WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS. FOR THE LOVE OF THE LIVING FORCE – DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU WANT TO SPECULATE WILDLY ABOUT EPISODES VII, VIII, IX
Music can be one of the most important parts of any film, especially a massive franchise like Star Wars. The music composed by John Williams for the long-running series is some of the most iconic in film history, and is utilised for so many reasons more than providing atmosphere and backdrop.
Each few bars conjure up a distinct image, each piece powerfully employed to represent complex motifs. Each theme, each melodic hook, has come to represent such specific characters and themes, that motifs within scenes can be used to not only predict plot points, but character development. We’re going to take a look at what each key theme represents, and how their melodic and thematic motifs have been weaved in and out of the entire series, and what we can learn (and predict) from these moments.
First and foremost is The Force Theme. Used to introduce the series, a personal theme for Obi-Wan Kenobi and representative of The Force and its abstract concepts as a whole, it is often used to mark moments of deep significance in the film.
Dies Irae is one of the most iconic songs in cinema history to serve a leitmotif function, alluding to the destinies of Anakin and Luke Skywalker and evoking fear and apprehension. The music becomes so significant and so loaded that its use in certain scenes removes any need for words or explanation.
In Revenge of the Sith, Princess Leia’s Theme is interestingly used to herald the birth of the Princess.
The Imperial March is used subtly in the prequels to offer hints at plot trajectory. Several bars of the March are carefully weaved into Anakin’s Theme, hinting at his future association with the Empire. Similarly, the bars appear in scenes that show the Republic and clone troopers, hinting at the Republic’s eventual evolution into the First Galactic Empire.
The Imperial March is played with increasing prominence from episodes II to III, hinting further at Anakin’s descent into the Dark Side.
Sometimes, the music serves as an outright spoiler.
You can hear motifs from The Emperor’s Theme, (introduced as late as Episode VI) when we are first introduced to Darth Sidious in Episode I, all but confirming the identity of Darth Sidious as Emperor Palpatine.
Most interestingly, the The Emperor’s Theme is played by a children’s chorus as a celebratory song, following the victory of Naboo at the end of Episode I. The use of the children’s vocals and major chords disguises the ominous music. It symbolises the subterfuge of Palpatine’s plan.
When the official Force Awakens trailer was released in October, superfans began trying to determine plot points using tetrailer’s soundtrack. Much like the prequels, the trailer reworks some iconic themes to hint at certain ideas. Music within the trailer, and within the movie itself provide some very powerful clues to two of the biggest questions posed in The Force Awakens.
Now that the film is out, let’s see if the musical clues led anywhere. Here’s some of our theories about Episode VII.
Who are Rey’s parents?
The first option is Luke, with an as-yet-unidentified woman. The film shows us a connection between the two when Rey touches Luke’s lightsaber, inducing a flashback to seeing Luke hunted by Kylo Ren and his Knights of Ren. Maz Kanata, the bearer of the lightsaber, also provides some clues, saying that Rey’s family are not behind her, but they may be ahead – perhaps in her quest to find Luke. Maz also says, “This was Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, like his father before him, it calls to you.” This direct reference to lineage is not exactly cryptic. In the penultimate scene, we see Luke and Rey together, interconnected. But is this connection master and pupil or father and daughter?
When did Luke get busy, and who with? Some versions of the Expanded Universe see Luke shack up with a character called Mara Jade. But considering the The Jedi Code rules against forming attachments (marriage) and individual bonds (love and family), we’re going to need an extra plot point or three to explain this one. Unlike most organised religions, these rules serve a very practical purpose. “Attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed that is,” says Yoda in Revenge of the Sith, warning of the Dark Side dangers of romantic entanglements.
It was Luke’s own father who succumbed to the Dark Side due to his very hammy love for Padme.
Perhaps Luke had a moment of weakness after one too many deathsticks. But Rey being the offspring of a Jedi master would be something of a cop out, given the Jedi are supposed to be a class of highly disciplined monks. It seems doubtful that Luke would make the same mistake as his father – preferring a thrilling life of celibacy and staring dolefully off a cliff side.
Unless you want to start considering options like cloning and genetic engineering (and let’s not fully rule them out), Han and Leia are the only other realistic candidates. The good people at Browbeat placed the music of the first official Force Awakens trailer under a powerful microscope, noting that when we first meet Rey, we hear new, original music from John Williams. The new theme stresses innocence, and the promise of upcoming adventure.
The same theme is played again when we get our first glimpse at Kylo Ren, but this time it’s a fully orchestral version, anchored by a heavy, threatening bass. Perhaps this indicated a connection between the two, possible even a “familial one.” Browbeat notes that just as we are left to ponder this question, the new theme is blended with Han and Leia’s Love Theme from The Empire Strikes Back. The bass and percussion of this theme “go into overdrive” just as Han looks into the eyes of Rey and tells her, “it’s true, all of it.” Is the Han and Leia Theme – so strongly associated with their love – played over the image of Rey, to prompt the audience to the conclusion that she is the product of their union?
The Force Awakens hints endlessly at the shared personality traits between Han and Rey. Both are street smart with deep mechanical intelligence. Their knowledge of the Millennium Falcon is almost on par, so much so that several times they literally say speak in perfect synchronisation.
By reading her mind, Kylo Ren picks up on Rey’s connection with the smuggler; “You see Han Solo as the father you never had, he would have disappointed you.” Given that this is a private thought, it’s particularly telling.
You also cannot deny the connection seen between Leia and Rey. As they lock eyes and hug in one of the final scenes, the moment lingers with heavy emotion. There’s an immediate, intrinsic connection between the two, one that hints at something far more important than their brief interaction in the film. While Han doesn’t necessarily need to know that he has fathered another child, the same cannot be said for Leia.
But if Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter, why didn’t they mention it? They have a really emotional conversation about their failings as parents in reference to Ben/Kylo. It’s uncharacteristically nonchalant of Han and Leia to not mention their other child. Furthermore, if Rey is their daughter, why as she given away as a child?
Consider this, an idea courtesy of Vox: Luke’s training somehow leads to Ben turning to the Dark Side, becoming Kylo Ren because he has “too much Vader in him”. It’s a clear concern to all Skywalkers, including Rey.
Leia and Han birth a second child, Rey. Considering how extremely naturally talented and Force trained she appears to be (something which is gonna need SERIOUS need explaining in XIII/IV), he quickly realises the risks of her potentially turning Sith. He takes her to Jakku and somehow erases all memory of her, essentially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-ing everyone who knew the young girl.
Posing Ren and Rey as brother and sister holds far more significance than as first cousins. Episode XIII will most likely feature the pair training beneath Luke and Snoke, pitting them against one another in an emotionally charged lightsaber battle, avenging their father’s death, and either saving or destroying good and evil in the process. This entire process holds far more weight when you consider that the two might be brother and sister, and indicates another repeated plot point in the film (Luke, Leia and Vader). It would also provide platform for a much deeper analysis of the Force and, essentially, nature vs nurture debate: with the same parents, what led Ren to the Dark and Rey to the Light? And will it remain this way? Kylo Ren is clearly conflicted in his actions. He may not be all bad, and Rey may not be all good.
Who is Supreme Leader Snoke?
Musical geniuses have similarly analysed the themes played whenever Supreme Leader Snoke is shown on screen in order to help determine his identity.
Slightly less shrouded in shadow than Darth Sidious, audiences are given a decent look at “Supreme Leader Snoke” –a name that inspires giggles more than fear. Snoke is a particularly decrepit looking Supreme Leader. It seems most likely that he is human, although extremely old, considering his thinning eyebrows and sallow cheeks. It also looks like someone has taken an axe directly to his forehead. An extremely senior member of an organization directly derived from the Empire, he can ‘feel’ the presence of the Force, and his intention to “complete Kylo Ren’s training” shows that he has knowledge of the Dark Side.
Again, there’s two options. The first is Emperor Palpatine.
Although Palpatine’s death in Return of the Jedi seemed to be all but confirmed when he seemingly exploded into ‘Dark Side energy’, surviving the unsurvivable is not uncommon throughout the series. Anakin Skywalker is left limbless and severely burnt before essentially being resurrected as a Frankenstein cyborg. General Grievous is quite literally just eyes, a brain and a wheezy set of lungs transplanted into an exoskeleton. So surviving a fall down a shaft into a reactor isn’t necessarily that implausible, particularly for an individual who strongly hints that he has learnt the secret of mastery over life and death.
In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine casually tells Anakin that Sith Lord Darth Plagueis “could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life – he had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could keep the ones he cared about from dying.” He later relishes the moment in the story when Plagueis’ apprentice kills him in his sleep.
Although he denies that he ever learnt the trick from his old master (“to cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret”), there’s no reason he isn’t lying. The better view is that Palpatine learnt the trick (albeit imperfectly) and as such has been able to keep himself subsisting as a skeleton, even despite his tumble down the reactor. Having Palpatine as the villain also works to logically connect all nine episodes. The Star Wars films are the story of Emperor Palpatine’s attempt to rule the galaxy.
This might have some people rolling their eyes. How could Palpatine possibly have survived that explosion? Doesn’t his death wrap up the plot of the first six episodes? But is that explanation honestly less satisfying than, say, there was another Sith Lord who was Palpatine’s third-in-command (who was oddly never mentioned in the original trilogy), he was wicked old, badly injured in the explosion of the Death Star and his name was Robert Snoke – but you may know him better as Supreme Leader Snoke. It’s a lazy explanation.
The second theory is that Snoke is Darth Plagueis, Palpatine’s former master, who, as we just explained, had learnt the ability to cheat death. This makes sense. Considering he can cheat death, his murder was not necessarily the end to his story.
Kylo Ren says to Han Solo, “the Supreme Leader is wise,” an epithet specifically used by Palpatine to describe Darth Plagueis.
Some musical savants and Star Wars superfans have noted that the theme music played whenever Snoke is on screen is the same music that subtly plays in Revenge of the Sith, when Palpatine speaks about Dark Plagueis. Just like all of Williams’ clever reworks, the music is not exactly the same. It’s a new recording, and a slightly different composition. But does this hint that Snoke is Plagueis or merely Emperor Palpatine, successfully performing Darth Plagueis’ trick?
But surely the withered husk that is Supreme Leader Snoke is not going to be much of a match for Luke Skywalker, or even a strong breeze? Kylo Ren makes the comment to General Hux that the failings of his stormtroopers may cause Snoke to reconsider the use of clone soldiers. So we know that even some 45 years after the events of Attack of the Clones, cloning is still a viable option in the present day. The Force Unleashed video games address the difficulty that comes with cloning a Force User, saying that while difficult, it is not impossible. While the games are of course non-canon, it does open up an interesting theory of Supreme Leader Snoke cloning a younger body for himself, and then using the Force to transplant his consciousness into the younger vessel. Andy Serkis (who plays Snoke through motion-capture) could easily play a young Emperor, given his physical similarities to a younger Ian McDiarmid.
If there’s one thing I love more than music, it’s speculating wildly about Star Wars movies. I can’t wait to get a hold of the Force Awakens sheet music and start mentally putting together the frame-by-frame sequence of events for Episode VIII and IX.
– Written with Lauren Ziegler