Soon after Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released last year, many fans began coming up with theories on the origins of various characters based on the music of the movie.
Of course, spoilers will be found below.
A popular theory revolved around the origin of Snoke and how he might be Darth Plagueis, who was mentioned by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith.
Through my analysis of the musical themes in The Force Awakens, I don’t wish to discover who Rey’s parents are. I think that her role in the trilogy will be defined by what she does, not who her parents are. This is the dilemma that Kylo Ren is going through. Will he be defined by his parents or his grandfather?
By analyzing the following themes, maybe we can learn something deeper and more meaningful about the relationship of the three Force users featured in The Force Awakens: Rey, Kylo, and Luke.
Breaking Down the Themes
Before making inferences about the characters and the plot of the Force Awakens, we need to closely examine several musical themes: the Force Theme, Rey’s Theme, Kylo Ren’s Theme, and the Jedi Steps (when Luke first/finally makes an appearance).
The Force Theme
This is the Force Theme. We’ve heard it in every Star Wars movie to date. I’d like to note that this is not Luke’s Theme, though many people might mistaken it to be. However, it is often associated with Luke since he does learn the ways of the Force. Throughout each movie, the theme goes through many variations, but this is the first phrase of the Force Theme and the chord progression of its purist form:
This theme is prominently featured throughout the trilogies, for example when Luke begins to trust the Force during the Trench Run in A New Hope. I personally like it the most when it is played by a solo French Horn, like when Luke gazes upon the Binary Sunset on Tatooine. The theme is an ascending line with underlying chords of three measures in G minor which resolves into a C major chord.
Next, let’s analyze Rey’s Theme. If we look at the underlying chords in the first part of the main phrase of Rey’s theme, we see that they are the same as the first phrase of the Force Theme.
However, the chord progression is not the only part of Rey’s theme that parallels the Force Theme. This next part is difficult to find as it only appears several times. For the most part, the first 6 measure remain fairly constant, but the way John Williams resolves the end of the phrase into the next varies throughout the theme. If you listen to the track for Rey’s Theme, at around the 2 minute mark, we will find this iteration of the theme played by French Horns:
The end of the theme consists of a 2-bar motive that is repeated. The second iteration, measures 9 – 10, is the one I am concerned with. The pitches found in measure 9 and the downbeat of measure 10 are the same pitches from the tail end of the Force Theme. I transposed the themes so that they are in the same key for comparison.
Rhythmically, they are somewhat similar. This fragment starts with a sustained G followed by 8th notes. They both have a similar feel as the 8th notes begin off of a beat.
Kylo Ren’s Theme
Within all of the musical fan theories, Kylo Ren’s theme does not receive enough attention. Perhaps this is because we know that he is Han and Leia’s son, and fans are more curious about the mysterious origins of Rey and Snoke. His theme is also very simple and short, which may also lead to it being passed over easily.
Here is the first 2 measures of Kylo Ren’s Theme. It is often played strong by the low brass section. Stylistically, this is reminiscent of the Imperial March.
As is, it may be difficult to see how Kylo Ren’s theme relates to Rey’s and the Force Theme. But if we play it in retrograde and leave out the C sharp, the pitches match the pitches of the triplets in the Force Theme, which I highlighted below:
The retrograde Kylo theme also contrasts with the Force theme rhythmically. While the Force theme fragment here is made of triplet 8th notes, Kylo’s theme follows a half note pulse.
It’s difficult to jump to conclusions based off of so few pitches, but I don’t think that a composer as experienced as John Williams would merely coincidentally write a theme that so closely matches an already established one.
The Jedi Steps
At the end of Episode 7 when Rey finally comes face to face with Luke, John Williams did not use Luke’s Theme. Instead, he wrote a more ambiguous passage that sounds very ominous. When I first heard it, I instantly thought of one of the most recognizable music themes ever: the Imperial March or Darth Vader’s Theme. Vader’s Theme has a very distinct sound, characterized by heavily accented dotted 8th – 16th rhythms and a dissonant chord progression. The first part of the theme alternates between G minor and Eb minor. The top system is the Imperial March, and below is a rough sketch of the track for The Jedi Steps, where Rey finds Luke alone:
The chords from The Jedi Steps at about 1 minute into the track is the same as from Vader’s Theme. This short motive also begins the exact moment that a mysterious cloaked figure appears on screen, and of course we learn that this is Luke when he turns around to face Rey.
On Luke’s loss of faith in The Jedi Order, and Rey’s journey to learn The Force.
I am very curious as to why John Williams alluded to Vader’s Theme when we first see Luke instead of using Luke’s own theme. To understand this, we need to change our interpretation of Vader’s Theme, going all the way back to the Prequel Trilogy.
We must note that this theme does not represent the Sith. The theme along with the underlying chords is strictly reserved for Anakin. Instead, I think what the theme represents is a loss of faith in the Jedi Order. In Episode I (forgive me for mentioning it), Anakin’s Theme contains a small fragment of Vader’s Theme, but that fragment isn’t clearly outlined by the more sinister sounding chords from the Imperial March. This is because he is first learning about the Jedi, though he does have a small amount of doubt in the form of the Jedi Council doubting him.
Later in the trilogy, we hear the chords fade in when Anakin is older and encounters obstacles that make him question the Jedi Order. Of course, we then hear Vader’s complete theme for the first time after he resigns to apprenticeship under Palpatine, showing that he has completely abandoned the Jedi Order because it is unable to do for him what he needs it to.
In Episode 7, the use of this motive for Luke also represents a loss of faith in the traditions of the Jedi Order. Leading up to the Force Awakens, Luke had attempted to revive the old ways of the Jedi. He may have even chosen to embody the philosophies of Yoda and Obi-Wan, whose understanding of the Jedi Order are founded through deep rooted traditions of an older Jedi Order.
In the Original Trilogy, Luke always had faith in the good within his father and never gave up. In his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order, he had to operate on a similar level of faith, especially with Kylo. So his failure with Kylo Ren represents a turning point in his longstanding faith, and for the first time he does not believe that the traditions of the Jedi Order can restore balance to the Force. This is why Luke goes into hiding before Episode 7, and this is why he we hear the theme that we do when we see him. Luke does not want to train another Jedi. I don’t think that he’s turned to the Dark Side, but I also don’t think that he feels that training Rey will amount to anything. In fact, he may fear that training her would produce someone else like Kylo Ren. In Episode 8, Luke will struggle emotionally with the fact that he gave Kylo the abilities that lead to the death of his friend Han Solo. However, Rey will continue to make a strong push to learn the ways of the Force through Luke.
I think that we’ll see this dynamic play out in Episode 8. Rey will keep wanting to learn more while Luke is reluctant. But I don’t think that Rey will learn the old way of the Force, like Luke and Anakin did before her. The original Force Theme is 8 measures long, but Rey’s Theme is 10 measures. After the initial 4 measures of her theme, there are an additional 2 measures that repeat the Gm and C major resolution of the Force Theme. This signifies that Rey will bring something more to understanding how to use the Force. After a certain point, she won’t be learning from Luke anymore. Instead, she will go on to discover her own path.
Emotions, The Force, and how Rey & Kylo join forces.
When Anakin turned to the Sith and became Vader, it was because he concluded that his feelings made him evil. The Jedi Council repeatedly told Anakin that the different emotions that he was feeling would lead him to becoming a Sith. Ironically, by condemning his emotions, the Jedi Council were the ones who forced Anakin to the Dark Side.
When Luke confronted Emperor Palpatine, he also struggled with his own emotions. But unlike Vader, Luke did not let his emotions define him. He knew that even though he felt things like a strong desire to protect his friends and family, he was not evil because of it. When Vader sees this and accepts his own feelings, he is able to cast aside his identity of Vader and return to being Anakin.
As Rey learned to use the Force, she didn’t have anyone tell her to cast aside her emotions like the others before her did. In the final duel against Kylo, after she focuses herself, she still fights with much aggression rather than the calmness typical of Jedi.
However, Rey can’t discover this new way of using the Force on her own. Kylo Ren will play a key role as well. In his current state, Kylo has a backwards understanding of the Force, as signified by his theme. During his training with Luke, he was probably instructed to cast aside his feelings, typical of the Jedi tradition. But this probably drove him further towards the Dark Side.
Comparing the older traditions of the Jedi with the Sith, the Jedi dismissed their emotions, and those who could not control their emotions were consumed by it and turned to the Dark Side. What I think we will see in Episode 8 and 9 is both Rey and Kylo learning how to come to terms with their emotions, keep them under control, and integrate them with the Force.
At the beginning of Episode 8, we’ll probably see many scenes illustrating how Rey and Kylo have learned to use more of the Force since Episode 7, but these will probably be contrasting from each other. Maybe we’ll see a training montage with the two juxtaposed with each other.
Even though they are opposites at the beginning of the movie, I think that they will be driven to a point where they must come together. The fragments of the Force Theme that each of their respective themes contain compliment each other. Together, they form a more complete allusion to the Force Theme. So I think that by the end of Episode 8, they both must learn to confront their emotions together in order to overcome a new and greater challenge that will be revealed within the final Act of Episode 8.
There’s no way of knowing for sure without J.J. Abrams and John Williams outright confirming this, so I guess we’ll just have to wait until Episode 8 to see how all of this plays out.