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Star Wars: how composer John Williams became the heart of the saga

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As we build towards the ninth episode in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s time to reminisce.

Of course, we remember all the epic space battles, memorable stand-offs, and characters we all hold dear. However, there is one man who has remained at the heart of Star Wars since A New Hope way back in 1977.

No, it’s not one of the cast. It’s not one of the directors. It’s not even George Lucas.

Since the first film, there is one man whose impact on ‘a galaxy far, far away’ has been felt throughout, and his name is John Williams.

The five-time Oscar-winner has said he will retire from Star Wars after working on The Rise of Skywalker, so it seems a good time to look at just what he means to the films.

How did John Williams get involved with Star Wars?

During production of A New Hope, Williams was recommended to George Lucas via mutual friend Steven Spielberg, who had worked with Williams on the Oscar-winning soundtrack to Jaws.

Originally intending to insert well-known classical pieces from Holst's 'The Planets', Lucas instead trusted Williams to compose a score that was in keeping with a wondrous story of good vs evil.

It’s safe to say Williams delivered, winning his third Oscar and inspiring an entire generation of composers throughout the seventies and eighties, including the likes of James Horner (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan) and Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future).


What impact did John Williams have on Star Wars?

Yes, there have been people who have been with Star Wars as long as Williams – C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels, for one – but the composer's scores became more than a mere musical accompaniment. They became the DNA of the franchise, the creative force that invested the on-screen spectacle with additional emotional power.

We may be looking at worlds and creatures that are completely foreign to us, but the soundtrack of these films craft a sense of relatable human emotion. With no music, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) staring out at the sunset(s) on Tatooine would just be a pensive moment.

With the addition of the solo trumpet of Williams’s ‘Binary Sunset’ theme, we understand that this is the galaxy calling out to a young man, promising a destiny he could not even imagine.


What other scores has John Williams composed?

Of course, Williams has many other strings to his bow. To many movie fans, he is first thought of as the composer of Superman, giving jubilant life to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal, or the man who gave us the terrifying 'dun-dun' theme to Spielberg’s Jaws, or the artist who made E.T.’s flight across the moon an out-of-body experience.

Oh, and there’s also the scores to Jurassic Park, Home Alone, Harry Potter… The list goes on, and features a number of themes that have permeated the popular consciousness. Williams’s music adds heart, emotion, gravitas – an intangible magic that stems from a truly remarkable gift.

Need more proof of Williams's brilliance? Scroll down beneath the video and take a look at some of the memorable pieces he's composed for the Star Wars saga...


1. 'The Imperial March' – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The best characters in movies usually come with their own theme, a piece of music that acts as their signature. ‘The Imperial March’ did that for Star Wars’ greatest villain, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones).

This bold, foreboding music signalled the arrival of a character rooted in the dark side of the Force, and you knew that he meant business. The militaristic piece also brilliantly conveys the power behind Vader, indicating the vast Empire that dominated the galaxy.


2. 'Duel of the Fates' – The Phantom Menace (1999)

As the title suggests, this theme evokes the idea of a historic showdown – in this case the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Darth Maul (Ray Park) in arguably the finest moment of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy.

The awe-inspiring choral chanting (in Sanskrit) pushes the idea that this battle will define the future of the prequel trilogy and, by definition, all the Star Wars movies that come in its wake.



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3. 'Across the Stars' – Attack of the Clones (2002)

This tender and sweeping theme epitomises the love between the older Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman).

Brilliantly, however, the string-laden romance is interrupted by a brooding, militaristic bridge section that anticipates Anakin’s fall into the dark side, and the doom-laden outcome of the character’s relationship with his wife.


4. 'The Throne Room/End Title' – A New Hope (1977)

Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) have all saved the day, and this triumphantly powerful piece plays as they receive medals from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) for their heroics (well, Chewie doesn’t get one, but that’s for another article).

Full of pomp and circumstance, but also with a comforting sense that all is well in the galaxy once more, this embodies all that is magnificent about Williams’s music.


5. 'Main Title' – all the Star Wars saga movies

We end our list at the beginning, the first thing we hear in every Star Wars saga movie, and a piece of music that is likely to bring tears to the eyes of movie fans.

Heavily influenced by Erich Wolfgang Korngold's theme to 1942 film Kings Row, a piece of music of which George Lucas was fond, it conjures up a sense of adventure, of diving head first into the unknown.

The aliens, the battles, the fun of Star Wars can be felt in this opening theme – arguably the greatest theme of all time – and it's a piece of music that will be cheered by movie audiences as long as there are cinemas.



Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released on 19th December, so if you have a favourite John Williams track from the saga, let us know @Cineworld.

James Luxford is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.