John Williams is so much more than Star Wars, that uber-popular outer space adventure serial he’s been scoring since 1977. But for better or worse, Star Wars is the first line in Williams’ biography and the primary reason he’s one of the only film composers in history to become a household name. In pop culture history there is Before Star Wars and there’s After Star Wars, and Williams’ big, brassy, neo-romantic music capitalized on (and arguably helped propel) the unprecedented cinematic blastoff on that sunny Wednesday in May not so long, long ago. The sheer cultural infiltration of these films meant Williams’ earworm themes were worming their way into millions upon millions of ears, and the potent combination of his unsurpassed talent as a composer and the phenomenal reach of the films turned the series’ main themes into post-Vietnam American folk tunes.
Avalon is one of a handful of deeply personal films from my childhood. I remember watching it on VHS at my grandparents’ house in Del Rio, Texas. It became a kind of family tradition—every few years we’d pull it out and have a good cry. The fact that it’s a movie about family traditions, and generations, and the passage of time just makes it all the more poignant.
The somewhat downbeat heartbeat of the film is Randy Newman’s elegiac score—a masterpiece of waltzing ghosts, trumpet requiems for vanished childhoods and fallen ancestors, and the kind of soulful, melancholy solo piano writing that Newman does better than anyone else.