Did the soundtrack sell Star Wars?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Would Star Wars have been as popular without the music?

I made a mistake this afternoon. I had an intimidating pile of page proofs to get through and, in an attempt to get them done in a timely manner, I popped on my iPod to block out the distracting office noise. I chose one of the Star Wars prequel soundtracks by the talented Mr John Williams, and 10 minutes later I found myself listening to the music and not reading a single word on those darned proofs. I was completely lost in the music, following the different threads as they rose to, and fell from, prominence. (There’s probably a good post to be written about film soundtracks as a gateway drug for classical music, but I’ll save that for another time.)

It’s tricky to separate the emotional memory of watching a movie (and I saw this one slightly drunk, at 11pm at night, surrounded by a huge number of similarly insensate people) from the emotion evoked by the music itself. But still, I couldn’t help but be struck by both the emotion within the music itself, and the storytelling that goes with it. It would be a fascinating exercise to play one of Williams’ soundtracks to some kids who had never seen the movie in question and ask them to write stories based on it. How much of the emotion that a generation felt about the original trilogy was evoked by Williams’ score, and how much by Lucas‘s film making? Lucas himself acknowledges on the recent DVDs of that trilogy that the music was the one element of the 1977 original film that exceeded his expectation.

I’ve no idea what the answer to this question is, and there’s probably no easy way of finding out. But I do suspect that Williams can take the credit for a significant amount of the Star Wars phenomenon.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.