SWCA 2022: 4 things we learned from the Attack of the Chords panel
With star wars Celebration Anaheim 2022 in motion, David Collins of Skywalker Sound examined the artistry of John Williams’ original score for Star Wars: Attack of the Clonesnow enjoying his 20e anniversary. A lifelong music enthusiast, Collins lent a knowing and thoughtful ear to the nuance of Williams’ beloved scores, as he had done before for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace at Celebration Chicago in 2019. Here are four things we learned.
1. Music is a language we can all understand. From a fresh take on classic Hollywood romance to the return of familiar themes, there was plenty to unpack. As the host joked, “I like to call it: David talks about ‘Across the Stars’ for an hour,” but he also explained how “music is a language,” one “that we all easily understand. when we’re told about it.” Although most of us can’t “speak that language easily again,” Collins’ goal was to illuminate how Williams’ compositions interact with our emotions “so that you [can] enjoy star wars even more.”
A central element of the presentation was the distinction between major and minor modes in musical composition. The former conveys a lighter tone, perhaps aligned with the light side of the Force, while the latter minor mode strikes a deeper chord in line with the dark side.
Because Clone is a prequel, another important concept is what Williams himself called “backwards writing”, where, as Collins explains, “he establishes themes, then he works backwards for us give something earlier in history”. In a score by Williams, different themes refer to each other.
2. A tragic love theme is nothing new.. For Collins, the clear distinction of Clone The soundtrack is “Across the Stars”, the theme designed for Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala as they fall into a forbidden romance. Director George Lucas had asked for what Williams described in a documentary as “a love theme that resembled the great love stories of movies of yore”. According to Collins, it’s one of the richest pieces in the entire saga, once reminiscent of elements from the original trilogy.
“Across the Stars” effectively communicates the passionate if forbidden and ultimately doomed nature of Anakin and Padmé’s love, something audiences in 2002 could already relate to. Collins noted that “a concept of forbidden love that has been challenged if not completely devastated by circumstance…is not new to our Western mythology.” An example is that of William Shakespeare Romeo and Julieta relationship the Bard himself described as “star-crossed lovers”, hinting at the source behind Williams’ theme name.
Collins also explained that “Across the Stars” was composed in a minor key, unrelated to other familiar love themes in a major key with their “bold, beautiful, almost nostalgic themes”. Instead, the minor key “darkens everything”. Williams’ choice of oboe for the principal solo mirrors Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century ballet, Swan Lakeitself used in a number of classic movies like Dracula (1931).
3. Themes Across star wars talk to each other. Perhaps the most lucid moment of Collins’ discussion concerned the synthesis between the central musical themes of star wars, each apparently distinct but in reality intimately linked to the same musical bricks. This is at the heart not only of “Across the Stars”, but also of the whole “star wars-ian,” a term Collins borrowed from Williams. With shared pitch elements implemented rhythmically over the course of a scene, separate themes appear nearly identical.
The original Princess Leia theme mirrors “Across Stars” with its two-note opening, but in a different key. Luke Skywalker’s theme (what we now call the main title theme for star wars) looks identical to “Across the Stars”, only distinct in pitch. “Leia is the pitch, Luke is the pace,” Collins said. The motif is found throughout the saga.
Plus, the first three notes of “Across the Stars” are only half a step away from a central figure in the beloved “Imperial March.” As Collins says, “Anakin is just one step away from becoming Darth Vader.”
These same three notes among other characters heard in “Across the Stars” use a heavily referenced musical phrase widely associated with death or apprehension. Known as ‘Dies irae’ or ‘the day of wrath’, its roots go back centuries to Gregorian chants and have been quoted extensively in dozens of popular compositions, including for movies. The message remains clear: this romance is doomed. “Dies irae” appears elsewhere in star wars also, like when Luke witnesses the Lars Homestead fire in Star Wars: A new hope.
4. Give a “Glance of Genius”.” In his final minutes, Collins briefly touched on other fascinating ideas, from the experimental use of an electric guitar during the speeder chase (omitted from the film but included on the CD soundtrack) to the revival of the familiar “Duel of the Fates” as Anakin addresses his own fateful moment during the failed rescue of his mother.
For John Williams, the design work for these complex themes might have come “almost instinctively,” according to Collins. With deference, the host explained that his own analysis simply provided “an overview of [Williams’] genius. When you watch and you really start tugging at these pieces of music, that’s the kind of stuff you see. You start to see these patterns, and as star wars fan, I really cherish this.
Lucas O. Seastrom is a writer and historian at Lucasfilm. He grew up on a farm in California’s Central Valley and is a star wars and Indiana Jones fan.
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