When I went to Celebration/SWCA in 2015, there was a very interesting panel done on the music of the Empire Strikes Back. They took all the music John Williams had written that was left on the cutting room floor per Lucas’ decision and played the original music where Williams intended them to go. Some of it was silly – there was music with Luka and Yoda’s training that made you think it was a fun jaunt as opposed to serious preparation for facing a Sith Lord.
A lot of the music that was cut out of the final movie involved scenes at Hoth. I remember vividly this scene: when the shield doors have to be shut for the night and Leia makes the hard, but right, decision to close the doors despite her two best friends being out in the freezing temperatures. By closing the doors, she was signing a death sentence (and that’s not an easy thing to live with).
The music Williams had composed for this scene was full of trepidation, it was robust and deadly. The music fit quite well and I think if it was in the movie, I would never have thought twice about it.
Yet George Lucas decided to leave it on the cutting floor. This immediately turns the scene into an awkward, this-doesn’t-sit-well-with-me, uncomfortable feeling. When there was music, the scene turned into a subconscious distraction for your feelings. It’s almost like a glass of wine to handle the pain better.
But when the music is removed your feelings are left bare and you connect with Princess Leia in a raw, emotional way. You feel what she feels: the indecision, the doubt, the regret, the fear – all happening as the loud shield doors pull to a close. When they finally shut and you hear Chewie’s despairing howl, you get goosebumps.
Without the music, this scene turns authentic and harsh. You are in the moment with Leia, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio. Threepio’s assessment of the situation rings in your ears while they doors shut.
The odds of survival for Han and Luke are 775 to 1…and that is not very reassuring at all.
In case you were wondering what the scene sounds like with the original Williams music, I found it on YouTube. Enjoy.