Since it’s introduction in 1980, the “Imperial March” has become so closely associated with Darth Vader and the Empire that it is occasionally forgotten that this theme was written for The Empire Strikes Back and not the original Star Wars film. With that revelation, several people have asked me “Well, what theme did the Empire have before the Imperial March?”
The short answer is…it really didn’t. It must be remembered that at the time the original film was made, none of that glorious backstory existed yet.. We’d never met the Empire before, and nobody knew who Darth Vader was. In short, John Williams needed a way to make it clear the Empire was the overall bad guy in the film, a musical starting point as it were that could be built upon in future films (clearly he went in another direction entirely but that’s a conversation for another day).
The “Empire” motif that stands in for the Empire in A New Hope is very simple, consisting of three upward moving chords that sound rather ominous in the way they’re played, usually in sync with a shot of the Death Star or an Imperial Star Destroyer (or both). It’s admittedly a far cry from the “Imperial March” that will come in just a few years, but it does do an admirable job of letting you know when the story is shifting back to the Empire.
Incidentally, this motif does appear in a blink and you’ll miss it moment in Rogue One (when Director Krennic is meeting Tarkin, right before that meeting begins, listen carefully as the Death Star’s dish is being slid into place).
And that’s all I’ve got on the original “Empire” motif in Star Wars: A New Hope. I know it’s hard to imagine a world where the “Imperial March” didn’t represent the Empire, but for a few years that’s what we had.
Let me know what you think of the original “Empire” motif in the comments below and have a great day!
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