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Feature
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:


Finale

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

21 RE: At no point...
Best on line feature you have ever done Empire, please ensure this is always available to listen too, A true master at work. More

Posted by JIm R on Friday February 10, 2012, 21:06

22 At no point...
...in my life have i come so close to orgasm just from an Empire feature. More

Posted by Swedle on Friday February 10, 2012, 18:27

23 Final Duel mistake.......
When Luke comes out of hiding, after accidentally revealing Leia's paternity to Vader, he doesn't say "Nooooooo!", he defiantly yells "NEVER!!!" before ending the climactic duel... Interestingly enough, that bit of music was also used in the final duel in the Lucasarts game Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. More

Posted by jws1272 on Thursday February 9, 2012, 17:56

24 Missed one!
You should've added 'A Window to the Past' from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' More

Posted by dimitrifiani on Thursday February 9, 2012, 12:40

25 The Greatest
Undoubtedly the greatest movie composer of all time. My only gripe with this list is the exclusion of The Lost World's main theme. I believe this is actually Spielberg's favourite piece from all the Jurassic Park music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb6Xk5p9MpQ& feature=related More

Posted by Ballschin on Thursday February 9, 2012, 12:17

26 FLASHMAN
He simply has no equal; nobody else has ever treated every-single film as though it was a first assignment that needed special attention, (unless you knew, how would you know that the guy who did Heartbeeps also did Jane Eyre and, his masterpiece, Superman?) and when he is inspired by what he sees, (most recently by War Horse) we are elated. More

Posted by Frank Comiskey on Thursday February 9, 2012, 10:52

27 The force is with him...
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term 'genius' as "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability". Although used far too often these days, John Williams REALLY is a genius and I thank him for the many years of great music he has given me (man and boy). Happy Birthday John ...and many more of them. More

Posted by melverley on Thursday February 9, 2012, 09:15

28 Favorite tunes that dont appear here
Visitor in San Diego (from Jurassic Park The Lost World): Pure adrenaline!!!! Dartmoor 1912 (From War Horse) The Battle of Hoth (do I need to tell you???) Dinner With Amelia (The Terminal) Sabrina's Theme (just BEAUTIFUL) Anakin's Dark Deeds (Episode III) EPIC of epic epicness!!!!!! Where Dreams Are Born (A.I) maybe the most BEAUTIFUL track he's ever written!!! i cant helpto cry EVERYTIME) Confluence (MEmoirs of a Geisha) perfect... just perfect in allthe extent of the word THE ENTIRE MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, for me his best album EVER!!! Exsultate Justi (Empire Of The Sun) aleluyah!!!! Homesickness (The Terminal) Am I Beautiful? (Far& Away) Aunt Marge's Waltz (Azkaban) A Window To The Past (Azkaban) Dennis Steals The Embryo (Jurassic Park) The Trek (JP: The Lost World) Rescuing Sarah (JP: The Lost World) Ludlow's Demise (JP: The Lost World) Jango's Escape (Episode II) Princess Leia's Theme Luke And Leia Battle Of The Heroes (Episode III) The Battle Of Endor SaiMore

Posted by John Mulder Simpson on Thursday February 9, 2012, 08:36

29 RE: The Best Feature of 2012 so far!
It's been a long time since I posted here. but this feature is so good!!! I can't start to describe how much I love and admire John Williams, how grateful I am to live in his era (although he is 50 years older than me!!) For me it all began when i was 11 and watched Jurassic Park, now i have more than 40 albums and he never fails to surprise and move me. I owe him SO much! and this year he gave us War Horse, a magnificent and perfect album that is 100% Williams, god how I love that soundtrack!!!! I just can't pick a favorite of his, everything he's done is so close to perfection. man, to think of everything he's done and everything i haven't heard.... I posted a link to this feature on facebook, and i recommended it to everyone, let's all do the same so the whole world knows how lucky we are to have him!!!!!!! finally: OU VERY MUCH, MAESTRO, FOR YOUR ENDLESS AND RESTLESS TALENT, I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!!!!!!!!!!!! More

Posted by John Mulder Simpson on Thursday February 9, 2012, 08:02

30 The Best Feature of 2012 so far!
Kudos Empire - this truly is a fitting feature for one of Cinema's most important figures. A film is nothing without it's music and it's Williams who fills that void so beautifully, so emotionally and so wonderfully. Rarely do pictures move me to tears, but a Williams score can have me sobbing like a 15 year-old girl watching The Notebook. More

Posted by haydonsmovies on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 12:10

31 Floods of Tears
Having sat and listened to all the excerpts and read this whole blog I am a total mess tears of joy and emotion on my face. The word genius is vastly overused about people with little more than mediocre talent at best, but in John William's case I think it doesn't even come close to describing him. He simply is the one of the greatest musicians and composers alive. More

Posted by mcmikeyboy on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 12:00

32 Great selection
The Witches of Eastwick, The Fury, Amazing Stories AND The Mission ? Dear Empire ... I'm impressed ! More

Posted by Dropje on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:58

33 Hook
One of my favorites must be "The Face of Pan", from the Hook soundtrack. Not very famous but still, simply beautiful. More

Posted by buffy_1008 on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:28

34 Great Feature
This has to be one of the best features you have ever done Empire, congratulations! Although justifiably, it could just be Williams' music that makes it so great! Happy birthday to one of the greatest composers we'll ever know. More

Posted by magikdethmonkey on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:24

35 A true poet and a genius
John WIlliams means more to me than any figure in either movies or music. Good feature Empire! More

Posted by mattpbrown on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:17

36 Wonderful Piece Empire
Written with real heart and knowledge. Big salute to Sir John! More

Posted by Blyman on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:10

37 Brings tear to the eye
What wonderful nostalgia. Skipping through decades of my emotional development through movies and Williams' music! So glad you mentioned the importance of Home Alone (it's our family's staple Xmas album). By the time we got to War Horse, that's it - I'm in pieces! Only snag is the general oversight of AI. Stored Memories/Monica's Theme is the most beautiful piece he wrote IMO (the slow beginning builds up to hauntingly beautiful & understated climax). And Catch Me If You Can, which has many great cues. But thanks Empire fo collating this for us. Made my day :-) More

Posted by oliraceking on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:04

38 Soundtrack of us
The importance of Williams as a greatest composer of our times - and I mean OUR - is confirmed simply by the grounds of those tracks. Just close your eyes and listen to them. And you can see the movies right there in your head. It's all you need. More

Posted by Pelle on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 09:24

39
that was amazing. thank you empire More

Posted by artaylor on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 05:43

40 Here's to another 80 years
Two disappointments were omissions of the last twenty minutes worth of empire strikes back. The reason that film is regarded as the best in the star wars franchise is its finale. The other is the prisoner of Azkaban there are at least twelve tracks worth mentioning. If you ever buy a Williams soundtrack buy these two I promise you its the best things he's done as an entire soundtrack since the first star wars a new hope 35 years ago. More

Posted by GrassyNol on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 00:49

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