My affection for the original Star Wars trilogy has faded a little over the years, diminished by an oppressive combination of mass nostalgia and marketing saturation that’s wrought a cultural mythology disproportionate to the fun, junky escapism of the ’77-’83 films. What hasn’t softened, however, is my love for the trilogy’s sound: the ingenious design work of Ben Burtt, and of course, John Williams’ classical, romantic score. Back in the days when the brand’s corporate licensing strategy was apparently less stringent (see also the gloriously off-kilter Holiday Special), Williams’ music provided the template for a collection of weird, funky knock-offs that brought the galaxy from the orchestra to the discotheque: authorised, rogue, and everything in between.
The most famous of those adaptations remains Meco’s Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, which itself spawned its own mini-genre of copies. It was a gimmick, sure, but Williams’ Wagnerian bombast found a surprisingly exuberant home among the syncopated beats of the polyester dancefloor. Meco was a seasoned disco producer who worked with Gloria Gaynor and would go on to play with Nile Rodgers, and if you strip away the novelty sound effects his “Star Wars” is a banger worthy of Donna Summer, if not Giorgio Moroder.1 But Meco was just the tip of the era’s interstellar frenzy: tracks from Bang Bang Robot, Galactic Force Band and the Electric Moog Orchestra proliferated alongside ska from Cuban-Jamaican composer Rico Rodriguez, as well as my personal favourite, Patrick Gleeson’s Star Wars. Gleeson, whose title rendition opens this mix, was a synth pioneer who worked with Herbie Hancock on Headhunters and engineered Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and his tangential interpretations seem to find the intersection between Williams’ music, Forbidden Planet and Barbarella.2
If the trilogy offered fewer musical riches as mainstream fascination with disco waned, variants on both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi nonetheless yielded a strange intersection of styles. Russian-born Eurodisco guru Boris Midney’s bizarre space-funk noodling sounds like a VIP lounge bar on Cloud City, while Meco’s Empire contributions saw the band leaning on harder funk and rock (curiously, Meco musician Tony Bongiovi had previously produced tracks for both the Ramones and Talking Heads.) By ’83’s Jedi, Meco appeared to be the last off-brand composer left, yielding one of my favourites: an oddball, Balearic take on the Ewok anthem, complete with a terrible rap that feels appropriated from C-3PO’s storytime recap in the movie.
By that point, Williams—lest we forget, a fluid jazz musician himself before he became a blockbuster standby—was beating his imitators at their own game. Witness his slamming “Lapti Nek,” a funky, ESG-flavoured jam that once furnished Jabba’s sleazy house band until it was unceremoniously excised for Jedi’s Special Edition (the less said about its replacement, the better.) With its Huttese vocal belted out by singer Michele Gruska (from lyrics by Williams’ son, and future Toto singer Joseph), the track is still one of my most-loved moments in the series—music to belch, groove, and munch frogs to, for sure. The mix wouldn’t be complete without Williams, whose “Cantina Band #2” crops up here among the many variations on its more famous counterpart.
I love how the music here gives the trilogy an era-specific flavour that feels like it’s been systematically scrubbed away from the many revamped versions of the films and the one-size-fits-all nostalgia of the present. If only Star Wars could be this genuinely uncool again.
- Star Wars (Luke’s Theme) — Patrick Gleeson
- Empire Medley — Meco
- Lapti Nek (Club Mix) — The Max Rebo Band
- Star Wars Cantina Band Music — Patrick Gleeson
- Star Wars Disco Theme — Peter Hamilton Orchestra
- The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) — Boris Midney
- Star Robot System — Bang Bang Robot
- Princess Leia’s Theme — Patrick Gleeson
- Ska Wars — Rico Rodriguez
- Ewok Celebration (Club Mix) — Meco
- Cantina Band #2 — John Williams
- The Imperial March — Richard Cheese
- Cantina Band — The Electric Moog Orchestra
- Yoda’s Theme — Boris Midney
- Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band (12-inch version) — Meco
- Asteroid Field and Finale — Meco
- Princess Leia’s Theme — The Electric Moog Orchestra
- Droids — Patrick Gleeson
- Star Wars (Main Theme) — Boris Midney
- Throne Room and End Title — The Electric Moog Orchestra