Monday, January 17, 2011

'Not Music, Exactly': Boba Fett's Motif

John Williams: You need a better composer than I am for this film.
Steven Spielberg: I know. But they're all dead!
- Regarding Schindler's List
In a 2009 edition of the Forcecast, Paul Bateman, a technical assistant to Ralph McQuarrie, widdled an enormous body of work down to a single, all-encompassing phrase: John Williams is the oxygen of Star Wars.

One would be hard-pressed to word a more accurate appraisal.

The music Williams composed for Star Wars is arguably the main reason why the films have such universal power and longevity. Orchestrations like the Imperial March and Binary Sunset have become keystones in the Western cultural lexicon.

While the music composed for Boba Fett may be a mere footnote in that sea of orchestration, I think it's a marvellous sonic element of the series and worthy of further examination - this being the Boba Fett blog, I'd be remiss to not go into it.

Almost every significant character, location, or theme in the Star Wars films has a personal leitmotif that appears to herald their presence in the story. Occasionally, certain themes will be reworked to recontextualize their meaning in the story - for example, the appearance of the Wagner-like Imperial March throughout the series to illustrate the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker; or, most chillingly, The Emperor's Theme as it appeared in the finale of The Phantom Menace: upbeat, up-tempo, and sung by a choir of laughing children (this revelation is high octane nightmare fuel at its finest).   
Oh my god.
The main difference between Boba Fett's theme and the others is that Boba's motif does not appear outside of The Empire Strikes Back. Even so, the theme charts a progression, and if you pay very close attention (or, alternatively, stay up to 4'o'clock in the morning listening to these tracks backwards and forwards and upside-down), you'll notice an element of narration that follows along with the progress of Boba Fett's hunt for Han Solo.

No, seriously.
"[Boba Fett's Theme is] not music, exactly [...] more of a gurgly, voila-and-bassoon thing aurally cross-pollinated with some obscure static sounds."
- John Williams, Pale Starship, Pale Rider (2002)
At this point, feel free to skip to the bottom of the article and play the video to see exactly what I'm talking about.

Fett's motif first appears a little after the one hour mark in The Empire Strikes Back, during the infamous 'no disintegrations' sequence. This is the iteration we hear most frequently throughout the film - the gurgling voila-and-bassoon thing Williams is talking about. The tradition continues in Fett's next two scenes, specifically when he calls Solo's bluff in the debris field, and when he arrives at Darth Vader's phenomenally awkward dinner party on Cloud City.
I hear the soup is good.
The aforementioned pieces are what I refer to as the 'rising action' elements of Boba Fett's theme - the first act, if you will. In all these scenes he's on the hunt - he's got Ford's trail, Bossk is off poking through hay bails on the wrong side of the galaxy, and the smell of space money is thick in the air.

The second half of Fett's theme kicks in directly after the carbon freeze sequence - I assume most people were too busy drying their tears to notice. The score takes us from the sinister, burbling non-music of before to a darkly triumphant funeral dirge, as Fett escorts the Medusafied Solo to his vessel. This is essentially the same theme as before, but with a different attitude. Quiet menace has turned to sly self-satisfaction, and we can practically hear Boba's sneaky little grin under that bucket.

The last we hear of the Boba Fett motif is the scene on Slave I's loading ramp. The tone is fittingly depressing/badass (depending on who you happen to be rooting for), as Boba Fett tells some punk airline waitress to put Solo in the trunk of his car. When the rest of the Breakfast Club shows up, Fett flips them the bird and leaves them in a cloud of toxic exhaust, riding into the sunset like every western anti-hero; Achilles dragging the corpse of Hector through the dust towards Danaan.

Children everywhere either gag in traumatized dismay, or gape in saucer-eyed admiration, the course of their little lifes forever altered by a sudden understanding of exactly what it is to be a true badass moth--


But enough about me.

Hyperlinked below (Internet wouldn't let me imbed: I hate you, Internet) is what I believe to be the only existing (and accurate) cut of Boba Fett's theme music. I commend the author for putting this together - that said, I plan to cut something a little smoother in the near future. Until then, enjoy the tunes - or, rather, the oxygen.

I knew I wasn't making all this stuff up. 

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