Why I Love the Original Return of the Jedi soundtrack LP so much

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.

Return of the Jedi Teaser Poster
This poster is the shizz-NITE.

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.

Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi
Now you will experience the power of the turntable.

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.

Kesseljunie-Molten-cover-web
This album never existed, but man, it would’ve been great.

Would It Be Better to Know Less, or More?

Recently I crossed paths with an acquaintance – a fellow parent at school – and we started reminiscing about bands. I forget what got us on the topic, but it was a pretty joyous thing. We recalled the real music of our lives, and the bands that made the most impact on us.

Delightfully, I discovered that The Doors were also his favorite band.

For me, this is basically like discovering someone else is a giant Star Wars fan. I am literally joyous when I discover someone else that has a deep, abiding love for what I consider to be the pound-for-pound best Rock’n’Roll band in history.

There have been plenty of bands with larger bodies of work, and longer histories. But The Doors were electric mayhem trapped in a crystalline time capsule, never to be repeated and leaving an impact that echoed all the way through the 1990s. They seem now to fade as never I thought they would, but that’s a topic for another time.

As I was talking with him, I realized that I slid into an easy groove that sometimes I’m not aware I fall into. Once the topic was tapped, a font of information was unleashed that eventually led him to say, “You’re one of those fans that likes the obscure stuff.”

Lost_Twenty_Busts
He’s looking up the unreleased recordings of the Max Rebo Band before they found Droopy McCool.

Deep Cuts

In that moment, I realized he was right. Here was a guy who was sharing a love of the band with me. Without intent I had started riffing on all the volumes of information about them that I’d studied instead of paying more attention in school.

He just wanted to talk about the music. I was assaulting him with useless bits about how Manzarek and Densmore saw things very differently in their autobiographies.

It led, inevitably, to a reflection on something that Agent Bun said oh, so long ago when I was ranting polemical after my initial viewings of The Force Awakens. In that context, she said, “You need to relax. Normal people aren’t looking at the movie like you.”

During this conversation I realized the damage that too much “insider knowledge” of something can be for enjoying things. It was yet another jolt about habits I’ve formed over a lifetime.

I know I’m not alone. Maybe The Doors are a topical outlier, but spend some time with any rabid fanbase. The well of pointless knowledge runs deeper than imaginable.

So I had to ask myself the question, if it would it have been better – if it would be better – to have less knowledge of the things I love. Let the magician hold some tricks back and let me wonder.

When I wave my hand, Jedi ethics will become clear.
You don’t need to know what’s inside R2-D2. (He’s filled with sentient caramel.)

What Does a Person Gain From This Knowledge?

After all, what do I really gain from knowing all of these things? Does it truly add to my enjoyment of these works?

I know little of Ibsen, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying A Doll House. Moliere is lost to the mists of time but The Misanthrope and Tartuffe still speak to us. I don’t need to know how many drafts either wrote of their works, I just need to know what they’re saying.

Yet at the same time, context for Shakespeare’s day gives shape to HamletRomeo & Juliet, Othello, and the rest. Knowing that extra knowledge can inform, helpfully, what you take from them.

So I find myself stuck.

Perhaps there is too much to know. Perhaps I’ll never know enough.

I just wonder if it’d be better to know a little less.

* For the younger kids: “Acid” was slang for LSD, an awful mind-altering drug that led to slugabeds thinking they were philosophers.

Does Rocky IV Have the Best Soundtrack of the 1980s?

For reasons previously known only to me and my hair stylist, recently I’ve been listening to the Rocky IV soundtrack a bit. I think it’s the best soundtrack* of the 1980s.

Perhaps it’s that I’m jogging again. Perhaps it’s that I love the character of Rocky Balboa and those movies provide a salve when you feel like you need to pick yourself up after a stumble.

I’ve shared my opinions on the movie Rocky IV in various forums, but especially on Words With Nerds. In short: it’s the world’s longest music video montage. In a sense, as it nearly devolves into a dialogue-less DaDa-esque dreamscape for the majority of the film, you could plausibly argue it’s actually a genius abstract work.

Regardless, I love it. I mean, there’s only one Rocky movie we should all ignore, and not just because that one was my last date with my first serious high school girlfriend. Later, in college, a relationship ended after I saw In the Mouth of Madness with a girlfriend. These two stories may explain why I stopped going to movies on dates.

rocky balboa slugs drago the russian named drago in rocky iv i'm mocking seo repetitive text with rocky iv
Fun fact: Sylvester Stallone is 7 feet tall. This is all camera tricks like the Lord of the Rings movies.

That Soundtrack Tho

While not every song is terrific, you have one heckuva time capsule/inspirational mix. You also have…interesting…pieces like “One Way Street,” which is a classic distillation of 80’s…romantic (?)…popular (?)…music.

But setting aside the misfires, you get gems like “Eye of the Tiger,” “Hearts on Fire,” “Burning Heart,” “No Easy Way Out,” and even James Brown’s amazing “Living in America”! And if you don’t get choked up during “Man Against the World,” you’re a monster. (Then again, I’ve discovered that some people see me as a monster, so maybe these aren’t mutually exclusive things.)

Though Vince DiCola’s work is evocative of his work on The Transformers: The Movie (read: “interchangeable with”), tracks like “Training Montage” and his reinterpretation of the Fanfare is great. It’s very “of the time” but it’s great.

In short, there’s a lot to love. While I’m not ready to vault this to the top position of “Greatest of All Time,” as that would necessitate overlooking the incredible soundtracks** for Tarantino’s ouevre and Paul Thomas Anderson’s sublime choices for Boogie Nights and Magnolia, or George Lucas’ amazing snapshot of time with American Graffiti, Rocky IV‘s soundtrack is certainly top spot for the 1980s.

Don’t you agree?

* Important note: I’m not talking about film scores, but rather soundtracks – the released compilations that have long been tied to movie marketing. This is a very important distinction as discussing film scores might cause my brain to short circuit if I had to make a decision.

** I know that these directors also had music supervisors who worked with them for the construction of their soundtracks and I am not diminishing their contribution. But were I to attach those names, most people would think I’d gone insane† and listed the wrong directors.

† Most people think I am already, so feel free to substitute “more insane.”

Sick of Thinking Happy Thoughts

Important note: You may notice that I’m not releasing the How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars: The Force Awakens blogs sequentially. The simple reason is that the blogs are evolving as I write. As I finish each part, they will be released. No wine before its time.

I believe in positivity. We need more of it in the world.

I led the charge years ago among the fabled “convocation” that The Empire Strikes Back has a hopeful ending, a view that’s seen growing acceptance over the years. I’ve often pointed out the good in Star Trek V, and that’s even seen a rehabilitation in fan estimation over time. Granted, that’s been because they released Star Trek movies far less satisfying and thematically sound along the way, but still.

In short, I enjoy looking for the “good” in things and trying to drag out filmmaker intent as a means of absolution for missteps in execution. Someone trying to make a statement about an important topic, especially one with which I agree, is often cause to look past what they couldn’t put together quite right.

This is an attitude that’s gained acceptance online in a number of geek circles. In an inevitable reaction to hyperbolic rantings against an entertainment, there are the new champions of “looking at it from a positive angle.”

At first, it was a refreshing wave in a churning sea of negativity. But like finding yourself in the dream land of It’s a Good Life (the Twilight Zone episode with the little boy who could shape reality), the blessing turned out to be a curse.

Twilight Zone It's a Good Life
You thought bad things about something I like! To the cornfield with you!

The pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. It’s becoming virtually mandated that you never offer harsh words for a comic book property, or movie, or television show, lest you be the target of crusade to remember that tastes differ and to offer token acknowledgement that your opinion can never, ever be of more value than those that like something.

The fact that you have to offer such a disclaimer, or obeisance to a fan’s sensitive defensiveness about the value of their opinion by default, is complete garbage.

Of course a person’s tastes account for what they think of something. Someone who likes Masterpiece Theatre didn’t typically enjoy the slasher flicks of the 1980s. But if they called Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers garbage, no one asked them to qualify to a young kesseljunkie that his love for it was still a good thing.

People tangle up their identities with their entertainments so intrinsically that they’ve lost perspective. I’ve been there. I used to have so much of my personal identity wrapped up in Star Wars that I took insults directed toward any of the movies as a personal insult.

It wasn’t even a conscious thing! It led to a lot of arguments.

Anthony Hopkins Emilio Estevez Mick Jagger Freejack
I’ll note no one defended Freejack. NO ONE.

The Lesson

The lesson I learned is that you have to learn to separate yourself from the things you love. You have to separate yourself from the self-importance you assign your own opinion. Because if you’re going to force the critic to admit that no one’s opinion is better than another’s, then neither is yours, and by default you’re the bully for jumping in to shame them for their “negativity.”

If you spend time online, accept that you will see a large flood of negativity about what you love, and none of it is about you until you make it so. People don’t state negative opinions because they want to hurt anyone. They just want to declare their own opinion, the same way you want to declare yours. You have to accept that a declaration of a negative opinion, generally spoken, is not a specific critique of you.

I will take a moment to say that this is, of course, a large generalization; there are people who insult the things you love because it’s a passive-aggressive way to insult you. They may even glory in the attention they get from it. Those people can be consciously excised from your life.

So I’m calling for a new embrace of critical argument. Brutal criticism is just fine, too, as it has its place. If someone wants to go nuclear and say they hate something, more power to them.

Hate it. Throw your passion at it. Declare it dumb and say it’s the ridiculous result of an incompetent creator.

Have an argument about it.

And if it really bothers you, as Paul Anka might sing, “Just don’t look.”