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Star Wars Music Minute

Dec 20, 2021

When Luke looks out at the Burning Homestead, we hear an overt reference to the first four notes of Dies Irae. What is the meaning of this musical meme? Where else does the Dies Irae show up in Star Wars? Alex Ludwig AKA "Dies Irae guru" joins us today to help us gain a deeper understanding of this foundational musical trope.


  • 00:00 - Hello there!
  • 03:33 - What is Dies Irae?
  • 04:56 - "Dies Irae" Gregorian chant clip.
  • 06:05 - Dies Irae in the "Burning Homestead" clip.
  • 08:10 - The 3 types of Dies Irae references.
  • 08:20 - Type 1: full chant statement.
  • 11:13 - Type 2: four-note statement, most common type.
  • 14:04 - Type 3: ostinato pattern
  • 16:26 - Why is type 3 the most controversial?
  • 17:26 - Sensitivity vs. specificity.
  • 19:20 - Assessing the Dies Irae-ness of "Alternate Binary Sunset" cue.
  • 21:08 - If we're steeped in modern Western tonal language (most of us are), Dies Irae can sound like it outlines a minor triad, with sadness coded into it.
  • 24:38 - Xanthe thinks "Burning Homestead" example is hopeful, while Alex does not. (Music interpretation is subjective!)
  • 27:36 - Rhythmic displacement and John Williams planting the seeds of tension prior to the actual Dies Irae instance.
  • 31:39 - Does the music sound sad, or is it sad, because we are connecting it with the story? Chicken or the egg.
  • 32:02 - Chaotic listening experiment #1: Gregorian chant edition.
  • 34:00 - Original characteristics of Dies Irae.
  • 37:46 - Frank Lehman shoutout. We are fans.
  • 38:33 - Chaotic listening experiment #2: Star Wars edition. Would you consider those "Dies Irae" or not?
  • 41:33 - Coincidences.
  • 43:38 - Would we diagnose the music in Obi-Wan's hut with a case of Dies Irae? (listening example). Alex and Xanthe have different answers.
  • 45:42 - The Force Awakens, Rey's journey, answering the hero's call, how Dies Irae might play in.
  • 48:48 - Rogue One Dies Iraes.
  • 50:40 - Multiple transformations of Dies Irae, Mozart, Verdi, Romantic programmatic music, etc. From chant to sacred setting to secular spooky piece to Hollywood.
  • 55:13 - Late 19th century composers influenced the first wave of film composers; Dies Irae may have been passed down.
  • 58:41 - Catholic perspectives on Dies Irae. The "Dies Irae" was actually dropped by the Vatican because it was thought to be too frightening. However, some Catholics find it awe-inspiring, as it invites them to a "deeper, more serious faith," grasping that "choices and actions have eternal consequences."
  • 1:04:47 - Is Dies Irae a meme, a trope, or both?
  • 1:08:48 - Do you think the Dies Irae will be played out pretty soon? Is it too cliche now that it's blown up so much?
  • 1:09:53 - A question for listeners!
  • 1:15:04 - Overview of the soundscape in the rest of these 5 minutes. "Close your eyes and you know exactly where you are."
  • 1:21:00 - SWMM Questionnaire

Stuff from the episode:


  • 3. Force
  • 13) Dies Irae
  • 5. Death Star
  • 6a. Imperials (Motif)
  • 4. Leia
  • Note: I use the theme names and numbers established in Frank Lehman's Complete Catalogue of the Musical Themes of Star Wars. You can download it free at his website:


  • "The Return Home"
  • "Mos Eisley Spaceport"
  • "Shootout in the Cell Bay/Dianoga"
  • "Cantina Band"


1. In exactly 3 words, what does Star Wars sound like?

  • triumphant brass fanfares
  • ominous contrapuntal warblings

2. What's something related to Star Wars music or sound that you want to learn more about?

  • What it's like for new composers (Michael Giacchino, John Powell, Ludwig Göransson, etc) to play in the playground of Star Wars music -- to have all these themes at their fingertips, get to use them and take them to new places. "What is it like to get the keys to this kingdom as a composer?"

3. What's a score or soundtrack you're fond of besides anything Star Wars?

  • The Social Network (composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and Sunset Boulevard (composed by Franz Waxman)

Alex Ludwig:

Star Wars Music Minute: