May 25, 2018
The ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Score Does Something Surprising with a Signature John Williams Theme
This weekend’s release of Solo: A Star Wars Story has one huge surprise that will blow fans away (and if you already know what we’re talking about, you can read more about it over here but beware of spoilers!). But Solo also has another tidbit that might go unnoticed. Or if you did notice it, you might not have realized how odd it was. What we’re talking about is a certain musical cue from the Solo: A Star Wars Story score.
Beware of very mild spoilers for the first act of Solo: A Star Wars Story below.
Setting the Stage
John Powell is the composer behind the Solo: A Star Wars Story score, and he uses some of John Williams‘ previously established themes in interesting ways throughout the film. Most of them are quick musical cues and homages that act as orchestral winks and nods to the audiences, others add the perfect fanfare to a fantastic action sequence. But one particular use takes one of the most famous themes from Star Wars, and uses it in a surprising way that hasn’t happened in a Star Wars movie before.
Almost all of the music in Star Wars movies is non-diagetic. That means that the music we hear in the movie comes from an external audio source that isn’t within the world of the movie’s narrative. It’s music the characters can’t hear but the audience can. The only exception to this are the songs performed by the likes of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes at the Mos Eisley cantina or the tunes sung in Jabba the Hutt’s palace by Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band. But Solo: A Star Wars Story takes one of the themes that we usually onyly hear as non-diagetic music and makes it part of the Star Wars universe.
During the first act of the movie, Han Solo’s partner in crime, Qi’ra, (Emila Clarke) is torn from his side just as the two are about to escape Corellia and make a new life for themselves away from the Empire. Heartbroken, Han hides from Stormtroopers trying to find him among a sea of other intergalactic immigrants. While he’s trying to figure out what to do, he sees some propaganda banners and a holographic video made to convince people to join the Imperial Academy.
The Imperial March Becomes Diagetic
The voiceover heard in the holographic video gives the usual “make a difference” pitch that dangerous regimes like to use when trying to make their evil actions sound noble. But it’s the music that’s playing over this video that you should pay attention to because it’s none other than “The Imperial March” by John Williams.
That means the musical cue isn’t just non-diagetic music to make the bad guys look more menacing as they walk the shiny halls of whatever doomsday device they’ve built this time. Instead, “The Imperial March” is apparently some kind of anthem for the Empire. You can imagine them playing it when an Imperial officer has to give some kind of speech to the citizens of a planet, telling them that the Empire is taking it over for their benefit. It’s like their own “Hail to the Chief.”
Funnily, enough, this isn’t the first time this has happened in the Star Wars universe. Watch the opening of this clip:
As you can see, during this parade on Empire Day (which is also the name of the episode in question from the first season of Star Wars Rebels), there’s an upbeat, almost cheesy variation on “The Imperial March.” The version in Solo doesn’t sound quite so cheap or phony, and it’s an interesting adoption of music that was originally intended to be just an accompaniment to the Star Wars movies.
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