So, time for another special three week countdown here at the Temp Track. Partially due to my being busy the next couple weeks, and just plum out of ideas at the time, I’ll be counting down my top 5 cues from each of the original Star Wars films, scored by Mr. John Williams. A few rules to begin with: 1) I’m discounting the opening title theme just because it is too obvious, but not the music immediately following it; 2) Likewise I’m also nixing the end credit suites, but not the music leading into them; and 3) No individual themes, I’m doing cues, not themes (so no just “Imperial March,” but this does not discount cues involving said themes, of course).
For the names of the cues, I’m using the track listings from the two disc releases from a few years ago that are still available. So, let’s go to the tape:
1) “The Hologram/Binary Sunset”: I’ve got to give it up to this cue, while not the first instance of the Force motif in the film, that occurs in “Imperial Attack,” it is used here to underscore one of the most powerful and iconic images in the film series: Luke gazing at the sunset over Tatooine and contemplating his future. As mentioned in an earlier post, it is also here where in the “Blue Harvest” episode of Family Guy that Chris Griffin turns to the camera and says “John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra!” When I teach a course on film music, you can be sure that I’m going to show that clip. Oh, we also have appearances in this cue of Leia’s theme and the main theme.
2) “The Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler”: For starters, I remember from an early age thinking that “The Dune Sea of Tatooine” portion of this cue sounded like Rite of Spring, and while I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison, I’m pretty sure there is more than a little similarity, especially the opening wind solos. But the Jawa portion is pretty genius, Williams really does capture the nature of the strange scavengers quite well, and it blends quite effectively with the “Dune Sea” portion due to its use of winds (especially the double reeds, not to mention the tuba solos).
3) “Cantina Band” (Both tracks): These songs might just be the best piece of diegetic music ever written specifically for a film, and really, I kind of like the second one more than the first. Sure, everyone knows the first one, but how many people really notice the second song that starts playing as Han sits down to talk with Luke and Obi-wan? Well, I’m sure the readers of this blog do, but how many others?
4) “Ben Kenobi’s Death/Tie Fighter Attack”: When I hear this cue, I always hear Han yelling to Luke, “Blast the door kid!” See, back in the early days of CD-Rom tech, Microsoft had a program called Cinemania that was kind of like IMDB before the Internet really became the “The Information Superhighway.” In this program were a few select clips for a few films, including Star Wars, and the clip from it started towards the end of Obi-Wan and Vader’s duel, and ends right as Han tells Luke to shoot the door controls. And the cue for the Tie battle I can always hear because it was used over and over in the computer game X-Wing and Super Star Wars for the old Super Nintendo. Oh, and the music is pretty great too.
5) “The Throne Room”: I always have a weird feeling when watching the end scene of the film because this cue gives me a sense of unease. I can’t explain it, but after the initial fanfare, I always expect that something is going bad is going to happen because of the pervading minor key, the march feeling, and timpani hits. Of course, then the music changes to major as Leia gives them their medals, Chewie growls, R2D2 appears all shiny and new, and the universe is saved…at least until The Empire Strikes Back is released three years later.
But you won’t have to wait three years for my top 5 favorite cues from Empire. Just tune in next Friday.