“May the Fourth be with you!” cried Dania, exiting her room. She wore the requisite merch: a distressed tee, bearing the original Tom Jung poster design, and an anachronistically modern pair of C-3PO mouse ears.
Eleanor and Gwen looked on from a distance. Unlike Dania, neither considered themselves to be a particularly passionate fan of the Star Wars franchise. Eleanor had watched them when they were released, but lost interest as the series continued to blend into the larger trend of blockbuster action films.
As for Gwen, she had never seen a single Star Wars film until college, when the trio made an evening of watching the original trilogy in one sitting. Taken as a whole, she appreciated the franchise more for its impact on the genre, rather than the content of the films themselves––although she did find Disney’s The Mandalorian an unexpected joy.
Dania, as she appeared, held aloft her phone, and pressed the screen as her pronouncement ended. Quietly, a tinny rendition of the Star Wars theme could be heard from the phone. Realizing her error, she stopped the music and walked to the bookshelf.
“Oh, come on, I synced this ten minutes ago,” she said.
“Not the grand entrance you wanted?” asked Eleanor.
Dania took a speaker down from the shelf, which immediately emitted a droid-like bleep, to announce it had found Dania’s phone. Grumbling, she replaced the speaker, and returned to her room.
“Act like this is the first time I’m exiting,” she said to her friends, as she glared from the doorway.
Gwen chuckled. “Take the time you need.”
The door shut. Gwen glanced up to Eleanor, who shrugged. The celebration of “May the Fourth” had been a relatively niche holiday, recognized only in geek circles, until the franchise came under the Disney umbrella in 2012. This year’s festivities––if they could be labeled as such––included the season finale of the Clone Wars TV series, as well as the release of Episode IX onto Disney+.
The door swung open once again, and Dania re-entered the living room, garbed in her franchise regalia. “May the Fourth be with you!” she exclaimed. Pressing the phone screen, the familiar theme blared from the speaker for a few moments, before the drums kicked in with a thick disco beat. Eleanor’s focus narrowed, looking back at the speaker.
“What is this nonsense?” she intoned. The sound continued, and as the swell of John Williams’ score carried them into the main theme, Dania began dancing wildly to the music. Gwen laughed aloud.
“Getting into the spirit of May the Fourth, are we?” she stated. Dania simply offered a smile as her reply.
“You gotta celebrate,” said Eleanor. “It’s the only way we can grapple with a multi-billion dollar company that is on its way to owning every film in existence.”
“Eh, Star Wars is more than just a branch of Disney,” said Dania. “The original films have something to them, some sort of timeless quality. Even the new ones, focus-grouped as they are, are emotional and entertaining.”
“Sure, although I don’t––what is this music?” asked Eleanor. The disco beats continued, now accompanied by the sounds of a laser battle. “Did someone do a Star Wars remix?”
“Uh, yeah. Someone made a remix right when the first one came out.” Dania handed the phone to Eleanor. The album was titled, appropriately, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk––the cover image, however, strayed far from the monochomatic imagery expected of the franchise. Under the watchful glow of a tangerine moon, a man wearing a jetpack, a purple bodysuit, and bronze trunks danced. As he grinded on the adjacent woman, in an orange spacesuit with globe helmet (How strange that the man is wearing the tighter-fitting clothing, thought Eleanor), a pair of steampunk spacecraft whizzed by in the distance.
It was, in short, an image that bore no resemblance to Star Wars‘ carefully manicured “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” aesthetics.
“This is an official Star Wars remix?” asked Eleanor. “From when the first film came out?”
“Essentially, yeah,” said Dania. “The guy who made the remix, Domenico Monardo, did disco remixes of a few film scores in the 1970s. He did a Close Encounters remix, too.”
“What?” Eleanor reacted. “That’s…isn’t the score for Close Encounters, like, five notes?”
“The theme, sure,” said Gwen. “But the full John Williams score is complex. I’ve never heard the Meco remix, but if it’s similar to the Star Wars one, it’s worth a listen.”
“You know about this, too?” asked Eleanor. She stopped to listen to the album: the bombastic swell of the main theme had given way to a slower rendition of Leia’s theme, intercut with returns to the trumpet punctuation that lent the remix its distinctively “disco” vibe. That, along with the use of a full string section, was part of the alchemy that had allowed disco to infiltrate American culture the way nothing else did––aside from, perhaps, Star Wars.
“Oh, I knew about it,” Gwen said. “I’m pretty sure I showed it to Dania originally, right?”
“I’d heard it before, but we did talk about it a few years ago,” Dania recalled. “Right when Episode VII came out.”
“It’s a genuinely interesting cultural artifact,” Gwen said. “I can’t say I’d listen to it while studying, or anything like that––”
“Oh, I have,” Dania admitted. “I’ve got the twists and turns of this album nearly memorized.”
True to her word, Dania briefly sang along to the wordless album. Her recitation of the main theme segued into singing along with the bassline, the rhythm section––every part of the score seemed burned into her memory, such that her parroting of the remix felt second-nature. Halfway through her performance, the kickdrum faded out from the score, giving way to lighter percussion backing, which continued under a repetition of the Leia theme in the strings.
“He just does so much to change the style around!” said Dania. “From passing the melody to different parts of the band, to extending sections and adding areas for musical improvisation. It’s surprising how well the score to an epic space fantasy works when you add those drums underneath.”
“That’s what’s culturally interesting about it,” Gwen said. “When it came out in 1977, Star Wars wasn’t an epic fantasy. It was a pulpy sci-fi action flick. It came out right before the summer and wasn’t particularly concerned with selling merchandise.”
“It wasn’t?” asked Eleanor. “I have a long knowledge of Star Wars action figures that makes that hard to believe.”
“Okay, it was only concerned with selling merchandise as much as any popular cinema of the 1970s,” Gwen clarified. “But that’s not the same sort of vertical integration that goes into it now. There was no ‘brand’ to protect. Even the image on the album cover; Lucasfilm gave the go-ahead to use this very stylistically different image, because there wasn’t yet a reason to keep someone from using the brand-approved logo pack.”
“I mean, it’s all the reasons I like the original trilogy the best out of all of them,” said Dania. “It’s the trilogy where it feels like everyone is having the most fun. The modern trilogy are good movies, I suppose, but I feel like no one ever smiles during them. It’s all about preserving the fate of the galaxy, and the huge stakes involved. The original film had huge stakes, yeah, but it still managed to feel lighthearted.”
“The album, corny as it is, hearkens back to a time when Star Wars didn’t take itself so seriously. If you’re looking to celebrate the version of Star Wars that existed before Disney took possession of it, perhaps this album is the best way to celebrate that.”
“You don’t think Disney is ever going to re-release this album under the Disney Records label?” asked Eleanor.
Gwen shrugged. “Probably not. Why would they make the effort to buy the rights to an independent DJs licensed remix of the score? Half of the album isn’t even Star Wars music?”
“What is it?” Eleanor looked over the album listing. “What ‘other galactic funk’ are we talking about?”
“Well, the album’s side B consists of just three songs,” said Dania. She took the phone from Eleanor and clicked to the first track. “This is called ‘Other.'”
The track was further from the space opera sound of side A. The snare and bass drum rhythms more effectively sold the imagery of a New Orleans second line band, than the exploits of any intergalactic heroes.
“It’s not a bad track, though it’s more forgettable,” Gwen said. “Just a side B to fill out the record.”
“Here’s song number two, titled ‘Galactic.'” The track played, sounding almost identical to the previous.
“Let me hazard a guess that track 3 is called ‘Funk?'” said Eleanor.
“Well, you can still appreciate the exceptional parts of the album, while not worrying about the more forgettable songs on it,” Dania said, switching back to the syncopated remix of the Sand People theme.
“And in the end,” replied Eleanor, “isn’t that what Star Wars is really about? Holding on to what makes you love it, while letting the more concerning aspects of the franchise fade from your memory?”
“Exactly,” cheered Dania. “Now, get up and dance with me! It’s May the Fourth!”
Image Credit: Billboard