Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019: The Music of The Phantom Menace With David Collins

In addition to returning as host of the Galaxy Stage at Celebration Chicago, David Collins once again took to the stage himself for an hour-long deep dive into the music of Star Wars. With the convention honoring the twentieth anniversary of The Phantom Menace, he naturally selected Episode I as the featured score for this year’s discussion.

Writing music for a prequel film is no easy task: the composer must essentially “reverse engineer” the music from the original film so that the music in the later-released prequel retroactively foreshadows what is already familiar. At Celebration Orlando two years ago, Collins analyzed the score for Rogue One, emphasizing how Michael Giacchino used the well-known themes and motifs of John Williams, especially in A New Hope, as the foundation for the newer film to ensure they successfully complemented one another. For The Phantom Menace, though, the task fell to Williams himself. Fifteen years after his last work on Star Wars, he faced the challenge of writing a score that evoked some of the most famous film music themes of all time while also launching an equally memorable soundtrack for the new trilogy.

Using a combination of soundtrack excerpts and playing at a keyboard onstage, Collins effectively showed the audience how Williams built the music of The Phantom Menace on the same framework as the Original Trilogy. The iconic “Duel of the Fates,” for example, uses a prominent chord from “The Imperial March” to symbolize Darth Maul and the dark side and the shape of the “Force Theme” to represent his Jedi opponents and the light side. The bass line draws upon the “Force Theme” too, and key intervals mirror the “Main Theme” and “Yoda’s Theme.” The unusually long – and, as Collins jokingly pointed out, not particularly hummable – “Anakin’s Theme” likewise has elements from each of these four Original Trilogy pieces, before directly quoting the “Imperial March” for its final bars.

Fans who have heard Collins analyze The Phantom Menace music previously on podcasts already knew the shocking musical reveal he saved for the conclusion of the panel. It was clear from the reaction of the audience in the room, however, that most of the attendees had no idea what secret Collins had up his sleeve – or the devious brilliance of John Williams to repurpose an Original Trilogy theme for powerful dramatic irony effect. If you don’t know the twist, I won’t spoil it here, but you’re in for a treat if you want to listen or read for yourself to find out.

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B.J. Priester has been a Star Wars fan since he played with the original Kenner action figures as a young boy. His fandom passion returned after watching Attack of the Clones in 2002 and reading the entire New Jedi Order series in 2003. He voraciously caught up on the novels and comics in the Expanded Universe in addition to writing fanfiction, frequently co-authoring with Tricia. B.J. has served as editor of FANgirl Blog from its inception, as well as contributing reviews and posts on a range of topics. He edited Tricia’s novel Wynde, and is collaborating with her on several future projects set in that original universe. Currently a tenured law professor in Florida, B.J. has been a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge, and a law journal editor-in-chief. He is also a proud geek dad whose son who is a big fan of Star Wars and The Clone Wars.