1. Star Wars
score by John Williams
I have purchased John Williams’ score for Star Wars five times, in various configurations, over the course of my life. (Only one less than Ben-Hur!) If you tell me it’s been remastered, I’m buying it. If you tell me it’s expanded, I’m all over it. If you tell me they’re throwing in hidden bonus tracks of takes that have been ruined by members of the London Symphony Orchestra farting after a particularly challenging tea break, count me in. Bill Murray’s lyrics could not diminish it. Meco’s disco version could not destroy it. (All right, it was touch and go there for a minute.) There are plenty of songs you could name that are instantly recognizable to large numbers of people everywhere, but there are comparatively far fewer film scores that can evoke nods of recognition from so many of us. Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking string attack from Psycho. Williams’ own ludicrously simple two-note motif from Jaws. And Star Wars.
Its soaring opening theme, promising thrilling adventure and swashbuckling derring-do, is inseparable from George Lucas’ iconic 1977 space opera; the score as a whole creates aural signposts explaining who is good and who is evil, who to love and who to fear, the terrible might of the Empire and the mysterious majesty of The Force. The various themes and motifs Williams devised for the film are rooted in classical compositional techniques from centuries ago, techniques that were used by golden-age Hollywood composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklós Rózsa, and it was composers such as these that Williams sought to emulate, as well as bringing a classical romantic style that had largely fallen out of favor by the late 1970’s, being replaced by more modern and avant-garde techniques, or pop songs. The unabashedly old-fashioned music, deliberately intended to root viewers in a more familiar idiom to help guide them through the film’s fantastical landscapes, almost single-handedly made orchestral film scores cool again. Over the last few decades, this style has once again been supplanted by newer ideas and approaches, from the early minimalism of Philip Glass to the electronica of Daft Punk; now, on the cusp of a new resurgence of Star Wars films, it appears that future generations are assured their own introduction to this timeless music. But it will always be rooted in a seminal moment in the summer of ’77, a moment when the world seemed to remember it could fall in love with entertainment, a moment that inspired so many of the artists who create the entertainment we know and love today, a moment when a work such as Star Wars could capture such an enormous piece of our collective imagination that its sights – and sounds – still resonate today in a way that perhaps no film ever will again in our fractured cultural landscape. A moment that is itself such a long time ago.