This is being shared on May the Fourth, Fake Star Wars Day, to prove I’m not a hard-hearted man. Also I promised to explain this to someone a while back, so the time is now.
This past Christmas, I purchased a vinyl edition of the Return of the Jedi soundtrack for my good friend @TheInsaneRobin. The album was carefully selected as a nod to a very important album in my personal history both as a Star Wars fan and a developing human being.
While he could horrifyingly have taken that to mean I sent him a sort of mixtape, nevertheless I persisted and sent it to him.
History of Return of the Jedi and Me
It’s no secret that Return of the Jedi is my favorite of the original three Star Wars films. I love it! It completely captivated me as a kid.
I drifted away from that as I got older, like so many of my contemporaries did, only to rediscover the love with the letterboxed collector’s set released in 1991 on VHS. It was amazing because after so long with pan-and-scan, Jedi is the most visually-improved of the series when the aspect ratio is corrected.
But that’s a discussion for another time. This is about the soundtrack.
The Return of the Jedi soundtrack was a single album, whereas the first two Star Wars soundtracks had been double LPs. This was disappointing even in 1983; in later source materials I discovered that Lucasfilm had cut back on things because soundtrack albums weren’t selling as well and so on. It’s a bummer that a financial decision drove that, but it is what it is. It doesn’t diminish the great music that’s on there.
In the era of uncut and expaned soundtrack scores, it’s hard to imagine what the world was like when such things were edited to the bone, produced to give tracks that served as a sort of highlight real. There’s a real concert feel to these things, and it produces stuff like the fanfare treatment that the Star Wars theme gets on its original soundtrack pressing.
So Why Jedi?
Aside from adoring the music, I remember laying on our living room floor listening to the LP on our stereo system. I remember the feel of the carpet and the television we had in there, which was so small I’d consider it an insult today. I remember looking at the gorgeous production shots when the cover was open, and the elegant simplicity of that iconic poster art.
The big, puffy headphones on my ears, I would crank up the track “Return of the Jedi” (the music from the Sail Barge fight, or at least an edited version of it). I would listen to “Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt)” and especially the track “The Emperor,” which was actually the music from the climactic moment he’s frying Luke with lightning.
I was moved by the track “Luke and Leia,” and still am. “Into the Trap,” the haunting entrancement of the opening crawl as ST-321 made its way to the second Death Star. I could go on! But I won’t.
In a way, Return of the Jedi was the setting sun of childhood. The original LP version of the soundtrack is the score to a time when the world was still young and fun.
There were frightening world events but I wasn’t completely aware of their import or impact. My parents were still infallible. All of my grandparents were alive. I hadn’t encountered the heavier questions of mortality.
It was the last summer my friends still wanted to play Star Wars with me. It was the last summer of overflowing toy aisles crammed with X-Wings and action figures, at least until they figured out some of us had ever stopped wanting them. There was no EU to bicker about. There were no fans dictating demands about what to see in their space fantasy.
When I listen to that original LP version of the Return of the Jedi score, I remember what it felt like when the world was less complicated in perception and choice. I can smell the summer air. I feel the carefree sensation of a summer without homework and playing until the sun was sliding away and the sweat dried. It’s one of those sacred, distant echoes of what it meant to be a kid.
And so, when I share the Return of the Jedi soundtrack – the one released in 1983 – even more than any other piece of Star Wars, it’s like sharing a piece of me.