The rumor that Disney might acquire 21st Century Fox’s TV and film divisions has excited lots of sci-fi fans, the biggest constituency being Marvel’s. Such a deal might finally join the X-Men cinematic arc, whose rights Fox controls, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe controlled by Disney. And that’s wonderful.
For me, as a Star Wars fan, it could mean that series, by Episode IX in 2019, might again open the way God intended it: With the 20th Century Fox Fanfare with Cinemascope Extension. J.J. Abrams might use a different title card, might arrange the opening credits differently. But Disney would own that song and once again Star Wars movies could begin with it.
You can probably hum it from memory right now:
There are movie fans my age and even older who think this tune was something Lucasfilm or composer John Williams concocted for the first film in 1977. It isn’t. It was composed by Alfred Newman, the music director for 20th Century-Fox Studios (as it was known) from 1940 into the 1960s. In 1953 he gave it the “CinemaScope extension” (to note the film was shot in the new widescreen format developed by Fox).
George Lucas famously wanted an old Saturday-matinee feel to his space adventure, and Williams’ score is an indispensable part of that. Only because Fox’s Alan Ladd, Jr. accepted Lucas’ treatment, did Star Wars open with the romantic, put-on-your-church-clothes, we’re-going-to-the-movies introduction it needed to complete that atmosphere.
You think I’m exaggerating? Here’s “Star Wars: In Concert” at Philadelphia in 2009. Listen to the crowd come alive for the 20th Century Fox theme. John Williams wrote Luke Skywalker’s theme in the same key, so that it would follow seamlessly. It does. This is the peanut butter and jelly of science-fiction soundtracks.
It killed me that, two years ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars flick to open without the fanfare. I thought The Force Awakens was a wonderful film and a great return of the series to its narrative roots. But without that ostentatious blaze of London Symphony Orchestra brass, it took a good 20 minutes for me to settle in and realize that I was watching a Star Wars movie in the theater, with a bucket of popcorn in my lap and my best friend in the seat next to me.
The fanfare is not exclusively Star Wars’ property, nor has it been mothballed since Disney acquired Lucasfilm and therefore the franchise. It still marks 20th Century Fox TV productions and 21st Century Fox films.
But that extension, that’s for Star Wars. Cinemascope went out of use in the mid-1960s, replaced then by Panavision. Star Wars brought back its song a decade later. That cathartic, trilling, call-and-response of the strings and the horns, you could hum that on a crowded bus today and everyone would think of Star Wars, and the pie-eyed, little-kid movie magic it revived. It would be great to bring them together again.