Tag Archives: John Williams

My Thoughts on: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

So as I was booking movie tickets last week, I was delighted to see that my local Regal Cinema was showing the 40th anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hard as it is to believe that this film is 40 years old, I couldn’t say no to the chance to see this film in theaters, as the only other opportunity I had to see this film on the big screen was five years ago when I got to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in concert (a fun experience, but not quite the same as seeing it in a theater).

I‘ll start off by saying that Raiders of the Lost Ark is just as good as I remembered. I grew up watching this film, seen it more times than I can count, and oh my goodness was it fun to see it play out in a movie theater. If you’re not familiar with this film, this is the first movie to feature Harrison Ford as archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones. A lot of the movie collections will actually retitle this film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” but Raiders of the Lost Ark is in fact the proper title. And as the title implies, Indiana Jones is in search of the fabled Ark of the Covenant….but so are the Nazis (because this film is set in 1936 so of COURSE the Nazis are the bad guys).

Half of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark so amazing is John Williams’ phenomenal score. Williams has never done a bad film score, but I feel like this point in time was particularly good for him, as Raiders of the Lost Ark came out the year after Empire Strikes Back (and we all know how good THAT score is). My favorite musical moment in this film remains ‘The Map Room’ when Jones has to deduce where the Well of the Souls REALLY is (after learning that his rival doesn’t know after all). This is a perfectly shot scene and what makes it memorable is that the music does 90% of the work. From the moment the cue starts until the end, Harrison Ford doesn’t say a word because the music is telling the story for you.

And then there’s, of course, the story of the film itself. It’s classic good guy vs bad guy storytelling and even though I can quote most of the film from memory, it never ever gets old, that’s how good this film is. Something I’ve grown to appreciate over the rewatches is how this film subverts the adventure tropes that it claims to emulate. Examples include (but are not limited to): Indiana Jones is initially presented as a tough explorer, but he’s TERRIFIED of snakes; Jones steals a uniform from a Nazi guard but it doesn’t fit him when he tries to put it on (subverting the idea that the enemy uniform you steal will ALWAYS fit); Jones is also not as smart as he thinks he is, for proof I cite the opening scene when he tries to trick the booby trap into letting him remove the golden idol without setting it off.

I’m also a big fan of Paul Freeman’s Belloq, the French archaeologist who is Jones’ primary rival throughout the film. On the initial viewing, you might be inclined to just hate Belloq because he works with the Nazis, but the more you watch this film, the more you realize it’s not quite that simple. Sure, Belloq is on the wrong side of history (and he pays for it dearly), but his interest in the Ark is 100% genuine. Also, I think his feelings for Marion are real too, as he seems genuinely upset when Marion is thrown into the snake-filled Well of the Souls. Really, I just like that Belloq is a nuanced villain, in contrast to the Nazis who are just out and out evil.

One thing that’s always bothered me though is the ending. I can still remember watching this film as a kid and being absolutely bewildered that the last thing we see is the Ark getting shut up into a box and taken deep into a packed warehouse. It frustrated the heck out of me as a kid, and even though I sort of understand why the film ends this way, it still frustrates me now if I’m honest. I can’t help but agree with Jones’ final assessment “Fools…..bureaucratic fools. They don’t know what they’ve got there.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark may be 40 years old, but it’s only improved with age. If you get the chance to see this anniversary screening, please go watch, it’s an experience everyone should have at least once.

Let me know what you think about Raiders of the Lost Ark in the comments below and have a great day!

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Soundtrack News: Varèse Sarabande Records to Release ‘The Empire Strikes Back Symphonic Suite’ on LP on 7/23

In Celebration of Star Wars Day 2021, Varèse Sarabande Records is re-issuing the long out-of-print LP The Empire Strikes Back – Symphonic Suite from the Original Motion Picture Score by Academy Award®-winning composer John Williams. Out of print since 1980, the record is pressed on 180-gram black vinyl and housed in a gatefold jacket featuring the original Star Wars paintings and notes.

Available now for pre-order along with two limited exclusive versions: “Ice Planet Hoth Blue” (Vinyl Me Please) and “Imperial Grey Marble” (Newbury Comics). A Canadian exclusive on “Cloud City Orange” will be available only at Sunrise retail shops as of July 23rd.

Originally released to supplement and not compete with the 2-LP Motion Picture Soundtrack, this 1-LP release skillfully combines a “Symphonic Suite” that John Williams created for concert performance with new arrangements of other cues from the film score. The Empire Strikes Back has become not only one of Williams’ most iconic scores, but one of the most iconic film scores of all time. The LP comes in a gatefold jacket with the original iconic Star Wars paintings by William Stout, images of John Williams, and notes from author Ray Bradbury, composer and critic Christopher Palmer, and from the maestro himself.

TRACK LISTING

Side A

  1. 20th Century-Fox Fanfare (0:21)
  2. Main Title/The Imperial Probe (5:25)
  3. Luke’s First Crash (2:29)
  4. Han Solo And The Princess (4:26)
  5. The Asteroid Field (4:12)
  6. The Training Of A Jedi Knight and “May The Force Be With You” (1:56)
  7. The Battle In The Snow (3:06)

Side B

  1. The Imperial March (3:21)
  2. The Magic Tree (3:38)
  3. Yoda’s Theme (3:34)
  4. The Rebels Escape Again (3:01)
  5. Lando’s Palace, The Duel (Through The Window) (5:01)
  6. Finale (4:39)

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Soundtrack News: Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ The Final Season (Episodes 9-12) Original Soundtrack is Out Now

The last of three original soundtracks composed by Kevin Kiner for Star Wars: The Clone Wars was released day along with the final episode in the series. All 12 episodes of season 7 (and indeed the entire Clone Wars series) have been scored by Kevin Kiner, an award-winning composer who is one of the most versatile and sought-after composers in Hollywood.

Highlight tracks include the adrenaline-inducing “Ahsoka vs. Maul” which calls back to John Williams’s “Duel of the Fates” from ‘The Phantom Menace’, and the heart-wrenching electronic synths and angelic tones of “Burying the Dead”.

About Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7:

Now it is the end of the historic Clone Wars, as the forces of darkness have amassed great power in their bid to transform the Republic into the Galactic Empire. In the conflict’s final days, clone troopers specialize for the dangerous missions ahead, Ahsoka Tano confronts life outside of the Jedi Order, and a familiar menace returns to wreak havoc.

If you haven’t checked out the soundtrack for Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 before now, I highly recommend checking out the tracks for the last four episodes, as Kevin Kiner takes the music to another level.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars-The Final Season (Episodes 1-4) (2020)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Bad Batch Theme” (2020)

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Snoke” (2015)

This particular theme in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens soundtrack means a great deal to me, because it helped spawn a theory that took four years to be proven correct. Remember how Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker revealed that the Emperor had been alive all this time? Well, even before that reveal, I half-suspected that something like this might happen, and the “Snoke” theme in Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a great deal to do with it.

Listen carefully to Snoke’s theme below and then I’ll explain what I mean.

You hear all of that? Snoke’s theme is pretty ominous; a droning male choir, the smallest hint of a dark melody, the entire thing reeks of tension and pure evil. In fact, it sounds like a close relative of the Emperor’s theme (as heard in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi), in spirit if not in actual musical relationships. And that is what really drew my attention: this theme for Snoke sounded so much like the Emperor’s theme that, combined with the fact that Snoke was based on concept art for Palpatine, that I could only draw two possible conclusions:

  1. Snoke was Palpatine, just in a different form
  2. Snoke was Palpatine’s puppet/mouthpiece

Time would eventually prove me somewhat correct on the latter conclusion, and it’s all thanks to the music. There’s also the fact that John Williams is not the type of composer to craft a character’s theme a certain way for no good reason. If one theme resembles another, it’s not unreasonable to say that character (in this case Snoke) might be connected to another (in this case, Palpatine). I’ve said it many times, you should always pay attention to the music if you want to get hints about the true identity/true nature of a character. Four years before Palpatine was revealed to the world, John Williams created a theme hinting at the Emperor’s continued presence (there’s an even more blatant hint in The Last Jedi but I’ll discuss that another day).

Let me know what you think about “Snoke” (and whether you drew similar conclusions) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Kylo Ren’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Rey’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “March of the Resistance” (2015)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi “The Spark” (2017)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker “Kylo Ren’s Theme (Redeemed Version)” (2019)

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Star Wars: A New Hope “The Empire motif” (1977)

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!

See also:

Star Wars: A New Hope “The Throne Room” (1977)

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” (1999)

Star Wars is known for many things, but one of my favorites is the many great musical moments that define each of the films in their own way. In the prequel trilogy, one of my favorite moments comes at the very end of The Phantom Menace when everyone gathers in The (capital of Naboo) to celebrate their victory over the Trade Federation and the new alliance between the Gungans and the people of Naboo.

 

During “Augie’s Great Municipal Band”, the Gungans march up the main boulevard of Theed to the steps of the palace, celebrating all the way, while Queen Amidala waits for them along with a host of important characters (the Jedi council and the newly-elected Chancellor Palpatine among them). “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” has a bouncing melody that appears to perfectly reflect the excitement of the moment. But there’s a secret here, courtesy of John Williams.

Listen to this melody in the video above, listen to it very carefully. Do you hear it? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, I didn’t know this existed until I was told about it. Pay attention to the children’s choir, does it sound at all familiar? In a way it should, they’re actually singing the Emperor’s theme in a major key (it’s usually minor) and at least double the speed. That’s right, John Williams hid the Emperor’s theme in a scene of celebration as an extremely subtle bit of foreshadowing that Palpatine is literally controlling all of this. It’s downright spooky once you make the connection, not to mention it makes you view this “celebration” in a completely different light. Everything is going according to Palpatine’s plan, and the Jedi are already doomed, even though they appear to be stronger than ever.

 

Of all the musical foreshadowing John Williams has done in the Skywalker Saga, this is among the most subtle. Be sure to think about this the next time you watch the conclusion of The Phantom Menace, you’ll never look at that scene in the same way ever again.

Let me know what you think about “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Star Wars: A New Hope “The Throne Room” (1977)

Given the enormous amount of music that John Williams has composed for Star Wars over the decades, it stands to reason that some pieces will be remembered more than others. One piece that might not be remembered as much as it should is “The Throne Room”, the fanfare that concludes Episode IV before the credits begin to roll. To put it in context, the Death Star has been blown up, the surviving heroes have returned in triumph, and now it’s time for our heroes to receive their reward from Princess Leia:

 

It’s a stirring fanfare to be sure. As the heroes stride down the aisle to where Princess Leia and the other Rebel Alliance leaders are waiting, you hear a heroic version of “The Force” theme backed up primarily by the brass (and supported by the strings underneath). This music has all the makings of a climactic ending, and originally that’s what it was supposed to be. Remember, at the time the score was composed, there was no guarantee that there would be any sequel to Star Wars, let along a decades-spanning franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. With that in mind, it’s my understanding that the decision was made to give Star Wars as “final” sounding of an end as possible, just in case this was all she wrote and the film bombed at the box office (an idea that sounds laughable now but was a distinct possibility at the time).

“The Throne Room” is designed to bring the story of Star Wars to a close without the aid of dialogue. It tells us all we need to know: the heroes have done what they needed to do, now they can take a breath and celebrate their victory. And if this had been all there was, anyone could say this piece of music brings Star Wars to a thrilling conclusion. But of course, history tells us this was only the beginning for Star Wars. That being said, it doesn’t change the fact that “The Throne Room” is a beautiful piece of music, one that all fans of film music should take a few minutes and listen to.

Let me know what you think of “The Throne Room” in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Star Wars: A New Hope “The Empire motif” (1977)

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens “March of the Resistance” (2015)

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived at theaters in 2015, John Williams proved that he hadn’t missed a step by filling the film with all kinds of musical themes. Heroes and villains alike were given their own memorable themes. “March of the Resistance” is one of the heroic themes and was written for the Resistance as a whole, though I feel it could also be applied to certain characters. Check out “March of the Resistance” below:

This theme arrives for the first time in the midst of the Battle of Takodana, just as our heroes have been taken captive by the First Order. It starts as the camera turns and reveals Resistance X-Wings are racing towards the ruins of Maz’s Castle led by Poe Dameron.

“March of the Resistance” is one of the more “classic” Star Wars themes that John Williams created for The Force Awakens. By “classic” I mean that this theme could easily fit into the original trilogy with its jaunty bass tones and upbeat rhythms. Think about it, doesn’t this theme feel like it could apply to the Rebellion just as much as the Resistance? Not only that, but I really feel this theme could apply to Poe Dameron as his own personal theme. It fits Poe perfectly: it’s brash, it’s loud, and it just oozes confidence, all qualities that the future Resistance general definitely possesses. I’m not sure if Poe has his own theme or motif, but if he doesn’t, I’m probably just going to apply this theme to him from now on because it is just too perfect for him.

This theme recurs at several points in the sequel trilogy after debuting here, most notably in The Rise of Skywalker when the Resistance is departing to bring the fight to the Final Order. It’s a very versatile theme, good for playing over sections of the film that show the Resistance in action. It’s also quite memorable, as its one theme from the sequel trilogy that I’ve found myself humming from time to time.

I hope you enjoyed listening to “March of the Resistance” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Let me know what you think about this theme in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Kylo Ren’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Rey’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi “The Spark” (2017)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker “Kylo Ren’s Theme (Redeemed Version)” (2019)

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Rey’s Theme” (2015)

This is my honest opinion: if you try to tell me there are no great musical themes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then you haven’t been paying attention, because John Williams introduces a beautiful, original theme relatively early in the film. This is “Rey’s Theme” and it comes when, you guessed it, we first meet Rey living as a scavenger on Jakku.

 

The theme starts as Rey is leaving the ruins of the crashed Star Destroyer, having finished her work for the day. It starts off with a bit of whimsy, a soft chiming melody that soon grows into a flowing theme with the strings and woodwinds. This melody tells us several things: that Rey is young and idealistic (much as Luke Skywalker was many years ago), but also that she has her own inner strength even before she starts to use the Force. The former is heard in the opening part of the theme, and the inner strength is revealed when the strings come in, pushing the theme to new heights.

This original version of “Rey’s Theme” lays the foundation for several melodies to come in the sequel trilogy, particularly in The Rise of Skywalker. Williams will put this melody through several variations, altering it to meet Rey’s changing circumstances as the story progresses.

As a musical introduction to one of the most pivotal characters of the sequel trilogy, “Rey’s Theme” performs its purpose beautifully. This theme deserves to be remembered just as much as “The Force Theme”, “The Imperial March”, “Duel of the Fates” and any other classic Star Wars theme. For me, this theme is clear proof that John Williams is just as talented as ever when it comes to creating memorable film music themes.

I hope you enjoy listening to “Rey’s Theme” as originally heard in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Kylo Ren’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “March of the Resistance” (2015)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi “The Spark” (2017)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker “Kylo Ren’s Theme (Redeemed Version)” (2019)

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker “Kylo Ren’s Theme (Redeemed Version)” (2019)

*warning (in case you haven’t seen it): some plot details from The Rise of Skywalker are mentioned

I understand that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has polarized Star Wars fans in every way imaginable and likely will continue to do so for years to come. That being said, this film, as with all the others in the Skywalker Saga, is full of interesting musical moments that we’ll be spending years breaking down and analyzing.

One moment that caught my attention the very first time I saw the film in theaters comes at the end of film, just as the dust is settling from Rey’s climactic fight with Emperor Palpatine. It’s a short moment in a larger theme, but it essentially makes up Kylo Ren’s “redeemed” theme.

You can find this moment in the cue “Farewell” starting around the 0:50 mark. In the film itself, it starts the moment we see Ben’s hand emerge from that crack in the ground, revealing that he is, in fact, alive and didn’t fall to his death.

 

In strictly technical terms, this is the same theme we’ve heard for Kylo Ren all along. The notes haven’t changed all that much…but how they’re presented is. Gone is the harsh brass, the loud, angry tones. Instead, we have a soft theme gliding along in the strings and woodwinds. In essence, this is John Williams making it as clear as possible that Kylo Ren is indeed dead and gone, that this is a changed man before us crawling and making his way towards Rey.

But as with anything John Williams does, there’s a lot more going on just in this short moment. As the redeemed theme emerges, it begins to layer on itself, building and growing as the layers rebound off one another. All of this symbolizes Ben’s grief at finding Rey dead and the battle over. How incredible is it that all of this happens in just a short space of time? It’s so effective, which is why this is one of my favorite musical moments in the entire sequel trilogy.

And of course, there is yet another connection to Ben’s grandfather Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. You see, this isn’t the first time a Star Wars villain’s music has changed to a milder, “redeemed” style. All the way back in Return of the Jedi, Williams did something very similar for the cue “Darth Vader’s Death” (starting around 0:48)

 

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s the same Imperial March, same notes and all that, but it’s been moved to the strings and sounds a lot more mild, just like what we hear in The Rise of Skywalker. I’m fairly certain that John Williams did this on purpose, to heighten the connection between Ben and his grandfather. It seems that Ben is exactly like Anakin after all, angry in life and redeemed at the moment of death.

Let me know what you think about Kylo Ren’s “redeemed” theme in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

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

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi “Final Duel” (1983)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Bad Batch Theme” (2020)

Star Wars: Rebels “It’s Over Now”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Kylo Ren’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “Rey’s Theme” (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens “March of the Resistance” (2015)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi “The Spark” (2017)

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂