"The Imperial March," also called "Darth Vader's Theme," is a recurring musical theme of the Star Wars movies. It was composed by John Williams and first appeared in the film The Empire Strikes Back. The theme is based on the well known funeral march from Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor and on "Mars, the Bringer of War" by Gustav Holst.
One of the best known symphonic movie themes, it is a classic example of a leitmotiv, a recurrent theme associated with characters or events in a drama. "The Imperial March" is the theme music that represents the authoritarian Galactic Empire. As Anakin Skywalker is stripped of all individuality, he, in essence, becomes one with the Empire as Darth Vader; hence the reason the march is often associated with him as well. "The Imperial March" represents all that is the Empire; therefore, it is nearly equivalent to a galactic anthem. To the Galactic Empire, "The Imperial March" represents strength, order, and control. However, to the Rebel Alliance, it is symbolic of tyranny, oppression, and hate.
Although played by an orchestra on the movie soundtrack, it is often played by brass bands; military bands are particularly effective in delivering the theme's martial stance. "The Imperial March" was also played by No Doubt at some of their live concerts.
For the game Star Wars: Force Commander, the menu music was a "March" remix with a rock/metal flavor.
On a few occasions, "The Imperial March" has been used to introduce Mr. Burns on the television series The Simpsons. Additionally, it has been used as a background musical piece by radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh when discussing subjects relating to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In some National Hockey League games, the music is used at the beginning of powerplay opportunities. The march is used when an opponent enters the field at a Cleveland Browns, Indians or Cavaliers game. The music is also played at home games of the New York Yankees when announcing the players of the opposing team (in contrast to music heard during the Rebel Alliance's award ceremony in A New Hope being played to announce the home players).
In the movies
"The Imperial March" is first heard in The Empire Strikes Back at the beginning of the film when probe droids are sent from an Imperial Star Destroyer down to Hoth. This version is played by flutes and is barely audible. The most familiar rendition of the theme first plays when Darth Vader is re-introduced as Death Squadron assembles. It is played throughout the film nearly every time the Death Squadron or Darth Vader appears, most notably during the track "The Battle of Hoth" as the Executor is seen approaching Hoth and as Vader enters Echo Base after the battle. It is then used in the beginning of "The Asteroid Field" as the Millennium Falcon tries to evade the attacking Star Destroyers and, in a more powerful form, during "Han Solo and the Princess" as the Death Squadron blasts its way through the asteroid field and as the Executor emerges from the asteroids. Later the tune is shortly heard during the end of "The Training of a Jedi Knight," as the bounty hunters assemble on the Executor, "Yoda and the Force" when Captain Needa departs the Avenger to apologize to Darth Vader, and "Imperial Starfleet Deployed" as the Falcon is seen hanging on the back of the Avenger's command tower. Then, in a more dramatic form, it was played during the duel between Vader and Luke, known as "The Clash of Lightsabers," when Vader uses the Force to throw objects at Luke. It also appears in "Rescue from Cloud City/Hyperspace" when Darth Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father.
It is used in a powerful form in Return of the Jedi, when Emperor Palpatine is seen arriving on the DS-2 Death Star II Mobile Battle Station. As Luke unmasks Vader at the end of Jedi, the theme is carried somberly by high-range strings; as Vader dies, the tune is heard one last time as a dirge played by the harp.
"The Imperial March" theme appears scarcely in the prequel trilogy, but is often used to hint at Anakin Skywalker's future as Darth Vader. Its usage increases through the trilogy.
A few notes of "The Imperial March" are played in Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace in a scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda discuss the future of Anakin Skywalker on Naboo. The main few notes of "The Imperial March" are heard in "The Droid Battle." It is also heard at the sinister end to "Anakin's Theme," played during the end credits, along with Darth Vader's breathing, indicating that the prequel trilogy will show how Anakin became Darth Vader.
In the next film, Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, "The Imperial March" is played subtly and so faintly that it's barely audible when Yoda senses Anakin's slaughter of the Tusken Raiders. The first notes of the march are heard again, slightly louder this time, after Anakin confesses the deed to Padmé. At the end of the movie, a new full version accompanies the deployment of the Grand Army of the Republic, hinting at the eventual link between clone troopers and stormtroopers, and as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine is shown observing the deployment of the Army from a balcony, foreshadowing his becoming the Emperor. For the scene of the new army, "The Imperial March" was used as temp music in pre-production from the beginning.
In Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, "The Imperial March" is first played when Anakin rebukes the Jedi Council for denying him the rank of Jedi Master, although being appointed to the Council. The track can also be heard when Anakin tells Mace Windu about Palpatine's true identity. It is later played when Anakin is dubbed as the Sith Darth Vader, shortly after the death of Mace Windu. "The Imperial March" is quoted when Clone Troopers find dead Wookiees on Kashyyyk and when Padmé confronts Anakin on Mustafar. A few notes of the "March" are played when Vader arrives on Mustafar to kill the Separatists. The piece is played more clearly during the "Battle of the Heroes" scene between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader at the movie's climax and in the simultaneous battle between Yoda and Palpatine. It is also played when Darth Vader receives his armor and when he looks up at the first Death Star.
In Star Wars: The Clone Wars (film),"The Imperial March" is heard when Anakin talks with Jabba the Hutt about what he's done with Ahsoka Tano and Jabba accuses for Anakin coming to his palace to take his life.
In Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, "The Imperial March" is briefly reprised when Kylo Ren confides his inner conflict to the burnt helmet of Darth Vader aboard the Resurgent-class Star Destroyer Finalizer.
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, "The Imperial March" makes a prominent appearance during Vader's meeting with Director Krennic on Mustafar. A fragment of it is played at the end of the movie as well, as Vader watches the Tantive IV escaping from the docking bay of the Profundity.
In Solo: A Star Wars Story, the theme appears prominently as the film transitions from Han Solo's escape from Corellia to his time as an Imperial infantryman on Mimban. It is also heard as the soundtrack of the advert playing at the shuttle station that encourages Han to join the Imperial forces. This is the first use ever of the Imperial March as diegetic music in a Star Wars movie.
In Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker the theme is present many times: during the appearance of Darth Vader's helmet, the rise of Sith Star Destroyers, the destruction of Kijimi, and in the Death Star's wreckage.
In the Expanded Universe
The soundtrack to Shadows of the Empire by Joel McNeely samples a small part of "The Imperial March" in the "Night Skies" theme. Here, it is played as a contemplative piece, designed to show Darth Vader mulling over information about the Falleen Prince Xizor and feeling that his son is close by in Imperial Center.
In Star Wars: Rogue Squadron a more synthetic and somewhat eerie version of "The Imperial March" is played during the battle with Kohl Seerdon. Several bits were more ominous during the World Devastators' rampage over Mon Calamari.
A part of the theme is played in Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast when the Doomgiver leaves the Cairn Installation and at the dark side ending of Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy when Jaden Korr takes over the Star Destroyer orbiting Korriban with his Z-95.
The theme can be heard in the musical piece John Williams created for Star Tours, by the same name.
In Angry Birds Star Wars, it's played on the last level of every episode (boss battles), excepting Tatooine, Path of the Jedi, Boba Fett's Missions and Bonus.
In LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, the muzak version used in the Family Guy episode "Blue Harvest" is used on the elevators in the Venator-class Star Destroyer, the game's main hub.
"The Imperial March" is featured in a number of episodes of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- In "Brain Invaders," when Anakin Skywalker interrogates Poggle the Lesser, "The Imperial March" can be plainly heard.
- In "Voyage of Temptation" when Anakin Skywalker kills Tal Merrik the "Imperial March" can be briefly heard.
- In "Overlords," when the Eta-class shuttle leaves Mortis, "The Imperial March" can be heard.
- In "Ghosts of Mortis," "The Imperial March" can clearly be heard as the Son tries to seduce Anakin Skywalker to the dark side.
- In "Citadel Rescue," a small snippet of "The Imperial March" is heard when Anakin and Captain Wilhuff Tarkin shake hands before parting ways.
- In "Deception", "The Imperial March" is heard when Anakin is at Obi-Wan's funeral.
- In "The Lawless," a small snippet of "The Imperial March" is heard when Darth Sidious enters the Mandalorian throne room to confront Maul and Savage Opress.
- In “The Wrong Jedi”, the “Clash of the Lightsabers” variant of “The Imperial March” is briefly heard as Anakin confronts the fallen Jedi Padawan, Barriss Offee, who is using Asajj Ventress's red lightsabers, whom she had stolen from.
- In “Aftermath”, “The Imperial March” is heard right after Palpatine declared himself Emperor.
It is also used in the opening of the Star Wars Rebels episode "Call to Action" as Grand Moff Tarkin visits Lothal, and appears in several other episodes as well. It is featured briefly but prominently at the end of "Fire Across the Galaxy" when Darth Vader appears. Within the franchise's new canon continuity, the tune is known in-universe as "Glory of the Empire."
- In the Sith Inquisitor storyline of Star Wars: The Old Republic, while pursuing Ashara Zavros's affair quest, Ashara is heard humming the Imperial March. It reveals that the theme had been known in the Star Wars universe for millennia before the rise of the Galactic Empire; another possibility, however, is that Ashara improvised this relatively simple tune as she went along, and a similar one was developed later with no direct connection to the one she "composed."
- In A. C. Crispin's book The Paradise Snare, it's slyly hinted that "The Imperial March" is "the martial theme of the Imperial Navy." The link is made more explicit in the audio book edition, when the cue is actually used.
- In "Rising Malevolence", a rocket battle droid is humming some kind of "Imperial March" when his Droch-class boarding ship approaches the escape pod of Plo Koon.
- In Star Wars: Battlefront II, Imperials occasionally whistle "The Imperial March."
- Leonis Murthé hums "Dum Dum Dum, Dum-te-Dum, Dum-te-Dum" as he uses his lightsaber on a "patient" in Boba Fett: Agent of Doom.
- In Star Wars: Republic Commando, a piano remix of the march can be heard as a cheery elevator tune in an elevator in the level "Attack of the Clones."
- In Star Wars Rebels episode "Empire Day", a more upbeat and heroic version of the march, titled "Glory of the Empire", is played over loudspeakers during the eponymous holiday's parade.
- In Solo: A Star Wars Story, a similar upbeat version of the march plays under an Imperial recruitment video playing at the Coronet Spaceport on Corellia.
In popular culture
- A muzak version of "The Imperial March" is used as elevator music on board the Death Star in the Family Guy episode Blue Harvest, which is a parody of A New Hope and derives most of its plot from the film.
- The New York Yankees plays the theme when presenting players from the opposing team when at Yankee Stadium.
- In The Simpsons, "The Imperial March" is occasionally used to introduce Mr. Burns.
- In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Raj plays "The Imperial March" while entering a comic-book store to show that he is "awesome and to be feared."
- The Crossbone Vanguard theme from Gundam F91 is based on "The Imperial March," mostly because the creator of the anime movie Tomino really liked Star Wars.
- The symphonic metal band Epica made a cover of "The Imperial March" on their 2009 live album The Classical Conspiracy.
- Before being replaced with a new theme around mid-2010, "The Imperial March" was the opening theme song (played at the "top of the hour") for The Alex Jones Show. While the theme played, an announcer said:
- "Big Brother, mainstream media, government cover-ups. You want answers? Well so does he. He's Alex Jones...on the GCN Radio Network. And now, live from Austin, Texas...Alex Jones."
- Parts of this theme are still played in the aforementioned The Alex Jones Show at the "top of the hour" and after returning from commercial breaks.
- The Montreal Canadians Hockey team play "The Imperial March" whenever they have a power play at games.
- Certain NPCs in The Witcher PC CRPG can be heard whistling the theme.
- In 2012, Volkswagen teased a Super Bowl commercial where a chorus of dogs barked the march, each dressed up as different characters in the films.
- Ryan Bader has used a remixed version of the theme as his entrance music at UFC 144.
- In 2007, the Band of the Welsh Guards notoriously played the Imperial March to greet Saudi Arabian King Abdullah when he visited the UK on a controversial state visit.
- An episode of The Big Bang Theory titled "The Cooper/Kripke Inversion" includes the theme as Sheldon's "I'm unhappy and about to destroy the planet" music. Similarly, Raj Koothrappali briefly played the Imperial March theme when entering the comic book store in the beginning of the episode "The Excelsior Acquisition".
- The first TV trailer for the 2013 Japanese superhero crossover movie Kamen Rider × Super Sentai × Space Sheriff: Super Hero Taisen Z opened with a brief piece of music highly reminiscent of "The Imperial March" to introduce another space empire, Space Shocker.
- In Robot Chicken: Star Wars, during the segment where Luke Skywalker and Palpatine have a Dozens battle, the fight had in the background music a Hip-Hop version of "The Imperial March."
- In an episode of Chuck titled "Chuck Versus the Last Details", Morgan Grimes is tasked with going undercover at an auction of assassins and crime bosses bidding on a lethal weapon. He and Chuck Bartowski hum the Imperial March to get the former into the mindset of playing a bad guy, and the official instrumental kicks in as Morgan enters the auction room.
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