When the new Star Wars ComLINKS topic for October 2017 – Favorite Musical Score – was announced over at Anakin and His Angel I knew I had to jump in and participate. For a while now, I have been thinking about writing a bit more about the music that accompanies Star Wars, the iconic compositions of John Williams that give the original trilogy gravitas and have also influenced other Star Wars composers. It is safe to say – and really a no-brainer – that without the music of Williams, Star Wars would be much different. But I will leave a larger conversation of the music of Star Wars to another person, or at least save it for another occasion. For now, with the ComLINKS topic in mind, I am excited to share my thoughts/feelings on Favorite Musical Score in Star Wars. And, of course, it’s “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”
The word “theme” is appropriate here because, let’s face it, I consistently return to The Empire Strikes Back to discuss my favorite aspects of Star Wars. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my favorite score would also come from my favorite Star Wars film. Naturally I love Star Wars across the board, but my deep affection for The Empire Strikes Back – embedded within me as a child – is the true grounding of my Star Wars adoration. That being the case, the issue at hand is not that my favorite musical score comes from The Empire Strikes Back, but rather, why is this particular score from the film’s soundtrack my favorite and not another?
To be entirely blunt, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” is my favorite score because it is established as the de facto anthem of the Galactic Empire. As a child, I was fascinated by the Empire, having a “Casterfoian” (google “Casterfo”) interest in the baddies of the Star Wars universe. While I knew the Empire was evil, and I celebrated the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope with the Rebels, The Empire Strikes Back introduced me to a different way of viewing/experiencing the Empire. No longer were they simply the bad guys with a massive moon-sized space station but, instead, they were the bad guys who had Probe Droids, Super Star Destroyers, Imperial Walkers, Snowtroopers, TIE Bombers, and more. Even though they took a big hit in A New Hope, these baddies were anything but knocked out, and still had the means to level a crushing blow to the Rebel Alliance on the planet Hoth. And, to top it off, the Empire now had distinct piece of music – doubling as the theme for the villainous Darth Vader – to capture their harsh, galactic reach.
To this day, the raw power of “The Imperial March” continues to captivate and hold me not only because it originates in The Empire Strikes Back, but because I have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. As a child, I was unaware that the piece was influenced by Chopin’s “Funeral March” and Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” And yet, today, I am equally captivated by these pieces, all thanks to my childhood enjoyment of the Empire/Vader’s powerful anthem. Plus, this is also the case with a number of others scores from Star Wars, my enjoyment of these leading me to a more profound appreciation of other classical pieces.
At the same time, while “The Imperial March” is laced with childhood meaning and has led me to its musical influences, it also continues to be a piece that, quite frankly, captures me and takes hold each time I hear it. The repetition of the strings in the opening riff, crisp and dark (thanks to it being in a minor key), captures my attention until the brass presents the iconic melody in the fifth bar, gripping me with its clear-cut strength and power. Having washed over me like a wave in a storm, there is no escape. The moment I hear the opening to “The Imperial March,” and the iconic brass melody which serves as a leitmotif for Empire and Vader has begun, I must continue to listen. It would be wrong to turn around, to stop the March from moving forward. And so, no matter the situation, I will always let “The Imperial March” continue…
…which is, in a very real sense, the point of the piece. “The Imperial March” is aptly named because it perfectly encompasses the forward progress of the Galactic Empire, a progression which is difficult to stop. The Empire, wounded as it was at Yavin IV, continues its march of terror, death, and destruction. And, of course, Darth Vader spearheads the Imperial march across the galaxy, hunting down those who wish to stop the Empire. But it cannot be stopped, it will not be stopped, and it is futile to even try.