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80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
We mark the movie maestro's 80th birthday with a celebration of his classic pieces

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The Force Theme
First heard in: Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (1977)

A huge part of Williams' genius is his ability to add different colours and moods to his basic motifs to express different parts of the story. For New Hope, Williams created a theme that seems to stand in for Kenobi but is also utilised to suggest both the Old Republic and the Force itself and is amongst the most malleable, versatile themes Williams has ever created. We get a noble, mysterious take (the arrival of Kenobi), an urgent dramatic take (Luke speeds to the burning homestead), a mournful iteration (Leia comforts Luke after Ben's death), an untethered mystical version (as Luke hears Ben tell him to use the Force) and a stately regal version (our heroes collect their medals) that is perhaps a reminder of the values Kenobi represented.

Listen to an excerpt:

Yet its most famous iteration has nothing to with Obi-Wan at all. Williams had originally scored Luke staring out into Tatooine’s twin suns with Luke’s theme yet Lucas asked the composer to switch it for Ben’s music. The result is perhaps the most reflective, moving moment in the whole saga.

Listen to an excerpt:

The Banquet
First heard in: Hook (1991)

The Lost Boys are the Jar Jar Binks of Hook, often pointed to as indicative of all that is wrong with the film, day-glo ruffians on skateboards that are the antithesis of what J.M. Barrie envisaged. Still if there is an organized campaign against Rufio and co., John Williams didn't get the memo. For not only did Williams write them an enjoyably boisterous theme to cover their pursuit of Peter in Neverland, he also gifted them a glorious theme for their Neverfeast — it may be music for a food fight but it sounds like something composed for an English costume drama, formal, majestic and splendid.

Listen to an excerpt:

Desert Chase
First heard in: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Over the eight minutes of screen time it takes Indiana Jones to steal a horse, pick off the Nazis one by one, get thrown through the windscreen and under the truck, climb back in the side window to take control of the steering wheel and then, after all that, hold his arm while wincing in pain, Williams is there every step off the way, providing propulsive rhythms to create a tempo that never flags and a tapestry of themes to plot the rise and fall of Indy's fortunes. Spielberg pays tribute to the cue here, this remains his greatest chase music a classic example of what the director calls "120ccs of John Williams adrenaline."

Listen to an excerpt:

Saying Goodbye
First heard in: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

"I've always felt that John Williams was my musical rewrite artist," says Spielberg. "He comes in, sees my movie, rewrites the whole thing musically and makes it much better than I did. He can take a moment and just uplift it. He can take a tear that's just forming in your eye and cause it to drip."

Nowhere is this ability more prevalent than at the climax of E.T. From the point where Elliott and Michael steal E.T. away in a van, through to the BMX chase and flight, the tearful goodbye to the spaceship leaving a rainbow trail, E.T. is pretty much just images and music with dialogue kept to the barest minimum. In theory, it should be a composer's dream but….

"I was having a very difficult time with the orchestra," said Williams. "I would make a good take for the first five but then be off for the next two cues. I remember it so well. Steven coming up to the podium and saying 'I will take the movie off the screen so you can just play the music with the orchestra with it's natural phrasing, the way it ebbs and flows and then conform the film to what is the best musical performance'. That is very unusual. So when we had the music that had the most lift and exultation at the end of the film, Steven laid the music track against the film and made a few editorial adjustments. I think part of the reason the film has such an operatic sense of completion, a real emotional satisfaction maybe the result of the wedding of these musical accents with Steven's film editing."

Be it the brass statement that accompanies "I'll be right here" to the return to the Flying theme as the door closes on E.T.'s spacecraft, Williams' music is a major reason why the goodbye between a boy and alien brings a lump the size of an orange to the throat. This score as a whole is a strong contender for his greatest overall work and deservedly earned him his fourth Oscar.

Listen to an excerpt:


There is only one way to conclude the 80th birthday celebrations of the world's greatest movie music composer — with a party. Happy birthday, maestro!

Listen to an excerpt:

 For more music celebrating John Williams’ 80th birthday:

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

freaking Lapti Nek is here but no Battle of the Heroes? Can we please stop pretending that the Prequel soundtrack is no good just because RLM doesn't like the films? More

Posted by NeoBrowser on Saturday May 4, 2013, 10:57

2 RE: RE:
Thank you sir. Your kind words will keep me sane when I get locked up for libel! More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:22

3 RE: RE:
L: Rob Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all.ote]   py07.gif]py07.gif]   ert of Mirth, I salute you More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:10

4 RE: RE:
Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all. More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 10:51

5 RE:
L: howie71taylor A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? sp; rry dress up as Darth Maul ? More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 09:41

6 A true genius
Just about every film he's been involved in has been improved greatly by the soundtrack, sometimes subtle but always worthwhile. A great old fashioned genius, long may he reign as King of the soundtracks. Excellent article :) More

Posted by jamiecfc on Monday February 13, 2012, 15:13

7 Indy's Very First Adventure - The Last Crusade
Cracking cue ploughs along with the train chasing Indy all the way! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 11:10

8 Departure of Boba Fett
Fantastic cue ending in four huge blasts from the whole orchestra - gob-smacking! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:59

9 Short Round...
There's a moment in Temple of Doom's end credit music that literally has the Raiders March & Short Round's theme playing AT THE SAME TIME and perfectly complementing each other - how ingenious is that?! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:46

10 Gasps of astonishment...
I once played Temple of Doom's Mine Car Chase to a friend of mine - a grade six flautist - she ran out of the room gasping!! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:39

11 RE: We're gonna need a bigger list...
With any subjective list, the temptation is to point out anything that's missing, as opposed to what's there. So, let's get mine out of the way now: - Throne Room / Medal Ceremony from A New Hope? Lapti Nek from ROTJ is there but not this glorious piece of pomp and circumstance?! However, this article is one of the best that Empire has ever produced. Very deep research and clear evidence of passion and understanding of Williams' entire career. The temptation would be to go for the obvious, and I reckon I could come up with 80 highlights from Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones alone. Full credit for going beyond the obvious though, and here's another one - the original Lost In Space TV show had a theme tune from John Williams, although then he was still Johnny! My version of the ET soundtrack has Escape / Chase / Saying Goodbye in a beautiful 15min single track that I happened to be listening to when I started reading the Empire homepage today. I'd recommend that everyonMore

Posted by BelfastBoy on Sunday February 12, 2012, 11:19

12 We're gonna need a bigger list...
...but this is a magisterial survey. Superb work by Ian Freer and (presumably) team. I've been here hours, reliving old favourites and making a few rewarding new discoveries too. Thank you to John Williams for so many of the great tunes of my lifetime - and crucially, many happy returns! More

Posted by Dextraneous on Sunday February 12, 2012, 01:01

13 Thank You Empire
What an amazing feature, fitting tribute to someone as massively talented as John Williams More

Posted by james dean on Sunday February 12, 2012, 00:54

14 Wow
the man is amazing.....I will be testing my friends More

Posted by Paddy Kieran on Saturday February 11, 2012, 21:41

15 Thank you so much
Delighted to see The Towering Inferno titles and the Empire asteroid chase on here. Brilliant, thanks. More

Posted by Schnorbitz on Saturday February 11, 2012, 20:10

16 Amazing Feature for an Amazing Man
Ian Freer hats off to you, this is the best feature Empire's ever done, online or off, and I salute your encyclopaedic knowledge of the great man. And what a man. His music has lifted me so high, so often. Magic from start to finish. More

Posted by BondVsPredator on Saturday February 11, 2012, 14:44

17 RE: 80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
Awesome feature Empire! It is a tribute to the Maestro that you can list so many great tracks and there are still bucket loads more that immediately come to mind: the main theme from "Jane Eyre" and the "Lowood" theme; "Cadillac of the Skies" from "Empire of the Sun"; "Dorinda's First Flight" from "Always"; the Main Title from "Dracula"; the "Call of the Crystal" from the last Indiana Jones monstrosity (that we shall mention no further). I bought the double cassette of Star Wars in 1977... then the double fold out LP... then I was hooked. Thanks John Williams for a lifetime of hummable tunes that work for just about every occasion in life! More

Posted by mellowwellowmann on Saturday February 11, 2012, 11:26

18 Thank You
I really enjoyed this. so many memories, so many wonderful pieces of music! More

Posted by orazzak on Saturday February 11, 2012, 10:06

19 A Humble Genius
Having had the pleasure of meeting him many years ago, he was most humble when I thanked him for the joy he he brought to my life. He said it was his pleasure. From Star Wars to War Horse, no one has brought more to the world of film music than John Williams, and may he continue to produce masterpieces for many years to come. Thank you Empire for THE BEST FEATURE EVER!! More

Posted by ddumbell on Saturday February 11, 2012, 04:26

A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? More

Posted by howie71taylor on Saturday February 11, 2012, 03:32

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