Whatever your feelings may be about the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, or the new trilogy, one element of Star Wars has remained unassailable: John Williams’ score. In a career full of highlights, Star Wars was his career’s launch pad and will likely be considered his life’s work. Fittingly, The Rise of Skywalker will have all of the melodies and leitmotifs from the entire Star Wars saga.
This news comes from Don Williams, John Williams’ brother and a well-regarded studio percussionist. Don Williams discussed the score in progress during an event by The Academy of Scoring Arts. He revealed that the score for The Rise of Skywalker will clock in at around 135 minutes, and that 34 minutes are currently completed. “That kind of tells you how long the film is,” Williams quipped.
“I can tell you that every theme that you ever heard is gonna be compiled into this last effort,” Williams said. He added, “It’s gonna be in there and in his usual style--he hides [the themes]. You gotta go look for them. You’ll find them, but you gotta go look for them. You’ll be sitting there watching the film go by and, ‘Oh, there it is!’ There’s two bars of [a theme], and it grabs you and takes you away.”
You already know the main theme of Star Wars, so let’s run through Williams’ other enduring leitmotifs in the series so you know what to listen for when the film comes out. We’ll also see how Williams has played with variations on recurring melodies throughout the Star Wars saga.
The Force Theme
One of the defining themes of the entire Star Wars saga, “The Force Theme” is often thought of as Luke’s theme. There’s a yearning, melancholy sense of adventure about it, like the heroism at the heart of the melody is paired with a kind of hard-earned wisdom. The Force leitmotif is repeated at the end of A New Hope in a much more forceful, militaristic way during the throne room scene.
“Leia’s Theme” is soft and beautiful, and even has the hint of a fairy tale about it. It’s the leitmotif that makes me think of the fantasy elements of Star Wars and how they are merged with sci-fi serial tropes. The memorable part of the leitmotif above kicks in at the 1:30 mark. This theme would repeat throughout the series, and it would also encompass the Leia/Han Solo relationship for the saga.
TIE Fighter Attack
Another familiar theme that pops up throughout the saga, “TIE Fighter Attack” set the tone for the chases and dogfights throughout the series. Some of the music during “The Battle of Yavin” in A New Hope similarly influenced future leitmotifs in Star Wars, but “TIE Fighter Attack” is much more memorable and instantly recognizable.
The Imperial March
Arguably the second most important leitmotif in all of Star Wars behind the main theme, “The Imperial March” debuted in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s menacing, fascistic, and always approaching. It’s the most metal of all Star Wars themes. Often considered the Darth Vader theme, “The Imperial March” got considerably reshaped for the prequels.
There’s a quiet wisdom about “Yoda’s Theme” that complements the character so well. Luke expects so little from the eccentric puppet, and yet there’s an impressive power hidden within the small Jedi master. This theme plays with that notion, with a melody so humble when played quietly yet awe-inspiring when played with oomph.
The Asteroid Field
Building on “TIE Fighter Attack” and “The Battle of Yavin,” “The Asteroid Field” is one of the other standout tracks from Empire Strikes Back. After conveying the frantic sensation of constant narrow escape, the memorable moment kicks in around 2:17. It’s one of the most daring, death-defying, triumphal melodies of the entire Star Wars series.
Parade of the Ewoks
I sort of doubt we’ll hear the Ewok song in The Rise of Skywalker, though maybe the crew is headed to Endor? (May explain the ruins of a Death Star seen in The Rise of Skywalker trailer.) If anything, it’s a joyous little ditty that’s a bit little like Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” by way of Sergei Prokofiev’s “The Love for Three Oranges.”
The Emperor’s Theme
Speaking of Prokofiev, “The Emperor’s Theme” feels like an homage to Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale “Peter and the Wolf,” specifically the menacing French horn theme of the wolf. If you didn’t learn about leitmotifs from John Williams (or from the Final Fantasy scores of Nobuo Uematsu), you probably became familiar with them thanks to Prokofiev.
Duel of the Fates
And on the note of Uematsu, “Duel of the Fates” always felt to me like John Williams’ version of boss fight music in a JRPG--this is his “One Winged Angel.” It goes well with decisive lightsaber duels against a big bad. It’s almost like the melee combat relative to the dogfight themes from the original trilogy.
Escape from Naboo
This theme appears at least twice in the prequels, which makes me wonder if it’s going to make an appearance in The Rise of Skywalker. It’s sounds like another variation on the dogfight themes of the original trilogy. Lots of complementary melodies, like echoes of what came before. (“It’s like poetry, it rhymes…”)
If “The Imperial March” could be overcome by a Spielbergian sense of childlike wonder, it would be “Anakin’s Theme.” It’s a great play on a familiar melody, and its uplift is undercut by a few intentionally mournful, ominous notes. While the narrative of the prequels may not have properly communicated the tragedy of Anakin’s fall, listening to “Anakin’s Theme” and “The Imperial March” back to back will make it clear.
Across the Stars
“Leia’s Theme”conveyed a sense of fantasy and a fairy tale, while “Across the Stars” aims are more in line with a courtly medieval romance. Again, the music does so much of the narrative and emotional heavy lifting in the prequels, with this aching, booming melody conveying the weight of Anakin’s feelings for Padme. It’s the raging adolescent version of “Leia’s Theme.”
“Rey’s Theme” is probably the best piece of music in the new trilogy so far. It’s a melodic play on “The Force Theme” with a hint of spaghetti western flair. You have the same heroic melancholy associated with Luke Skywalker, but with added timidity and loneliness, which is perfect for a character who never thought she mattered despite all of her unrealized potential. “Familiar but with a twist” seems to be the meta-narrative flavor of each subsequent Star Wars trilogy, which may be why I find “Rey’s Theme” so musically perfect for these new films.
Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s Theme
While not identified as such, this little horn melody accompanies Kylo Ren during his appearances in the series. It’s brief but effective, and another callback to the treacherous French horn of “Peter and the Wolf.” In the stretch before this, we get intimations of something like a de facto theme for The First Order as well, which is a riff on “The Imperial March.”
March of the Resistance
Keeping the “familiar but with a twist” idea in mind, we have “March of the Resistance,” a musical counterforce to “The Imperial March.” It sounds like a rallying tune WWII resistance fighters might have listened to as a way to boost morale. It’s a fitting, swashbuckling leitmotif for the fighter pilots of the Star Wars series, who’ve always felt like the saga’s unsung heroes.
“Rose’s Theme” also has the quiet Spielbergian wonder about it, which fits with the humble origins of its eponymous character. There’s also a whisper of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” If we consider that one of the underlying ideas of the new trilogy is that anyone can become heroic no matter their origins, this could be the working class hero theme of these films.
I may have left a few out. If so, let me know in the comments, and talk about your favorite Star Wars theme.