Composer John Williams Scores Big With 'Star Wars' Fans

Album expected to land near top of charts this week, but some fans waiting to hear music in film.

Composer John Williams is not a droid, a Jedi or a Wookie. He's certainly not from a galaxy far, far away.

But the symphonic soundtracks the 67-year-old Williams scored for each film in the classic "Star Wars" series -- including the soon-to-be-released "Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace" -- are as essential to the sci-fi movies as the bizarre creatures that come to life on the silver screen, fans said.

"The soundtracks have almost been like another character in the movies; that's why [some] people don't want to hear the new music in advance," David Creighton, 37, said, as he waited in line for the "The Phantom Menace" in front of a Manhattan, N.Y., movie theater Sunday night. The Linden, N.J., resident was there 10 days before the film's release.

The "Phantom Menace" soundtrack, released May 4, is selling well; it is likely to end up in the top five of this week's Billboard 200 albums chart, according to retailers.

But oddly enough, an even more convincing sign of the music's importance to "Star Wars" fans may be that many are purposely avoiding it, at least until the movie's May 19 debut. Why spoil the fun? they say.

Aaron Savage, a 32-year-old Manhattan resident who was also in line for the film's first showing, said hearing the soundtrack, or even a discussion of it, might ruin the experience of the movie. The soundtrack adds to the mythology-inspired sci-fi story of the Jedi warriors battling the Evil Empire.

Similar sentiments prevailed in Los Angeles, where fans also waited in line. Camping outside a theater like the crew in New York, the "Star Wars" fanatics in Tinseltown held what they have termed a "standathon," in part to raise money for the Starlight Foundation, which helps seriously ill children.

Corey Levin, 25, of Burbank, said that while he's a fan of previous "Star Wars" soundtracks, he is "avoiding hearing this one because I want to experience it in its entirety in the movie."

But Creighton, hiding beneath a baseball cap with the large green ears of the wise, grandfatherly character Yoda attached, said he succumbed to temptation and bought the new soundtrack album on its day of release.

He called the score "very emotional, very powerful," and praised an element that was much less prominent in previous "Star Wars" soundtracks -- the use of choral music on tracks such as "Duel of the Fates" (RealAudio excerpt).

For some, the soundtrack may be hard to avoid, since a music video for "Duel of the Fates," featuring movie scenes and dialogue soundbites, is in rotation on MTV and VH1.

In an online chat with fans last week on the website TalkCity, Williams -- who also composed the scores for such blockbuster films as "Superman" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- said he was glad symphonic music was receiving airplay on pop-oriented outlets.

Even with such high-profile exposure, sales of the "Phantom Menace" soundtrack haven't yet peaked, said Joe Kvidera, general manager of Chicago's Tower Records.

"When millions and millions of people see the movie, then you'll really see sales," Kvidera said. For now, the soundtrack was the third-best-selling album in his store last week, he said.

In addition to the use of choruses (which on "Duel of the Fates" are sung in Sanskrit), the "Phantom Menace" soundtrack is notable for its recasting of familiar musical themes from the previous Star Wars movies, "Star Wars" (1977), "The Empire Strikes Back" (1981) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983).

"Anakin's Theme" -- written for the character of Anakin Skywalker, a young boy fated to grow up to be the "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader -- combines old melodies with new, Williams said in the chat.

"I wanted some of the innocence of childhood, [but] I also wanted to give a hint of what was to come, by threading slight suggestions of the Darth Vader Imperial March into the innocence of the theme," Williams explained.

The original "Star Wars" soundtrack inspired a hit disco version of the movie's majestic main theme during the dance-club craze in the '70s. At least one similar spin-off is apparently in the works for the "Phantom Menace" soundtrack, according to Tower Records' Kvidera.

An as-yet-unreleased dance-mix single is already being marketed to stores, he said.

Travis Hiner, 27, wasn't wasting any time getting familiar with the new score. He spent hours listening to the soundtrack while camping out for almost a week in front of the Coronet Theater in San Francisco.

"I like it," Hiner said. "It's all original stuff, except for a couple songs. I was kind of hoping it would be a two-CD set."

(Contributing Editor Teri vanHorn contributed to this report.)