! Most of all, people said they couldn’t find the damn thing anywhere! This is well before Amazon normalized mail order.
The distribution stunk, for some reason, and instead of reading reviews, it was mostly bitching about its lack of availability.
So it was a letdown. I had built up this great thing, being involved with the release of Star Wars music—my heart, soul and passion—and once it happened...it was anticlimactic.
It was an important lesson in what happens when you invest all your energy into geek stuff at the expense of human relationships.
Ironically, when they later released the 2CD Special Edition soundtrack releases, some of the sources actually...got worse? I don’t want to get too deep into it, because I know all the people who worked on both projects. But in many ways, the tracks on the Anthology have better-sounding mixes in some places. I think this is particularly noticeable for Empire.
It is absolutely true that these scores need to be properly revisited, restored and released—I would presume by Mike Matessino, with John Williams’ blessing. The prequels and sequels too.
Why that isn’t happening, or whether it is happening and I don’t know about it—I have no idea.
So don’t ask me!