The Music In Star Wars: How We Hear Sacrifice And Celebration When Traveling At Lightspeed

Priya Sridhar
May 5, 2020 · 3 min read

May the fourth be with you! And may the Force be with you as well. It is Star Wars Day, a time to celebrate lightsabers, droids, and hyperspace. We want bandits to steal plans and hide them in droids, and princesses to remind us generals can come from anywhere.

It has been a rough year for Star Wars films. I’ve gotten into near-shouting matches with friends about Kylo Ren and felt disappointed about how the new trilogy handled POC like Finn and Poe. No one liked Rise of Skywalker, and entitled fans chased actors like Kelly Marie Tran off Twitter. In short, the magic has seemed to fade from the mainstream. Or has it?

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There’s one thing that Star Wars can’t mess up: the music. Look at any of the movies, and they don’t have a sour note in the soundtracks at least. I talk about some of my favorite bits.

A Legacy Fanfare

We all know the familiar drums and trumpets. 20th Century Fox slipping into the iconic theme, as golden letters set the tone. We know the drama is coming, as it switches to minor keys from B flat major.

This song makes me think of adventure. Generally, the audience arrives in the middle of a battle, as the latest version of the Empire goes toe-to-toe with the heroes. We know that we are in for some trouble and protagonists that are determined despite overwhelming odds.

Borrowing From The Rite Of Spring

The first Star Wars movie borrows cues from the ballet The Rite of Spring. You can hear bits of “The Sacrifice” during the Tattoine scenes, as Luke encounters Tusken Raiders while trying to save his droids from the desert. He doesn’t know that destiny will approach and burn his home down.

What does it mean that Williams used these moments? First, that he had good taste in music; The Rite was unappreciated during its premiere and only gained traction later on with the right audience. The jarring chords and hard-to-play melodies can be dissonant for those new to classical music.

Second, it lends to the motif that Luke cannot stay on Tattoine; it holds death for him. He doesn’t die, but his aunt and uncle do. Obi-Wan Kenobi reassures Luke that there was nothing he could have done, while later preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice on the Death Star.

Lightsaber Duels

Let’s be real; we watch for the sword fights. The music also helps, with appropriate operatic choirs and heavy orchestra. As the sounds of buzzing lightsabers echo in various chambers, more so indoors or outdoors.

What’s more, the music reverbs the stakes. Lightsaber duels indicate that someone will either die or suffer a serious injury. The music heightens our heart rate as we lean forward, either in the theater or with our laptops. Williams delivered on battle music that was both personal and epic.

The Way Forward

I don’t know what will happen with Star Wars. In all honestly, I prefer the spinoff material because the creators are given more freedom to make their continuity. We know, however, that the music will be lit and evoke the appropriate emotions for space opera.

No one’s ever really gone, as Luke said, and the music never will be. Our friends are still waiting, droids and Jedi and rebels alike, for the next motif. Let’s play it on loop for future adventures.

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