How John Williams’s Star Wars score pulls us to the dark side

It’s said that the Devil gets the best tunes, but (John) Williams has long proved that that maxim applies to Sith lords, too. Within Star Wars’ ever-expanding library of leitmotifs — recurring, malleable musical symbols — much of the most insinuating material belongs to the villains, from Darth Maul to Jabba the Hutt to Supreme Leader Snoke. Listening to these nefarious themes with the ear of a music scholar offers a lesson in the real power of the dark side, showing us how music can repel, deceive and, with the right compositional tricks, even charm. …

The standard by which all villain themes are now judged is surely the “Imperial March,” Darth Vader’s theme. “It should be majestic — he’s a majestic fellow,” Williams remarked in 1980, “and it should be a little bit nasty, because he is our heavy.” 

By Frank Lehman, Associate Professor of Music at Tufts University

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