On June 30, I attended the Chicago Symphony Center’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in Concert performance. For anyone unaware, films with symphonic scores tour the county, their musical soundtracks removed while the symphony orchestra of that particular city performs the soundtrack live for the audience as the movie plays. My first experience with this was in 2019 in which I watched Happy Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the CSO (another soundtrack I know backwards and forwards).
While it would be silly to try to review a movie I’ve seen repeatedly over the course of almost 40 years, there are a few observations I’d like to make about this new viewing experience. First, the film is still so engaging that it was difficult for me to take my eyes off of it in order to watch the musicians do their work. The few times I did were fascinating. Besides seeing when individual musicians like the drummers and flutists chimed in, it was really something to see the entire orchestra playing at once, as they did during the climatic scenes at the end. Second, the music was spot on. I’ve seen the film enough to know where the music fits in and which pieces are to be played at what time. It was impossible to tell the difference between the CSO's performance and the film version. There were a couple of differences, like when a choir in the original would chime in, specifically the “Victory Celebration” music at the end of the film. Also, there was a point in which the orchestra literally drowned out the film. The music is titled “The Emperor’s Death,” and it was a phenomenal moment.
When the movie was first released, I, as well as the rest of the audience, had no knowledge of Darth Vader’s backstory. We weren’t really sure going in if he was really Luke’s father. After the prequels, as well as the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series, Vader’s history has been mapped out. The CSO version is the first time I’ve seen the movie separate from the rest since at least 1995. I was struck at how much the additional information deepened the film. It is not the same as it was in 1983. When I look at Darth Vader now, I see Hayden Christensen and truly feel for him.
Speaking of Christensen, the CSO print of the film was the most recent of the “Special Edition” updates, so he made an appearance at the end. In addition to this was the “Jedi Rocks” musical number in Jabba’s Palace. While I decline to state an opinion of this scene, I will admit to being a little disappointed that this music was left in the movie with the CSO sitting the tune out. I would have enjoyed hearing them attempt to play the song themselves.
Return of the Jedi always had a strong ending, but with the addition of both the prequels, as well as the sequels, it has more heart than it ever had. Because the audience knows not only what came before but also the fates of all the characters beyond this installment, it is far more of an emotional experience than it was in 1983. I had a hard time holding back the tears.
Star Wars in Concert was a fantastic experience. For anyone who was unaware of this and others, do a Google search, because films in this format are shown in different symphony centers around the country. If you are in Chicago, upcoming shows the CSO will be performing are: Princess Bride, Amadeus, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, An Evening With John Williams (which I assume is music from a number of different films), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. These films are definitely worth checking out.