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The opening to “The Empire Strikes Back” echoes yet also differs from that of “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Both films begin with the famous “Star Wars” opening crawl accompanied by John Williams’ triumphant main theme. They then pan down to reveal a shot that features a Star Destroyer traveling in outer space. However, where Williams’ music picks up again as the action kicks off in “A New Hope,” his post-crawl score for “Empire” (like its opening shot) is much more subdued and ominous.
Henry Jackman deemed this “the ultimate version of what I call harmonic dissolve” in his interview with /Film. It’s a subtle effect too, so much so that you might not realize Wiliams succeeds in creating “some seriously complicated atonal harmony,” Jackman noted. “It all starts sounding like Stravinsky.” Williams’ score maintains its menacing aura as the movie shows an Imperial probe droid being fired from the Star Destroyer and crashing on Hoth, only to emerge from its icy surface like a monster rising from the depths of the planet.
“Never has there been such a good job where you don’t need any talking,” Jackman argued. “The music is giving you that, ‘The story begins.'” Williams’ music makes the sequence “almost mythic,” Jackman added. “This [probe droid] is coming out and going onto the planet, and the way the harmony completely dissolves in this incredibly highbrow piece of music that quite frankly, you could put up against Stravinsky and you’d go, ‘Is it Stravinsky?’ Well, no, it happens to be John Williams, but it’s basically as good.”
No slouch himself, Jackman is already on his way to joining Williams and Hans Zimmer in becoming a titan among modern Hollywood composers. You can hear his latest soundtrack by catching “Strange World” in theaters.