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Coming back to the Star Wars mythology for the seventh time, you’d think that iconic composer John Williams might be showing even the slightest signs of Jedi ennui. However, the 83 year-old maestro is still going strong, scoring the anxiously-awaited Star Wars: Episode: The Force Awakens. In fact, he plans a nuanced approach utilizing associated memories in an evocative way.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, the legend dishes some details regarding his approach to his current work on The Force Awakens score. Being a Star Wars film, there will obviously be some indelible pieces that will be returning. However, Williams plans to emphasize the impact of some scenes with familiar musical numbers for a new effect that mines our memories. As Williams explains:
There are some scenes where we do make reference to earlier thematic pieces. We haven’t done it yet, but we’re planning to do it. It’s something that I think will seem very natural and right in the moments for which we’ve chosen to do these kinds of quotes. There aren’t many of them, but there are a few that I think are important and will seem very much a part of the fabric of the piece in a positive and constructive way.
Conceptually, this idea is hardly unprecedented and it could even be demonstrated that Williams utilized this strategy to some degree in the score for the prequel films. Whether it was the subtle usage of Darth Vader’s Imperial March during Anakin Skywalker’s dark diva moments, or the ominous allure of The Emperor’s theme during the more sinister scenes with "Chancellor Palpatine," the use of musical memories to convey the tone of scene has actually become a key concept in the continuation of the venerable franchise. Yet, we could be seeing this utilized in a more direct and meaningful manner.
In the interview, Williams describes the process of scoring The Force Awakens in a creatively linear mode as adding paragraphs to a letter he’s been writing for several years. This does play to the score strategy in a certain sense. Being the first proper sequel to the template-setting Original Trilogy films, The Force Awakens will enjoy the benefit of having its musical references manifest in a less scattered manner than they necessarily did in the Prequels. Rather than using a known musical piece to evoke an analogy to an intended tone, he can actually build on what’s already there, creating a more profound impact of the musical usage due to the direct connection.
For example, imagine a hypothetical all-new potential ground battle in the snow filled with wonky walkers suddenly jumping to the brief, unmistakable melody of the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. Rather than forcing the audience to indirectly mine their memories to make the loose analogous connection to the Hoth scene in a prequel film not at all connected to that original scene, the poignancy would be more than immediate with its use in a film in which the Battle of Hoth will have already played its part in shaping the continuity. In essence, the musical reuse builds upon the existing tonality, rather than meekly trying to evoke its power.
It may be an esoteric application to a rather simple concept of using familiar music, but clearly The Force Awakens will need to walk the line between shaping itself with the indelible elements of a Star Wars film, while not burdening itself too much with nostalgia and super-fan shout-outs. Thus, as Williams implies, the thematic pieces will rightfully be few and far between, reflecting an evolution of the mythos.