One of the biggest successes of John Williams’ Star Wars scores has been how certain tunes, be they leitmotifs or something more atmospheric, seem to transcend the description of being “merely” a soundtrack. From Princess Leia’s Theme to Duel of the Fates to Rey’s Theme, these are pure pop songs in a classical style.
One of the most surprising, yet joyous, additions to this oeuvre is Williams’ tune from the middle act of The Empire Strikes Back: The Asteroid Field.
Opening with alarm-like woodwind instruments, it drops into the majestic Imperial March as the danger becomes known. As the theme breaks away from Darth Vader’s theme the remaining sense of peril is real. The high tempo recalls the Battle of Hoth, matching the wild movements of Solo’s desperate flight. There is surely no escape for our heroes.
Yet the building percussion, in particular the cymbals, intimates that something even more epic in scale awaits us. Sure enough, the theme breaks yet again with the Millennium Falcon’s voyage into the asteroid field.
The soaring melody scoring the Falcon’s flight is perfect; both brave and dangerous at once. It’s pulsing, memorable, and moves the scene away from the threat of the Empire in the most exciting way. The TIE Fighters are destroyed, and Solo finds safety in a larger asteroid. As the sequence draws to a close, the score segues into a gentler version of the Han Solo and the Princess theme before giving way to a more mysterious uncertainty.
The overall experience is nothing short of perfection. 4:15 of pure classical pop music joy to soundtrack one of the most exciting scenes in the best film of the saga. Williams put the work in on this track, and we’ve all reaped the benefits.
The Asteroid Field is a total classic.