The Empire Strikes Back: “The Imperial March” by John Williams

The famous Imperial March a.k.a Darth Vader’s theme. This music never fails to send a chill down my spine. What’s interesting is the contrast between the main “Imperial March” that everyone knows and the softer “B” melody, that’s played in the middle. The woodwinds create an unbelievable sense of tension that sets the listener up for the return of the primary “A” melody which quickly modulates into a different key.

The theme is first heard in The Empire Strikes Back when we cut away from the Rebel base to get our first look at the Imperial fleet, but it is also notably used to herald Vader’s arrival in the ruins of Hoth base, and as the remaining heroes rush for the Millennium Falcon, the camera repeatedly comes back to Vader striding through the ice caverns.
Later on in the film, during the climactic lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader on Cloud City, the theme comes back rather menacingly as Vader begins to use the Force to hurl objects at Luke to distract him.
Though there are other instances after this one, I would like to highlight one final time we hear the Imperial March and that is, ironically enough, at the end of Vader’s death scene at the end of Return of the Jedi. Just after Vader/Anakin dies, listen very carefully to the music in the background.
Right there on the harp, is the last iteration of the melody, so soft you can barely hear it, and nothing like the strident march first heard in The Empire Strikes Back. Fitting for a villain who was successfully brought back to the side of good.

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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7 thoughts on “The Empire Strikes Back: “The Imperial March” by John Williams

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