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The Force Awakens - Theme Analysis


Ludwig
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Great work Ludwig!

 

As for the Map motif it is debatable if it is actually a motif for BB-8 as it also appears out of the context of the map, e.g. in the opening of the film where we first see BB-8 as the droid spots the incoming First Order troops and rolls off to warn Poe. But of course as the robot is carrying the map the motif always coincides with both.

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2 hours ago, Incanus said:

As for the Map motif it is debatable if it is actually a motif for BB-8 as it also appears out of the context of the map, e.g. in the opening of the film where we first see BB-8 as the droid spots the incoming First Order troops and rolls off to warn Poe. But of course as the robot is carrying the map the motif always coincides with both.

 

Yes, I thought about that and it's certainly possible. I suppose I went only with the map as the association because of a few subtleties in the way the motif is used. The opening version we hear is not quite the same motif - it goes up instead of down. One could say that's trivial, but I think up vs. down is an important distinction when recognizing a motif. It's true that this motif is based more on harmony than melody, but there is still a sense of contour that is preserved with its other statements.

 

The other thing is that BB8 may have a couple of other related motifs. The first is one we hear when BB8 is asking to come with Rey, then later when he is about to and actually joins his piece of the map with R2's - this seems to be the very same music for a short stretch. You'll notice that what we're calling the map motif is in these places sandwiched between this other music that may be a motif for BB8. Musically, the characteristic bit is a rising fourth (like the first two notes of the Force theme, for example). This sandwiched map motif makes more sense in the later scene, when the map is about to be shown, but here it seems out of place, which makes me wonder if it was first composed for the later scene then copied to the earlier one.

 

There is also a related and recurring bit of music when Rey refuses to sell BB8 and when she later tells BB8 that Finn is with the Resistance (just after evading the TIE fighters). This also has a rising fourth but is followed by a stepwise falling line instead of a leap down, so it doesn't sound the same, but could perhaps be related.

 

I find it fascinating/strange/frustrating that there are these half-associated, subtly used bits of music in this film and in the prequels (ROTS being the richest in this respect, as the "obscure motifs" thread would seem to prove). It's such a different approach from the OT!

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2 hours ago, Ludwig said:

 

Yes, I thought about that and it's certainly possible. I suppose I went only with the map as the association because of a few subtleties in the way the motif is used. The opening version we hear is not quite the same motif - it goes up instead of down. One could say that's trivial, but I think up vs. down is an important distinction when recognizing a motif. It's true that this motif is based more on harmony than melody, but there is still a sense of contour that is preserved with its other statements.

 

 

It also reminds a bit of the "Dune Sea of Tatooine" cue: alternating minor chords, then a high note in the violins joins in, then a small melody in the low register. So, maybe it could be considered, indeed, as a theme for the new droid (the Dune Sea cue also underscores the droids in ANH).

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26 minutes ago, Score said:

 

It also reminds a bit of the "Dune Sea of Tatooine" cue: alternating minor chords, then a high note in the violins joins in, then a small melody in the low register. So, maybe it could be considered, indeed, as a theme for the new droid (the Dune Sea cue also underscores the droids in ANH).

 

It's entirely possible. I just can't get past the eerieness of the harmony. Parallel minor chords are Williams' go-to for mystery or evil, and those are really opposite to BB8's bubbly personality. The Dune Sea originated with the temp track's placing of Stravinsky's Rite at that point, so I'd sooner think that the justification for it than an association with the droids.

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14 minutes ago, Ludwig said:

 

It's entirely possible. I just can't get past the eerieness of the harmony. Parallel minor chords are Williams' go-to for mystery or evil, and those are really opposite to BB8's bubbly personality. The Dune Sea originated with the temp track's placing of Stravinsky's Rite at that point, so I'd sooner think that the justification for it than an association with the droids.

 

Yes, what I meant is that, maybe, given the precedent of "Dune Sea of Tatooine", JW made a sort of musical nod to that when introducing the new droid (just in line with the general tendency of the movie to make references to ANH), so Rite of Spring --> Dune Sea of Tatooine --> this theme in TFA. But of course, the mystery associated with that scene is underscored well by the minor chords device. The truth might be a combination of all the elements, only John knows.

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1 hour ago, Score said:

 

Yes, what I meant is that, maybe, given the precedent of "Dune Sea of Tatooine", JW made a sort of musical nod to that when introducing the new droid (just in line with the general tendency of the movie to make references to ANH), so Rite of Spring --> Dune Sea of Tatooine --> this theme in TFA. But of course, the mystery associated with that scene is underscored well by the minor chords device. The truth might be a combination of all the elements, only John knows.

 

Gotcha - yes, that is a plausible line of thought!

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Excellent theme analysis as always, Ludwig!  I noticed the tritone progression used in the "map theme" motif is very popular in sci-fi as heard all over like here in Star Trek II (first five or six seconds):

 

 

and again here up through 1:00:

 

Why does this work so well in sci-fi?  Is it because we are conditioned for this to work in sci-fi since it was used in the early 50's and 60's B movie scores?

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41 minutes ago, karelm said:

Excellent theme analysis as always, Ludwig!  I noticed the tritone progression used in the "map theme" motif is very popular in sci-fi as heard all over...

 

Why does this work so well in sci-fi?  Is it because we are conditioned for this to work in sci-fi since it was used in the early 50's and 60's B movie scores?

 

Scott Murphy has a great (and free!) article on this very progression:

 

http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.06.12.2/mto.06.12.2.murphy.html

 

Bear in mind, he's talking about two major chords a tritone apart (not minor as in the Ark theme and Map motif), but then your examples both have major chords as well. And tritone progressions with minor chords seem to have different associations than those with major chords. As I've noted before, Williams has a penchant for using parallel minor chords for mystery or evil. And maybe it works so well not just because minor chords are "dark" or "sad" or whatever negative thing you want to call them, but also because it's difficult for them to establish a tonal center on their own. They have to do so by a kind of insistence, by staying on the chord or stating it prominently in some way - like the opening of Duel of the Fates, for example.

 

But when a minor chord is simply stated subtly and moved away from into some distantly-related parallel chord, our sense of the tonal center wavers, which conjures up either something that is difficult to understand (mysterious) or that is warped from the ideal (evil). In any case, it makes for a fantastic film music device.

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I am considering the tritone progression regardless if the chords are major or minor as being inherently sci-fi.  Like this going from B flat major to E major...a tritone apart but both major chords (up to 0:29) and the same in star trek:

Why does this evoke suck a sense of wonder that is part and parcel of sci-fi?

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What stands tritone progressions apart, and probably what makes them so beguiling to our ears is that it's the furthest possible chord from the tonic (if we consider the first chord as a tonic). Much like the move from a major triad to a minor triad a major second below (or a minor triad to a major triad a major second above), truly smooth voice-leading by seconds is impossible, as you'll always have that slightly awkward minor third leap.

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