Part of what makes the Star Wars franchise so memorable is John Williams’ soundtrack. Even if you don’t know the difference between Endor and Tatooine, you could probably hum Darth Vader’s Imperial March or recall the wacky Cantina song.
As it turns out, a musical inspiration for Williams potentially served a similar role for Lewis in his development of The Chronicles of Narnia.
The connection between Star Wars and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has long been discussed. “Endor,” which actually means “Middle Earth” in one of the elvish languages, plays host to the final battle of the original Star Wars trilogy and the subsequent celebration of the rebels after the Death Star is destroyed.
In an early script of Star Wars, George Lucas has Luke greet Obi-Wan with dialogue lifted straight from The Hobbit between Bilbo and Gandalf. Those earlier drafts reveal deeper connections between the two epic stories that are later made more subtle.
A recent book, however, makes an interesting connection between Narnia and Star Wars.
On the Essential C.S. Lewis’ podcast “All About Jack,” Michael Ward was on to discuss his groundbreaking research into Lewis’ hidden framework for Narnia and the subsequent books on the topic Planet Narnia and The Narnia Code.
In the latter, which is a popularized version of the more academic Planet Narnia, Ward mentions this interesting connection between the worlds of the cinematic blockbusters and Lewis’ Chronicles.
Williams based it [the Star Wars soundtrack] on the Mars movement of The Planets Suite, which Gustav Holst composed between 1914 and 1916.
Holst described Mars as “the Bringer of War,” and his Mars music is full of threatening drums and blaring brass. It has a pounding beat and is absolutely deafening. It’s a brilliant, terrifying piece.
When C.S. Lewis heard The Planets Suite, he thought the music for Mars was “brutal and ferocious.” He admired what Holst had done, but he also felt there were other aspects of Mars that were worth thinking about, not just the violent side.
Ward’s contention is that Lewis constructed his Narnia series around the seven heavenly bodies of the medieval world. It sounds far-fetched until you read through the arguments and then it makes perfect sense.
As part of the theory, Lewis wrote Prince Caspian to explore literary and mythological elements of Mars. He was clearly aware of Holst’s work connected to the planet as well.
In a January 1946 letter to Sister Penelope (from Letters of C.S. Lewis), Lewis discusses the suite, seemingly in response to Penelope’s mentioning it to him in connection to his space trilogy, which has one book set on Mars.
About Holst’s Planets, I heard Mars and Jupiter long ago and greatly admired them but have heard the complete work only within the last six weeks. But his characters are rather different from mine, I think. Wasn’t his Mars brutal and ferocious? — in mine I tried to get the good element in the martial spirit, the discipline and freedom for anxiety. On Jupiter I am closer to him: but I think this is more “jovial” in the modern sense of the word. The folk tune on which he bases it is not regal enough for my conception. But of course there is a general similarity because we’re both following the medieval astrologers. His is, anyway, a rich and marvelous work.
Lewis expanded and deepened Holst’s musical description of Mars within Prince Caspian by making his book not only a story of war, but one of trees, which were part of the medieval understanding of Mars.
Our month March is the only month named after a planet and is the one where we come to see trees spring to life again. In Prince Caspian, the trees play a pivotal role in winning the war for the good forces in Narnia.
So when you see Star Wars, you can think of all of the previous influences in fantasy, sci-fi, and music that made it possible.
As Lewis often made clear, all good stories reflect even if dimly the one great Story. In other words, you can even hear Aslan’s roar in “a galaxy far, far away.”
Here is Holst’s The Planets Suite and the John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack, if you like to listen, enjoy and compare.