Possible spoilers for The Last Jedi ahead…
It’s an interesting mix of news and views today, stretching from the desk of composer John Williams to the workshops of Atari, where the very first Star Wars arcade game was made. In-between we’ll take a look at how The Last Jedi makes The Force Awakens that much better, and then I’ll set you off and running with a story about Disney’s virtual Star Wars half marathon.
Williams’ work finally garners scholarly attention
The idea that composer John Williams created something special with his film scores is nothing new to Star Wars fans. But apparently, it is new to those who study music.
Alex Ross, a contributor to The New Yorker since 1993, and the magazine’s music critic in 1996 turns up the volume (sorry) on this notion in his post, “A Field Guide to the Musical Leitmotifs of Star Wars.”
And before you give me the same look that Vice Admiral Holdo offers Poe in Episode VIII, let’s hear Mr. Ross out (again, sorry). He writes:
This attention has come about not only because of the mythic weight that George Lucas’s space operas have acquired in the contemporary imagination; the music is also superbly crafted and rewards close analysis. Williams’s latest score is one the most compelling in his forty-year Star Wars career: Rian Johnson’s film complicates and enriches the familiar template, and Williams responds with intricate, ambiguous variations on his canon of themes.
Now, a “leitmotif” is defined by Google as “a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.”
Ross cites Frank Lehman, an assistant professor at Tufts University, who has documented “fifty-five distinct leitmotifs—thematic ideas that point toward characters, objects, ideas, and relationships—and forty-three so-called incidental motifs” in Williams’ work.
Ross also points to a particular moment in Star Wars: A New Hope when the soundtrack distanced itself from other popcorn film fare:
Something more substantial happens in the celebrated scene in which young Luke Skywalker looks longingly toward a horizon lit by twin setting suns, dreaming of a life beyond the desert planet Tatooine. Williams writes a melancholy, expansive G-minor theme for solo horn, which is soon taken up by full strings. Akin to the noble C-minor melody that Wagner writes for Siegfried, this leitmotif represents not only Luke but also the mystical medium known as the Force. Buhler points out that the music is heard before the Force has been explained; thus, in classic Wagnerian fashion, it foreshadows the not-yet-known. This may be the point at which “Star Wars” steps out of the adolescent-adventure arena and into the realm of modern myth.”
I am no musician or even a true music lover, but as someone who — in the time before VCRs — literally “watched” Star Wars through the notes of Williams’ music, Ross’ article, and its message, struck a chord (okay I’ll stop now).
TLJ Makes TFA Better?
Shifting gears, Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton gives us five reasons why The Last Jedi makes The Force Awakens better:
A couple days after my second viewing of The Last Jedi, I rewatched The Force Awakens. Unsurprisingly, I found that just as I liked parts of The Last Jedi more once I knew what was going to happen, I also liked its predecessor more now that I knew what came after it.
My favorite on Hamilton’s list: “Rey seems a lot cooler when you know she’s just some rando.”
At the outset of TFA, Rey is clearly a huge fan of the legendary heroes of the original trilogy. She eats dinner while wearing an old Rebel helmet, is amazed when she hears the name Luke Skywalker, and has a fan freakout upon meeting the Han Solo. She generally spends most of The Force Awakens acting surprised to find herself as the Force-imbued heroine of a Star Wars movie. But she isn’t Ben Kenobi’s granddaughter, nor Kylo Ren’s cousin, nor anything like that. She’s just some person who up until now has sat alone on a planet, finding shade in the wreckage of an AT-AT, dreaming of a lost age of heroism and lying to herself about her sad, unremarkable life. It makes her much more relatable, and renders her bravery and heroism throughout both films all the more remarkable.”
Way to go, Hamilton! Read the rest of this very fun story here.
Atari’s First Take on Star Wars
Mental Floss compiled another list-based piece that rings true in my heart, with their “5 Fascinating Facts About Atari’s Star Wars.”
Beyond listening to the soundtracks, one other way for those of us born in the 70s and early 80s to immerse ourselves in the world of the Saga was to head to the arcade.
If we were lucky, the quarter-munching machines in the darkened space at the mall included Atari’s Star Wars X-wing simulator. If the Force was with you, the arcade’s owner had sprung for the sit-down version of the game.
MF takes it from here:
Its vector graphics made you feel as though you were Luke Skywalker himself, piloting an X-wing fighter and leading the assault on the Death Star. Digitized speech from the movie added to its authenticity, and the result was one of the biggest arcade hits of the era.
So, Mental Floss gives us five facts, with my favorite being: “The controller came from a military version of the Battlezone coin-op.”
One of the challenges of making Star Wars was not just making it look and sound like the film, but actually making it feel as though the player was controlling an X-wing. The game clearly needed some kind of high-tech feeling control system, but where to source it? The yoke seen in the final game came from an obscure source: something called the Bradley Trainer… a version of Battlezone created by Atari for the military and, as its name implies, was designed as a trainer for the Bradley tank. Although only two of these machines were ever produced, the yoke design was adopted—albeit in smaller form—as the controller for Star Wars.”
Maybe The Last Starfighter wasn’t so far off…
Chewie didn’t get a medal, but you can!
Finally, Popsugar’s Brinton Parker reports that treadmill bound runners may now compete in a Star Wars half marathon:
If you’re a Disney fanatic who also enjoys a satisfying workout, then you’ve undoubtedly considered running one of the company’s famous half-marathons, marathons, 10K, or 5K races. But participating in these runs isn’t easy — historically, it means making your way to one of the Disney theme parks, paying for the race fee, then paying the $100+ price for a park ticket. But on Jan. 3, Disney made an announcement that will make Disney races more accessible to the masses. Introducing . . . the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon! Just like a traditional Disney race, the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon offers perks — like the special Millennium Falcon-shaped finisher’s medal ahead — to participants.
There is a cost associated with the lengthy workout, but in a time dominated by failing New Year’s resolutions, this one allows you to run/jog from now until the end of March!
Registration for the virtual race is open between now and Feb. 28, and the completion time frame for the run is Jan. 3 – March 31. You can definitely run 13.1 miles by the end of March, even without traditional planning! While themed costumes aren’t required for this particular Disney race, we certainly wouldn’t blame you for dressing up to run, even if you’re doing it at home!”
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