Sunday, July 23, 2017

Composing Greatness: #12. John Williams - "Star Wars" (1977)

Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Star Wars (1977)
Collaborators (If Available): London Symphony Orchestra
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score
Did He Win: Yes

Other Nominees:
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (John Williams)
-Julia (Georges Delerue)
-The Spy Who Loved Me (Marvin Hamlisch)
-Mohammad, Messenger of God (Maurice Jarre)

Acceptance Speech

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 13
Oscar Wins: 3

Track List

1. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley"
2. "Imperial Attack"
3. "The Dune Sea of Tattooine/Jawa Sandcrawler"
4. "The Moisture Farm"
5. "The Hologram Binary Sunset Medley"
6. "Landspeeder Search Attack of the Sand People"
7. "Tales of a Jedi Knight Learn About the Force"
8. "Burning Homestead"
9. "Mos Eisley Spaceport"
10. "Cantina Band"
11. "Cantina Band #2"
12. "Binary Sunset (Alternate) (Medley)"
13. "Princess Leia's Theme"
14. "The Millennium Falcon Imperial Cruiser Pursuit"
15. "Destruction of Alderaan"
16. "The Death Star The Stormtroopers Medley"
17. "Wookie Prisoner/Detention Block/Ambush"
18. "Shootout in the Cell Bay/Dianoga (Medley)"
19. "The Trash Compactor"
20. "The Tractor Beam Chasm Crossfire Medley"
21. "Ben Kenobi's Death Tie Fighter Attack"
22. "The Battle of Yavin"
23. "The Throne Room End Title"

*NOTE: Listen to Score here

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley"

It's almost too difficult to provide any new insight into this triumphant score. The opening chords themselves trumpet in a film that has proven itself to be momentous. What's most intriguing is to think of it in context to other scores not just of John Williams' career, but in general. As the motifs built, the more I began to think of this as a score reminiscent of Maurice Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia. It's triumphant and its repetition only helps to build the themes of the movie. It's a piece of music so ingrained in pop culture that it may as well be the national song of a country. It's majestic and looming in ways capture the imagination. Even if he has done better scores, there's odds that Williams will be best remembered for taking the constructive themes of epics and placed them into outer space with fantasy elements sprinkled in. This fuses together different styles in ways that are obvious but inspired.

Interesting Standout:
"Cantina Band"

The majority of this score sticks to the various themes and harmonies of its characters. There's not much that necessarily stands out, as each moment builds on top of another. Yes, there are aggressive and peppy moments as well as sad and swooning, but they all compliment each other nicely. However, this little ditty works in context, but is jarring if you don't know it. This is technically its own style of music called Jizz (not to be mistaken with jazz, or some dirty euphemisms), and it is as delightful and loopy as the rest of the score. It has formed its own legacy with a rhythm just as memorable and iconic. It's weird that both of John Williams' Oscar-nominated space scores for 1977 featured iconic standout tracks meant to embody alien melodies.

Best Moment:
 "The Throne Room End Title"

While the different themes and melodies all warrant their own "Best of" sections, I think that it would be hard to find a piece more enriching on this score than the closing track. Much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, John Williams' best element is his ability to build on themes and end on a literal high note. You feel the impact of this universe, and this captures everything from its elegance to its immediacy. The way that everything is timed out is just as lovely, as the first half of the score transitions into an upbeat, Lawrence of Arabia-esque moment of repeating the main theme with more peppy orchestration. There may be certain tracks that stand out as embodying high points in Williams' career, but cumulatively this is up there.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I think that this is a question that time has answered a few times over. There have been four Star Wars films nominated for Best Original Score, so there's something to this franchise. What's more incredible is that this was part of the post-Jaws run of John Williams essentially creating the most iconic music in 20th century blockbuster history. He's only a few years off of Jaws, and he's already redefined space twice within the same year. The creativity on display here is inspiring to the point that it's been played way too much in the years sense. It takes the epic and puts it in space. It's something inspired and it becomes harder to appreciate how cutting edge this score was over 40 years later with so many clones. Still, the original does it the best.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Win?

On a controversial note, I prefer the music of Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Star Wars. This particular music is just so familiar and polished in a way that it no longer works as enjoyment in some areas. With that said, I can't think of another piece of music as important to this era than that "Main Title." You can picture the film when you hear it. You can hear it when someone says the name. It's become one of the most recognized melodies in human history, and that is a feat unto itself. I may not like it all that much, but imagine the riot if Star Wars lost this AND Best Picture. It would make a certain faction of fanboys forever upset. Still, this is a great addition to John Williams' ongoing run of making the music that really matters in film. It's quite something that he even reinvented the superhero score with his next nomination.

Up Next: Superman (1978) for Best Music, Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" (1975)
2. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
3. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
4. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
5. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
6. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
7. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
8. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
9. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
10. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
11. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
12. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
2. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
3. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

No comments:

Post a Comment