Hear the Music That Inspired ‘Star Wars’

A scene from Jabba the Hutt’s court in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” Many of the musical themes in “Star Wars” are inspired by classical music.Creditvia Everett Collection

“Star Wars” is omnivorous in its inspiration. The saga, which continues in December with “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,” nods to classical mythology, Arthurian legend and even Wagner’s “Ring” cycle.

John Williams’s music for the series — which the New York Philharmonic will perform live, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 7, alongside screenings of the original trilogy and “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” — contain some of the most memorable themes in film history.

And like the movies themselves, the score is rooted in the classics.

Mr. Williams conducting during a recording session for “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” in 2005.CreditScott Myers/Lucasfilm

That inspiration crosses centuries: Stravinsky, Mozart and, in one instance, a quotation from the Gregorian “Dies irae” chant used repeatedly by composers. Mr. Williams also associates brief themes with certain characters and ideas, a strategy Wagner developed with the leitmotifs of the “Ring.”

“There are dozens of leitmotifs that are used in these films,” David Newman, who will conduct the Philharmonic concerts, said in a recent interview. “You can definitely find references in there.”

Comparisons to the “Ring” don’t end there, Mr. Newman said. In both music and plot, the closing moments of “The Force Awakens,” in which Luke Skywalker is handed his long-lost lightsaber, has the feel of Siegmund pulling the sword Nothung from the tree in “Die Walküre.”

Listen to five comparisons between works from the classical canon and moments from the “Star Wars” soundtracks — which, with the addition of “The Last Jedi,” will run longer than the “Ring” cycle.

‘The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)’

In the movies: In the original trilogy, this theme follows the villainous Darth Vader; in the prequels, it presages the dark fate of Anakin Skywalker. (Spoiler for the few strangers to “Star Wars”: Anakin and Vader are the same person.) The music is always a cue to the audience that evil is afoot.

In classical music: The march’s underlying rhythm recalls another celestial score: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” The subjects of Holst’s suite, however, are more mythological than astronomical. “Mars,” which resembles Darth Vader’s march, is subtitled “The Bringer of…

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