From the Stereo to Your Screen: John Williams and The Phantom Menace

“Duel of the Fates” by John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra from Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace was released the day I finished my sophomore year of college. Thanks to some amazing friends who sat in line for weeks, I was able to snag a ticket to the midnight screening in the biggest theater in Kansas City. I moved all of my stuff out of the dorms, drove it home, took it into my parents’ house, and then drove to sit in line for seven hours, in order to secure a seat.

It’s weird to think about the fact that despite having watched all of the movies with my friends (including a Labor Day marathon a year or two prior, wherein we watched all the Special Editions when they were released on VHS), in addition to having friends from college get my ticket, I watched the movie essentially by myself. A sold-out theater, yes, but I sat by myself.

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I saw The Phantom Menace in the theater three times over the course 1999’s summer. I never really fell in love with it, and lord knows I had issues with it, but the sheer joy of being able to see a Star Wars movie in the theater whenever I wanted to was intoxicating and addictive.

For whatever its flaws — and yes, there are many — the John Williams score for the film was stellar. The video for “Duel of the Fates” debuted on MTV’s Total Request Live on May 3, the first video of a week of premieres that included both “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears’ “Sometimes.” A cut from a film score getting a video is a pretty big deal: I mean, despite the fact that Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” was an international number 1 hit in 1985, it never had a video, and you can dance to that sucker. But the fact that it was on the same level as the Backstreet Boys and Britney in 1999 is astonishing.

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The video combines clips from the film, behind-the-scenes footage, and shots of Williams conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s the sort of thing which whet the appetites of a million nerds, as well as anyone else who might’ve been on the fence about Star Wars coming back with new stuff. It’s entrancing from the first words out of Darth Maul’s mouth: “At last, we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last, we will have our revenge.” Choir kicks in, pants get wetted.

The audio clips and the way the footage is clipped together as the the video progresses makes The Phantom Menace look far more exciting than it actually ended up being. I tend to skip through to the good parts whenever I watch it, if at all, but man — ending the video with a tease of the titular duel? It raises the hair on the back of my neck just as much as the first time I watched this.

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Fun fact: when the soundtrack was released, the Internet did a good thing and let everyone know that if you looked at the tracklisting, the end result of this duel was ruined. My buddy bought the score on CD and taped something over the back, refusing to look until after he’d seen the film. That’s some hardcore nerddom.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek

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