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Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by John Williams

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“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” That counterintuitive sentence, which in 1977 introduced the first film in the Star Wars series, prompted a counter-intuitive film score.

Where some film composers, faced with speeding spaceships and humming lasers, might have been tempted to create a “futuristic” score, the composer John Williams created something quite different.
The glamorous soundworld he wrote to accompany the exploits of R2-D2, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Han Solo revived what many had thought to be a dying breed: the symphonic film score.

The trend from the mid-1960s until Star Wars had been to make scores “contemporary” or “popular” in style. Alfred Hitchcock had infamously sacked the legendary Bernard Herrmann – composer of such scores as Psycho and North by Northwest – in favour of a more jazzy or “contemporary” style of music.
John Williams had been previously noted for his score for Spielberg’s Jaws and such disaster movies as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.
With Star Wars, he created a score which not only evoked an atmosphere as he had in these previous films, or even a “signature” such as the motif which introduces the monstrous shark in Jaws;
he recognised in that opening sentence – “A long time ago” – the key to a story which, beyond the lasers and speeding spaceships, resonates with such past mythical figures as the brave peasant warrior (who also turns out to be a prince); the princess in adversity; and a variety of monsters and evil rulars whom he must vanquish to save her. Williams therefore revived the heroic style of film scores from a golden age which had depicted such mythical heroism in – most significantly – contemporary contexts.

Clear predecessors and influences included William Walton, who wrote several fanfare-rich and hair-raising scores for such World War II films as The First of the Few and The Battle of Britain; and Serge Prokofiev, another film composer productive during World War II whose music encompassed both heroism, as in the film Alexander Nevsky, and the comic and grotesque as in not only Ivan the Terrible but also several of his colourful and irreverent concert works such as the Love for Three Oranges suite.
With these intoxicating ingredients – stirring, distinctively characterful and colourfully scored music – combined with a pinch of Williams’s own genius, he created music which not only enhanced Star Wars and its sequels, but which also became part of their inherent identity: its stirring fanfare and Darth Vader’s “Imperial March” are just two distinctive themes which millions of listeners instantly recognise as intrinsic elements of the film, just as much as Darth Vader’s distinctive helmet or Chewbacca’s roar.

(Fun Fact: When John Williams signed onto the Star Wars project, one of his first moves was to compose the Main Title to Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope in the same key as the 20th Century Fox Fanfare. He has said before that it was truly meant as another extension of the fanfare, and it has since then been adopted by Star Wars film score buffs as part and parcel of the scores to Star Wars. However, since Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 future films will no longer feature the 20th Century Fox fanfare and Disney has also removed it from all previous "Star Wars" films.)

Curation: Daniel Jaffé

Visual Art: Philipp Nicolai Hertel

  • Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope

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    John Williams, Herbert W. Spencer

    John Williams, London Symphony Orchestra1977

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