The hook – music and SWTOR

A VERY important person to Star Wars (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What comes to mind when a person says the words ‘Star Wars’? Is it the lightsabers, the starfighters, the aliens, the epic battles?

Not to me. In my mind the single thing that says Star Wars more than anything else is the music. Tell me you are not thrilled every time you hear the Main Title from Episode IV. Or the Cantina Band? Or the Imperial March from Episode V? Or even Luke and Leia from Episode VI? Or Duel of the Fates from Episode I? Or even… I have to stop or I will be here all day.

The music of Star Wars is John Williams’ masterwork. Even people who detest space opera movies like Star Wars can enjoy the music. It is at times poignant, at times merry, at times humbling and at times majestic. It draws the listener in ways that can only be described as spellbinding. You WANT to hear more. You want to know what is about to happen. You know something is about to happen because the music just changed. Or as in the scene with Leia, Han and Chewie following Lando into the trap on Bespin, it suddenly goes soft and almost inaudible but with the faint undertone of menace. Or the moment when Luke fought Vader for the first time, the air was THICK with menace and evil, just from the music.

And then you have scenes in the movies that just pull all of your heart strings. And behind them all, the music is what sets them up and sets them apart. The climactic battle between Luke and Vader on the second Death Star – the music was just perfect for the mood, Luke nearly falling to the Dark side. When Luke finally unmasks the man behind the mask a few minutes later… all I can say is wow, well done John Williams.

It is odd. The same repeated notes occur in almost every piece that he has done, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, most of his other works all have the same notes. They may be triplets, quartets, quintets, but they are always the same notes. The Raider’s March from the Indiana Jones series is a strong example of this. Dum, dum dum Da. Those four notes can be sad, mad, happy, excited, tired, angry… So many ways to express feelings with four simple notes.

But let’s get back to Star Wars. How epic did the score make a watcher feel when they saw it for the first time? I don’t know about you, but I felt uplifted and at the same time utterly insignificant when I first heard the Main Title theme from Star Wars blaring out at the drive in theater my dad had taken me to in 1977. I KNEW the movie was going to be epic. Everything that came after that was important, yes, but the music drew me in and held me tight, all the way to this very day.

Let’s look at music in Star Wars games. Almost all the games that have been put out have featured John Williams’ classic score, which by all rights they have to of course. But then again, NOTHING I have ever seen has reached out and grabbed me quite as hard as John Williams did in 1977. Games, plot, action, bad guys, all of these are important, but the music is what draws people back again and again. I still remember the theme from many arcade games I played in the early 80s; most of them utterly boring and repetitive. But the music was a hook. And again, that was what the creators wanted. They wanted people to remember them.

Then came Knights of the Old Republic. Some people loved the game, some people hated it. I was somewhere in between. Parts of it were just as I wanted, parts were kind of ‘meh’. But again, the music, an artful rearranging of John William’s masterpiece, pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go until I had heard all of the bits of it. You don’t usually think about the music while playing the game, you are thinking about how to beat this bad guy, or what is behind that next corner. Suddenly, the music changes and you are like ‘AW **** Here we go again!’

Plot, story, intense action, cool or otherwise memorable characters, horror, humor (dark or light) – all of these have places of importance in any story that has ever been written.  But the music is what really makes things timeless. We can expect that Bioware will manage quite admirably as they have with many of their creations. Jade Empire had a solid score, as did Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. It didn’t detract from the game, it enhanced the game, which is actually fairly hard to pull off well. Their history of making solid games with solid characters and solid soundtracks is well proven in my book.

The music of Star Wars is actually one of the few things that has won awards with each and every release in big screen. John Williams’ collaboration with George Lucas has created something absolutely amazing. Something that simply cannot be matched. A multigenerational modern day myth. And as with many myths that were sung as ballads in ancient times, the music sets the stage. Nothing that I have seen since the first time I saw Star Wars has had such an effect on me, and the music is one of the main reasons.

True masterpieces of music are literally timeless. Composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and others knew this and worked tirelessly to bring forth what we today consider classics. And Star Wars has joined that exalted group, with John Williams taking his place among the greats of music. And all I can say is ‘Well, done, Mr. Williams’. After all, how many people on Earth at the present time who have access to SOME kind of media would NOT recognize this?

Dadada DUM! DUM! Dada Dum Dum!

Over to you. What does music mean to you in a game? Do you turn it off or leave it on? If you leave it on, what is the single most memorable musical scene you remember? What style of music would you like to see in SWTOR?