Score Analysis – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

 

George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) is considered a groundbreaking work in modern cinema, particularly within the science fiction genre, and particularly also with respect to film scores and sound design – John Williams’ score to the film is often credited with reviving the practice of symphonic scores – and particularly the use of Wagnerian leitmotif. The film’s sequel – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – continued this tradition, using many musical motifs from the first film, while also introducing others. The series’ sound design, led by Ben Burtt, has also been praised as a shining example of what could be done with pre-digital technologies, and both the score and the sound design are major reasons why these films have stood the test of time as well as they have.

While the original Star Wars and its second sequel – Return of the Jedi (1983) – both feature sequences with specifically composed diegetic music, all music in The Empire Strikes Back is non-diegetic.

 

Musical Score Analysis

 

20th Century Fox Fanfare (0’00” – 0’19”)

The first cue in the film, and one that became something of a tradition in Star Wars films, is the 20th Century Fox Fanfare, originally composed for the studio by Alfred Newman in 1933. For Star Wars in 1977, director George Lucas wanted to use the fanfare, which was, at the time, being rarely used in films from the studio. Composer John Williams wrote the iconic Star Wars Main Title in the same key as the fanfare (Bb) to act as an extension and to blend the fanfare into the score for the film more seamlessly. For Star Wars, the 1953 CinemaScope recording of the fanfare was used, but for The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a new recording for the film. The fanfare plays over logos for both 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm.

 

R1Pt1: Star Wars Main Title/R1Pt2: The Imperial Probe (0’27” – 4’14”)

As with each of the six films in the Star Wars saga (as well as related TV shows and video games), the film opens with the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” on screen in silence. The Star Wars logo appears on screen in synchrony with the opening full-orchestra chord of the Star Wars Main Title, a march-like, heroic theme that is one of the most recognisable music cues from the series, and perhaps from cinema as a whole, and represents the main protagonist of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker (figs. 1 & 2)The musical style is similar to that of ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ composers such as Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, Erich Korngold and Franz Waxman. This was primarily by design, as director George Lucas wanted John Williams to compose music that already felt very familiar, and that was reminiscent of serial adventure films from the 1930s and 1940s such as Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, Zorro, and Tarzan. This familiarity and style creates something of a contrast between the music and the exotic and futuristic locales, characters and settings seen in the film.

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Connect Culmination

I’ve spent the last two weeks or so working on a short film. Not only scoring it, but editing hours of public domain footage into a cohesive sci-fi/noir short film.

When I applied for the Arts Northern Rivers Connect mentorship at the start of the year, it was a “might as well” application. I’d been told about the program by a few musical friends, and I thought I would apply as a beginning film composer. I submitted a few of my compositions (none of which had been written to films or picture at all), thinking that nothing would come of it, but I might as well put my name in the hat. I was completely surprised when I discovered that I had been shortlisted as a finalist, and had to put together a live performance audition with a few friends in just a couple of days.  I was just as surprised again to find out that I had been chosen to be one of seven mentees in the program.

For the audition, we played two pieces that I had written inspired by ‘Red Mars’, a science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. That audition was the first time that any of my composed film-esque music had ever been performed live.

I had known since the start of the program that I would be performing at a showcase night at the end of everything, with each of the other mentees (some solo performers, some bands), and it was a daunting task for me to come up with something that I could perform that would be at a similar standard to the others who perform live on a regular basis, with some having live performance as their main source of income.

After some soul-searching and brainstorming, I decided that I would undertake something I’d been wanting to do for quite a while – to construct a short film using only footage available through Creative Commons licensing or from works that are in the public domain.

So here it is. It took me a week to find footage, come up with a bit of a story, and edit together, and another 5 days to write an original score. I’ll be exploring the sci-fi/noir crossroad further in the future, as I find it such an interesting and provoking aesthetic, and while this is my first foray into short filmmaking, it most definitely won’t be the last.

My Life as a Sound Designer

In my previous post about doing many different music-related jobs, I had a huge list of roles that I’ve assumed for various projects in the past, both my own and other people’s. One of those roles was sound designer, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about that in this post.

I’ve done a few sound design gigs over the years, the first of which threw me into the deep end – doing the sound design elements, re-recording dialogue, and recording foley for The Girl Who Lived, an independently produced feature-length film. I got onto the gig through friends at Main Street Studios and spent the best part of a few weeks building the sound-world of the film from the ground up, scene by scene.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve Pencilsbeen working with a friend of mine, a visual artist, on creating the first scene of a stop-motion animated film called Geschöpf. Matt Murchie, the friend in question, won the ‘experimental’ category of the National Campus Film Competition last year (watch the winning film, ‘The Short Life of Eksiliksi’, here), and is continuing his animation work in his own distinctive and unique style with this new project, which we hope to work more on over the Summer, maybe even finishing it before the new year.

I used a combination of creative-commons-licenced and self-recorded sound effects to accompany the creature from its humble beginnings and evolution. Sounds that you might not think would be suitable, such as dripping water, cupboard doors squeaking, or unwrapping a slice of processed cheese managed to find their way into the project. The music is, at present, a temporary idea. Because this is the first scene of a larger project still in progress, I am expecting the music to evolve over the course of production into something more cohesive to the film as a whole.

Check out what we’ve got so far on Vimeo: