Lei(a)tmotif

Listen to this beautiful piece of music.

It’s a concert arrangement (as opposed to an actual film-scoring performance) of the theme music that John Williams composed to represent Princess Leia in the original Star Wars. It appeared on the original 1977 double-LP and was the only such piece included. Actual film-score music was sacrificed to make space for it.

I can still remember the vague bafflement I felt listening to this track at age ten, getting my first inklings of both the depths of emotion that existed and that music could move you to them.

It is tender, it is haunting, it is sweeping, it is achingly romantic. It is, in short, everything that Princess Leia herself—pragmatic and hard-edged—is not.

Star Wars is inarguably a towering achievement in film-music composition. So how did John Williams get Princess Leia so wrong?

One possibility is that it’s not Princess Leia’s theme per se, but rather the theme for Luke’s adolescent romantic idea of her.

Another possibility is that George Lucas wanted Princess Leia to be more traditionally feminine than the script or Carrie Fisher’s performance allowed, so the music does the extra lifting required.

But the real reason, I suspect, is that John Williams was working through the recent sudden death of his young wife, Barbara Ruick, and the composition is his public expression of love and grief.

Now listen again. I won’t judge you for choking up.

[Informed in part by The Soundtrack Show podcast.]

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