As Star Wars fans we all have our favourite scenes from the films. In my last article I wrote about my favourite piece of dialogue from the saga, Yoda’s “luminous beings” speech to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve also written about my favourite opening scene which is the opening of Revenge of the Sith. I thought I’d focus this month on my favourite scene based on the music that accompanies it: Ben’s Death & the Tie Fighter Attack from Star Wars.
This scene also contains what may be the best example of editing in virtually any movie (seriously, I love it!) but for me what holds it together is the music John Williams created for it. Repeated listening of The Star Wars Storybook on cassette as a child has ingrained the musical cues & sound effects in me like a favourite Springsteen song.
The scene kicks in aboard the Death Star just as Ben Kenobi smiles at Darth Vader and is cut down by his former student and good friend. A longing, somber piece of music accompanies Ben and Luke’s final look at each other. Then, Vader’s blade strikes, an empty brown robe falls to the floor and suddenly there is a flourish of string instruments as Luke sees Ben disappear.
Our shock is instantly interrupted by a desperate “NO!” as Luke Skywalker reacts to his new mentor’s death. As he screams, the music suddenly crests, matching the desperation and sorrow Luke is suddenly experiencing. The music is sweeping, filled with strings playing a motif that is both sorrowful and heroic. At the same time laser blasts and explosions enter the mix as Luke seeks to avenge his mentor.
The music then crests again as Luke’s friends plead for him to escape with them on the Millennium Falcon. As Princess Leia pleads, “Luke, it’s too late!” the score peaks and crests a third time, reinforcing the emotion of the scene.
Just as quickly as this sweeping and emotional score appears, it is replaced by the second piece of music that accompanies the Falcon’s escape. The score is all brass and percussion played double time as the Falcon escapes from the Death Star. The viewer (and listener) is given a quick chance to catch their breath as Luke mourns for Ben and Leia comforts him. The difference between this scene and the previous ones is nearly jarring as there is little physical movement from the characters and virtually little sound accompanying it. A quiet, mournful version of the Force Theme is heard just above the sound of the Falcon’s engines. Then, the action and music picks up again as Han declares, “we aren’t out of this yet” and another musical cue kicks in, sounding almost like a countdown that creates a high level of tension as the heroes get set for battle. The music continues to build as Han and Luke man the Falcon’s guns…
Leia exclaims, ”Here they come!” And we’re off….
The music that makes up the second half of the track on the soundtrack is one of my favourites from the entire saga. In fact I like it so much that it’s the ringtone my iPhone plays when my wife calls me. The music is in my opinion as good and iconic as the Main Theme itself as it accompanies our heroes as they defend themselves from a squadron of TIE fighters. Also this is our first real dogfight in Star Wars, as up to this point we’ve only seen two relatively slow scenes of star destroyers pursuing first the Tantive IV and then the Falcon as it blasts its way out of Mos Eisley.
I can’t remember where or when, but I have a distinct memory of seeing this entire scene countless times on TV over the course of the summer of 1977. Maybe it was on a PBS program because what other network would have been repeating programming like that? Either way, I would always stop in my tracks when it came on. I also recall seeing the commercials for the film on TV (they weren’t trailers back then) and Luke exclaiming, “They’re coming in too fast!”
The scene is an amazing tutorial in creating tension strictly through how it is edited. The pace of the scene is completely frantic as Luke and Han track the attacking TIE fighters back and forth across the screen. The entire time, the music provides a sense of tension and hopelessness as it pounds out notes that mimic urgency in our heroes and relentlessness from the Empire. There are quick camera cuts that alternate from both gunners, the cockpit of the Falcon and the attacking TIES, all matching the rhythm of the music. There is a level of disorientation as well as Han and Luke swing their gun turrets from side to side, trying to hit one of the TIE fighters as it passes them. The camera also cuts to Leia and Chewbacca, their heads turning from one side to the other, also following their attackers. All the while, the music continues its relentless rhythm.
The music plays the role of time-keeper, as if it’s creating the speed that represents the Falcon’s modified engines and the agility of the swarming TIEs. Finally our heroes defeat the last of their attackers and the music provides a final, triumphant brass instrument finish. It’s kind of like a music video really, as the music is high up in the mix perfectly matching the action on-screen, only ending when one final explosion signifies victory.
Ben’s Death and TIE Fighter Attack accompanies two of the most tension filled scenes of the original Star Wars and although the music that makes up both parts of the same track maybe very different, together they help the images on-screen convey the high emotions our heroes are experiencing.
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I welcome your feedback! My email is MikeM@coffeewithkenobi.com. You can find me on Twitter @MikeTarkin and at Retrozap.com. You can also find me at my website, MikeTarkin.com – “Star Wars In My Corner of the Galaxy.”Powered by Sidelines