John Williams on the Evolution of the Musical Themes of STAR WARS


John Williams is the composer behind the iconic music from movies that include Jaws, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Home Alone, Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the Harry Potter films, and so many more, but maybe the most recognizable and beloved are the themes to the Star Wars film franchise. He’s been composing the musical scores since the first film in 1977, and is composing the music for the final film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

As he closes the book on this final chapter, he spoke with CBSNews about the evolution of the music and how the twist that took the fans by surprise also necessitated Williams change his musical trajectory for the films. But he’s such a pro, he took it in stride and made it work. Although when he created the score for the first film, he and George Lucas had no idea what was about to happen, and how huge the franchise would become. He says that even though Steven Spielberg knew it would be a hit, he wasn’t thinking beyond the first film. So here’s what he said about creating the music for A New Hope as a standalone film:

But the story I tell about Luke and Leia, I saw them as two young people in the first film that I would never see again. And they seemed to be compatible. They had fun together. They did the action scenes together. And I figured, “Well, sooner or later, they will be lovers and they’ll have children and you know, so I wrote a love theme for Princess Leia, not knowing for, like, two or three years that they were brother and sister. I’m not even sure when George (LAUGHS) told us. That was the second film, or the third [“Return of the Jedi”]. So I had to go back and write different themes for (LAUGHS) the various relationships that came into focus over time.

That’s pretty funny, but actually works for the setup. Since most viewers were watching with the expectation that Luke and Leia were going to end up together, then had a love theme playing behind them, he played right into the bamboozle without even knowing it. He also talked a bit about how it feels to be composing the final film of the saga:

Well, certainly, I think it’s the end of the Skywalker story, as far as I understand it. Disney, which is the company that owns Lucasfilm, may want to go on and produce more Lucas-inspired films. But this will put the bow on the package for me.

And it’ll probably be the end of a sort of thematic flow, which started on the first movie and ended now. What’s wild for me as a composer of “Star Wars” is this has never happened – it’s my good fortune, the good fortune in the sense that I did the music for the first film. It was this, that, and the other theme. In the second film, I had this, that, and the other theme and two more themes. And so the glossary of things has expanded over all these years. We couldn’t play it all in one night. There’s too much of it.

He really has given so much to the film franchise. I remember fondly the years I worked at Disneyland on Star Tours, when I was assigned to the exit to point guests toward the gift shop as they exited their star speeders, I would hear the Star Wars themes played over and over. I never got sick of them, and even sang along. The films and music go hand in hand, and trigger so many good memories for so many people. I can’t wait to hear the final music in the final film when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters this December 20th.


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John Williams on the Evolution of the Musical Themes of STAR WARS
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