The Empire Strikes Back: Restored Music


Ever since its release as a vinyl double-album set, The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack has offered bits of music that never made it into the final film. The video clips in this section feature scenes with restored music so you can see what John Williams had in mind for these shots.

These clips were edited and the text written by R. Lee Brown.


The final film score of this sequence punctuates Han Solo’s entrance to Echo Base with brief, powerful horns tracked from “Arrival on Dagobah” (track 7 of the TESB:SE soundtrack album where Vader demands Piett to chase the Falcon into the asteroid field), after which the music drops out until Leia confronts Han about his leaving.

However the original John Williams score accompanies Han through Echo Base though his farewell conversation with General Rieekan. It evokes a very bustling Alliance headquarters as the rebellion settles into their new base. A warm flourish announces Chewbacca (even though he’s essentially grumpy) and the familiar Princess Leia theme plays as Han enters the base’s control room and Leia sees him.

Game players will remember this music from the Shadows of the Empire computer game; it accompanied the opening screens.

The music plays well under the sequence; perhaps it was dropped so the more ominous note could follow Luke’s abduction. The score makes a nice transition from Leia’s Theme to the new Han and Leia Theme, which indicates the inter-personal relationship that they will build from squabbling to romance.

All in all, this seems to be one score sequence that should have been restored to TESB.



In the final film, the perky “Droids” theme heard as Threepio and Artoo discuss the temperature of the Princess’s chambers fades out as they enter the hanger of the Millennium Falcon to inform Han Solo that Luke has gone missing.

In the restored scene, the music adds accent to Han’s concern as he discovers Luke’s absence; the musical crescendo as he spurs his tauntaun into action is classic in its Star Warsian drama (“I’ll see you in HELL!”). Odd that it was left out.



This is the longest continuous section of TESB that was scored but ultimately released without music. As Han searches for Luke during a blizzard, the droids fret back at the base, and ultimately the shield doors must be closed, locking out our heroes in the deadly cold.

Much of this music works wonderfully, especially the door closing sequence. However, the music behind Han’s search is rather overblown, detracting from the intense but low-key actions of his scanning. Perhaps the entire section of music was left out because the musical themes interlocked and editing would have been difficult.

Still, a shame that at least the closing door score wasn’t left in place; it could have been edited in at the start of the scene and it segues nicely into Luke’s cold-induced vision of Obi-Wan.



Leaving a rescued Luke to recuperate, the other heroes discover the Imperial Probe Droid roaming the countryside. The music here is beautifully dangerous, with an atonal quality and the first hints of the Imperial theme to underscore the Probe Droid’s true mission.

This piece ends with the original version of the Imperial Fleet arriving (the film uses the orchestral version of The Imperial March). Perhaps because the original music segues so nicely between the the order to evacuate and the arriving fleet that substituting The Imperial March would have ruined the integrity of the transition. Perhaps the editors simply wanted the first strains of the Imperial Theme to play with the fleet (since that leit motif had not been established before the underlying music for the Imperial probe). Whatever the reason, this entire sequence ended up silent.

As there was no way to successfully remove the sound effects from the film scene, TIE flybys have been edited in from other sources to simulate a more finished version.



Just a small restoration – the original score’s banging piano indicates the size and strength of the approaching Imperial Walkers. While the music works well to drive home the danger, the rebels setting up their defenses plays with more tension sans piano.



Here’s another piece of mystery music that never made it into the final cut (although I’m relatively certain we’ve heard it as far back as the original TESB 2 disk vinyl soundtrack album). In theatrical cut of the film, after a quick music sting reveals his presence, Yoda proceeds to make a nuisance of himself and play tug-of-war with Artoo Detoo accompanied only by the sounds of swamp life.

However, John Williams did score that scene, a whimsical little piece titled “Luke’s Nocturnal Visitor” on the TESB Special Edition soundtrack (Disk 1, Track 8). Here the music spryly plays along with Yoda as he pokes through Luke’s supplies and pretends to delight himself with a found flashlight.

Why was it excised? Like much of the cut music in TESB, it’s a mystery. The music in this case doesn’t overshadow the scene as with the Luke/Vader duel score. Here, it’s light and a good complement to the scene and even helps support the intent of Luke (and us) seeing Yoda as a addle-brained nuisance as opposed to the later reveal as THE wise Jedi Master.



This music has been around since the very first TESB album was pressed (The liner notes confirm it was on Disc One, Side One: “The Heroics of Luke and Han”). You’ll remember it as the unused first part of the “Escape from the Space Slug” music (“I am NOT a committee!”) that only became recognizable from the film when it picks up with the crew of the Millennium Falcon stepping down the walkway to find out what flew by a scared Princess Leia.

In fact, John Williams wrote a nice orchestral score for that entire section. Picking up with another purposeful rendition of “The Imperial March” as a TIE Bomber peppers asteroids looking for the rebel escapees, the music gets quiet and almost creepy as Leia thinks she sees something outside. It punctuates her surprise when a Mynock suctions on a cockpit window, using the same urgent motif that is used when Solo flies out of the Space Slug’s mouth.

Why was it cut? The Imperial cue certainly flavors the scene, but perhaps it was felt that the audience would have a bigger jump when the mynock appears if the scene played absolutely silent right before. Certainly the urgent motif, in retrospect, seems a bit overplayed while underscoring Solo’s quip, “I’m really not interested in your opinion, Threepio.”

This music can be found on the Special Edition TESB album as Disc 1, Track 10: “Jedi Master Revealed/Mynock Cave.”



Though in the final film Yoda’s training of Luke, leading up to Skywalker’s cave confrontation, was sans music, John Williams created a lighthearted piece that followed the jumping, climbing, and swinging of our Jedi-wannabe (the term “padawan” wouldn’t be coined until years later (our time) in Episode 1).

Turning dark when Yoda mentions “Obi-Wan’s apprentice,” the piece also illuminates the “A Jedi Uses the Force for Knowledge and Defense” line very poetically.

Perhaps Lucas and/or Kershner felt the opening music wasn’t “serious” enough, or that Yoda’s description of the Dark Side of the Force was so hard to understand that music would only muddy the section.



Much of Luke’s early lightsaber confrontation with Darth Vader was played without orchestration, heightening the stark drama. Williams did create a score for this section, though.

This first clash, which includes the classic “But you are not a Jedi, yet” actually contains a very compelling score. Once Luke climbs the stairs to face Vader along with very atonal strings and percussion, the music revisits the “Bespin Betrayal” theme that Williams also used to underscore Boba Fett loading Solo into his ship.

This piece segues directly into Leia and Chewbacca ushered by stormtroopers.



The continuation of Luke’s saber duel, including his escape from the carbon freezing chamber, was scored with a heroic version of Yoda’s theme.
The music flourishes when Luke pulls his saber to his hand using the Force and then somersaults over Vader.

However, it is likely this music was dropped to play up the drama of Vader instructing Luke to “release your anger.” Luke’s struggle, both with Vader’s strength and his Dark Side dilemma, actually plays better without the music.

We’d love to hear what you think about these restorations – better or worse? Are there other Star Wars scenes you’d like to see the original compositions play out?

7 thoughts to “The Empire Strikes Back: Restored Music”

  1. So glad these aren’t in the film.

    Note these are all scenes where the silence is actually filled with brilliant ambient sound design that sets a particular mood for the space. They’re also scenes where the emotional content is very clearly and underscore to the action. Since the acting, dialogue, setting, and sound design are so strong, the music pushes it over the edge. In some cases it’s comical – like Luke’s theme playing triumphantly when he knocks Vader off the platform in Scene 10 – please!

    Hoth is made dramatic by its frigid, unforgiving landscape. The sound of the wind and visuals of the snow express the drama perfectly.

    Dagobah is the same – a mysterious, murky planet of unsettling creatures and twisted vines mirrors the cryptic messages of Luke’s meeting with Yoda and training. The creaking of vines, heavy breaking, animals screeching, all add to that unsettling ambience for the road of trials. The lighthearted “training” music
    completely undermined the drama and mystique of Luke’s spiritual growth.

    Same for the fight with Vader – at this point, the setting of the stage is crucial to establish the physical stakes of the space (with brilliant sound design) but also the emotional stakes of the battle to come. Which is why, having established these stakes, later portions of the battle ARE scored musically, and work really well. Having defined the everything, the action plays out to drive the emotions to an action-based conclusion.

  2. Beautiful. Very glad to finally hear all these pieces I’ve heard so often in the OST and how the fit in place within the actual movie, but generally (except, perhaps, for the parts in Hoth) that they didn’t end in the final version.

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