Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy 30th, Star Wars

Binary SunsetStar Wars is 30 today - happy birthday! You don't look a day over 1 (I'm not speaking to you, Special Editions).

John Williams' score to Star Wars revolutionized soundtrack music, which is fast becoming a lost art. Every now and then someone will do something spectacular (Howard Shore's work on Lord of the Rings comes to mind), but for the most part, movie music stinks. This was made all too clear to me recently, when my fiancée and I were watching Die Hard, and she recognized that its music was better than what's passing for movie soundtracks these days. If Die Hard is looking like Beethoven compared to the Sanjaya of modern flick music, there's a problem.

So what was it about the Star Wars music that made it a watershed recording? There are many reasons: the use of themes to introduce characters and plot, its ability to establish mood and evoke an emotional response from the audience, and perhaps Williams' ability to successfully infuse a variety of different musical styles.

What makes it special for me, however, is the fact that the music, all by itself, tells the story of Star Wars. There is no need whatsoever to watch the movie or listen to any dialog. I can simply put on the CDs (the latest 2-disc edition is fairly complete, and very closely matches the running order of the film) and watch the story unfold in my mind. This is due to two factors: 1) almost every minute of the movie has music to accompany it, and 2) every plot point has a unique and instantly recognizable piece of music associated with it that cannot in any way be mistaken for any other part of the story.

Take, for example, this excerpt from "Burning Homestead". Here, Luke comes to the realization that C-3P0 and R2-D2 are being sought after by The Empire, so he races off in a futile attempt to save his aunt and uncle from the inevitable Stormtrooper attack. I still feel anxiety every time I listen to it.

The entire soundtrack works in this fashion, and it is why anywhere I can play a CD, or store away an mp3 player and a set of headphones, I can have Star Wars unfold before me at a moment's notice. And that makes this old fanboy as happy as a mynock sucking on power cables.


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