3 Things Every Artist Can Learn from Star War’s Composer John Williams

Kodi Vonn

May the Fourth Be With You

In celebration of Star Wars day, we’re diving into John Williams and his seriously heavy impact on music in film and the Star Wars franchise.

John Williams was born in Long Island, New York, in 1932. He studied at classical and jazz piano at Juilliard before going on to win five Academy Awards, seventeen Grammys, three Golden Globes, and two Emmys. In addition to Star Wars, Williams is also responsible for the music in Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, the first three Harry Potter movies, E.T., Superman, and many others.

His influence on the Star Wars universe is so far-reaching, that one cannot imagine the films without his scores. Many of Lucas’s scenes hold their impact because of Williams’ additions. Watch the video below to see what we’re talking about.

Yet some may be surprised to learn that Williams has yet to sit down and watch the Star Wars films in their entirety. Williams confessed in a December 2016 interview with The Mirror:

I let it go. I have not looked at the Star Wars films and that’s absolutely true.

“When I’m finished with a film, I’ve been living with it, we’ve been dubbing it, recording to it, and so on. You walk out of the studio and, ‘Ah, it’s finished.’ Now I don’t have an impulse to go to the theater and look at it. Maybe some people find that weird, or listen to recordings of my music very, very rarely.  I’m not particularly proud of that, I have to say, but it’s also part of the fact that I finished Star Wars now and I’m already working on Spielberg’s new film and I don’t want to listen to music or see films.”

Beginning with his work for 1977’s A New Hope and with this years release of The Last Jedi (December 15), Williams and his work have a lot to teach artists. See below for our top three things artists can learn from Williams work on the Star Wars franchise.

1. Know Your History

Any music buff listening to the scores for the Star Wars series, will spot the similarities between William’s compositions and his classical music forefathers. Williams employed the leitmotif, or character theme music, popularized first by Wagner. Gustav Holst’s The Planets has been used by many filmmakers for it’s obvious musical callbacks to space. The Stormtroopers theme song is distinctly similar to Holst’s Mars.

2. K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple and Singable. Who can’t hum at least a few bars of the Star Wars theme song, “The Imperial March,” or Darth Vader’s theme song?

We’ve included a Spotify playlist below to help you celebrate May the Fourth.

And for all you music theory enthusiasts, Billboard has drawn up a pretty nifty breakdown of what’s made Williams’s songs so popular and singable.

3. Be Different

Williams was tasked in the late 70’s with writing a film score for George Lucas’s forthcoming science fiction movie. This was a time where space operas utilized heavy synth sounds or use of the made-for-sci-fi-instrument, the theremin. Films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and tv’s “The Twilight Zone” utilized strange, unearthly sounds to fill their backgrounds.

But Williams and Lucas imagined a return to classical music for their space drama. His scores are truly orchestral and effected a return to form for sci-fi film scores: the space opera. Williams’s deft musical ear and genius have forever changed the way composers approach creating film scores, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Header/cover image: “Star Wars: In Concert. Orleans Hotel and Casino. Star Wars: In Concert, the unique multi-media event featuring music from all six of John Williams’ epic Star Wars scores, will play two performances on May 29 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Las Vegas, Nevada” via Flickr