#7: STAR WARS (John Williams)

October 18, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

For people of my generation, the score for Star Wars is iconic. It's impossible for me even to pretend objectivity where this music is concerned, because it's the first album I bought with my own money, and I listened to it constantly. There probably wasn't a day during the second half of 1977 when I didn't play at least a few tracks of the two-record set. (I can remember listening to the main theme while getting dressed for school at 7:30 in the morning.)

This is not the best score John Williams has written, but it's his most recognizable. It captures the spirit of the movie perfectly - epic but never pompous. The music is so entwined in the Star Wars mythology that I believe it's part of what makes the film so enjoyable and accessible. Imagine for a moment watching the movie without the Williams music. It becomes a different and less compelling experience. (Of course, had Jerry Goldsmith written the score, I might be writing the same words about his version. That's the problem with alternate reality conundrums.)

I owned that Star Wars soundtrack record for nearly 20 years. By the end of its lifetime, it was badly scratched, and almost every track skipped. But I can recall listening to it in the mid-1990s and being transported back to the time I bought it in 1977, and the excitement I felt when setting it onto my record player. I disposed of the record in 1997 when the 2 CD Special Edition set became available. Not only was sound the sound quality an order of magnitude better but there were additional tracks. (I threw out the records. My record player had broken down and the album was in such bad condition that not even the most zealous collector would be interested. And I'm not one to keep memorabilia just to have it take up space.)

Perhaps predictably, my favorite tracks include "Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner," "Cantina Band," "The Millennium Falcon/Imperial Cruiser Pursuit," and "The Death Star." There was a disco version of the main theme that got a lot of radio play back in the late 1970s. At the time, I think I liked it, but now I can't listen to it without cringing. Star Wars deserves to be heard as played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Williams. Anything else is a lesser rendition.

Is Star Wars one of the best soundtracks ever recorded? I can't answer that, but I can say that it will forever have a place in my memories, and that makes it a no-brainer for inclusion on this list.