I love this.

After listening to it a bunch, I’m PRETTY sure that those beautiful driving horn notes in Luke’s March are the same as in the Imperial March, just in a different key and in a different rhythm. Thank you for encouraging me to listen closer!

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An amazing analysis! I've been a fan of Star Wars music since I first saw the movies, and one of my favorite memories from high school was, on a long bus ride to some extracurricular, a friend kindly lent me his nice CD player (yes, I know, it's been a while) with high-quality CDs of the soundtrack. I didn't even know the word leitmotif back then, but I was lost in another world when I listened, and profoundly transformed when I was done.

The bit about Luke's march is brilliant. The scene stands out so clearly to me, and now I'm pretty sure the music contributed to the memory. It is a scene so purely Star Wars, so, dare I say it, archetypal, a moment when we look at the machines and the blasters and the laser swords and see something very close to home, to our history and lived experience. I love your analysis of how the aural dimension complements the visual one to create this effect.

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May 6, 2022·edited Nov 4, 2022

Max - Thank you for this essay. I've heard Williams compared to Wagner before, but never with the callout of the "conversation" between leitmotifs. A tiny pedantic nit of a correction which does nothing to detract from your thesis: "...to melt into Leia’s theme, as brother and sister meet for the last time." [EDIT] This is actually "Han Solo and the Princess" from ESB (not "Luke and Leia" from ROTJ, as I originally said) that underscores their bond through their shared loss.

(Obligatory reminiscence: When ANH came out in '77 I begged to see it, but my parents weren't movie goers and wouldn't take me. I devoured every piece of related merchandise I could, including recordings of the soundtrack I taped from my friend's double-LP. Williams' score was my first substantive encounter with the Star Wars universe that I have loved for so long. To read and hear you dig into it with such love and thoughtfulness warm my heart.)

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Max - you have conjured SO many thoughts with this installment. All of this - Star Wars, Wagner, Leitmotifs, and just 'music's power' to enhance an experience... ALL of this speaks to me. Thank you for this piece. For many years (1977 - Star Wars came out... I was 11) I have been viscerally moved by this soundtrack. I knew why... but could never have explained it as you did in this essay. Musically speaking, Williams leverages the power of tone (French horns are round-edged, while trumpets and drums are more staccato/hard edged) and musical key signature (when the minor or augmented goes to a major key, it is bright and up-lifting). I admire this technique in many musical avenues. But here... it is so well-done!

Side note: I spent a night at a bed-and-breakfast in Lenox, MA. In the parlor there is a grand piano. On that grand piano, propped on a small music stand, sits a hand-written piece of music, signed by Williams... yep - it is a bit of the Star Wars score. Apparently he was tinkering with it while staying in Lenox, MA - perhaps as is his regular habit when he guest-conducted the BSO at Tanglewood during summer months. So.... I sat at that piano, and plinked a key. Imagine writing the Star Wars score, imagining the tones and keys needed to convey the experience of the characters in that way... and being able to imagine that while having only a piano to convey your meaning? It is astounding.

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