23-time GRAMMY winner John Williams
The music of 'Star Wars': A GRAMMY history
Take a few seconds. What's your favorite scene from the Star Wars franchise?
Whatever scene you picked, just as sure as Luke Skywalker is strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark, it's likely they were impeccably complemented by the music of Jedi master composer John Williams.
Spanning 1977's Episode IV — A New Hope to 2015's Episode VII — The Force Awakens, Williams' music has punctuated seven Star Wars films as they hyperdrived from Tatooine, Yavin and Hoth to Endor, Naboo, Mustafar, and beyond.
Fittingly, when it comes to GRAMMYs, the force is strong with the music of Star Wars. From his iconic work on seven Star Wars films, Williams has earned 14 total nominations and six of his 23 GRAMMY wins. Each film, save for 2002's Episode II — Attack Of The Clones, has received a GRAMMY nomination. (The soundtrack for 2016's Rogue One, combining music by Michael Giacchino with legacy music from Williams, will be eligible for 60th GRAMMY Awards consideration.)
As we count the days (225) until Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, here is a look back at the "impressive, most impressive" GRAMMY history of Williams and Star Wars. May the 4th be with you.
Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)
From the iconic main title to the spacey jazz number played by the Cantina Band and the ominous three-note sequence accompanying Darth Vader's entrance scene, the music for the first Star Wars film is, to quote Han Solo, "one in a million." The soundtrack netted four GRAMMY nominations for 1977, winning three, including Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special and Best Instrumental Composition, which was awarded to the main title. The soundtrack was even up for the prestigious Album Of The Year award. Further cementing its legacy, the soundtrack was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2007, the lone Star Wars soundtrack so decorated.
Epic music cue: Williams' triumphant "The Throne Room" theme played as Princess Leia bestows medals upon Han and Luke Skywalker is enough to make even Grumpy Cat smile.
Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back is widely argued as the best film in the Star Wars canon. It beautifully balances multiple subplots, including Luke's Jedi training with Yoda on Dagobah, Han and Princess Leia's exploits to evade the Empire, and the unforgettable finale in Cloud City. And let's not forget one of the biggest reveals in film history. Matching the action scene for scene is Williams' brilliant music, which landed five nominations — the most for a Star Wars film — including two alone for the bouncy "Yoda's Theme" and one for the militaristic "Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)." The soundtrack ultimately fetched two GRAMMYs for Best Album Of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special and Best Instrumental Composition.
Epic music cue: As Luke enters Dagobah's Dark Side Cave and encounters the illusion of Darth Vader, the dark side of the force is omnipresent. Williams' piece, titled "The Magic Tree," is dim and unsettling, creating a tonal match for one of the film's most important scenes.
Episode VI — Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Williams' third Star Wars score helped the original trilogy finish with a bang. Han is freed from carbonite, Leia finds out that Luke is her brother, Luke has it out with his father, and resident cool dude Lando Calrissian leads the assault that results in the second Death Star being blown to smithereens. There are also speeder chases, the Sarlacc and the introduction of Jabba the Hut, Nien-Nunb and Mon Mothma. Williams' soundtrack was action-packed too, earning a GRAMMY nod for Best Album Of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special.
Epic music cue: After the destruction of the second Death Star, the Rebels celebrate on Endor with their new furry pals, the Ewoks. Williams' accompanying celebratory theme music mixes giddy wind-based melody lines with tribal drums and percussion, complemented by a lyrical chant sung in the Ewoks' language, which was written by his son, Joseph Williams.
Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999)
Huge anticipation surrounded the release of The Phantom Menace, the first Star Wars prequel. While the film ultimately divided fans — some couldn't get enough of new characters such as Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul while others barely tolerated the likes of Jar-Jar Binks — Williams' music was lauded. The soundtrack, which was recorded at legendary Abbey Road Studios, received a GRAMMY nod for Best Instrumental Composition Written For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media.
Epic music cue: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan Kenobi match wits with Darth Maul for one of the best Star Wars light saber duels. Williams creatively threads new music, including the swirling "Duel Of The Fates" theme, with the unforgettable "The Force Theme" from the original trilogy.
Episode III — Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
The prequel trilogy ends on a chilling note. The Jedi are pushed to extinction via Order 66. Meanwhile, Anakin Skywalker becomes seduced by Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious), who ultimately duels with Master Yoda. In the harrowing climax, Obi-Wan and Anakin finally face off … and, well, you know the rest. In turn, many of the music pieces for the film are dark and brooding, including "Anakin's Betrayal" (which earned a nod for Best Instrumental Composition), "Palpatine's Teachings" and "Enter Lord Vader." The soundtrack earned Williams an additional nomination for Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media.
Epic music cue: "Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan" sets the perfect moody backdrop for the moment the entire film led up to: the first duel between master and apprentice.
Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015)
As the sequel to the original trilogy, the barometer for The Force Awakens was set sky high. Helmed by director J.J. Abrams, the film was an undeniable blockbuster, proving the lasting appeal of Star Wars. The film adroitly introduced new characters to the story, such as Finn, Kylo Ren and Rey, while appeasing diehards with the reappearances of Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and, albeit briefly, Luke. Williams mixed new pieces ("Rey's Theme" and "March Of The Resistance") with familiar themes from the previous films, yielding majestic results. The soundtrack earned the first GRAMMY for the franchise in 35 years, taking Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media.
Epic music cue: As a nod to the cantina scene in Episode IV, there is an oddball band jam in the Maz Kanata castle scene. Interestingly, Abrams and GRAMMY winner Lin-Manuel Miranda of "Hamilton" fame composed the reggae-inspired piece, "Jabba Flow," for this scene.