Lightsabers and Leitmotifs


Darth Vader

Chances are when you see this image, you may have Darth Vader’s signature tune or leitmotif going through your head.

If not it sounds like this.




So What Exactly is a Leitmotif?

A  leitmotif (or leitmotiv) is a short musical phrase that is paired with a specific character, location or thematic idea that is reemployed throughout a piece. The theme is consistently used so the listener can recognize the musical phrase and connect the action of the opera or movie with the music. And although he did not invent them, leitmotifs are most closely associated with Richard Wagner and his operas, particularly The Ring Cycle.

The space opera Star Wars is a great series that consistently uses leitmotifs in all of its films.

Star Wars Main Theme

The opening fanfare for each of the Star Wars films, which also serves as Luke Skywalker’s motif.

The Imperial March

Inspired by Chopin’s funeral march and Holst’s Martian music, this leitmotif signals Darth Vader and the Empire are coming.

The Force Theme

Williams uses “The Force Theme” to tell the audience when a character is channeling the Force.

Princess Leia’s Theme

Leia’s leitmotif first appears when Obi-Wan Kenobi is her only hope. Later in Empire, the theme is repurposed into a love motif for Leia and Han.

Duel of the Fates

Making its debut in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the Carl Orff-inspired choral accompaniment helps heighten the drama in a duel among Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It appears in the next two prequel films when Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi fight in the Revenge of the Sith.


Jennifer Cho

Concertmaster Jennifer Cho’s Take on Leitmotifs

Concertmaster Jennifer Cho gave masterclass to students in the Sound Minds music education program in San Pablo, CA, last year.

“I played a little Star Wars for them (I believe the Rogue One movie had come out a few months ago). It was amazing to see the immediate recognition light up their faces!

A short passage of music or “theme” can become embedded into our memory forever when there is a strong emotional connection. Whether the listener has multiple degrees in musical performance, or is a child who has never had a music lesson, there is an instant “aha!” when a familiar theme comes on. The kids definitely warmed up to me after playing Star Wars. A great icebreaker!”


You can hear these leitmotifs and more at the ALL JOHN WILLIAMS concerts on Saturday, Mar. 16 at 8 PM and Sunday, Mar. 17 at 4 PM at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.


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