The Music of the Original Trilogy

And now for something completely different!  Or not at all.

A New Hope

What’s great about looking at the fourth movie in the saga is that it’s actually the first movie made (duh), so it’s here that we get to see John Williams create the entire score from scratch.  There was no foundation on which to base his work on and his talent shines through.

However, because it’s also the first movie, I find that I like it the least out of all six movie soundtracks.  More so than any of the other movies, there is a lot of brass within the soundtrack, playing short staccato notes.  When the string instruments enter, the music alternates between foreboding and almost sporadic…but did it really matter when everyone thought this was going to be one movie with no future?  George wanted this to resemble the old TV shows of the past with its hero rushing off to save the day.  Trumpets!  Trombones! Tubas!  My guess is that John Williams tried to emulate that with the music as best he could.  No one was really thinking about continuity within the music because they thought there would be no sequel.

But then the movies turned into a grand, sweeping epic saga and Williams began to take his music and use underlying themes throughout to build a more recognizable music that would forever be associated with Star Wars.

Do not discount what I am saying – though I do not like the ANH soundtrack as much because I feel it has such a different feel to it – it still brought us some of the best music for the rest of the six movies.  Again, I am not going to list the main theme in any of these ratings because it is THE best and it would be unfair to list it as the best track for every movie.

Best Track: The Hologram/Binary Sunset.  This track has Princess Leia’s theme running throughout the beginning, but the killer is when it introduces us the Force Theme/Ben’s Theme (this music has had so many different names that no one can really decide what it is).  First it plays lightly in the background, builds to a grand crescendo…and it’s at that moment that I can’t even keep tears out of my eyes.  The music is so powerful that I’m swept away to Tatooine where I too am watching the twin suns set over the Homestead.  In this moment you find yourself completely empathizing with Luke and the need to get out of his home, to explore the galaxy and see what it holds for us.  The suns hold such promise.

It’s also at this moment that the movie is about to change and gain momentum.  Leia is in trouble, a lone farm boy has found a secret message, and we know as a viewer that the movie is perfectly balanced for something to happen.

You should know the crescendo/sunset part when you hear it, but in case you want to skip to it, it’s at 2:20.  Oh, and the chimes around 3:28…beautiful, beautiful touch.  Bravo, Williams, bravo.

Second place: Cantina Band.  So wonderful.  Who does not love this music?  Currently, it’s the ringtone for my husband.  I always know when he’s calling because it’s so happy and lively.  I can’t even begin to describe why this is so awesome.  Ben and Luke may be walking into a bar in a galaxy far, far away, but it feels like they are walking into a saloon from the 1920’s or 30’s in an old spaghetti Western movie.  According to Wookiepedia, this song is called “Mad About Me” performed by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (the big, bald headed, black-eyed aliens playing this music in the cantina).  When trying to figure out how the music should sound, Lucas said, “Can you imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace—and how they might attempt to interpret it?” Also, this music is one of the few times it is actually played by characters within the Star Wars films.

As a little treat, I’m not sure how many people have seen this…but it’s kind of splendid.  Some genius (Tom Baglee on YouTube) realized that LMFAO’s little dance sequence in their song Party Rock Anthem fits perfectly with the Cantina band music from Star Wars.  Please enjoy and be reminded of just how awesome Star Wars is.

Third place: Princess Leia’s Theme.  The funny thing about this theme is that even though Leia shows up in both movies after this, the theme is not often played.  Her theme is instead combined to create a Han/Leia theme (ESB) and a Luke/Leia theme (ROTJ)…*feminist part of me is rearing her head, must control myself, grrrrr*  This theme starts out delicately, like a flower, but opens up to music showing her strength and vitality.  And that, my friends, is Leia.  She may look delicate, but she has SUCH strength.  And Williams conveys this perfectly in her theme with power coming in the grand crescendo, but coming full circle and ending again with the delicate, pure sound.  Leia is a powerful, determined, feminine leader and this theme is perfect for her.

Empire Strikes Back

Best Track: Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme.  If anyone believes there to be a better composition on this album, bring it on.  Easily the second most recognizable theme from the saga (yes, I would definitely put it ahead of the Force theme), it creates fear and power in one track.  When this theme plays, you listen.  Your ears perk up and you get goosebumps.  Who’s coming?  The combination of the brass instruments playing the main Imperial March, interwoven with the strings in the background, contrasted with clashing symbols and percussion is a MELODIC GENIUS.  Listen, just listen.  What do you hear?  Evil.  Fear.  Speed.  Tension.  Power.

I remember when I was in high school and still known as the resident geek and the cheerleading captain came up to me.

“Kiri,” she says, “I heard some music this past weekend that was amazing.  When I asked what it was, I was told it was from Star Wars.  Do you know it?”  She proceeds to hum the Imperial March.  “I would like to create a cheerleading set to this music.  Do you own it?  Could we borrow it?”  My jaw dropped to the floor.  Once I had picked it up again, I gladly let her borrow my CD to burn the track.

While at work this week and thinking about these posts I’ve been doing on the Star Wars music, I IMed my colleague who has never seen Star Wars (and has no intention to, horror!) and asked if she’s ever heard Darth Vader’s theme.

“Probably,” was her answer.  I sent her the YouTube link with the music and her response?  “Oh ya, I’ve definitely heard that lol.”

People know this theme.  Why?  Because Imperial March = magnificent and John Williams = genius.  Impressive.  Most impressive.

Second place: The Asteroid Field.  A great, fun piece of music that represents flying through asteroids so well.  The music itself is stop, go, stop, go, swerve…AH! Chances of survival are 3720 to 1!  I also love how it starts with the Imperial March and ends with this beautiful feeling of safety.  Another well executed story through the music by Mr. Williams.
Third place: Yoda’s Theme.–Y4NqTdfPE  I think that there are better pieces than this one in the movie, but I couldn’t find one that I thought was great from beginning to end.  There are pieces with moments of intensity and brilliance (Battle of Hoth, Carbon Freeze, Han Solo and the Princess) but Yoda’s Theme carries itself wonderfully from beginning to end.  I guess the main problem I have with this theme is that I don’t think it exactly matches Yoda and it’s not a theme that I would equate to our little green friend.  It sounds very youthful, where I expect more gravity and wisdom emanating from the theme.

Return of the Jedi

Best Track: Luke and Leia.  I used to memorize every line that was in this scene and would say them with the music…what for?  I have no idea, but I always felt so proud of myself that I could reenact it.  Surprisingly, this theme is a little melancholy and actually gives off a feeling of death.  If I was listening to juts the music with no context of the movie and was asked what was going on in the scene, I would probably think someone just died.  However, that said – I like how it seems to be a blend of a few themes throughout the Original Trilogy and culminates in a theme devoted to the two main characters.  I would love to hear this theme brought back a little bit in Episode VII when we finally (ok – this is not confirmed yet so please don’t take this as truth) see Leia and Luke back together on the big screen.

Second place: The Pit Of Carkoon/Sail Barge Assault.  I already brought this up a week-ish ago in my ROTJ 30 year anniversary post.  It’s a fabulous piece of music with the main theme running throughout it.  To me, it’s essentially the victory piece of ROTJ.  There’s nothing sad about this music, compared to the last victory song of the movie, which is slightly tainted by Vader’s death.  Instead, all you do is root for the characters as they defeat Jabba, rescue Han, Chewie, and Leia, and get back to their ship.  The music starts off slow, but at 58 seconds, gets to the best part where the brass instruments play seven notes in succession followed by the main theme in full force.  It’s a reminder of the ANH pieces of music with the strong, powerful brass playing the melody and the strings playing a supporting role.
Third place: The Battle of Endor (Part I).  IT’S A TRAP!  Yup, this is the music playing during that part of the movie.  Sometimes is soooo hard to differentiate the music from the scene and this is one of the cases.  It’s an instant where the music plays a supporting role but enhances the scene so much.  After it ends about minutes into the track, the rest of the music is still just as good, though slower.


John Williams is the man.  He really is. I was going to do an “in summary” paragraph here, but this post is long enough as it is.  I will do that tomorrow, next week, next month, or whenever the Force calls upon me.


11 thoughts on “The Music of the Original Trilogy

  1. Speaking for Leia’s theme, the entire Star Wars series is less than friendly for feminists – something the Clone Wars animated series does better.
    Have you heard the Evil Genius Orchestra version of the Imperial Theme? It’s amazing.

    1. No – I have not heard that one, but I have heard their Star Wars main theme one! It’s super fun, spunky, and different. I love the different renditions people have done of John Williams’ music over the past 30ish years.

      Have you seen this? I’m almost 100% positive you have, because it was viral a while ago, but in case you haven’t:

  2. I think you nailed it!
    My husband’s ring tone for me was the Imperial March…I made him change it…I’d be ok with the Cantina Band music though!

    1. Mine is the cantina music. Not many people recognise it. When I had the imperial march, most people knew it.

      1. It’s now some nice generic happy sounding thing that came on the phone. 🙂
        Curious how you feel about the music changes in Special Edition ROTJ. I don’t mind the new ending song (although I love Yub Nub), but I dislike the new song in Jabba’s Palace.

  3. Hmmm…see I think I’m the opposite. I don’t mind the new Jabba’s Palace song because I really like the addition of the new Twi’lek Lyn Me (I love Twi’leks) and the extra Boba Fett flirting scene. And I also think the music is more appropriate in a setting where everyone feels they may be killed next, but yet can’t stay away from sucking up to Jabba and the grandeur of his lazy lifestyle. I thought the first Lapti Nek was too jazz bar-ish.
    I do not like the new ending song in SE ROTJ at all. I do like the added scenes of the extra planets rejoicing (even though Coruscant makes no sense if we only look at the OT) but the music itself is not as genuine as the original Yub Nub. Did you know the Yub Nub lyrics are written by John Williams’ son? So cute.

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