Friday, April 15, 2016

John Williams Appreciation Post: Star Wars - The Force Theme

One of the curious things about watching all 16 hours of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle of operas was realizing (a) Williams may have had some idea how he could pull this thing off by looking at an old pro dealing with a multi-generational story, magical themes and heroic quests and (b) how themes and motifs can really work to convey story in ways both overt and subliminally.  In short - the music tells the story.

That's not a knock on Williams.  Too few composers have applied this hard won knowledge effectively in the world of film.  In fact, I think we should be quite satisfied with applying the term "Space Opera" when it comes to Star Wars.

"The Force Theme" is not the fanfare of the titles or the finale awards ceremony.  "The Force Theme", to me, rings with a certain melancholy, maybe that same look that's all over Luke's face there at the end of The Force Awakens.  There's greatness there, but it comes with a sense of tragedy, perhaps derived from the weight of responsibility and the gift's inherent "otherness" that will set you apart now.  There's a swelling undercurrent in the music, a ring of promise that comes after the opening bars, but it's muted, expressing something beyond joy or anger or sorrow.

It's a hell of a piece, and it's the tear jerker of the Star Wars music for nostalgic reasons, sure, but there's something there that hits you dead center as it pushes the story along.


Jake Shore said...

I'm with you. I love this piece. The scene in Star Wars where Luke looks up at the twin sunset is magical. I know it's cliche because it applies to every boy of our generation who watched that scene, but when I was a teenager, aching to get out my situation and out on my own to find adventure, that scene, that music just reached into my soul and plucked it with an epipen.

Jake Shore said...

One of the reasons I loved "The Force Awakens" and why I will overlook many of it flaws is that it captured that spirit of the original film, which the prequels never even bothered to tap into.

For me, it was that great scene (and I'm sure for others) where Kylo Ren attempts to retrieve the lightsaber in the snow, and it flies past his head into the hands of Rey with "The Force" theme swelling to the foreground. It was such a powerful and stirring scene because I hadn't had that feeling in at least 25 years. I got pretty emotional in the theater.

The arrangement of the "The Force" theme here was so well done, but different than one from the Luke-twin suns scene, which gently fades out whereas the music in Rey's scene builds up with that booming horn to a more climatic finish. But I know I had heard if before in the original trilogy. Finally I remembered: