Da da da dah dah dah… yes, it’s “The Im­pe­rial March”!

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Dave Bradley, Group Editor-in-Chief

Star Wars would be noth­ing with­out its mu­sic. A John Wil­liams score gives any movie an epic tex­ture. Can you imag­ine Luke gaz­ing into the twin sun­set set to the Hawk The Slayer disco gui­tar track? By far the most iconic theme in the se­ries – out­side of the open­ing fan­fare it­self – is “The Im­pe­rial March”, but what you may have for­got­ten is that it didn’t de­but un­til The Em­pire Strikes Back. John Wil­liams wrote “The Im­pe­rial March” for the sec­ond film and it serves pri­mar­ily as a piece of theme mu­sic for Darth Vader. As an ex­am­ple of a leit­mo­tif, a re­cur­ring mu­si­cal phrase that an­chors us to places and peo­ple in the story, it’s first heard sub­tly when the probe droids are launched at the open­ing of Episode V, then flour­ishes into its full thump­ing beat when the Star De­stroy­ers be­gin as­sem­bling un­der Vader’s com­mand. Echoes of it crash through the bat­tle of Hoth and the as­ter­oid field scene. Later, in Re­turn Of The Jedi, we hear it on the sec­ond Death Star – and fi­nally again more qui­etly, played on a harp, as Vader ul­ti­mately dies.

Wil­liams is of­ten cred­ited with re­viv­ing in­ter­est in grand or­ches­tral scores for the cin­ema. His style draws on the large-scale clas­si­cal com­po­si­tions en­joyed by the early pioneers of film, and Star Wars is the per­fect ex­am­ple of this, an au­dio par­al­lel to Ge­orge Lu­cas’s love of the ar­che­typal sci-fi se­ri­als. Like a lot of Star Wars mu­sic it owes a debt to Holst’s The Plan­ets, par­tic­u­larly “Mars: The Bringer Of War”, but it’s creepier than that, with un­der­tones of Chopin’s fa­mous “Funeral March”. What­ever its an­ces­try, it’s a beau­ti­fully dark, de­ter­mined piece of mu­sic, melo­dra­matic in its rous­ing vil­lainy, an al­most pantomime-like boo-hiss of a sound­track for the Em­pire’s hench­men to strut along to. With the main melody in a mi­nor key, the chords come fast and in­sis­tent as trum­pets and trom­bones ac­cel­er­ate through a wall of men­ac­ing, mil­i­taris­tic sound.

The leit­mo­tif of “The Im­pe­rial March” also finds its way into the pre­quels, a wisp of it colour­ing “Anakin’s Theme” and then the full thrum of it ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Clone Troop­ers’ de­par­ture into war. We can only hope there’ll be a bit of it in The Force Awak­ens too, al­though the Em­pire it­self is no longer with us. Is John Wil­liams com­pos­ing a First Or­der March vari­ant es­pe­cially, per­haps?

The SFX team play this mu­sic when­ever Darth Bradley en­ters the of­fice.

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