Star Wars: Watching the Soundtrack

 

MakingStarWars.net — As Maz Kanata would attest, the basement often yields the greatest treasures.

Front Cover: Original Star Wars LP

Case in point: My friends are downsizing their house. So with, an invitation to rummage in hand, I happened across an original vinyl pressing of John Williams‘ original motion picture soundtrack for Star Wars.

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The first film foray to a galaxy far, far away–not yet subtitled A New Hope (subsequently added to the 1981 re-issue)–ignited the imagination of millions. However, those of us who saw the original in 1977 (and couldn’t yet read) had no home video; no means by which to revisit Star Wars over and over.

So, until your junk-bond-selling neighbor bought a first generation laserdisc player or Betamax, it was the Star Wars soundtrack; the music kept the Force alive as we waited for the subsequent episodes.

Vinyl Vibes

Stereo set advertisement (circa 1970)

With the vintage-fold-out album cover in hand, a real Force-back occurred. I remembered the goosebumps that raised on my arm as I listened as a child.

I recalled following the story solely via the music and tiny pictures.

Then, overly nostalgic for my parents’ all-in-one stereo set, the red shag carpet in the living room; my toddler-self quietly sitting staring at the speakers–waiting for an X-wing fighter to burst out of the cabinet, the original liner notes penned by Charles Lippincott snapped me back into reporter mode.

“The high-energy adventure unites the hardware of contemporary science fiction with the romantic fantasies of sword and sorcery,” wrote Lippincott. “Star Wars is an imaginative entertainment experience which takes the audience to an unknown galaxy thousands of light years from earth.”

As I read, I vividly recalled just how important Williams’ music was to me as it was often my only vehicle to the Star Wars universe.

Williams’ Thoughts on Star Wars

Liner Notes

My original liner notes, quickly dispatched as worthless by my preschool personage, never made it into my memory. So, reading anew, I was happily surprised to find quotes from Williams himself in Lippencott’s prose.

The composer/conductor spoke about his creative process. He also explained the circumstances that led to the March 5-16 recording in London back in 1977.

“I have never used an organized orchestra before for a film,” wrote Williams, who spoke to the difficulty of finding an available symphony with time on its hands.

An aside: Imagine a time before John Williams organized an orchestra to score a film; a time when a symphony wouldn’t drop everything to record with the conductor (!).

“We recorded the score in London because the film was shot there,” he continued. “But besides that, there is no better place thank London to do a musical recording.

“We were very lucky because we wanted a symphonic sound and we were in London where great orchestras are available.”

Bith Background

Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (Starwars.com)

To me, another surprising element to Williams’ revelations concerned the Cantina Band sequence.

“This is the only track that does not use members of the London Symphony Orchestra,” he wrote. “It is the only source music in the film.

“We used nine musicians, mostly jazz.”

Obviously, none of this is particularly over-the-top regarding knowledge nuggets. But the dusty antique record brought me back to a place before the Internet. Its sleeve transported me to days before annual Star Wars films, their merits now predetermined based solely on their teaser trailers. Furthermore, all of it remains a useful time-warp, a juxtaposition that reminded me of a time when Star Wars was new and huge and awe-inspiring.

Given my chosen avocation, I count myself lucky to be living in a time when I can watch Star Wars films and TV shows on my phone. However, I also believe I was lucky to grow up in a time when I had to fill in the blanks on my own.

Moreover, as a child, I was fortunate to be able to create my own “head canon” and enjoy Star Wars without my current want to have everything explained as it pertains to the overall universe.

Williams wrote:

Normally, I try not to read scripts because you tend to form your own images of the character sand locales in your mind. Then when you look the visualization of it in the film, it doesn’t necessarily correspond to your preconceptions. I would reather sit down in a projection room and watch the film from start to finish without any talking — like an audience.

I agree, John. But I still like spoilers…

Special thanks to Ned & Mary Mitchell and Jonathan Gotlib! JB

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