The first step I took in scoring the finale of The Empire Strikes Back involved dividing the film into cues (separate pieces of music to be written) based on the film scenes. I chose to score the last 25 minutes of the film and decided on ten separations for cues. I charted them out (see Figure 1) and included each cue’s number, title, time, and temp track.
The cue number serves as an ordering system for this type of project. In traditional film scoring it would be labeled as seen in Figure 1, with ‘1m’ denoting the first reel of film footage, and ‘01’ denoting the first cue in that reel. However, since I was not working with film reels, the numbers served merely as a divider for the score and a way of numerically ordering the cues. The cue title is largely self-explanatory; each cue was named based on the scene it accompanies. The cue time lists the target length (hh:mm:ss) of each cue, with the number at the bottom of Figure 1 listing the total length of the film scenes being scored.
Having created a guide for separating cues, I then chose the proper instruments and tempos for each scene. My score uses a total of 61 instruments, ranging from strings, brass, and percussion to electronics and synthesizers. The tempos are mapped out according to the editing of the film. My decision process for tempos is significantly different than traditional scoring. Oftentimes composers and editors work hand-in-hand to establish tempos and cut the music and film accordingly. Since I am re-scoring a film, it had already been edited (38 years ago), meaning I had to make my tempos work for the film. As a result, I was quite restricted in which tempos I could and could not use.
One of the most important preparations for this project was the use of temp tracks. A temp track (short for “temporary track”) is a previously composed piece of music placed in the film until a composer has scored the scene in question. Temp tracks often are used to inform composers as to what style, instrumentation, and mood the music should reflect in the scene. This was a vital resource when attempting to score in Hans Zimmer’s style. For my temp tracks, I selected pieces from the three Zimmer films I had analyzed based on what worked best within the context of the scene.
The selected pieces for temp tracking were the ones I deemed most similar to the scene in question. For example, “Mombasa” from Inception is used when the main character is on the run from authorities; I temped this music for when Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando run to escape Cloud City. When Luke and Vader fight 1-on-1, I temp tracked “Sea Wall” from Blade Runner 2049, which features another 1-on-1 battle between characters. “Day One” plays in Interstellar when characters are trying to communicate with one another, so I made this the temp track for when Vader and Luke communicate through the Force.
Implementing Zimmer's Trademarks
One important aspect of imitating Zimmer’s style is in creating the hybrid orchestra just as he does, part orchestra and part electronics. Zimmer oftentimes blurs the line between orchestral music and pop music, so it was important to incorporate drums, guitars, and synths similar to his scores. I implemented a four-chord progression (similar to those found in all three analyzed Zimmer film scores) in the film’s finale. The effect this created is quite similar to his music at the end of Inception. I used the lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader to insert the infamous burst of sound Zimmer invented. The bursts certainly created drama and intensity and made sense within the context of the scene.
Lastly, in true Zimmer fashion, I created my own instrument sounds for the score. Several synthesizers and effects I used are unique to this score alone and have never-before been heard - a fairly exciting concept in the music world. This is a big difference from traditional orchestral scoring in which the same instrument sounds are used to create different notes. Modern computer and synthesizer technology allows composers to create new instruments by fine-tuning each and every possible sound, which means the soundscape from one score to the next completely changes.
Results of the New Score
Though much different than John Williams’ original vision for the film, Zimmer’s music (or an imitation thereof) fits the film surprisingly well. The new score’s strengths lie in its functionality within the film. The loud bursts add intensity to the lightsaber duel and make Vader’s character seem even more menacing. The softer parts of the score add emotion, and the swells towards the end add a sense of finality and closure. The cue that most closely resembles Zimmer’s style in a sci-fi setting is “Vader Calls,” modeled after “Day One” from Interstellar. The music in “Vader Calls” captures Zimmer’s instrumentation (hybrid orchestra), ostinatos (repetitive patterns of notes), and even contains a few of his sound bursts. These techniques function well in the film, adding more mystery and intrigue to the scene.
Interestingly, the new score’s weakness also lies in its functionality. Zimmer’s earlier scores contained memorable passages with easily hummable melodies (Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean come to mind). His later work focuses instead on the emotional impact of music, such as the three scores analyzed earlier. My score, much like recent Zimmer music, sacrifices some aspects of memorability in order to serve the film. These types of scores are raw, emotional, and are made for a specific and unique purpose in each film. This makes for a wonderful listening experience and often functions better in the film, but does it leave the lasting impact that Williams’ music has had on film scoring?
Star Wars has always thrived on the dramatic. The romantic, operatic style of music that John Williams created is full of nostalgia and is a throwback to the classic hero’s journey. The Star Wars films and scores have become more than just good cinema - they are cultural icons. Although Hans Zimmer’s style works well in creating a tense, exciting, and emotional experience, the nostalgic and over-the-top nature of Williams’ scores is what George Lucas envisioned for the Star Wars franchise, which is a nostalgic and over-the-top series. This approach is the reason Williams’ music works so well in the film, the reason his music continues to get Oscar nominations, and the reason his music will continue to withstand the test of time.
Hans Zimmer’s remarkable journey from childhood pianist to teenage pop star to renowned composer has not yet been given the attention his career merits. Although his popularity is no secret - he’s arguably one of the few film composers that is a household name - film critics and scholars have often discounted his music, both due to his popularity and his radical scoring techniques. However, those same reasons are the reasons he should be studied. Few film composers have reached Zimmer’s level of success (captivating pop audiences at Coachella is a feat in itself), or reinvented the genre as he has done. His scoring company, RCP, has produced a new generation of composers, meaning his influence has spread far and wide on those rising up to score new films. His musical style significantly changes the experience of watching a Star Wars film and creates an interesting contrast to the saga’s traditional method of scoring. Regardless of one’s stance on his work, one thing is clear - Zimmer’s methods have changed film music, and will continue to change it in the future.