Listening Log – [Pt. II- Proj. 3]- John Williams’ ‘Star Wars (Main Title)’ (from 1977)


John Williams (American film composer 1932-present day) ‘Star Wars ‘(Main Title) 1977. Watched the film and listened to title in film in October 2019. Label: Sony Classical. Conductors: John Williams (Conductor). Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra.

Star Wars (Main Title) is the main theme from the John Lucas directed Star Wars films. It was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1977 and conducted by the composer himself, John Williams.

Star Wars Main Theme (Full). 2012. John Williams. Album:
NPR – Milestones of the Millennium – Music in Film. SME (on behalf of Sony Classical). UMG (on behalf of Walt Disney Records)

John Williams. (1932- present day) is an American film composer and has scored numerous legendary original soundtracks, amongst them Jaws, Superman, E.T and Star Wars which was nominated the best film score of all time in 2005. I have listened to this OST countless times but I decided to revisit it (on Nov 1st 2019) after studying the Romantic Era in Stylistic Techniques and trying to draw comparisons to Romantic music in general and Richard Strauss in particular.

Star Wars (Main Title) is heavily influenced both directly and indirectly by music of the Romantic era. One can hear direct influences of Richard Strauss’ tone poems Don Juan and Don Quixote and indirectly, the Romantic influence comes via Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1942 soundtrack to the film ‘King’s Row’.

Just like in Romantic pieces John Williams uses a large orchestra and the piece is programmatic and structurally follows the movie with a fluid form.

  • Main Title is in 4/4, B♭ major at 100 bpm.
  • Intro starting with a high and accented triplet brass fanfare (ff) (imitation between upper and lower brass) and leads into tremolo strings.
  • Binary structure A- A (ff) – B (mf) -A(ff).
  • Link piccolo (p)
  • Codetta (ff)
Fig.1. Star Wars Main Title- opening fanfare, triplets and tetra chords.

Just like Romantic composers John Williams relies heavily on homophonic leitmotifs for various leading characters and moods in the film, such as the Luke Skywalker motif moving between 4th to 5th  leaps and stepwise triplets and the Rebel Blockade Runner leitmotif  (Key of A♭ major on top of a C pedal) which is mainly constituted of minor third leaps. There are plenty of ornamentations such as trills, however, unlike Romantic it is largely diatonic and avoids too much chromaticism and dissonance, save for a couple of bars where a few parallel and cluster chords occur. The music also keeps relatively strict time without much Rubato and rhythmically it is very repetitive using march like triplets throughout.

I think it is the combination of high intensity drama, with very memorable simple leitmotifs and a very repetitive rhythm which makes this music so effective for the hero-based plot of the film and it is also the reason for its enduring popularity. It is as catchy as pop music, but complex and large enough to retain interest on repeated listens. John Williams has managed to marry popular sensibilities with a classical sophistication to great effect. It is a textbook example of the perfect OST. Although I do not find the music nearly as multifaceted or ambitious as Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, I do find it a highly enjoyable and successful piece of music.