In the process of scoring the original Star Wars film, the most important advantage I had over John Williams was hindsight. Remarkably, Williams himself had little-to-no information regarding the background and development of the main characters, a process that is still occurring today. In fact, in the summer of 2016, Williams revealed how little he is told regarding the Star Wars franchise, saying he still does not know key plot details of the upcoming films. “Your guess is as good as mine,” says Williams. Given how little he knew about the film, one must acknowledge the magnificent score Williams wrote under less than ideal circumstances. In his book indexing film music, Laurence E. MacDonald writes, "Williams. . .had the challenge of scoring each new film to reflect aspects of the story that are part of the first [film], while maintaining the integrity of scenarios and characters that are not in the earlier films.” How do composers write an appropriate theme for characters if they are unaware of the arc of those characters? The simple answer is that they cannot achieve such a task.
I chose to write my score using leitmotifs rather than themes, unlike Williams. A leitmotif is a recurring theme associated with a certain person, idea, or situation. I wrote leitmotifs representing characters such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Darth Vader, C-3PO and R2-D2, Grand Moff Tarkin, Jawas, the Sand People, the Empire, and Jabba the Hutt. I also wrote leitmotifs for concepts such as the Force, death, war, and escaping the Death Star, not to mention smaller leitmotifs for the planet of Tatooine, Luke’s home, and the attack on the Death Star.
Leitmotifs are much more than theme songs attached to a certain character - they must change as the character changes, react as the character reacts, and express the same emotions that a character is feeling. In addition to changing the meaning of a leitmotif through modal and melodic evolution, leitmotifs also use diverse orchestrations to convey new emotions or situations. In fact, if audiences are familiar enough with the score’s leitmotifs, they should be able to follow along with the story blindfolded, merely from hearing the music and the evolution of the leitmotifs within the score. I have provided a few examples from my new score for Star Wars that demonstrate this technique.
The leitmotif is first heard when Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle are murdered. As he silently looks upon their corpses, a piano softly plays the leitmotif with minimal accompaniment. This is an emotional scene, and clearly engrains the leitmotif into the minds of the audience. The death leitmotif is next heard when Princess Leia’s home planet is destroyed by the Death Star, this time orchestrated loudly and dramatically as we witness the deaths of countless people. The leitmotif is recognizably the same as the one played during Luke’s death encounter, but it is clearly altered to represent a different situation involving death. One other notable use of the leitmotif is as a means of foreshadowing. Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks with Luke for what would be the last time, saying Luke’s destiny “lies along a different path.” Looking back on the film, audiences can now see that Obi-Wan likely anticipates his impending death and knows Luke cannot follow him. My music builds on this anticipation, incorporating a variation of the death leitmotif here, this time in the woodwind section. This variation of the leitmotif may not be enough to give away Obi-Wan’s death to first-time viewers, but it would surely be noticed upon repeat viewings as a clear means of foreshadowing Obi-Wan’s fate.
The Force Leitmotif
John Williams’ Force theme is likely the most misused theme in the series. In fact, out of the theme’s twenty-one appearances in Star Wars, I identified ten of the appearances to be out of place, ranging from one in which Princess Leia is handing R2-D2 the Death Star plans, to the scene in which Han Solo’s spaceship escaping a shootout. Even the medal ceremony that ends the film inappropriately uses the theme for the Force. Luke, Han, and Chewbacca enter the throne room to receive medals for their service to the Rebel Alliance, greeted by Princess Leia and the droids. Williams has themes for the Rebel Alliance, Luke, and Leia, and all of these organizations and characters are featured in this scene. Why not use their music?
My leitmotif for the Force is another example of the constant evolution of a leitmotif. The Force leitmotif changes as the audience’s view of the Force changes. When Obi-Wan first introduces the Force, the chord structure makes the Force seem mysterious. However, minutes later Darth Vader uses the Force to choke an officer; I put the Force leitmotif in an atonal arrangement in the low brass, giving it a much scarier quality. When Obi-Wan uses the Force (“These are not the droids you’re looking for.” ), it is in Aeolian mode and reminds viewers of an ancient, mystic power. And when Obi-Wan fights Darth Vader, a slow, somber arrangement of the theme is played. These various moments represent different ways in which an audience member would view the Force, and the accompanying evolution of the Force leitmotif is a clear aid in the audience’s perception of the Force.
Princess Leia has many different roles within Star Wars. She is an innocent princess, a love interest, a witty diva, a rebel leader, a diplomat–the list goes on. However, the original score confines her musical identity to one role, the innocent princess. The orchestration of her theme in the first film makes this limitation quite evident. Leia’s theme appears eight times in Star Wars, but the theme is softly and sweetly orchestrated in the high woodwinds seven of the eight times it appears. This lack of variety does not demonstrate the complexity of a leitmotif or of the character’s personality; it is a simple character theme that announces Leia’s arrival onscreen.
The orchestration of my leitmotif for Leia needed to be more inclusive; it should be capable of representing her many different roles in the film. This provided her character with a range that is not supported by the original film’s score. When Leia seems distressed, a flute plays her theme; when she pleads for help, a piano takes over the theme. When she playfully banters with Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, pizzicato strings play her theme; and when she commands the rebels at the base, the trumpets take control. These various orchestrations continue, changing still when she interacts with Darth Vader, when she is interrogated, when she is rescued, when she argues with Han, and when she celebrates victory. Williams did not utilize this level of arrangement in his score, and as such, my application of Leia’s theme to situations that involve her better underscore the complexity of her roles.
Darth Vader's Leitmotif
Interestingly, Darth Vader’s iconic theme, “The Imperial March,” was not in the original Star Wars. This can be easily explained: Vader’s role in the first film was fairly small; it is not until future films that he develops such an important role, and as a result, is given such an iconic theme. Williams was likely unaware that Vader needed a theme until he scored subsequent Star Wars films and saw the character’s importance.
My theme for Vader needed to capture all of these complex emotions, but it also could not give away too much. After all, audiences still need to feel the shock when Vader utters, “I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back. I took a rather symbolic approach with Vader’s theme, especially in regards to its contour. The theme falls and continues to fall (representing Vader's tragic fall from hero to villain) until the final two notes, which rise (representing Vader’s ultimate redemption). The beauty behind such a simple theme for this character is the numerous ways in which it can be altered, varied, and orchestrated to cover a wide range of emotions. This variety allows for a much more accurate portrayal of Darth Vader than Williams’ original theme.