John Williams’ musical contribution to Star Wars is one of the most iconic aspects of the franchise, but can Star Wars survive without him? From the instantly identifiable Star Wars theme song to the numerous character themes and epic moments set to his music, his influence on the franchise is arguably second to only George Lucas himself.
All nine episodes of the Skywalker saga were composed by Williams, setting a tone that permeates every Star Wars movie and show, even the ones he was not directly involved in. Other composers like Michael Giacchino, John Powell, and Ludwig Göransson have left their mark on more recent Star Wars stories, but they’re all still following in Williams’ footsteps, and all Star Wars music still lives in Williams’ shadow.
Star Wars is clearly capable of creating iconic moments and memorable musical themes without the legendary composer, but how will the franchise change as it moves forward to tell future stories without his input? The hits and misses of the Disney era of the franchise demonstrate just how integral Williams’ music is to Star Warsand how much he’ll be missed, but it also shows how Star Wars can maintain that Star Wars feel as new composers leave their mark on the franchise.
Why John Williams is Integral to Star Wars Storytelling
John Williams’ music is as much a fabric of the Star Wars franchise as anything else, from George Lucas’ storytelling to Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art to Joe Johnston’s vehicle and character designs to the numerous VFX pioneers and other contributors are all a part of the magic cocktail that earned Star Wars its place in cinema, but the storytelling and thematic influence of Williams’ music is certainly one of the most indispensable elements of that magic.
Mark Hamill once tweeted that “After George Lucas, no one is more responsible for the success of Star Wars than John Williams.” According to Screen Crush, Lucas initially planned to use existing classical music for the Star Wars score, but Steven Spielberg convinced Lucas to work with Williams after hiring him as the composer for Jaws. Lucas’ initial edit of the film was scored with music from composers like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and was not hitting the mark, but after Williams joined on, his contribution, full of character themes and leitmotifs fashioned Star Wars into something resembling a modern version of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Who knows how Lucas’ original vision for the music would have been received, but Williams has been credited numerous times with “saving” Star Wars.
The Mandalorian Proves The Viability of Fresh Star Wars Music
While Williams’ music is undeniably influential on Star Warsthe franchise has seen success without him. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was scored by Michael Giacchino and Solo: A Star Wars Story was scored by John Powell, both of whom emulated Williams’ style and incorporated his themes and leitmotifs, but The Mandalorian was the first live-action Star Wars story to truly branch out in a new direction with Ludwig Göransson’s score. The Mandalorian‘s music still feels very much like a part of the fabric of the Star Wars franchise, but with the much more stripped-down, western-sounding approach to The Mandalorian score, it stands apart as the most unique Star Wars music and it works.
One aspect of The Mandalorian commonly attributed to the show’s success is its focus on mostly new and unknown characters, and that could have a big impact on the reception of Göransson’s score, too. He does not reject Williams’ established themes outright, but thanks to the initial focus on new characters and planets he did not have to; however, as familiar characters start to pop up in The MandalorianWilliams’ leitmotifs can occasionally be heard threaded into Göransson’s Mandalorian score. Unfortunately, while that approach worked with The Mandalorian, that does not mean it can be the modus operandi for all future Star Wars stories, as not all corners of the Star Wars universe have the freedom to escape the influence of Williams’ Star Wars music.
What Star Wars Loses Without Williams
The spine of the Star Wars The franchise will always be the Skywalker saga, which was entirely scored by Williams. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story both do a great job of developing new music in the vein of Williams’ Star Wars language, but imitation can only survive so long without the original maestro. Obi-Wan Kenobi is an unfortunate example of this. While composer Natalie Holt taps into Williams with her score, and Williams himself even contributed Obi-Wan’s theme to the show, there’s still moments with big thematic ties to the larger Skywalker saga that don’t quite capture the thematic resonance. Star Wars is known for with Williams composing the music, as shown by the reactions to a recent video that rescored Obi-Wan and Vader’s climactic duel in Obi-Wan Kenobiusing Williams’ “Battle of the Heroes” from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith‘s soundtrack.
These characters have a long on-screen history, and therefore a long history of musical storytelling by Williams, so, the absence of Williams’ musical language prevents the storytelling from having the same thematic weight as their duel at the end of the prequels. That does not mean Williams needs to score that story himself for it to reach its full potential, but without tapping into Williams’ Star Wars language in a bigger way, the crescendo of the musical storytelling does not match the significance of the fight on screen, which is not true of any of the climactic battles scored by Williams.
Other than Williams, no composer has written more Star Wars music than Kevin Kiner, who scored shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebelsand Star Wars: The Bad Batch. In an interview with Screen Rant, Kiner described his process, referencing his copy of Williams’ original. Star Wars score that’s “all dog-eared and marked up kind of like some people will mark up their textbook when they’re studying for something or their Bibles.” He’s sure to differentiate his approach from simply “emulating” Williams, comparing it more to learning a language. Williams’ themes are all evocative and mean something to the point that it tells the Star Wars story on its own (at least in terms of overall themes and character arcs) without depending on dialogue or visuals to fill in the blanks. As a result, while Kiner’s scores fit alongside Williams’ music where necessary, with his music for The Clone Wars fitting the tone of the prequels and Star Wars Rebels music fitting the original trilogy, he still branches out into fresh musical styles that are totally different from anything Williams did for Star Wars, all while embracing the same storytelling language that means something to a trained ear. “I do not really try to imitate John, I use my own voice, but I believe I’ve studied his orchestration and studied him for so long that it’s kind of part of what my writing is, you know. I try to use my own voice, but I pay homage to him. “
While simply hiring composers to try to deliver John Williams copycat music is certainly one way to maintain the classic Star Wars vibe, and may work in many situations, it’s the equivalent of The Mandalorian‘s decision to use a CGI-created young Luke Skywalker instead of casting a new actor. The benefit of looking just like a young Mark Hamill when he first appears quickly wears off with more screen time as the CGI Luke, complete with AI-generated dialogue in Hamill’s voice, becomes an empty shell designed to “feel” like the character audiences love. , but lacking a proper performance to give the character life.
Continuing down that route, focusing more on making Star Wars feel like Star Wars than on tapping into the kind of storytelling language that made it iconic in the first place. The Mandalorian proves you can tell cool Star Wars stories with an entirely new approach to the music, and Kevin Kiner’s approach shows it’s possible to maintain the storytelling language of Williams without simply remixing established themes, so hopefully that’s definitely a direction. Star Wars persues in future stories as the franchise moves forward without John Williams.
Next: Lucasfilm’s Misdiagnosis of Solo Shows They’re Out Of Touch With Star Wars
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