On Music: My Top 10 John Williams ‘Star Wars’ Themes

I have been a fan of John Williams’ symphonic scores ever since I saw the original Star Wars – aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – in the autumn of 1977[1] For me, Williams’ swashbuckling, neo-Romantic themes and action cues sold the rest of George Lucas’s out-of-this-world space-fantasy about “a boy, a girl, and a universe” to a teenager who wasn’t too much into science fiction and had never seen a single episode of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, much less Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.[2]

I love music, especially classical orchestral compositions and film scores, and for some reason I really dug Maestro Williams and George Lucas’s artistic decision to anchor the strange and wondrous extraterrestrial vistas of Tatooine, the Death Star, and the fourth moon of Yavin, as well as the reaches of deep space, with an old-school symphonic score in the style of, say, Richard Wagner’s operas – from which Williams borrowed the idea of “leitmotifs” [3] – or the music for swashbucklers along the lines of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, or The Charge of the Light Brigade. By giving audiences something tangibly recognizable as being from our world, Williams and Lucas were able to transport them – for 2 hours at least – from our troubled little blue marble in the cosmos to a story of heroes, villains, and never-before-seen robots and “aliens from a thousand worlds” set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

I could probably write an entire blog post – perhaps an entire series of them – about how Williams convinced George Lucas to use an original score composed in the style of 19th Century Romantic era music instead of – as Stanley Kubrick did in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – using different orchestral works from the classical repertoire  to underscore the different scenes. Or how the Star Wars score from 1977 begat eight more scores composed by Maestro Williams for what we now call the Skywalker Saga between 1980 and 2019. And who knows, someday I might do that.

Just not today.

Today I’ll just do a Top 10 List (supplemented by videos from YouTube, natch) of my all-time favorite Star Wars themes. I hope you enjoy these selections, Dear Reader, and, until next time, remember: The Force will be with you…always.

  1. Main Title from Star Wars: A New Hope
  2. Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars: A New Hope
  3. Anakin’s Theme from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
  4. Imperial Attack from Star Wars: A New Hope
  5. Rey’s Theme from Star Wars; The Force Awakens
  6. The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  7. March of the Resistance  from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  8. Han Solo and the Princess from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  9. Across the Stars (Love Theme) from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
  10. Finale from Star Wars:The Rise of Skywalker

Bonus Track

[1] I was somewhat reluctant to see a space-fantasy film called Star Wars when it premiered in the late spring of 1977. I thought it was a “silly movie for 10 year old children” and wanted no part in it.

I think, though, that my initial reaction to what is now my favorite film reflected my emotional turmoil at the time. That year was an anno horriblis for me; I had my first major breakup not long after my 14th birthday; my maternal grandfather died not long before Star Wars hit theaters; and my newly-widowed grandmother, who was in Miami to get away from the loneliness of my grandparents’ apartment, convinced my mom to sell our cozy house in Westchester and buy a townhouse in a brand new section of Fountainbleau Park called “East Wind Lake Village.”  I didn’t want to move, and the combination of three big life changes coming one after the other was too much for 14-year-old me. So when my friends – both in my old ‘hood and at school – talked about how great Star Wars was, I was not exactly the most receptive audience.

[2] Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, of course, are the 1930s serials to which George Lucas was paying an homage when he came up with the idea to make Star Wars in the early 1970s. The Hidden Fortress, a samurai movie (or Eastern) from Japan, also influenced some of the plot and character ideas in Star Wars. I’ve seen a few episodes of Flash Gordon (as well as the eponymous 1980 film), but I have yet to watch The Hidden Fortress.

[3] In college, I learned that in his operas – especially the famous Ring Cycle – Wagner used specific musical themes called “motifs” to describe, musically, the characters, locales, and even objects – such as the Ring of the Nibelung. Most moviegoers probably don’t notice it consciously, but it is a common device used to good effect not just by John Williams but also by Ennio Morricone, Max Steiner, John Barry, John Addison, Michel Legrand, Maurice Jarre, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, and Howard Shore, just to name some of the modern giants of film scoring.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

One thought on “On Music: My Top 10 John Williams ‘Star Wars’ Themes

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: