Celebrating John Williams' 'Star Wars' Scores

Aug 24, 2017

While the characters, plots, and actors of movies may be most memorable to audiences, what is even more quintessential to a memorable film is the score. One of the most iconic scores for a series of films is, of course, John Williams' compositions for Star Wars.

Williams has scored all seven Star Wars films, and is on task for the two to come, making the music as much of a character as Lando Callarisian or, you know, Darth Vader.

Composer John Williams
Credit Frazer Harrison / Getty Images Entertainment

Someone who has studied this music closely is Aaron Krerowicz. His background is in classical composition and music theory, and his unlikely title is actually “Professional Beatles Scholar.” But Krerowicz will talk about the Music of Star Wars: A Celebration of John Williams' Film Scores Thursday evening at the Waukesha Public Library. He will share a detailed and critical look at the music from all seven films. 

Krerowicz explains how he turned his critical ear from the Fab 4 to the Force: "After I did several of these Beatles things, I thought why not go back to my roots, back to the music that I grew up listening to that inspired me to become a musician and apply the same analytic perspective to John Williams' movie music? And of course, what music that Williams has written, what could be more iconic than Star Wars?"

He says that one of Williams' major influences is 19th century German opera composer Richard Wagner, who is known for creating leitmotifs in his music (think of the famous theme - Ride of the Valkyries). Krerowicz notes that Williams draws heavily on theme motifs in his music for Star Wars, which serves a greater purpose than simply associating a melody with a character.

"All these different themes and little musical motives that John Williams incorporates into Star Wars have narrative functions," he explains. "So when characters interact on screen, so to their themes interact in the soundtrack."

With nearly 100 scores to date, Krerowicz noticed Williams uses similar notes, themes, and even melodies that find their way into Star Wars. One of the most surprising similarities, according to Krerowicz, is the theme from the movie Hook and the love theme, Across the Stars, from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

"(Williams) is bringing back that theme of forbidden love with a title that references (William) Shakespeare," notes Krerowicz. "The prologue to Hook, which Williams composed in 1991...a decade later, he again borrows the pitches. Now rhythms, character, tempo, instrumentation, all of that is completely different, but the pitches are practically identical. Not one 100%, but probably about 98%."

Krerowicz says that Williams is notorious for not only "stealing" music from himself, but also other composers. "If you would've asked me fifteen years ago, I would've called John Williams a musical kleptomaniac because he steals everything," he jokes. "Having studied this music extensively and spoken on it all over the country, I still think he steals a great deal, but I don't really have a  problem with it."

"Because for every thing he takes from other people, he adds forty new things that he didn't steal from other people. There's a famous quote from Igor Stravinsky, the modernist orchestral composer, that says, 'Good composers borrow, great composers steal.' And by that method of judgment, you'd have to call John Williams absolutely a great composer," says Krerowicz.

Williams' contributions to music are hard to match for any composer, he says, especially for those who will  undertake writing music for the many Star Wars spinoff movies to come in the future.

Krerowicz says those future composers should keep one thing in mind when writing music for Star Wars: "The single most important thing is an epic quality to it because they're space odysseys, they're space operas - they have to be adventurous."