How does one begin to describe the power of Star Wars, the power of John Williams, or the power of John Williams’ contributions to the Star Wars universe? IT CAN’T BE DONE! Few people in the film industry deserve the moniker of “living legend” more than John Williams, thanks to his incredible contributions to films like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T., Jurassic Park, the Harry Potter films and many, MANY more. Hearing the opening notes of any of those films’ themes instantly transports you to the fantastical adventures found in those films, and the same can be said of any of the following tracks. The music of the Star Wars films resonates just as deeply with audiences as any of the characters, stories, or visuals in the films, thanks to the talent of Williams. Whenever I explore the behind-the-scenes stories of films that created decades-spanning legacies, I’m surprised with how close to disaster those films were, and the same goes for the musical decisions for Star Wars. With the disco movement being in full swing at the time of production, many of the film’s producers urged George Lucas to use a hip disco soundtrack to reflect the music of the era. He fought back and chose John Williams to create a score, aiming for a more timeless feel, and he sure was right. Can you imagine Star Wars with ABBA and the Bee Gees in the background!? Although that does sound fantastic for a completely different reason, there’s no question that the Star Wars films would be as revered as they are today without Williams. Check out what I think are the most memorable musical contributions to the Star Wars saga!
Episode IV – A New Hope
“Main Credits/Rebel Blockade Runner”
Well, duh. Of COURSE this is the first entry, and it’s arguably the most iconic piece of music from the entire saga, if not the history of cinema. Following the subtle title card of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” came the giant “STAR WARS” logo with a cacophony of brass that blew everyone’s minds out of the back of their heads. Like a bolt of lightning directly to your heart, few experiences in life can match the excitement of sitting in a theater with an audience, all waiting with baited breath for the film to start when the logo hits the screen with Williams’ iconic theme behind it. Man…it’s just the best.
“The Hologram/Binary Sunset”
Remove all the creatures, space battles, robots and visual effects, and Star Wars is a story about a kid who knows he’s destined for greater things. Once the excitement of this far, far away galaxy’s fantastical elements starts to wear off, we see Luke (Mark Hammill) step out of his aunt and uncle’s house to gaze at the bleak, desert landscape in a scene similar to ones we’ve seen in many a western. However, Williams’ score, combined with the sight of two, yes TWO suns, reminded us we were on a whimsical journey like one we’d never seen, while also giving Luke some emotional gravitas.
Easily one of the most iconic sequences ever put to film, Luke and Obi-Wan’s (Alec Guinness) trip to find a pilot in the Mos Eisley Cantina gave George Lucas the opportunity to showcase how far his imagination could take audiences. The diversity of characters in the sequence let our minds run wild trying to imagine histories and storylines for all these characters, including the house band, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.Who the hell are these guys? Why do their heads look like butts? How much do they get paid for this gig? Do they have a record contract or are they hoping to one day be discovered by Max Reebo so he can release their debut 7″? Also, I’d say you’ve found yourself a friend for life if you can start singing this song acapella and have someone else join in to sing it with you.
“The Throne Room/End Title”
They destroyed the Death Star, sent Darth Vader into a never-ending tailspin and lived to tell the tale. You better BELIEVE our heroes finally get the fanfare and accolades they deserve. After our heroes have returned to the relative safety of their base, the film’s opening song is mirrored with another swell of brass and shot of the royal throne room where Luke and Han (Harrison Ford) receive medals from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Even good ol’ Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the droids get to stand up there! Those guys are important too! We all dream of one day walking down a long corridor with this music blaring, whether it be to get an award or get married or anything else, representing the ultimate sign of honor.
Episode V – Empire Strikes Back
“The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”
For all the hope that the saga’s main theme fills you with, this song equally fills you with dread. Probably the second most well-known piece of music in all of the films, a lot of people don’t know it never appeared in the first film. I mean, DORKS know that, but I remember my disappointment as a kid when I bought the soundtrack to the first film and didn’t get to hear this theme on it. Other than maybe the theme to Jaws, which Williams is also responsible for, few other pieces of music can fill someone with such a sense of impending doom as this track.
“Han Solo and the Princess”
Guys, remember the first time you saw Star Wars and thought that maybe Han and Leia didn’t really like each other? I mean, she kissed Luke! TWICE! And Han and Leia were constantly bickering and calling each other mean names, like “Your Highness” or “Nerf Herder”! Williams got to flex his romantic muscles in scenes featuring the two characters to create music that exuded love and longing that helped serve as the romantic backbone of the saga. This music and its many reprises helped remind audiences that Han and Leia’s could survive any situation, no matter how dire.
Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
“Parade of the Ewoks”
Contrary to the opinion of many, Ewoks do not suck. I’m not saying I’m a huge Ewok guy, but anyone who tries to dismiss the whole movie JUST because of these furry little creatures probably forgets just how silly so many other parts of the saga are. Return of the Jedi brought us back to Tattooine, back to Dagobah and also gave us another Death Star, so the only new environment from the film is the Forest Moon of Endor. By the way, this is the moon that orbits Endor, not Endor itself, which is a gaseous system, so make sure to correct people on that. BUT I DIGRESS! For this new location, Williams gave us a playful, yet exotic soundscape with enough whimsy in it to remind you these movies are supposed to be fun and joyful, Ewok haters be damned.
“Ewok Celebration (Yub Nub)”
Hey, guys, relax, I didn’t say BEST music, I said most memorable. Much like the “Cantina Song,” “Yub Nub” is another flag you can plant to recognize fellow dorks. Missing from all the Special Edition releases of Return of the Jedi, the original theatrical version from the film isn’t even available on the original soundtrack release! What’s that crap about? “Victory Celebration,” the track that replaced it in the Special Editions, spans multiple musical elements from the entire six-episode saga and is still a good song, but “Yub Nub” will always be near and dear to the hearts of those who loved the theatrical versions of the film before the Special Editions came around.
Episode I – The Phantom Menace
“Episode I – Duel of the Fates”
Apart from the original theatrical releases of the first trilogy, the anticipation leading towards the release of The Phantom Menace was one of the most exciting times in history to be a Star Wars fan. “Duel of the Fates” debuted just a few weeks before Phantom Menace came out, but this was our first taste of new music from Williams’ upcoming score and fans were clamoring to get any new tastes of that galaxy far, far away. The opening notes come from a seemingly massive choir, which shocked fans, seeing as vocals were almost completely missing from the original trilogy’s score. The song’s video acted as more of a teaser trailer for the film, which included brief segments of dialogue interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage, completely overpowering your nerd brain with excitement and anticipation. Even if the film didn’t quite meet the expectations that “Duel of the Fates” created, the song is just as exciting, energizing and powerful as ever, and I think we can all agree that the lightsaber duel in the film’s climax is one of the best fights in the whole saga.
Episode II – Attack of the Clones
“Across the Stars (Love Theme from Star Wars: Episode II)”
Echoing the effectiveness of Han and Leia’s theme, this piece of music helped establish the romance between Anakin (Hayden Christiansen) and Amidala (Natalie Portman) while also conveying the forbidden and forlorn nature of their affair. Tragic and passionate all at once, this song and its reprises struck the nostalgic heartstrings of audiences and helped sell the film’s romantic core more than any playful picnic could.
Episode III – Revenge of the Jedi
“Anakin vs. Obi-Wan”
The sequence that the entire prequel trilogy built towards and the scene that fans had wanted to see since learning of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader’s, well, “complicated” history, brought together elements from both “Duel of the Fates” and the “Imperial March” to create a massive soundscape. Although it might not be as recognizable or unique as the other songs on the list, the music, partnered with the violent conflict, the explosions of lava and emotional acceptance of Obi-Wan and Anakin’s opposing ideals created an intense and memorable sequence.
Episode VII – The Force Awakens
A major gripe audiences had about the prequel trilogy was that it didn’t feel like the events of those films took place in the same universe as the original trilogy, an issue the filmmakers tried to correct for when making The Force Awakens. Although we don’t see any characters from the original trilogy in the first 30 minutes of TFA, those early sequences feel very familiar. From TIE Fighters to stormtroopers to men in black cloaks wearing helmets using the Force, we believe that these elements are all natural evolutions of what we saw in earlier films. The first moment that felt truly new and unique was Rey (Daisy Ridley) hopping on a sled with starship parts she salvaged from a Star Destroyer, riding down to her speeder as whimsical woodwinds played. Audiences have come to expect a fair share of massive brass for important themes in Star Wars, but these subtle chords, combined with a sequence of Rey’s day-to-day activities, marked the first moment in the film that showed fans that this film would give us incredible new characters that would get as close to our hearts as characters from the original films.
Miss anything? Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite piece of music or let @TheWolfman know on Twitter!