In keeping with our John William’s tangent – did you know that part of what makes his film music so effective is his use of leitmotifs? (pronounced “light-moteefs”). A leitmotif is a musical melody that a composer assigns to a character or place in a story, to reinforce the audience’s connection with that character or place. Think of the theme to Jaws (which John Williams also wrote), as soon as you hear that two-note leitmotif, you know danger is coming and that those innocent people should hurry up and get out of the water!!, even before the shark appears on screen.
This technique was originally used in opera, and perfected by the German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Wagner is best known for composing the Ring Cycle (an epic musical dramatic work containing 4 separate operas that takes 17 hours to perform…but that is a story for another time…. Oh, and it’s called the Ring Cycle because the story is about a magical ring stolen from the gods that possesses omnipotent power (sound familiar??), but that is also a story for another time…).
Now think of Luke’s theme (also called The Force theme). John Williams uses this leitmotif in a wistful and sad way when Luke watches the suns set and wonders about his destiny. Then, Williams uses this leitmotif in a heroic, epic, and victorious way during the movie’s ending scene with Luke, Han and Chewie at Princess Leia’s medal ceremony.
That’s the cool thing about leitmotifs, the composer uses the same assigned melody – but by changing the style of how the melody is played, changes the tone and emotion of the scene, and the character.