With its emphasis on the budding romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, it is no surprise that the love theme, Across the Stars, is the most pervasive theme in Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Because its association is fairly unwavering from Anakin and Padmé’s love, in this analysis I will instead focus on more subtle connections that add further depth to its meaning and demonstrate how the film’s score is unified to an unusual degree through the relationships between this theme and others in the film.
Sections of the Theme
Across the Stars is divided into three distinct sections that I will simply call A, B, and C. These can be heard in the recording below, A in 0:13-0:35, B in 0:36-0:56, and C in 2:01-2:26 (after another A, B, and A).
Like other Star Wars themes, the A section is the one that acts as the love leitmotif, reinforcing such emotionally clear scenes as when Padmé offers sympathy to Anakin for his struggles with being a padawan, or Jedi-in-training, under his master, Obi-Wan, or when Anakin tells Padmé that she has not changed from the way he remembers her, or when the two kiss for the first time. Like the emergence of the couple’s mutual feeling of love, however, this A section is at first rather hesitant to appear in its full form, instead entering in a number of embryonic states early in the film. Notice, for example, how the scene with Obi-Wan and Anakin in the elevator just before meeting Padmé begins with a melody that clearly foreshadows the love theme (from 6:34-6:40) and sounds another that does the same in the middle of the scene (from 6:50-6:59):
Another similar example occurs when Padmé is leaving the capital with Anakin for greater safety on Naboo.
The B section, however, appears in only a couple of places in the film, first, just before the gladiator-style arena fight. It is at this point that Padmé finally admits to Anakin that she loves him despite resisting most of his advances throughout the film. This revelation serves as the film’s emotional climax and confirms the bond that will allow for Anakin’s downfall in the next film. With the B section added on for the first time, this statement of the theme gains an importance that rises above the others, especially since the theme eventually swells into the full orchestra as the pair enter the arena. Watch the scene below:
The second place we hear the A and B sections together is during the montage ending the film, where we see Anakin and Padmé secretly getting married at Padmé’s home on Naboo (from 2:37-3:44):
The C section of the theme is fraught with even more tension as it is more dissonant and chromatic than the other two sections. Consequently, it is disconnected from the A and B sections in the film proper and used to accompany two separate moments when Anakin’s hopes of starting a relationship with Padmé are seriously challenged. The first occurs when Anakin tells Jar-Jar that, although not a day has gone by where he has not thought about Padmé, after seeing Anakin again, Padmé seems only to have barely recognized him. The second occurs when Padmé tries to talk Anakin out of wanting a relationship with her because of its real-world impracticalties (from 2:05-2:24 and 3:09-3:29):
Similarities to Other Themes
It is well known that Across the Stars bears resemblances to several other themes by John Williams. These include one heard in his score for Nixon (from 2:15-2:30):
and these two from Hook: (from 0:06-0:22)
(and below from 5:09-5:44)
Even within the Star Wars canon, similarities have been pointed out between Across the Stars and the saga’s main theme (or Luke’s theme) in the A and B sections of both themes. Compare the opening of each section below:
A Section of Both Themes
B Sections of Both Themes
But analyses have generally stopped short of interpreting the significance of these themes’ similarities and, more importantly, their differences. The two themes are bound together mainly through the rhythm of their melodies, which one might interpret as suggesting Luke as a product of Anakin and Padmé’s love. But the two themes also differ in important ways. Most obviously, Luke’s theme is in a sunny major key suggesting some positive influence. By contrast, Across the Stars is in a minor key—never a good sign in music, here clearly suggesting the gloomy fate of both Anakin and Padmé through their bond. But the love theme also follows a different melodic arc than Luke’s theme. And as I mentioned in my analysis of Luke’s theme, the A and B sections employ a motive of a seventh and a pair of fourths that generally leap upward, suggesting not just any hero, but a superhero. In Across the Stars, however, a three-note motive dominates the A and B sections, one that consists of small intervals, a second and a third, and they almost always descend rather than ascend, once again implying the tragic fate of the couple rather than anything heroic:
Connections Between Themes in Attack of the Clones
While Across the Stars has a pervasive presence in Attack of the Clones, it is but a part of a highly unified score that reuses a basic melodic shape in many of its themes. Consider the comparisons below between the love theme’s A section and these other themes, the labels for which are my own.
Across the Stars, A Section (0:13-0:35)
At the start (and several times thereafter):
Anakin’s Torment (transposed for comparison)
From 1:25-1:32 (and thereafter)
What do all these similarities mean in the context of the film? It is significant that Attack of the Clones is different from the other prequels in that its narrative is split into two large but very different parts. While Obi-Wan investigates who is behind the assassination attempts on Padmé, Anakin serves as Padmé’s protector in her retreat to Naboo, where the two develop their love. The resemblances among the themes above thus provide a means of unification in a story whose two strands have very little to do with one another, a kind of subconscious glue holding the film together.
One could also argue that, because Across the Stars is the most pervasive theme in the film, these thematic connections emphasize that Anakin and Padmé’s love will have drastic effects on just about everything in the prequels’ universe. That is, Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side is grounded in his love for Padmé, without which there would not have been Darth Vader to contend with, nor the Emperor, nor even the Empire for that matter (as Anakin is the one who saves Palpatine’s life in the next film). In any case, it is difficult to overestimate the impact that the couple’s falling in love has on the saga. One could even call it the event that precipitates Anakin’s downfall.
Far from being a theme that merely accompanies the expressions of love between Anakin and Padmé in Attack of the Clones, Across the Stars does much more. As we have seen, it reflects the gradual emergence of their love through the several outlined forms early in the film and the withholding of a full statement that includes the B section until Padmé’s admission of love in the film’s later stages. In addition, the theme’s C section, which is included in the fullest statement in the end credits, is detached in the film and used to suggest Anakin’s doubt about the relationship’s prospects. Finally, the theme’s reference to Luke’s theme and similarities to other recurring themes in the film suggest a tapestry of relationships that invite interpretation and help to connect Attack of the Clones to both its preceding trilogy and immediate successor, Revenge of the Sith.
Coming soon… Battle of the Heroes.
3 thoughts on “Celebrating Star Wars Themes, Part 5 of 6: Across the Stars”
This a fantastic theme that Williams created for the series; it reminds me of the Han-Leia love theme that dominates “The Empire Strikes Back,” in that it is a malleable theme that can be used in a number of different ways through the film. I really like the swelling use of it at the end, leading into the credits, as it gives a strong sense that this is the ‘end of an era’ in a way. Beautiful. Thanks for taking time to help me appreciate this wonderful piece all the more!
I love this theme and I think it’s great how you analyzed how it works within the film and the similarities to other themes. It’s no surprise that it is similar to other of his themes. He does that a lot.
I wrote an analysis but focused on the melody, harmony and orchestration. This is the link if you want to check it out:
I find there are also similarities between “Across the Stars” in intervallic content and melodic contour with “Leia’s theme.” Both Luke’s and Leia’s theme bear a resemblance to their parents theme, but less resemblance to each other. A wonderfully sophisticated “family” of themes.