The music of Star Wars has become a character of the films much as the characters of the films have become global icons. John Williams’ contribution to the films (he composed for all six Star Wars films) is among the most widely-known and popular contributions to modern film music. When Williams set out to compose the music for the first film, Star Wars (later re-titled, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, he only had one Oscar to his name for the score to the 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws.

He utilized a variety of musical styles drawing from the golden age of Hollywood and the scores of Max Steiner as well as the late romantic period of Richard Strauss. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, wanted the feel of the old movie serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Williams is credited with reviving the symphonic scores because of his Star War compositions and of using a technique called leitmotiv most often associated with the operas of Wagner and with Steiner-rescue film scores.

Star Wars (1977)

Principle Motifs

Main Title – Used in all six films, this is the anthem of the film series. It is recognizable globally and is generally associated with the rebel forces, Luke Skywalker and elements involving heroism and adventure. This theme is heard over the opening crawl and is used as a base for the end credits.

Rebel Fanfare – Used in all six films as well, this is a short motif used mostly in Episode IV: A New Hope to represent the Rebel Alliance. It is used less in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and brought back but with less frequency in Episode VI:

Jedi Theme – This theme is also titled Binary Sunset in the film score from the scene in which Luke is watching the sunset on Tatooine and contemplating his future in Episode IV. This is the one motif in the trilogy that is consistently developed throughout all three films. The theme represents Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Knights, and The Force. In later films, it is used to represent ideas of fate and destiny. It is an uplifting theme and can be heard throughout the trilogy.

Princess Leia’s Theme (aka Love Theme) – This theme represents the romantic side of the trilogy. It is most often used in Episode IV to represent Leia when she is alone (on the merchant ship in the beginning), vulnerable (when she is about to be tortured for information on the Death Star) or shown on the screen. In subsequent episodes, it is developed into a Love Theme between her and Han Solo. This theme also appears later in Episode III after she is born.

Imperial Motif – Used only in Episode IV, this motif represents the Empire and Darth Vader for this film (although it makes a cameo when Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star, is seen in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith). The music is militaristic and not as ominous as the Imperial March introduced in Episode V.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Principle Motifs

Imperial March (aka Darth Vader’s Theme) – This theme represents the Galactic Empire and, more specifically Darth Vader, starting with Episode V and carrying on through the rest of the films. This theme has achieved an iconic status as representing evil and is used outside of the films to introduce evil (i.e. when Mr. Burns shows up on The Simpsons). Williams retrogrades the theme for the prequel trilogy, embedding it into Anakin’s theme and his downward spiral to the dark side as well as the rise of the Republic of the Empire.

Love Theme – Developed from Leia’s Theme in Episode IV, it is heard in Episode V and VI in scenes of romance and when the two characters are sacrificing, including the scene in which Han is frozen and the final moments of Empire when Lando Calrissian is leaving to rescue Han from Jabba The Hut.

Lando’s Theme (Cloud City Theme) – A march that is heard during the Bespin scenes in Episode V. It is used throughout the Cloud City scenes and a variation is used when Luke arrives to save Leia and Han.

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Principle Motifs

Jabba’s Theme – This is heard in the opening of Episode VI when the scene takes place in Jabba’s Palace. It is mostly tuba and is rolling and bulbous. It was added in the special edition version of Episode IV when a young (and much leaner?!) Jabba confront Han Solo in the hanger of the Millennium Falcon. There is also a disguised version of it in Episode I when Jabba officiates the pod race.

Emperor’s Theme – An ominous theme first used in Episode VI, and developed more in the prequel trilogies. It represents the Emperor whenever he is on screen. Williams also uses it conspicuously in the victory celebration at the end of Phantom Menace.

In addition to these major motifs, there are minor themes used throughout the series that are used to represent some of the other characters and scenes in the original trilogy. These motifs are generally heard once and not much development took place for further use.

Minor Motifs

Arrival on Tatooine – This is used in Episode IV and then again in Episode I.

Tusken Raiders Theme – Used when the Tusken Raiders are first introduced in Episode IV and when they attack Luke. Later used when Anakin destroys their camp in Episode II.

Throne Room March – Used in the original trilogy when Vader is present and later when the Emperor is shown in Episode VI.

The final elements of music John Williams wrote for the original trilogy were the pieces that were performed as part of ‘ live’ sequences. Before he became a film composer, John Williams was a jazz pianist going by the name of Johnny Williams. The ‘ live’ elements reflect his earlier musical career with the use of jazz, classical and world music elements.

Leave a Reply