Star Wars music

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The music of Star Wars consists of the scores written for all six Star Wars films by composer John Williams from 1977 to 1983 for the Original Trilogy, and 1999 to 2005 for the Prequel Trilogy. Williams' scores for the double trilogy count among the most widely known and popular contributions to modern film music. Additionally, music for Star Wars: The Clone Wars was written by Kevin Kiner, and further music has been composed for Star Wars video games and works in other media.

The scores utilize an eclectic variety of musical styles, many culled from the Late Romantic idiom of Richard Strauss and his contemporaries that itself was incorporated into the Golden Age Hollywood scores of Erich Korngold and Max Steiner. While several obvious nods to Gustav Holst, William Walton and Igor Stravinsky exist in the score to Episode IV, Williams relied less and less on classical references in the latter five scores, incorporating more strains of modernist orchestral writing with each progressive score. The reasons for Williams' tapping of a familiar Romantic idiom are known to involve Lucas' desire to ground the otherwise strange and fantastic setting in well-known, audience-accessible music. Indeed, Lucas maintains much of the trilogy's success relies not on advanced visual effects, but on the simple, direct emotional appeal of its plot, characters and, importantly, music.

Star Wars often is credited as heralding the beginning of a revival of grand symphonic scores in the late 1970s. One technique in particular is an influence: Williams's revival of a technique called leitmotif, which is most famously associated with the operas of Richard Wagner and, in film scores, with Steiner. A leitmotif is a phrase or melodic cell that signifies a character, place, plot element, mood, idea, relationship or other specific part of the film. It commonly is used in modern film scoring as a device for mentally anchoring certain parts of a film to the soundtrack. Of chief importance for a leitmotif is that it must be strong enough for a listener to latch onto while being flexible enough to undergo variation and development.

A series of concerts which featured Star Wars music, Star Wars: In Concert, took place in 2009 and 2010. First performed in London, it went on to tour across the United States and Canada, last playing at London, Ontario, Canada on July 25, 2010.

Principal motifs[edit]

Composed for the original trilogy[edit]

First appearance in A New Hope[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]
Canada (Music Canada)[2]Platinum150,000^
United States (RIAA)[3]Platinum2,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

First appearance in The Empire Strikes Back[edit]

First appearance in Return of the Jedi[edit]

Composed for the Prequel Trilogy[edit]

First appearance in The Phantom Menace[edit]

First appearance in Attack of the Clones[edit]

First appearance in Revenge of the Sith[edit]

Dies Irae[edit]

While the plainchant setting of Dies Irae is not the only melody drawn from or inspired by the canon of Western art music, it is the only one that serves a recurring, leitmotivic function. Like many composers before him, Williams uses Dies Irae to evoke a sense of impending doom or tribulation. The four signature notes first appear in the score to Star Wars, notably at the end of the scene in which Luke finds his aunt and uncle dead. It was originally introduced in the "Binary Sunset" scene, but Williams was asked to rewrite the cue, and in doing so removed the references to Dies Irae. Williams reprised the motive for Attack of the Clones in an eight-note (but altered) form to foreshadow the suffering Anakin Skywalker would bring to the galaxy in the scene in which he admits that he murdered the Tusken Raiders. It also appears in Revenge of the Sith during several climactic scenes.


The score of the original Star Wars film of 1977 won John Williams the most awards of his career:

He also received the 1977 Saturn Award for Best Music for both the Star Wars score and his score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.[10]

Williams's score for the 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, also earned him a number of awards:

The Empire Strikes Back was also nominated in 1981 for Best Original Score the 53rd Academy Awards (the award was won by Michael Gore for Fame).[13]

Williams's subsequent Star Wars film music was nominated for a number of awards; in 1984 his score for Return of the Jedi was nominated for Best Original Score at the 56th Academy Awards.[14] His compositions for the prequel trilogy also received nominations: the score for The Phantom Menace was nominated for Best Instrumental Composition at the 2000 Grammy Awards[15] and Revenge of the Sith was nominated at the 2006 Grammy Awards for Best Soundtrack Album.[16]

In 2005 the 1977 soundtrack for Star Wars was voted as the "most memorable film score of all time" by the American Film Institute in the list AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores, based on the assessment of a jury of over 500 artists, composers, musicians, critics and historians from the film industry.[17]


The soundtracks to both Star Wars and The Phantom Menace have been certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least 1 million units, with the albums for The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones being certified Gold (500,000 units).[18] The British Phonographic Industry certified Star Wars as Silver, for shipments of 60,000 units in the United Kingdom, and The Phantom Menace as Gold, for 100,000 units.[19]

Minor motifs[edit]

In addition to these major leitmotifs, a host of subsidiary motifs occur throughout the six films, some whose existence is tied to a single scene, others which recur infrequently, or are given to little development. These include:

Diegetic music[edit]

Diegetic music is music "that occurs as part of the action (rather than as background), and can be heard by the film's characters".[20]

Concert suites[edit]


The cues recorded by Williams for the Star Wars movies are not always heard in their original forms. In cases when a scene was re-edited after the recording process, the music was edited to reflect the changes. Such edits sometimes carry over into the soundtrack albums and sometimes do not.

Williams will also record the same cue several times. These different takes will then be assembled to form one "ideal" take of the cue which is then used in the film.

Improper notation or the loss of documentation, however, led to an array of incorrectly edited album releases, using alternate takes not meant to be officially used.

With the advent of modern technology and editing techniques, the prequels took the ability to re-construct the music to an extreme. Williams and Lucas however did decide where some tracked music would be used and would leave the scene open for the music (such as "Escape from Naboo" from Episode I and in Episode III as the Invisible Hand falls from space).

However, further editing usually took place past what Williams had intended.

Film soundtracks[edit]

Other Star Wars music[edit]

Expanded Universe scores[edit]

Incidental music has been composed in the style of John Williams for a number of films, television programmes and computer games which have been produced which depict characters and situations within the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the extended franchise licensed by Lucasfilm. These scores often borrow thematic material from the film scores as well as introducing original composition.

Star Wars Holiday Special[edit]

Original music was composed for Star Wars Holiday Special television special (1978) by Ken and Mitzie Welch. The film also used the Star Wars main theme and the force theme, which were composed by John Williams.


For the films Caravan of Courage and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, Peter Bernstein composed an original score, also using a brief reprise of John Williams' Ewok theme (from Return of the Jedi) in both films. The album was officially released as a 12-inch LP record by Varése Sarabande on December 8, 1986.

The LP was later bootlegged onto CD in 1999 and retitled "Star Wars: Ewoks". The bootleg has a number of discrepancies including an incorrect track arrangement, incorrect track names and incorrect track times. So called "Additional Material" on the bootleg was never officially sanctioned by Lucasfilm Ltd. and is in fact made up of three tracks cobbled together from tracks from the Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology & various releases of the Return of the Jedi soundtrack.

Track Listing (Official 1986 12" LP Release)[edit]

Side A

  1. A1. Trek (Caravan of Courage) 1:53
  2. A2. Intro/Main Title (Caravan of Courage) 02:47
  3. A3. Noa & Terak (Battle for Endor) 03:50
  4. A4. Teek (Battle for Endor) 02:44
  5. A5. Set Up/Terak's Theme (Battle for Endor) 03:09
  6. A6. Noa's Ark (Battle for Endor) 02:09
  7. A7. Izrina (Caravan of Courage) 01:31

Side B

  1. B1. Flying (Caravan of Courage) 02:46
  2. B2. Good Night, Bad Dreams (Battle for Endor) 03:11
  3. B3. Poker Game (Battle for Endor) 02:15
  4. B4. Pulga Chase (Caravan of Courage) 02:40
  5. B5. The House (Battle for Endor) 01:39
  6. B6. Escape (Battle for Endor) 01:30
  7. B7. Farewell (Battle for Endor) 03:46

Total Duration: 00:35:50

Shadows of the Empire[edit]

For the Shadows of the Empire media project, an unusual soundtrack was scored by composer Joel McNeely after a suggestion by John Williams. It was performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus, and published by Varèse Sarabande. Familiar themes from the movies can only be heard in tracks one (Main Theme from Star Wars and the carbon freeze scene from The Empire Strikes Back), eight (The Imperial March and The Force Theme) and ten (The Imperial March). The disc also includes an interactive track for personal computers, containing concept art and additional information about the project.

Track listing[edit]
  1. Main Theme from Star Wars and Leia's Nightmare (3:41)
  2. The Battle of Gall (7:59)
  3. Imperial City (8:02)
  4. Beggar's Canyon Chase (2:56)
  5. The Southern Underground (1:48)
  6. Xizor's Theme (4:35)
  7. The Seduction of Princess Leia (3:38)
  8. Night Skies (4:17)
  9. Into the Sewers (2:55)
  10. The Destruction of Xizor's Palace (10:43)

Total time: 58:31

The liner notes of the booklet give brief plot summaries for each track of the corresponding sections from the novel. McNeely wrote, "Unlike with film music, I have been allowed to let my imagination run free with the images, characters and events from this story. I have also had the luxury to loiter as long as I like with a character or scene. Every passage represents some person, place or event in this story."

Star Wars: Dark Forces[edit]

Music for the 1995 computer game Star Wars: Dark Forces was mostly original works composed by Clint Bajakian, though they are based on cues from the original Star Wars works. The background music for the Anoat City level was loosely based on the Jawa theme from A New Hope. The music for the level that takes place aboard the Super Star Destroyer Executor borrows from both the Death Star Attack and the Imperial March. The last level, the Arc Hammer, utilizes cues from the Death Star Battle as well. Due to the length of the game itself and the Full Throttle demo included on the disk, some of the tracks had to be re-used. Two new cues were composed for this game, which are the Dark Forces Main Title and Kyle Katarn's Theme. The Main Title is supposedly the theme for General Mohc, as an online MIDI soundtrack is available which has an alternative arrangement of the main theme titled "Mohc: The Final Battle". Kyle's theme is used primarily in the cutscenes, and a nearly complete rendition is heard in the cutscene preceding the second level, After the Massacre. Three tracks were composed for the game which weren't included, and they are a battle theme for the first encounter with a Dark Trooper, a theme for Jabba's Ship (with apparently no ties to the theme used for Jabba the Hutt in Episode VI), and the final battle with the last boss in the game, General Mohc in a Dark Trooper Phase 3 exoskeleton.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic[edit]

Music for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was composed by Jeremy Soule. For Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Mark Griskey developed music and themes for characters and places, including the Jedi's theme, Darth Sion's theme and Darth Malak's theme (which both have many similarities with the Emperor's theme from The Return of the Jedi). He also created a theme for the main character, which is heard occasionally when he or she experiences internal conflict. The 70-minute score was recorded by the Sinfonia Orchestra in Seattle.[21] The opening crawl still uses the version of William's theme that was re-recorded for the prequel trilogy.

Star Wars: Republic Commando[edit]

In the computer game Star Wars: Republic Commando, the Vode An theme plays in the main menu and several key points throughout the game content (such as when the player's clone commandos defeats a large group of enemies). The Vode An theme, as well as several other key music pieces, has additional choral lyrics in the Mandalorian language.

Track listing[edit]
  1. Vode An (Brothers All) - 1:58
  2. Prologue - 3:24
  3. The Egg Room - 2:34
  4. Gra'tua Cuun (Our Vengeance) - 2:33
  5. Improvised Entry - 1:34
  6. They Must Be Asleep - 1:23
  7. The Ghost Ship - 2:24
  8. Ka'rta Tor (One Heart of Justice) - 1:54
  9. Com Interference - 2:16
  10. The Jungle Floor - 2:46
  11. RV Alpha - 1:55
  12. Through the Canopy - 1:15
  13. Rage of the Shadow Warriors - 2:02
  14. Make Their Eyes Water - 1:23
  15. Kachirho by Night Vision - 1:23

Total time: 28:04

Star Wars: TIE Fighter[edit]

Music for the computer game Star Wars: TIE Fighter contains many themes from the original trilogy, however, many motifs (such as the Imperial March motifs) which were originally composed as dark motifs are used as heroic motifs. This is consistent with the theme of the game, where the player plays as an Imperial TIE Fighter pilot.

The in-game music played during flight sequences (missions) uses the iMuse game engine. This uses leitmotifs to vary the music played during missions depending on the actions of the player or other mission events. For example, a special motif is played when player achieves a victory, when the mission is failed, when secondary or bonus goals or completed, when an Imperial or Rebel capital ship exits hyperspace etc. This does mirror the use of leitmotifs in the original film music while at the same time makes the music sequence a little different with each mission.

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter[edit]

Composer Jeremy Soule wrote music for the game Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, including both cut scenes and gameplay. The characters Jango Fett and Komari Vosa have their own leitmotifs.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars[edit]

Kevin Kiner composed the score to the film Star Wars: The Clone Wars which started the TV series while using some of the original themes and score by John Williams. His own material includes a theme for Anakin Skywalker's Padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano, as well as a theme for Jabba the Hutt's uncle Ziro.

Track listing[edit]
  1. Star Wars Main Title & A Galaxy Divided (1:13)
  2. Admiral Yularen (0:57)
  3. Battle of Christophsis (3:20)
  4. Meet Ahsoka (2:45)
  5. Obi-Wan to the Rescue (1:24)
  6. Sneaking Under the Shield (4:25)
  7. Jabba's Palace (0:46)
  8. Anakin vs. Dooku (2:18)
  9. Landing on Teth (1:44)
  10. Destroying the Shield (3:09)
  11. B'omarr Monastery (3:11)
  12. General Loathsom/Battle Strategy (3:08)
  13. The Shield (1:37)
  14. Battle of Teth (2:45)
  15. Jedi Don't Run! (1:22)
  16. Obi-Wan's Negotiation (2:08)
  17. The Jedi Council (2:05)
  18. General Loathsom/Ahsoka (3:40)
  19. Jabba's Chamber Dance (0:42)
  20. Ziro Surrounded (2:21)
  21. Scaling the Cliff (0:45)
  22. Ziro's Nightclub Band (0:54)
  23. Seedy City Swing (0:35)
  24. Escape from the Monastery (3:13)
  25. Infiltrating Ziro's Lair (2:22)
  26. Courtyard Fight (2:42)
  27. Dunes of Tatooine (2:00)
  28. Rough Landing (3:04)
  29. Padmé Imprisoned (0:51)
  30. Dooku Speaks with Jabba (1:28)
  31. Fight to the End (3:59)
  32. End Credits (0:52)

Total time: 67:39

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed[edit]

Mark Griskey composed the score for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, while Jesse Harlin composed the main theme. Griskey uses references to three old themes (The Force Theme, The Imperial March, and The Rebel Fanfare) as well as new themes for Rahm Kota, PROXY, and Juno Eclipse. The music was composed with the intent of utilizing much of John Williams' original Star Wars scores to bridge the gap between the Prequel and Original trilogies.

Track listing[edit]
  1. The Force Unleashed (Jesse Harlin) - 1:19
  2. General Kota and the Control Room - 3:44
  3. Infiltrating the Junk Temple - 2:54
  4. Drexl's Raiders - 2:51
  5. Approaching Felucia - 3:28
  6. The Sarlaac Unleashed - 3:20
  7. Maris and the Bull Rancor - 2:11
  8. PROXY and the Skyhook - 2:37
  9. Redemption - 2:19
  10. Juno Eclipse and Finale - 1:12
  11. Ton'yy Rho's Uglehop (Bonus Track, Jesse Harlin) - 1:13

Total Time: 25:08

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II[edit]

For the sequel, Mark Griskey returned to compose the score. As the game was intended to be much darker & more somber than its predecessor, the music was written to comply with this change. The Imperial March also features prominently, and new themes were created to emphasize the characters and locales that feature within the game. Like the original score, it was only released as promotional content online, and has yet to gain a CD release.

Track listing[edit]
  1. Main Title and Test Chamber - 4:48
  2. Escape from Kamino - 5:38
  3. Arrival on Cato Neimoidia - 3:20
  4. The Hanging City - 6:20
  5. Discovering Dagobah and the Cave - 6:58
  6. Aboard the Salvation - 6:52
  7. Assault on Kamino - 5:36
  8. The Reunion of Juno and Starkiller - 4:21

Total Time: 44:23


  1. ^ a b Larsen, Peter, and Irons, John (2007). Film Music, p.168. ISBN 9781861893413.
  2. ^ "Canadian certifications – Meco – Star Wars Theme". Music Canada. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  3. ^ "American certifications – Meco – Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Larsen & Irons (2007), p.170.
  5. ^ Larsen & Irons (2007), p.171.
  6. ^ "The 50th Academy Awards (1978) Nominees and Winners". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "The 35th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1978)". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Soundtrack 1978". BAFTA Awards Database. British Acacdemy of Film & Television Awards. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  9. ^ "1977 20th Annual Grammy Awards". Past Winners database. Grammy Awards. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  10. ^ "Past Saturn Awards". Saturn Awards. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "Soundtrack 1980". BAFTA Awards Database. British Acacdemy of Film & Television Awards. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  12. ^ "1908- 23rd Annual Grammy Awards". Grammy Awards. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  13. ^ "The 53rd Academy Awards (1981) Nominees and Winners". The Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  14. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  15. ^ "Final Nominations for the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards". Billboard: 73. 
  16. ^ "Grammy Award Nominees". Billboard: 60. 17 December 2005. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "Star Wars Tops AFI's List of 25 Greatest Film Scores of All Time". AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. American Film Institute. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  18. ^ RIAA: Certifications
  19. ^ Certified Awards Search - BPI
  20. ^ The dictionary definition of Diegetic at Wiktionary.
  21. ^ Interview with Mark Griskey

External links[edit]