Friday, 16 September 2016

The music of Star Wars that we never heard again – part 2

John Williams conducting the score to Star Wars

Episode Nothing continues to look at the musical themes that played a major part in Star Wars but were never reprised in the sequels. Last week it was the motif for the Death Star. Today, the piece that was originally known as Darth Vader's Theme.

The original Darth Vader's Theme

Leia confronts Darth Vader as his theme plays

Darth Vader didn’t get bus own musical theme until The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, right? Wrong.

In fact, buy only did the Dark Lord of the Sith have a piece of music that followed him through the film, but Williams even called it Darth Vader’s Theme in the sleeve notes to the 1977 soundtrack album.

“Long ago, Darth Vader betrayed Ben Kenobi and the Jedi Knights,” Williams said then. “For his theme, I use a lot of bassoons and muted trombones and other sorts of low sounds.”

At this point, I want to mention a podcast that should be listened to by anyone seriously interested in the music of Star Wars. It’s Rebel Force Radio and particularly the episodes branded Star Wars Oxygen. In these podcasts, David W. Collins – voice actor, sound designer and music expert – joins presenter Jimmy Mac to discuss John Williams’ work. They have devoted four episodes to the music of the original movie, giving Collins plenty of chance to discuss all the themes at length.

Collins deals with Darth Vader’s theme in this episode. He has counted the use of each theme in the movie and worked out that the Force Theme (aka Ben Kenobi’s theme) is used most often, with Luke’s theme (the main Star Wars march) and Darth Vader’s Theme tied for second place.

“It is everywhere in this movie,” he says of Vader’s music. “Every time a stormtrooper shows up, even as they’re pulling into Mos Eisley and they get stopped and pulled over … when the stormtroopers are searching in the desert, ‘Look sir droids’ … you hear it everywhere.”

When Williams later gave Vader a fully-fledged theme of his own in The Empire Strikes Back, he called it ‘The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)’, and that title would fit the use of the theme in the first movie too. It certainly accompanies Vader, but it is also used numerous times to indicate stormtroopers on the march.

Collins suggests that the theme has something in common with a heavy metal rhythm, and also, appropriately, with samurai music. Neither of these connections would have occurred to me but I have certainly been able to hear them since he pointed it out. The other thing that strikes the listener, if you follow the score closely, is just how versatile that tiny theme is.

All 14 occasions when we hear the original Darth Vader’s Theme

The droids approach the escape pods in Star Wars

You could argue that we first encounter something like Darth Vader’s Theme in the film’s opening battle, just after the stormtroopers blast their way through the hatch door into the Rebel blockade runner. David W. Collins and others point out that the music in this battle has the “same interval pattern” as the theme, illustrating how the motif permeates much of the score. But we don’t hear its fully-fledged melody, so we’ll start with its first full appearance.

1 The droids enter escape pod

In fact, the theme proper is first played just as we cut away from the stormtroopers who have captured Leia to the droids getting into the escape pod. It’s a subtle reminder of what awaits the droids if they stay on the ship.

2 Leia is taken before Darth Vader

The theme is stated quite distinctly as Leia confronts Darth Vader for the first time – and in fact, this is the longest continuous use of the theme in the film. It runs under the dialogue between the princess and the dark lord, and the subsequent exchange between Vader and an Imperial officer. In fact, it lasts almost all the way until the end of the sequence, when the scene changes with a statement of the Death Star theme.

3 Stormtroopers search the desert

This is a particularly neat use of the theme. Just after the droids are reunited on the Jawa sandcrawler, the film cuts to the stormtroopers examining the escape they landed in.

We’re given a statement of the Imperial theme to reinforce the reminder that the droids are by no means safe. And having given us several passages of exotic music to accompany the Jawas, Williams adds a little of that same unusual atmosphere to the statement of the Vader theme on the French horn. It’s a uniquely Tatooine-ish take on this very adaptable tune.

4 Obi-Wan tells the story of Darth Vader

In contrast to the previous appearance, this is a very moody and subtle use of the theme, just as Kenobi tells the grim story of how Vader killed Luke’s father. 

The sombre tone of the music makes it very much Vader’s Theme in this sequence, distinct from the brash treatment sometimes given to the motif when it accompanies marching stormtroopers. Williams then segues into the Force Theme as Kenobi discusses that topic for the first time.

5 On board the Death Star

We’ve just had a loud statement of the Death Star motif, accompanying the cut away from Luke’s burning homestead to the space station where Leia is in peril. Williams is exercising several of his key themes here: first the Death Star piece; then the Vader/Imperial motif as Darth Vader marches down a Death Star corridor; then Princess Leia’s Theme as we see her in her cell, before Williams introduces some scene-specific music for the threat of the probe droid.

6 “How long have you had these droids?”

We get just a brief reprise of the theme as Luke, Ben and the droids approach a roadblock in Mos Eisley and the audience wonders how they’re going to get past the stormtroopers.

7 Stormtroopers march through Mos Eisley

Another brief statement of the theme, as Stormtroopers march towards Docking Bay 94. Williams is about to let rip with a great piece of action music.

8 The scanning crew

We hear the theme as a scanning crew on the Death Star prepares to search the ensnared Millennium Falcon.

9 The bad transmitter

When an officer looks to see what has happened to trooper TK421, we hear a little fragment of the theme, but not the full thing. That’s possibly a clever trick on Williams’ part, since the trooper who gestures to him is not the real deal, but Luke in stolen uniform.

10 Shootout in the cell bay

In the action sequences on the Death Star, Williams gives most of his themes a thorough workout as he scores the film’s rapid action and scene changes. The shootout after Leia’s rescue begins with a lot of the Rebel Fanfare, but the Vader/Imperial theme is used just before the heroes disappear into the garbage chute.

11 Stormtroopers discover the droids

The theme is used as troopers enter the control room where the droids are still monitoring the action on the Death Star.

12 Han Solo pursues the stormtroopers

The theme is used perfectly as Han tries chasing a squad of stormtroopers, only to run them into a dead end and turn around.

13 “We count 30 Rebel ships”

With the Rebel attack on the Death Star fully under way, a little snatch of the theme accompanies the scene in which an officer updates Vader.

14 “Are you sure the computer can hit it?”

In the climactic battle scene, Williams again brings in most of his themes, moving from one to another as rapidly as the film changes scenes. Amid the action, this is the last use of the Vader theme, as Luke becomes increasingly important to the Rebel attack.

Vader and the Empire would be back of course, but the original Darth Vader’s Theme would not survive the Battle of Yavin.

Hear all the key appearances of Darth Vader's Theme in Star Wars

In the above video, you'll hear just about all the appearances of Darth Vader's Theme as it is used in the film. I've excluded that opening stormtrooper attack and other scenes where we hear Imperial-sounding music without the main melody of the theme.

On the Special Edition Soundtrack album, you’ll find the music to these scenes in the following tracks: ‘Imperial Attack’ (CD1, track 3), ‘Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler’ (CD1, track 4), ‘Tales of a Jedi Knight/Learn About the Force’ (CD1, track 8), ‘Burning Homestead’ (CD1, track 9), ‘Mos Eisley Spaceport’ (CD1, track 10), ‘Millennium Falcon/Imperial Cruiser Pursuit’ (CD2, track 2), ‘Death Star/The Stormtroopers’ (CD2, track 4), ‘Shootout in the Cell Bay/Dianoga’ (CD2, track 6), The Trash Compactor’ (CD2, track 7), ‘Tractor Beam/Chasm Crossfire’ (CD2, track 8) and ‘The Battle of Yavin’ (CD2, track 10).

Credit is also due to this massively useful post on the forum of the John Williams Fan Network, which lists every use of every theme in all the Star Wars films.


Rory Cobb said...

My favorite theme!

Darren Slade said...

Thanks a lot Rory. I've never previously heard anyone say they actually prefer it to the Darth Vader's Theme we know from Empire!

Rory Cobb said...

Here's why: this theme is sly; a little creepy and mysterious. The Imperial March is just that: a March. Big, bombastic, and dramatic; and I really think it shows how Lucas changed his mind on the Vader character: from the spooky Imperial henchman to Luke's fallen- Jedi father