Mystery Music March in April

Qui-Gon's Noble End – John Williams

This was unforgivable.

It’s 1999 and a new Star Wars film is about to be released. The hype machine is cranked up and fully in motion, everyone’s excited (well everyone I know anyway) and you can’t go anywhere without seeing the familiar logo and a shot of Darth Maul, baby Anakin or Natalie Portman in unusual make-up. I’ve a video tape from the time, which records much of the pre-television publicity, from the special Omnibus documentary with Ewan McGregger watching and commenting on A New Hope to the news reports of how popular the trailer had been on the internet.

That’s all fine, very exciting and more importantly didn’t tell you too much about the plot.

And then the record company handling John Williams’s score on cd dropped this clanger in the track listing, with a music cue named after a major plot point, ruining some of the experience for any weary fan glancing at the soundtrack in HMV. We didn’t know too much about Liam Neeson’s character Qui-Gon other than he was Obi-Won’s mentor and judging by the trailer that he would sniff out that Anakin was special. But now we also knew that he died and fairly late in the film if the position of track, fifteen, was anything to go by.

Imagine if the soundtrack to Empire Strikes Back had included a track called ‘Vader is Luke’s Father’. Brrrr…. I was in the pub a few nights later and someone shouted at me ‘Do not look at the back of The Phantom Menace box!’ and when I told him I already had we looked at each other blackly. Now we’d be spending most of the film waiting for him to die, the expiration no longer a surprise. We might as well have read the novelisation which also, bizarrely, was published a month in advance of the release date, should there be any fans who couldn’t wait another few weeks to find out what happened.

Film soundtracks are unique in this respect, especially if they feature score rather than songs. After the fact it’s possible to read these track listings and find a pretty accurate synopsis of the story and they do have their uses particularly in remembering exactly what was happening during the film as those trumpets clash in, along with the drums. More often than not they’re fairly careful not to give too much away.

But every now and then, someone does think through exactly who the cd is aimed at and that in fact they’re often put out a few weeks ahead as part of the marketing. Another classic example is The Sixth Sense whose final track (see here if you've see the film) destroyed the one moment of excitement for those of us who didn’t work out what the twist going to be from the bloody trailer. Which I did.

I actually quite liked The Phantom Menace first time around, watching on a tiny screen on the release day at the local multiplex. It was easy to put your fears that it might not be as good as it could been down to the soundtrack spoiler playing on your mind throughout. Being a boy, I still love the lightsaber fight at the end with the Orffian chorus ranking up the tension and being not a typical boy I’m still impressed by the costumes, Padme in particular.

This track is typical of the score, opening with mass trumpets then plenty of bass percussion before breaking into strings when the fateful moment comes. Once Master Qui-Gon’s shuffled off (and not disappeared – still controversial that) we’re back in brass as Obi-Wan gives what for to Darth Maul (denoted by drums). It doesn’t work as a cohesive piece of music (these things rarely do) but it’s still stirring stuff and works well within the body of the whole album.

But I still have to air on the side of comic shop worker Tim from the sitcom Spaced: “You are so blind! You so do not understand! You weren't there at the beginning. You don't know how good it was! How important! This is it for you! This jumped-up firework display of a toy advert! People like you make me sick! What's wrong with you?“

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