The Imperial March

This article is about the John Williams composition. For the musical work by Edward Elgar, see Imperial March (Elgar).
Further information: Star Wars music
"The Imperial March"
Single by Boston Pops Orchestra
from the album The Empire Strikes Back
Released April 29, 1980
Format Long play
Genre Film soundtrack
Label RSO Records
Writer(s) John Williams
The March of the Empire.[1]  Play 

"The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)",[2] is a musical theme present in the Star Wars franchise. It was composed by John Williams for the film Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Together with "Yoda's Theme", "The Imperial March" was premiered on April 29, 1980, "three weeks before the opening of the film, on the occasion of John Williams' first concert as official conductor-in-residence of the Boston Pops Orchestra."[3] One of the best known symphonic movie themes, it is an example of a leitmotif, a recurrent theme associated with characters or events in a drama.[4]

Use in Star Wars

"The Imperial March" is sometimes referred to simply as "Darth Vader's Theme." In the movies (except for the original Star Wars), the march is often played when Darth Vader appears. It is also played during Palpatine's arrival on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, though it does segue into the Emperor's own theme as he appears.

Original trilogy

"The Imperial March" is first heard in The Empire Strikes Back in low piccolos as the Galactic Empire sends probe droids across the galaxy in search of Luke Skywalker. Its major opening occurs as Star Destroyers amass and Darth Vader is first presented in the film, 18 minutes into the movie. The theme and related motifs are also incorporated into tracks such as "The Battle of Hoth" and "The Asteroid Field". Return of the Jedi makes similar use of the theme, though its final statement is significantly different, making quiet use of a harp as a redeemed Anakin Skywalker dies in his son's arms.

Prequel trilogy

"The Imperial March" appears on a few occasions in the prequel trilogy, most often used to foreshadow Anakin Skywalker's future as Darth Vader. An innocent theme for the nine-year-old Anakin in The Phantom Menace is thematically based on "The Imperial March". "The Imperial March" is also heard towards the end, as Yoda acknowledges Anakin as Obi-Wan's apprentice in saying "The chosen One, the boy may be. Nevertheless, grave danger I fear in his training". It is also heard softly at the end of the final credit roll, where it fades into the character's signature breathing, showing the rest of the prequel trilogy will reveal how Anakin became Darth Vader. In the second prequel, Attack of the Clones, "The Imperial March" is sometimes played subtly when an event foreshadows Anakin's future: It is first played when Yoda senses Anakin slaughtering a tribe of Tusken Raiders to avenge his mother's death and later with more force when Anakin tells Padmé Amidala what he did. It is played most prominently and recognizably during the final sequence when clone troopers assemble and depart Coruscant, foreshadowing that they will become the Imperial stormtroopers. Although "Across the Stars" is featured most prominently in the film's end credits, several notes from "The Imperial March" are heard beneath it near the end.

In Revenge of the Sith "The Imperial March" is first played when Anakin rebukes the Jedi Council for denying him the rank of Jedi Master, although being appointed to the Council. The track can also be heard when Anakin tells Mace Windu about Palpatine's true identity. It is later played when Anakin is dubbed as the Sith Darth Vader, shortly after the death of Mace Windu. "The Imperial March" is quoted when Clone Troopers find dead wookies on Kashyyyk and when Padmé confronts Anakin on Mustafar. A few notes of the "March" are played when Vader arrives on Mustafar to kill the Separatists. The piece is played more clearly during the "Battle of the Heroes" scene between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader at the movie's climax and in the simultaneous battle between Yoda and Palpatine. It is also played when Darth Vader receives his armor and when he looks up at the first Death Star.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

"The Imperial March" has influence in short but dark moments revolving around Anakin. For example, in episode 62 Citadel Rescue, Anakin and Captain Wilhuff Tarkin both mentioned during their escape their good relationship with the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Anakin shakes hands with Tarkin at the end of the episode, while Tarkin said he would inform the Chancellor of Anakin's good performance. During that handshake, a hint is to be heard in the music referring to "The Imperial March". Other episodes that feature the theme include "Brain Invaders" (when Anakin strangles Poggle), "Voyage of Temptation" (when Anakin kills Merrik), "Overlords" (multiple times), "Ghosts of Mortis" (multiple times), "Kidnapped" (when Obi-Wan talks with Anakin then Ashoka), "Deception" (multiple times) and "Friends and Enemies" (multiple times), "Crisis on Naboo" (when Anakin argues with Obi-Wan), "The Lawless" (during Darth Sidious scenes), "The Jedi Who Knew Too Much" (multiple times). The theme is used prominently during the sixth and final season.

Star Wars Rebels

In "Empire Day", the episode's title referring to the Empire's anniversary, "The Imperial March" is heard during the parade. It is also heard in "Call to Action" when Grand Moff Tarkin arrives on Lothal, in the final scene of "Fire Across the Galaxy" when Darth Vader arrives on Lothal, and multiple scenes in "The Siege of Lothal".

The Force Awakens

In the 2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens, several bars from the brass motif of "The Imperial March" are played in undertone as antagonist Kylo Ren clutches the charred remains of Darth Vader's helmet, vowing to finally succeed where the Galactic Empire failed.

Rogue One Trailer

In the trailer for the yet unreleased film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the first notes of "The Imperial March" can be heard at the end of the trailer as the letters turn to reveal the name of the upcoming movie. Prior to this, Darth Vader can be heard breathing and his appearance is seen in the reflection of the floor. It has also now been confirmed numerous times that Darth Vader will appear in the movie with James Earl Jones returning to provide his voice.

Uses outside Star Wars

Uses in sport

The music has been used as emblematic of sporting rivalries. Numerous high school and college marching bands have taken to playing the march during football games, particularly when a home team's defense is on the field or has made a big play or to question a penalty call made by the official. The first regular use of "The Imperial March" was in the 1980s, when John Thompson led the Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team onto the floor with "The Imperial March" being played by the Georgetown band. Rather than shy away from the bad-guy persona, the Hoyas embraced the image, perpetuating the sullen, intimidating identity of the Hoyas.[5] In January 2003, during Super Bowl XXXVII, ABC Sports took to using "The Imperial March" as a leitmotif for the Oakland Raiders.[6] Three-time World Professional Darts Champion John Part uses the theme as entrance for his matches.[7] The Montreal Canadiens of the NHL also use the theme when they go on the powerplay. The song is also used for the visiting team's intro during South Sydney Rabbitohs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Jose Earthquakes, and New York Yankees games at the Stadium Australia, United Center, Staples Center, Quicken Loans Arena, Avaya Stadium, and Yankee Stadium respectively.

Use in music

Other uses

See also


  1. Larsen & Irons (2007), p.171.
  2. Michael Matessino, booklet for original soundtrack recording for Empire Strikes Back, Special Edition, page 17. RCA ASIN B000003G8G. "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme) is the now famous signature theme for Darth Vader."
  3. Michael Matessino, booklet for original soundtrack recording for Empire Strikes Back, Special Edition, page 6. RCA ASIN B000003G8G.
  4. Irena Paulus, "Williams versus Wagner or an Attempt at Linking Musical Epics" International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 31 2 (2000): 153. "John Williams used leitmotifs in the genuine sense of the word. He has come very close to the practice of Wagner in the various procedures in which he varies and transforms his themes, and in using the idea of the thematic image (the arch-theme that is the unifying element of the musical material). However, the similarity of Williams's and Wagner's leitmotifs is greatest in the area of kinship of themes (a series of new themes or motifs derive from a single motif or theme) on the basis of which both of them create a web of mutually related leitmotifs. The closeness of the procedures of the two can also be found in the area of melody, rhythm, form, harmony, instrumentation, and even in the domain of the ratio of the old and the new in their music. The ultimate objective of Richard Wagner was to create the music drama, music for the stage based on the old roots of opera, in which all the musical elements were subordinated to the drama. The ultimate aim of John Williams was to take part in the creation of a film in which his music would serve to define the film's substance and help all the other elements of it to function property."
  5. Wiley, Ralph, Darth Vader of G'Town
  6. Urbanski, Heather (2007). Plagues, Apocalypses and Bug-Eyed Monsters: How Speculative Fiction Shapes Our Nightmares. New York: McFarland. pp. 132–133.
  7. "Professional Dart Players Walk on Music...". Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  8. "Volkswagen's 'The Bark Side': Dogs Bark The 'Star Wars' Imperial March For Super Bowl Commercial (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. 2012-01-19. Retrieved 2016-01-11.

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