While I may not don a Wookie costume every time the Star Wars convention comes to town, I still consider myself to be a true fan of the franchise. For this reason, I was beyond thrilled to hear that J.J. Abrams, director of Star Wars, Episode VII (scheduled to be released worldwide on December 18, 2015) is planning to bring back the original cast.
You heard me! Harrison Ford will become the swashbuckling Han Solo once again, Carrie Fisher will return as the bold and beautiful Princess Leia, and Mark Hamil will wield Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber once more. This promises to be an amazing movie event, and I’ve already told my wife that we will be standing in line for this one!
Picture courtesy of the Official Star Wars Website
Of all the original cast members who are returning, however, the one I’m most excited about is John Williams, composer of the original Star Wars soundtrack. Borrowing from the conventions of opera (where each character was introduced with their own musical theme), John Williams put together a film score which enhanced the romantic, adventurous feel of the movies themselves while telling an even deeper story through music. In fact, I really feel that John Williams revolutionized the world of movie music.
I could cite many examples, including the way the tender lullaby of Anakin’s Theme (Episode I) served as the perfect predecessor to the infamous Imperial March (Episodes IV, V, and VI). But my absolute favorite Star Wars composition is one that goes largely unnoticed – Luke and Leia, from Episode VI.
Luke and Leia – Star Wars, Episode VI
The piece begins with the same light, ethereal strings that lead us into Princess Leia’s Theme (Episode I). After this brief introduction, however, the haunting minor melodic line is introduced by the French Horn – the same instrumental “voice” Williams used so often for the Force Theme, which was woven intricately throughout each of the six major films. The musical theme is soft and sorrowful, which is exactly the way I imagine Luke and Leia are feeling during this scene where Luke finally tells his sister who their father really is.
After the theme is introduced with Luke’s musical voice, it is repeated in the strings, accompanied by beautiful flute flourishes (a la Princess Leia). It’s as if Leia immediately understands what her twin brother is feeling, and her heart begins to hum the same tune.
Finally the entire orchestra carries the theme to a crescendo as the siblings are truly reunited, only to fade away into nothingness as Luke announces that he must go now into the dangerous trap his father has laid out for him. The French Horn and the Oboe (which also makes an appearance in Princess Leia’s Theme) end the piece in perfect unison, while the tender strings and harp climb a mysterious scale into the unknown.
Now that’s great composing – but the musical magic doesn’t end there! What really gets me about this piece is the way John Williams completely captures the loss, the surprise, and the realization of this moment in Return of the Jedi. Consider the following quote:
“I never knew, and yet… somehow I’ve always known.”
Princess Leia, Return of the Jedi
It’s a pivotal moment in the film, where Leia is shocked to discover the truth about her family. But at the same time, it makes sense, because something about Luke has always felt so familiar. And that peculiar mixture of emotions is what this musical selection has captured and put into a bottle for us.
How did he do it? This bothered me for a long while. How did this piece manage to sound so much like Luke and so much like his sister at the same time? I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Then I listened to Princess Leia’s Theme again:
Princess Leia’s Theme – Star Wars, Episode IV
Listen closely, and pay attention to that opening theme. What instrument is that? You’ve got it… the French Horn. And that, my friends, is the true genius of John Williams. Though Luke and Leia were given unique musical themes, the instrumentation used for both siblings was identical. It was subtle enough that we didn’t pay attention to it, until this revealing moment in Episode VI. But you see, from the very beginning, Williams’ film score was letting us in on the secret, whispering into our ears that there was something hauntingly familiar about Luke and Leia… that somehow, their stories (and their musical voices) were one and the same.
What musical treasures will John Williams have in store for us next December? The sky is the limit, but I can’t wait to find out! Along with a brand new film, we’re sure to receive a film score that is – quite fittingly – out of this world.
Which Original Star Wars Character are you most excited about seeing return to the Silver Screen?