In A Studio Far, Far Away: The Force of John Williams
Dec 16, 2019
A great film is the perfect balance between all of its parts. Good performances work with carefully created sets, lighting, costume, and cinematography, all brought together under the vision and guidance of the talented director.
One of the most important parts of the movie puzzle is the score. A brilliant score works in seamless harmony with the images on screen, lifting the emotion of a scene to create a perfectly rounded work of entertainment and art. Some soundtracks stay within the confines of the movie, but others take on a life of their own, transcending their attachment to the moving image.
One of the most celebrated and well known composers for film is John Williams. He has over 250 music credits on the IMDB, has won five Oscars from 41 nominations, and has created some of the most well-known pieces of film music of all time. Even if you don’t know it’s by him, everyone knows his music. The tension created from just two notes in Jaws. The soaring strings as Elliot and his friends fly past the moon on their bikes in E.T. The magical and mystical opening notes from the Harry Potter series. But some of his most iconic work is found in Star Wars.
Whether it’s the Imperial March that signals the arrival of Darth Vader and the evil empire, or the grand orchestral hit that accompanies the title of every Star Wars film in the main saga, John Williams’ score has firmly cemented itself into popular culture. But it’s not all bombast and grand orchestration. The single melancholy horn that gives way to a swelling of strings creates a beautiful moment reflecting Luke’s loneliness and yearning for something more out in the galaxy as he watches two suns set. And the upbeat peppiness of the Cantina band song took it from just bar scene background music to a much loved and referenced piece. As much of a behemoth as Star Wars is itself, the scores are probably known as Williams’s crowning achievement – and are recognised the world over.
Over the years, and as the series has expanded to much more than just the core films, other composers have turned their hands to the task, bringing their own ideas and touch. Michael Giacchino, composer for Up, stepped in for the first spin off film, Rogue One, while John Powell took the baton for Solo. But for these two it was never enough to just follow what Williams had done. While retaining the classical style, they added new ideas and themes giving new characters their own voice. This allowed them to continue the world and create an alchemy with Williams’s score, while making their own mark.
As the current Star Wars storyline comes to an end with the release of The Rise Of Skywalker, John Williams has announced that this will be the last Star Wars film he is going to score. It brings a strong sense of closure not just to the story, but the series itself, spanning over four decades. And John Williams appears to be paying homage to the legacy, with a score spanning 135 minutes and reportedly including themes from throughout all nine films. It’s said that small sections and bars of older scores are hidden and weaved through his new compositions, a gift to fans new and old.
Though it’s a shame to know we’ll never have another Star Wars score made by the man who created such iconic and enduring music, there is the firm sense of closure as Williams chooses to bow out at the end of this story, bringing the saga of these much loved characters to a close, the legacy of his work solidified in cinematic and musical history.