Star Wars Music: The First Steps — A Guest Blog by Eric Onkenhout

Star Wars Music: The First Steps — A Guest Blog by Eric Onkenhout


Star Wars Music: The First Steps — A Guest Blog by Eric Onkenhout

The Star Wars soundtrack is an iconic piece of music, and is one of the most recognizable movie soundtracks in cinema history. It can be heard in sport stadiums all over the world, on televisions, radios, basically anywhere where sound can be projected. It has served as an inspiration for future classical composers and movie soundtracks, just as it had to draw on other pieces of music to gain its own inspiration. Having a love of something like Star Wars opens new doors to other types of art that may have gone ignored otherwise. Therefore, it is always exciting to unearth new roots to the Star Wars family tree.

It could be argued that all orchestral film scores can be traced back to German composer Richard Wagner. However, the two most notable and obvious pieces of music that had its hand in the Star Wars melting pot were The Planets, Op.32 composed by English composer Gustav Holst circa 1915, and Rite of Spring composed by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky circa 1913.

The similarities between the opening scenes of the Star Destroyer capturing the rebel blockade runner are unmistakable. It is not necessary to be a musical expert to hear the rapid drum beats of The Planets, Op. 32: I. Mars, The Bringer of War, as the gigantic Imperial vessel brings war to the much smaller rebel ship. It would be negligent not to mention that the actual Main Theme of Star Wars was clearly taken from the 1942 film starring Ronald Reagan entitled King’s Row. It would not be ridiculous to say that an edited together piece of music containing the opening theme from King’s Row and The Planets, Op. 32: I. Mars, The Bringer of War could substitute for that opening scene. In fact, while putting together early versions of that scene George Lucas played Gustav Holst in the background to get a feel of how it would all fit together.

While listening to the original Star Wars soundtrack the other day, I had noticed how much more alien sounding it was in comparison to all of the other Star Wars music Williams had composed. The scenes on the desert planet Tatooine where a band of Tusken Raiders attack a defenseless Luke Skywalker, a whip-like sound can be heard, which is reminiscent of a similar sound in the film score of The Planet of the Apes. This “natural” sound seems very appropriate for the untamed harshness of the Dune Sea. Leading up to this scene however, we have the droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO exiting the crashed escape pod and arguing over which way to embark on their journey. For this scene Lucas wanted something similar to the second side of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring because “nobody ever uses that side (Rinzler 243).”

Another light bulb went off while listening to Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens soundtrack recently, it sounded closer like the prequel trilogy music than the original trilogy music. Without having the knowledge of a musical background, I would describe it as more “earthly” than the original trilogy soundtrack; more orchestral. The realization that this much-loved soundtrack has stemmed from groundbreaking classical music adds not only texture, but it also adds to our appreciation of it and expands our understanding. We experience levels of poignancy when hearing the different snippets of the soundtrack, which increases our empathy for the characters in the film.

You can find Eric on Twitter @willshatter82, on Facebook/EricOnkenhout and his other contributions for: The Bearded Trio & Coffee With Kenobi.

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1 Comment

  1. Melinda
    February 23, 2016 at 07:37 Reply

    Eric, thanks for lending your musings to CWK. 🙂 I enjoyed your blog very much. Luckily, I stopped by when I had the time to listen to these 2 beautiful pieces of music. 🙂

    Every artist has his/her influences. No story (or piece of music) is entirely unique. The great thing is that every artist will (hopefully) put his/her spin on the subject matter. Someone as truly gifted as John Williams is certainly will do that. What he created for all the Star Wars movies is truly sensational. 🙂

    When I hit the “play” button on the first video (Holst’s “The Planets”), my first thought was, “Oh, I wish (my daughter) Caitlin was here. I need her to translate for me!” You see, she lives in Japan, and it would have been so helpful to have her here to translate. The only word I caught in the introduction was “Kyoto”. Beyond that, I could not tell you if this was the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra performing or if the conductor is from Kyoto. 😉 Then, the music started, and it was obvious I really didn’t need a translator. The great thing about music is that it transcends all abysses — language barriers, cultural barriers. It has a language all its own that everyone can understand. 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂 MTFBWY 🙂

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