May the Force be with you! Experience Star Wars on the giant screen with John Williams’ epic score played live by WASO.

The opening of A New Hope is visually powerful, with the introduction scrolling across the star field and the looming spaceships. For John Williams ‘it was clear that the music had to kind of smack you right in the eye and do something very strong.’ And with a very simple, very direct theme – its uplifting idealism and military brilliance balanced by romantic lyricism – he created in the Main Theme the perfect rousing anthem not only for a new fantasy space opera, but for a saga that would find an enduring place in popular imagination.

John Williams’ music for Star Wars heralded a new era in cinema and gave renewed importance to the use of a full orchestra in soundtracks. At the same time Williams’ music harks back to the Golden Age of adventure cinema (think Erich Korngold’s main theme for King’s Row in 1942) and Romantic opera of the previous century (Richard Wagner’s ‘horn call’ theme for Siegfried in his Ring cycle spring to mind).

‘The music is very non-futuristic,’ says Williams. ‘The films themselves showed us characters we hadn’t seen before and planets unimagined and so on, but the music was – this is actually George Lucas’s conception and a very good one – emotionally familiar. It was not music that might describe terra incognita but the opposite of that, music that would put us in touch with very familiar and remembered emotions, which for me as a musician translated into the use of a 19th-century operatic idiom, if you like, Wagner and this sort of thing. These sorts of influences would put us in touch with remembered theatrical experiences as well – all Western experiences to be sure.’

The Star Wars theme appears in all episodes, but most prominently in A New Hope as a fanfare for Luke. Williams explains how he saw the theme fitting Luke’s character: ‘Flourishes and upward reaching; idealistic and heroic, in a very different way than Darth Vader of course, and a very different tonality – a very uplifted kind of heraldic quality. Larger than he is. His idealism is more the subject than the character itself, I would say.’

One of the first themes to appear in A New Hope (after Star Wars and The Force) is Princess Leia’s Theme. It’s heard when Leia is captured by Darth Vader in his campaign against the Rebel Alliance. It plays when the lovable droid R2D2 projects her holographic distress message to Obi-Wan, and again when Leia reminisces about the halcyon pre-imperial days. The fact that the theme is there when Obi-Wan dies at the hands of Darth Vader – with Leia a mere onlooker – adds weight to the suggestion that it is also meant to represent the ideal of the lost Republic.

The Cantina Band Theme is an amusing piece of diegetic music – that is, music meant to be heard by the characters as part of the plot – written for solo trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, Fender Rhodes piano, steel drum, synthesiser and percussion, and played only in the seedy cantina on Tatooine in A New Hope. Think of it as a futuristic alien take on 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music.

With the first six episodes, both George Lucas and John Williams have given full rein to their passion for leitmotif – signature themes that recur in association with specific characters and dramatic action. Many aspects of Anakin Skywalker’s life story are reflected, if not exactly copied, by his son Luke, with the exception, of course, that the father turns to the Dark Side while the son stays with the Light. These similarities and difference are given striking musical emphasis by Williams. A good example is found in the use of the Force Theme, which first appears when Luke gazes on the setting of Tatooine’s two moons, and a parallel scene at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when the baby Luke is delivered to refuge on Tatooine. In A New Hope, the Force Theme is also heard in the Throne Room Scene as well as over the end credits.

Adapted from notes by Rod Webb © 2007
Reprinted by kind permission of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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