The music of Star Wars is not only one of the most celebrated aspects of the entire series, but perhaps the most esteemed in the history of cinema. These brilliant and exceptional scores from the genius of Maestro John Williams have enhanced our experience in George Lucas’s universe and brought deep emotional resonance to audiences for forty years and counting. Indeed there’s been no film composer who has worked on a single series for over four decades; in the process Williams has created over 16 hours of music for the saga and astonishingly over fifty original themes for characters, places and things.
With a musical pool as large as this it is very easy to overlook many of the great extraordinary secondary musical themes that enrich the films. Everyone knows the Main Theme, Luke/Force Theme, The Throne Room, Princess Leia’s Theme, The Imperial March and Duel of the Fates, but beyond those marquee pieces there are a plethora of stirring and beautiful themes as magnificent as the main compositions.
Williams has mastered the art of creating leitmotivs (recurring themes associated with particular characters or places) and many of the secondary pieces also contain fragments of the larger pieces. Sometimes they are very obvious and sometimes they appear in the most subtle ways.
Here is a compilation of some of those great secondary themes, that though perhaps secondary in public recognition are as striking and evocative as everyone’s favorites.
THE DROID INVASION - EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
While the Prequel trilogy never matched the heights of critical acclaim or narrative storytelling as the Original films, the music remained at a top tier level. John Williams was faced with the task of essentially writing new themes for an old series; the characters, situations, and locations were all new and so a new musical catalogue was required, but still with the characteristic flair of a Star Wars film.
The soundtrack for The Phantom Menace is truly wonderful and will be on this list again. Among the first themes, audiences hear in the film is this rousing and highly militaristic march signaling the arrival of the Trade Federation’s Droid Army. One could easily imagine this music assigned to real-life scenes of wartime with its great use of the stringed instruments, horns (particularly French Horn) and even xylophone. This is a wonderful little piece both ominous and inspiring, a great standout from this film’s score.
THE FLAG PARADE- EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
Another march in ways military in flavor once again, The Flag Parade is composed in a major key written to accompany a triumphant event (the beginning of the Boonta Eve Pod race), yet contains modalities of minor scales. This is a brilliant inversion of our ears perceptions and it works extremely well. It features horns more prominently then The Droid Invasion but similarly offers rousing and uniquely melodic phrasing. A highly distinctive and memorable theme, this is definitely one of the most underrated musical compositions of the Star Wars saga.
ANAKIN'S THEME-EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
Before he was the scourge of the Jedi and a powerful Sith Lord, Darth Vader was a young slave boy on the planet Tatooine. It was a time of hardship and a time of childhood innocence, and Anakin’s Theme presents again Williams’ ability for great musical storytelling.
Beginning softly and sweetly, the music gradually grows larger and increasingly stirring; it presents an innocent sound interspersed with moments of minor modalities again hinting at the tragic nature that awaits Anakin. As the piece comes to a close, Williams incorporates the leitmotiv again or a musical quote; the closing bars of The Imperial March conclude Anakin’s Theme as a brilliant example of musical foreshadowing. The transition from childhood innocence to the descent into darkness makes this a tremendous orchestral work.
ACROSS THE STARS-EPISODE II ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
This piece does actually enjoy a larger recognition outside of the main themes, but it is still largely underplayed and looked over; love themes are not especially common in Star Wars and Across The Stars fits the mold perfectly.
A repetitive melody that continues to grow as it moves across sections of the orchestra until reaching its climax of full symphonic majesty, this theme perhaps doesn’t quite suit the narrative love story George Lucas wrote. Indeed it has been said that Anakin and Padme didn’t deserve this theme, but as a musical composition on its own its undoubtedly stunning. A truly beautiful and soaring musical creation!
GRIEVOUS SPEAKS TO LORD SIDIOUS-EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
Informally known as General Grievous’ Theme, this is a greatly underrated composition for a greatly underrated character. Featuring wonderful triplets and a syncopated melody it’s also highlighted by choral elements. Like Duel of the Fates or Battle of the Heroes, a massive choir adds another layer of majesty to the already impressive instrumental backing.
ANAKIN VS OBI WAN-EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
Another example of virtuosic symphonic music, Anakin vs Obi Wan is full of leitmotivs including an extra ominous sounding Imperial March, a choral fragment of The Force Theme and Battle of The Heroes. In relation to the images on the screen the horns brilliantly match the lightsabre attacks of both Jedi, and when just listening to the track on its own you can visualize very easily the parrys from each opponent.
For an epic showdown between the former brothers, an epic soundtrack was required. This piece delivers fully in its drama and gravitas and is highlighted wonderfully by great leitmotiv material and tremendous choral backing.
YODA'S THEME-EPISODE V THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Though Yoda is an essential character in Star Wars, his musical theme is seldom played or mentioned alongside the other main themes. It’s a pity because, like most of Williams’ other compositions, Yoda’s Theme is also a very stirring and beautiful piece.
Like Yoda, the theme is initially unassuming and begins very delicately, before as is characteristic with Williams it grows to use the orchestra in its full potential. The music is sweet and also mischievous but ends up being lush. It’s a perfect echoing for the character of the Jedi Master, who is revealed to be a figure of great wisdom behind the facade of playfulness. While not used too frequently in the series or played often at concerts, Yoda’s Theme is a wonderful theme for a wonderful character; most deserving of a spot alongside the cherished main themes.
THE ASTEROID FIELD-EPISODE V THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Beginning with the recurring leitmotiv of the Empire, The Asteroid Field is one of the best examples of pure orchestral virtuosity. The tempos are complex, the instrumentation is wide-ranging, and the imagery the music is able to create is fantastic. Listening to this track on its own is a treat and then to marry it with the images of the Millennium Falcon fleeing Imperial fighters makes it even grander.
It ends with another leitmotiv of Han Solo and The Princess, before quieting to a soft finish. If it sounds like a workout for the symphony members to play this, it’s because it probably is; but the end result is something truly special and a wondrous secondary musical theme.
LUKE AND LEIA-EPISODE VI RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
The revelation of Luke and Leia’s familial relationship further added to the intrigue of the Skywalker family, and this beautiful musical theme remains as truly one of the most ruefully forgotten in the entire series. Again beginning softly but growing ever gradually to a climax of majestic proportions, “Luke and Leia” is an extraordinary musical composition. Of all the secondary themes, it seems the oddest that this piece isn’t played as often or isn’t instantly recognized. Yet it stands as one of the lushest and emotionally demonstrative themes of all.
JEDI'S FURY/EMPEROR'S THEME/THE FINAL DUEL-EPISODE VI RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
What a concert piece! The final assault on Death Star II, Luke’s temptation by the Emperor, and his duel with Darth Vader are all masterfully and poignantly illuminated with these respective musical tracks. These moments are full of leitmotivs from the Empire’s theme, to the Star Wars main theme, to the newly introduced Emperor’s theme; but between them, all are exceptional moments of great atmospheric sound and melodically stunning excerpts.
As rage fills Luke and he violently brings down his father, the chilling and ominous score delivers fully. A foreboding choir exemplifies Luke’s seduction as the Emperor looks on with glee. The Emperor’s own theme is then presented again as he attempts to kill Luke; the music grows to a brilliant fanfare of the horns. It’s a frightening sound combined with a frightening sight for a figure (The Emperor) we thought was a feeble old man, but now is showcasing his full deadly powers.
As Vader redeems himself and saves his son, Luke’s/Force Theme is played briefly before a saddening conclusion signalling the end of this evil figure. Outside of all the main themes, the musical moments presented in these crucial closing scenes of the film are of the greatest artistic quality. They are atmospheric, chilling, stirring and stunningly beautiful. Perhaps close your eyes and just listen to the music and the scenes will still be as vivid in your mind as ever, thanks to the enduring genius of John Williams and his immense talents.