Behind The Song: “Star Wars Theme” by John Williams

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Hello, and happy Star Wars day. May the 4th (and the force) be with you.

Yes, you can hear it now. The theme from the epic space-themed saga. The march, the snare drum, the horns and the strings. It swells and rises and falls and inspires and delights.

Has any song gotten moviegoers’ hearts pumping faster and harder in the history of film?

Well, before we get into that, let’s listen to the original theme from Star Wars by the legendary composer, the one and only: John Williams.

Origins

John Williams composed the theme for Star Wars in the late 1970s. Williams has also written the theme for seemingly hundreds of other movies, including Jaws, E.T., and Superman, which we’ll touch on below.

Williams’ 1977 recording of the Star Wars theme with the London Symphony Orchestra hit the No. 10 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. That same year, Meco put out a disco version of the song—”Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band”—which was a global hit and hit No. 1 on the charts.

A friend of legendary director Steven Spielberg, Williams was recommended by his pal to the young filmmaker George Lucas, who needed a composer for his space epic. Agreeing to do the project, Williams delivered the epic composition, which hearkened to past works like Gustav Holst’s orchestral piece, The Planets, and others from musicians like Richard Strauss and Max Steiner.

Luke Skywalker

Because the theme is so rousing and so positive and so powerful, it is often associated with the lead protagonist of the original Star Wars trilogy: Luke Skywalker. The theme plays several times when Skywalker wins a battle or finds himself achieving his promise and potential in the films, as well.

Title Cards

One of the most famous aspects of the Star Wars franchise is its opening credits. The theme song begins, blaring and blasting, and the title of the movie shows up on screen over a backdrop of galaxy and stars. The horns play triumphantly as a few introductory paragraphs begin to slide upward on the screen. It’s impossible not to feel pumped up when this takes place and it’s largely thanks to Williams’ composition.

John Williams

John Towner Williams was born on February 8, 1932, in New York City, New York. Today, he is 90 years old and is recognized as one of the most important musicians and composers in American history. He is also a conductor and pianist. His career has spanned seven decades.

Williams has won 25 Grammy Awards as well we seven British Academy Film Awards, five Oscars (to go along with 52 nominations), and four Golden Globes. Williams is the second-most nominated individual when it comes to the Academy Awards, second only to Walt Disney.

Along with the Star Wars theme, Williams has composed the themes for Jaws, E.T., Home Alone, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and the first three Harry Potter films, among many more. He’s also composed for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and other television programs.

In 2005, the American Film Institute selected Williams’ 1977 Star Wars score as the greatest film score of all time. And the Library of Congress has entered the film’s soundtrack into the National Recording Registry. He has composed the score for nine of the top 25 highest-grossing films in U.S. history.

Legacy

Today, of course, Star Wars and its various offshoots remain some of the most recognizable and successful movies of all time. So too does the Williams’ theme. The music is still the highest-grossing non-popular music recording of all time. And for it, Williams won the Oscar for Best Original Score.

Due to the music’s success, Williams has returned to the Star Wars franchise after the first film to work on sequels like The Empire Strikes Back, in which he introduced the Darth Vader-inspired work: “The Imperial March.” Others include “Yoda’s Theme” and “Han Solo and the Princess.” He earned another Academy Award for this work, too.

Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy’s, Inc.

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