John Williams: My Five Top Themes
John Williams is, quite simply, a genius. He has composed some of the most iconic film scores, and his music is synonymous with the films that he has scored for. It’s surely the sign of a great composer that their music is subject to association of thought. Darth Vader? The Imperial March will immediately come into your head. Harry Potter? The magical tones of Hedwig’s Theme will sound in your head. Indiana Jones, Superman, Jaws…the list goes on.
I have crudely assembled my own personal top five favourite John Williams film scores. For the musical experts out there, I apologise for my less than eloquent descriptions.
5) The Raiders March: Indiana Jones
This theme just feels so appropriate for the genre and era that it is set in. Indiana Jones is a swashbuckling hero, and Harrison Ford deserves a swashbuckling leitmotif. The theme was originally in two parts, but director Steven Spielberg asked for a combined result instead. John Williams doesn’t ever shoehorn in The Raiders March (which must be tempting), and it feels epic hearing it in multiple contexts; when Indy and company are heading off into the sunset on horseback (Last Crusade), or when they’re beating up the bad guys against the odds (Temple of Doom). I even liked it during the end scene of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (time to put the tin hat on: I actually didn’t mind the fourth one).
4) Star Wars main theme: Star Wars
My boyish excitement was alive and well when I went to watch The Force Awakens. Seeing “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” light up on the big screen massively heightened my anticipation for the opening notes of the Star Wars main theme. The tune is so recognisable that the vast majority of non-fans can still place the theme to the film. This theme perfectly sets the scene and hints at the adventure to come, and I love the continuity of having the opening crawl of text (accompanied by this theme) throughout the entire franchise. Imagine hearing a rousing rendition of this at a huge concert hall!
3) Journey to the Island: Jurassic Park
This theme is played throughout the entire Jurassic Park franchise, and is otherwise recognised when played in the first film as the helicopter approaches Isla Nublar (“you’ll recognise it when you hear it”). I love how brash and grand the spectacle of it is, which is appropriate given that there are living, breathing dinosaurs on show. I feel that this theme neatly encapsulates how Jurassic Park very much isn’t a horror/blood and gore film. There’s a triumph to this piece of music; just think of the T-Rex v Raptors scene in the first film. My one regret with it is that it’s only used very briefly in Jurassic World (for a helicopter scene, of course), but thank goodness that successive composers (after The Lost World: Jurassic Park) have stuck with it.
2) Jurassic Park theme: Jurassic Park
A contrast to the Journey to the Island theme (especially when you hear the soft piano version). I think it captures the majesty and wonder of the dinosaurs, and is a grand theme for when Dr Grant and company first see a Brachiosaurus in the park. It also settles the pace down after the T-Rex attack, when Alan, Lex and Tim find shelter in the trees amongst the Sauropods. I did have a little lump in the throat when the theme first started up in Jurassic World as the tourists approach Isla Nublar, and the notes to the theme are hinted at beautifully throughout the film. I love each version of it, whether it’s the poignancy of the slow tempo and soft rendition or the building crescendo of the original use of the theme.
1) Binary Sunset/The Force theme: Star Wars
I always get goosebumps whenever I hear this beautiful piece of music. I still get goosebumps even when hearing it on the Family Guy spoof of A New Hope. It’s the most common theme throughout the Star Wars films, and rightly so. It’s first played in A New Hope when Luke looks at the two suns from his home in Tatooine, frustrated at being stuck on the desert planet. Whilst the notion of isolation and frustration is the first association of the theme, I think part of what makes it so special is that it can mean different things to different people (sorry if that’s a horrible cliché). It’s played in various contexts of the franchise, such as Obi Wan’s imminent victory over Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace or Han Solo’s “it’s true; all of it” speech about the force in The Force Awakens. The poignancy of the theme is what sticks with me, and it always seems to go hand in hand with the more emotional moments in the franchise. I think I have something in my eye whenever it plays…
Hedwig’s Theme: Harry Potter
It was hard to omit this one, especially as it was a classic of a theme to grow up with. Once again, John Williams perfectly composes a genre-appropriate musical cue.
The Imperial March: Star Wars
Darth Vader’s hugely famous leitmotif was perhaps too obvious an entry to put into my top five (but it’s still a great theme).
Duel of the Fates: Star Wars
One of the better products of the prequel trilogy, and the vocals are fantastic. John Williams’ scores cannot be faulted in George Lucas’ very flawed prequels, and this theme is part of the only cool bit in The Phantom Menace: Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn taking on Darth Maul.