For the third consecutive Star Wars Celebration, David Collins presented an insightful and entertaining analysis of Star Wars music on the Galaxy Stage. Befitting the convention’s theme of celebrating twenty years of Attack of the Clones, his Anaheim 2022 panel was titled “Attack of the Chords: The Music of Episode II with David Collins.”
With only an hour allotted to the panel, Collins focused on “Across the Stars,” John Williams’ love theme for the tragic romance of Anakin and Padmé, which Collins described as “one of the richest themes in all of Star Wars.” Before turning to the music, Collins noted the theme’s title and its clear connection to the familiar notion of “star-crossed lovers” who are fated (or doomed) to be torn apart. Most movie love themes are in a major key, but “Across the Stars” is in a minor key to signify the terrible fate ahead for Anakin and Padmé. Collins then pointed out the orchestration significance of the theme being performed on the oboe. The oboe solo in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was carried forward into early cinema, such as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, to represent star-crossed lovers or other tragic figures. By writing the principal presentation of the “Across the Stars” as an oboe solo, Williams connected back to this long musical history and further signaled to the audience the doomed nature of the romance.
Williams’ theme naturally connects overtly to his previous Star Wars scores, as well. As with The Phantom Menace, Williams undertook the project of “writing backwards” so that – musically speaking – the themes and motifs of the Prequel Trilogy will foreshadow and introduce the themes and motifs of the Original Trilogy. With “Across the Stars,” Collins explained, Williams made a particularly clever use of the themes of the Skywalker children in creating the love theme for their parents. To set up the insight, Collins paused to provide a basic definition of the concept of “music” itself: “music is a series of organized pitches experienced over time.” Collins then demonstrated that the pitch in “Across the Stars” draws from “Leia’s Theme,” which opens with a major sixth interval (just like The Empire Strikes Back’s love theme “Han Solo and the Princess”) – except that “Across the Stars” uses a minor sixth to convey the tragedy involved. Next, Collins stripped away the pitch from “Luke’s Theme” (more familiar to many by its other name, the “Main Title” melody) to focus on the rhythm – and then did the same for “Across the Stars,” using the juxtaposition to show they are the same. Connecting these insights, Collins explained that “Across the Stars” takes the pitch from Leia and the rhythm from Luke in “writing backwards” a love theme for Anakin and Padmé.
Collins briefly noted other musical cues in “Across the Stars” as well, particularly the “Imperial March” and the centuries-old Gregorian chant “Dies Irae,” which had been a major focus of his analysis of the score for Rogue One in a previous panel. Collins concluded by referencing many of the other new musical themes and motifs in the Attack of the Clones score and encouraged the audience to continue listening closely to the music of Star Wars.
- David Collins on Twitter @DavidWCollins
- The Soundtrack Show on iHeart Podcasts and on Twitter @SoundtrackHSW
- Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019: The Music of The Phantom Menace with David Collins
- Star Wars Celebration Orlando 2017: The Music of Rogue One with David Collins