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Star Wars seemed more like Alien in its initial trailer

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The first two teaser trailers for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens have proved one thing conclusively: music matters when it comes to blockbusters.

In The Dissolve's excellent list of the top 50 blockbusters of all time, the film site's editorial director, Keith Phipps, in a longer blurb on Star Wars points out how so much of what made the film great stemmed from director George Lucas surrounding himself with excellent collaborators.

To bring the film to life, Lucas selected favorite elements from a lifetime of omnivorous reading and movie-watching-from Joseph Campbell to Akira Kurosawa to World War II dramas-then filtered those elements into a space opera that paid homage to the thrill-a-minute movie serials of the 1930s and '40s. Along the way, he chose brilliant collaborators like conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, sound designer Ben Burtt, and composer John Williams, without whom Star Wars might have become a drastically different movie. (The Williams-free first trailer, for instance, suggests a far eerier experience.)

Phipps is dead-on about that first trailer. Watch above to see how strange the film seems without the famous blast of Williams's triumphant score.

Williams is one of only four or five musicians who could lay claim to being the greatest film composer of all time, and even if he doesn't come out on top in your own personal estimation, he's responsible for some of the most instantly iconic bits of film music ever. The theme from Jurassic Park. The flying theme from E.T. The theme from Superman. He's even responsible for the ominous theme from Jaws, which is now convenient shorthand for cinematic terror. How many other composers can create such a primal, gut-churning emotion with just two notes?

And without him, Star Wars seems more like Alien than it does the movie we know and love. It's weird and ominous and filled with strange creatures. The camera slowly zooms in on the title of the film. The soundscape is empty, haunted. And the announcer's tone suggests we're about to settle in for a very spooky tale of outer-space strangeness. It's not a very enticing pitch for one of the most successful films ever made.

It's interesting to contemplate Star Wars without Williams, because it reminds us of how all films are one bad choice away from being unwatchable. How many great movies would have been terrible with a different actor, or a different editor, or even a different hair and makeup team? And how many bad movies were just one dumb choice away from being masterpieces?

Ah, you've waited long enough after watching that trailer. Here's the fanfare you know and love.

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