Deep Analysis Of Star Wars Movies
PART I: Musical Style and Development in the Star Wars Universe
John Williams, and the Musical Qualities of Star Wars
John Williams has been attributed for the revival of the classical Hollywood system of film composition, based on his late-Romantic compositions for large orchestra in the Star Wars film franchise. Traditionally, composers used early science fiction films to experiment with unfamiliar sounds and modern forms in order to match the genres futuristic style. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) utilizes an for electronic organ, amplified bass, cello, and violin, celesta, two theremin, and an assortment of brass. The soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is notorious for its inclusion of Romantic composers, such as Richard Strauss, and Johann Strauss II, however it also includes works by contemporary composers Aram Khachaturian and Gyorgy Ligeti. While there are many factors that contribute to a movies success, and the music of the aforementioned films if of course finely done, Star Wars is empirically the most popular science fiction film franchise of all time.
A film’s music must reflect the mood of the visual scene it accompanies. While creating his original drafts for the 1977 Star Wars movie, George Lucas included temporary tracks of Gustav Holst, Antonin Dvorak, and William Walton, wanting an exciting background for his film about interplanetary wars and space cowboys.
At the encouragement of Steven Spielberg, who collaborated with Williams for Jaws in 1975, Lucas hired Williams, requesting that he use the familiar Romantic styles of these composers. Because of this deliberate connection, many similarities exist between famous melodies and Williams’ own melodies for the Star Wars universe.
An obvious example comes with the films opening fanfare, which bears similarities to Siegfried’s theme from Richard Wagner’s Der Ring cycle. The hero Siegfried, who slays the dragon Fafner, plays the heroic theme on his horn to lure the dragon out of his cave to confront him. The same perfect fifth which opens up Siegfried’s theme opens the first full measure of the main Star Wars theme, and both themes include descending 4-3-2 patterns in the key of Bb in the following measure. Following this resolution, the Star Wars theme leaps to the Bb, before falling to the F, as Siegfried’s theme does. Spielberg recommended John Williams to Lucas for his ability to improvise and compose to suit any style, and it is clear that Williams has figured out the musical formula which defines heroic. In 1978, one year after the release of Star Wars, Williams wrote the score for Superman. The resemblance between the two themes is almost uncanny. The triplet figures jumping a fourth, then a fifth provide an aural image of a heroic leap up a perfect octave. The descending passages of both themes always resolves on a higher note, which provides a heroic gesture.
When creating a theme, Williams alters aspects of orchestration and style, expanding and contracting counterpoint, and swelling dynamics to fit the desired mood. The shorter the theme, the easier it is for the audience to recognize. Heroic sections are typically forte, and feature grand intervallic leaps by the brass with strong, pointed accents, and typically end in unison to emphasize camaraderie. Languid, compassionate sections feature swelling strings, playing long, Romantic, and legato passages in unison. Williams’ victorious and exciting sections typically feature the entire orchestra, which adds extra density to the musical score, enriching the harmonies and expanding the range.
In the case of the Star Wars theme, having a large range of a perfect 11th (considering most melodies in Star Wars span about an octave or less) provides an expansive sound befitting a space odyssey.Further, triplets are often used in heroic music. The triplet anacrusis opens the theme, and the second, third, and fourth measures all employ triplets on beat 1, reinforcing the films adventurous quality. The triplets in measures two and three have a strong tonal inclination to resolve down to the low Bb, but instead resolve up the octave. This tonal defiance deceives the ear, leaping up to further the heroic quality of the melody.
As the Star Wars franchise ages and entertainment conglomerate Disney inevitably grows hungry for the wary consumers hard-earned money, Star Wars films will be forced to go on without the pen and baton of John Williams. As of now, the only Star Wars films to not directly employ Williams are Rogue One, and Solo, though both themes are directly influenced by Williams’ iconic fanfare. Star Wars television series Clone Wars, and Rebels are currently under the musical direction of Kevin Kiner. Solo: A Star Wars Story, featuring music composed by English film composer John Powell, is set to release in late May 2018, and appears to use the original Star Wars fanfare in full – though up a third in the key of D major. Michael Giacchino however, chose to compose the music for the 2016 release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in a style which quotes the original themes, but gives them new and unique endings. Though these films and television shows have different composers, the same compositional and orchestral techniques are applied to maintain the classic Star Wars sound.
The main theme from Rogue One leaps up the classic heroic fifth, however ascends C-D-Eb, rather than falling stepwise Eb-D-C, before leaping up a minor sixth to the tonic. This interpretation of the main theme is perfectly fitting to the content of the film; the heroic opening followed by the final despairing leap to the tonic is a beautiful analogy for the plucky band of Rebels who manage to successfully steal the Death Star plans from the Imperial base on Scarif.
The Issue With the Star Wars Soundtrack
While the music of each Star Wars film is powerful and poignant, John Williams scores each new installment individually. Due to the unorthodox nature of the franchises releases (456,123,789) the musical structure of the saga has weaknesses as a whole. To mention a few inconsistencies, Williams came up with Darth Vader’s theme, the Imperial March, when composing for Empire Strikes Back – evolving it out of the Imperial Theme he created for Star Wars. However, he uses the slow development Imperial March in the prequel trilogy to show the power of the dark side growing in the young Anakin Skywalker. So when viewing the trilogy in order of narrative, after seeing the development of Darth Vader from Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars/A New Hope suddenly lacks the iconic theme.
Further, John Williams created the Emperor’s Theme to accompany the evil Sith Lord in Return of the Jedi, however later uses the theme in the prequel trilogy to underscore the scheming of Chancellor Palpatine into the maniacal and powerful Darth Sidious. While most savvy moviegoers knew this change was bound to happen in the third prequel movie, this ultimately ruins Revenge of the Sith’s cinematic twist where the Chancellor of the Galactic Senate seizes control of the Republic, and lays waste to the Jedi Order.
As another example, the love ballad written for Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones, Across the Stars, was conceived for the second film in the prequel trilogy, after the two had already met and established a friendship in the previous film. While an argument can be made that the two truly did not fall into a love worthy of it’s own theme until the second film, Williams has proven with his theme for Anakin that he is more than capable of writing a compelling development for a theme, which could have been prepared for in The Phantom Menace.
Finally, and possibly most egregiously, Williams introduces the Sibling Theme as a theme for Luke and Leia far too late in the franchise, to the point where he may as well have ultimately excluded it. While George Lucas would like the world to think he has had a master-plot for the Star Wars saga all along, there are some major incongruences. Most notably Luke’s awkward realization in Return of the Jedi that Leia is in fact his twin sister, despite her kissing him for luck as they flee Imperial forces on the Death Star in Star Wars, and Leia’s petty tongue-punching of Luke’s gaping maw in order to make Han jealous in Empire Strikes Back. The introduction of this theme in the last film of the saga is akin to slapping a giant Band-Aid on the franchise to cover the festering, incest-scented wound beneath. If these inconsistencies arise from viewing the saga in the narrative order, it may be that the real-world release order, despite the musical development issues, may be the best order to view Star Wars. It may be possible however, that a better way to view the saga from a musical point of view exists through the incorporation and a blending of trilogies.
PART II: Reoccurrence of Thematic Material in the Star Wars Universe
The Original Trilogy (1977-1983)
John Williams use of the leitmotif stems from his appreciation of Wagner, especially Der Ring. Like Wagner, Williams uses hundreds of recognizable themes across the Star Wars saga, but how often do these themes come up in each installment, and is there any correlation between the plot and the thematic material? While some themes are only present in one film, most themes are used throughout the trilogy. The two main themes from this trilogy are used in every episode of the saga, Binary Sunset (The Force Theme), and STAR WARS (Main Theme). Common themes that occur in each trilogy, but not each film include the Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme), the Rebel Fanfare, Yoda’s theme, and Leia’s theme.
Star Wars (1977)
Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Star Wars does a fantastic job of establishing the prominent themes of the saga in the first film, and creates a vast soundscape which blends the Imperial Motif, Rebel Fanfare, and the Force Theme to indicate the tide of the battle for the climactic Death Star trench run. The confrontation between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the first Death Star is accented by the Force Theme, however a unique soundtrack was made to accompany the TIE Fighter Attack on the Millennium Falcon as it escapes from the Death Star. In The Empire Strikes Back, the main battles on the ice planet Hoth, and the harrowing Asteroid Field escape are fought alongside some of the saga’s most iconic musical tracks. The best musical choice Williams makes for the film is the use of silence in the climactic showdown between Darth Vader and the young Luke Skywalker on the cloud city of Bespin. The silence focuses the listener on the slightest sounds, and emphasizes the fear and isolation of Luke, while the menacing, ragged breaths of Darth Vader emphasize the gravity of the battle, along with the iconic sound of their clashing lightsabers. It is not until Vader gains the upper hand (!) that the Imperial March roars in the background. Return of the Jedi concludes the original trilogy with several new works, including the exciting assault on Jabba the Hutt’s sail barge, as well as a powerful medley which underscores the alternating climactic battles of the film. Return of the Jedi is the first Star Wars film to incorporate a choir with the orchestra. The Battle of Endor, featuring the lovable but deadly Ewoks, uses a combination of militaristic brass and high woodwinds to evoke a sense of whimsey and danger. On the newly constructed Death Star above Endor, Luke Skywalker prepares to face Darth Vader again. As with their confrontation on Bespin, the battle commences in silence, however Luke senses the light side of the Force returning in Vader, and refuses to fight. It is not until Vader threatens Leia that Luke draws his lightsaber and the choir and orchestra swell with haunting, ominous chords.
The most frequent theme which plays in the Original Trilogy is the Star Wars theme, closely followed by The Force theme and, despite only appearing in two of the films, the Imperial March.
The Prequel Trilogy (1999 – 2005)
The Phantom Menace was released on May 19, 1999, nearly 16 years after Return of the Jedi. While most fans were excited to learn more about Lucas’ Star Wars universe, The Phantom Menace received poor initial reactions for a variety of reasons, including the over-abundance of computer generated images, clunky dialogue, and confusing political sub-plots. Despite the low critical-reception of the film, critics and moviegoers alike praised John Williams’ score. For the Prequel Trilogy, Williams employed the talents of both the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as the talents of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, providing a rich, sanctimonious element to the film. The first two films of this trilogy have the lowest average of thematic reoccurrence in the saga, as well as the lowest number of original scores, however Revenge of the Sith more than doubles the amount of thematic use for the Prequel Trilogy, mostly with it’s use of The Force Theme. The surge in themes is most likely due to the uncertain future of the Star Wars universe at the time. With the end of a new trilogy in sight and little acclaim for the 1999 and 2001 films, it is likely that Lucas and Williams chose to increase the frequency of classic melodies to increase the emotional potency of the final chapter of this trilogy.
The Phantom Menace (1999)
Attack of the Clones (2002)
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
An interesting aspect of the Prequel Trilogy is the repetition of the final battle theme of The Phantom Menace – Duel of the Fates. While themes commonly make their way into the climactic battles in the saga, this is the first instance where the opposite occurs. Duel of the Fates, arguably the most redeeming aspect of Episode I, is heard again briefly as Anakin speeds to the Tusken Raider camp to rescue his tortured mother in Attack of the Clones. It returns again as the theme for the final confrontation between Darth Sidious and Yoda on Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith.
The most frequent theme in the Prequel Trilogy is by far The Force Theme, mostly due to the heavy influx of iterations in Revenge of the Sith, however like the Original Trilogy, the STAR WARS theme and Imperial March are among the most repeated themes, as well as prequel original, Across the Stars.
The Sequel Trilogy (2015-2019)
In 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm, as well as the rights to produce Star Wars movies for the foreseeable future. Understandably, many Star Wars fans were weary of this deal, having been slighted by the Prequel Trilogy just ten years earlier. Now under the direction of J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, the Sequel Trilogy has reestablished many of the characteristics that endeared audiences to the saga in the first place. For example, the Sequel Trilogy is once again placing a greater emphasis on the use of musical themes, especially the Main Theme and The Force Theme. This establishes a context similar to what George Lucas developed for the original Star Wars, allowing the themes and characters to develop simultaneously. John Williams is currently eighty-six years old, and while he still conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Master Chorale for recordings, he will not be participating in any future Star Wars projects.
The Force Awakens (2015)
The Last Jedi (2017)
A fascinating aspect of the Sequel Trilogy is how closely it mimics the musical tendencies of the Original Trilogy. In both trilogies, the galaxy is under the oppressive rule of a tyrannical military force, which a small but brave group of renegades must rise up to overthrow. The musical themes which represent both sides of the war are reasonably balanced in both of these trilogies, representing the close conflict between the light side and dark side. This becomes a major theme in The Last Jedi, as the new proponents of the light and dark side, Rey and Kylo, develop their connections with the force around their respective moral compasses. The evenness of conflict is mirrored in the evenness of the musical score. Adversely, the Jedi Order fell from power due to their moral arrogance, and pure denial of the growing presence of the dark side. In the Prequel Trilogy, the Force Theme is far-and-away the most common motif, far out-balancing the combined thematic reoccurrence of the dark side. By reviving the classic Original Trilogy score, John Williams has retroactively improved the very storyline of the Prequel Trilogy, showing that while the force is the energy of all life, neither the light side nor the dark can endure without balance.
PART III: A Brief History and Analysis of Diegetic Music in the Star Wars Universe
As on Earth, musicians of the civilized galaxy typically find employment performing chamber music in pubs, clubs, as well as working in large-scale musical works. The Galaxies Opera House on the Republic capital of Coruscant is a notoriously grand theatre where politicians and interplanetary dignitaries could discuss diplomatic and consular matters while watching high entertainment. In Revenge of the Sith, philanthropist and Supreme Chancellor, Sheev Palpatine is a well known patron of the theatre, and a common sight at the ethereal operatic performances of the Mon Calamari, such as the famous Squid Lake. Given the lack of access most citizens have to higher intergalactic art such as the Opera House, jizz is the most popular genre of music in the galaxy. Jizz is an upbeat, swinging genre which typically features winds, a rhythm section, and some degree of improvisation. It truly penetrates the soul, impregnating the listener with a desire to dance.
For the low to middle-class, the most popular form of musical entertainment comes from chamber music provided by local bands at the nearest tavern or cantina. The most popular of musical groups are typically able to support themselves through frequent gigging and savvy management, however many ensembles prefer to work under the contract of a patron. Jabba Desilijic Tiure (more commonly known as Jabba the Hutt) was a well known patron of music on his home world of Tatooine, employing bands to perform at local cantinas, as well as private performances in his palace and aboard his grand sail barge. The music was consistently of a high quality, as musicians that displeased Jabba were fed to various desert monsters (most typically the Sarlacc), providing musicians with a hearty incentive to improve their craft. Following his assassination at the hands of Leia Organa, the life and legends of Jabba the Gangster became the subject of a number of musical compositions. The hit song, Jabba Flow by the Infrablue Zedbeddy Coggins Band (popular ensemble that could be seen at Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana in The Force Awakens) derives its lyrics from the last words of a scoundrel who was caught lying to Jabba.
Evar Orbus and His Galactic Jizz-Wailers were founded roughly twenty years before the battle of Yavin in Star Wars/A New Hope. This ensemble features Evar Orbus and Sy Snootles vocal talents combined with Max Rebo on the circular Nalargon (or Red Ball Keyboard), and Droopy McCool performing on the Chidinkalu, a reeded aerophone used in the rhythm section of the ensemble. The Galactic Jizz-Wailers proved they had great potential as a musical ensemble, however the ambition of Orbus would prove to be their downfall. Orbus accepted a gig for the ensemble to perform at the Mos Eisely cantina where Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes were already residing as artists-in-residence. Figrin D’an took great offense to this intrusion, and attempted to shoot the entire ensemble dead before they could begin their first set. Evar Orbus was the only member of the Galactic Jizz-Wailers to perish, however the surviving members quickly surrendered the stage to the Bith ensemble. Following this setback, Snootles, McCool and Rebo reorganized into the Max Rebo Band, which can be seen entertaining Jabba in his palace on Tatooine in Return of the Jedi.
Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes are the popular Bith musical ensemble based out of the Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina on the outer-rim desert world of Tatooine. While the members of the band varied from year to year, the main members performed mostly on reeded aerophone instruments (ironic, as Bith only have one lung), with a small rhythm section. The wind instruments of the ensemble included the dorenian beshniquel (colloquially known as the Fizzz), bandfill, fanfar, double jocimer, and kloo horn, played by Doikk Na’ts, Nalan Cheel, Tedn Dahai, Ickabel G’ont, and Figrin D’an respectively. The rhythm section consisted of Sun’il Ei’de on the drums, and Tech Mo’r on the ommni box. (These instruments sound strangely similar to the soprano saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, steel drum, piano, and various percussions) The Bith are one of the galaxies oldest civilizations, and hold a reputation as one of the most intelligent. A craniopod species, the Bith have evolved to possess highly developed senses. Their eyes are able to see microscopic details at great focus, they can sense many smells through the skin-flaps of their cheeks, and they are and are naturally engrained with a comprehensive understanding of tonal sound, akin to their understanding of color or smell. Further, the Bith do not sleep, but fall into a meditative trance that allows them to rest twice as fast as other species.
Fiery Figrin D’an is a notoriously disagreeable bandleader, demanding perfection out of each show and punishing those who miss even a single note. Suffice to say, the musical productions of this species are amidst the highest of art in the galaxy, and the Modal Nodes have gone on to celebrate an interesting career all around the intergalactic performance circuit.
Musical Analysis of Mad About Me, by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes
Mad About Me (Cantina Song) is a popular tune which can be traced as far back as 3643 BBY
(Before the Battle of Yavin), however it was popularized by the Modal Nodes in 0 BBY. A personal favorite of the group, Mad About Me was written by an unknown artist during a cold war between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Coruscant. The tune itself is rather nondescript, however the Modal Nodes rendition is notably lively, giving it a special bounce. Mad About Me soon became a popular tune around Tatooine, and the Modal Nodes contract with Jabba the Hutt provided them with plenty of performance opportunities. Of course, Jabba the Hutt is notoriously short with his constituents, and thus the Modal Nodes found themselves fleeing Tatooine shortly after the battle of Yavin, fearing they would become a meal for Jabba’s infamous pet rancor. They were fortunate enough to both escape Tatooine, and produce a recording of Mad About Me, which would enjoy success in cantinas across Tatooine, and on the Interplanetary Imperial Broadcast.
From an Earth music analysis standpoint, specifically the music of Western civilization, Mad About Me presents an interesting form and a harmonic structure along with an instantly recognizable melody. The piece contains nine distinct sections and is concluded by a recapitulation of the initial melody.
The catchy nature of Mad About Me may stem from the overabundant use of the perfect authentic cadence in F major. Though the piece only runs approximately two minutes forty seconds, seven perfect authentic cadences are crammed into the piece, giving a human listener a satisfying release of dopamine roughly
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