16. The Empire Strikes Back
score by John Williams
How do you top the music of Star Wars? You don’t – you just add to it. Just as The Empire Strikes Back built upon the foundation of George Lucas’ film, deepening and enriching the Star Wars universe, so did John Williams enrich the musical vocabulary therein. The anthemic main theme, along with those for Princess Leia and The Force, are here joined by Yoda’s playful yet deeply soulful theme, the lushly romantic theme for the burgeoning romance of Leia and Han Solo, and – for your dining and dancing pleasure – the Imperial March. The what, now? Don’t you mean Darth Vader’s Theme? I suppose so – it is technically referred to as the Imperial March, but who are we kidding? He’s a Sith lord, if he wants it he takes it.
With each successive film, Williams builds upon his own musical foundation and adds more themes to the Star Wars universe, but with this one there’s so much more in between: the harsh music accompanying the Imperial attack on the Rebel hideout on Hoth is as close as you’ll get to an orchestra beating the crap out of you. And The Empire Strikes Back contains perhaps one of the greatest musical set pieces ever composed for the cinema – “The Asteroid Field.” Beginning with a blast of Vader’s theme to emphasize the desperation of the situation, the music hums along maintaining the tension until that heavenly moment when Solo decides that yes, flying straight into a floating mass of big fucking space rocks is just the thing to do, thank you very much; with that, Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra turn on a dime and suddenly you’re on a joyous musical rollercoaster – sure, it’s scary and nerve-wracking and maybe we’ll all be blowed up real good, but it’s also hella fun! The music is key: without it, we’d still be afeared for our heroes’ lives, but with it, we can just let go and revel in the pure joy of watching a goddamn Star Wars movie, knowing that it’s all gonna work out. And Williams even throws in a bit of the love theme at the end to foreshadow what awaits us next. This scene demonstrates not only the invaluable necessity of film music to convey mood and emotion where dialogue cannot, but also the pure mastery of a composer at the peak of his creative powers. From 1975 (Jaws) to 1983 (Return Of The Jedi), nobody could touch John Williams with a ten-foot baton.