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Battle Beyond the Stars


I was so excited to get Intrada’s new expanded version of James Horner’s Battle Beyond the Stars, and it did not disappoint.


This goes back to my beginnings as a lifelong film music fan. The first film score I ever fell in love with was Star Wars—not from the film itself, but the NPR radio show.


I discovered Star Wars backwards: first through the toys, comic books, storybooks and radio show, and only later seeing the films, because this was the earliest days of VHS/Betamax and we didn’t own a player, but would occasionally rent one from “Sight and Sound” in Vineyard Haven, with their peculiar smelling brown-cased tapes (from the cigarette smoke, I later learned).


I digress.


The second time I actually realized there was such a thing as movie music was with James Horner. I loved the music to Star Trek II and III, those big symphonic swells and the swirling strings—and while watching another movie, I heard those same strings, and was like, “Hey...” When I saw Horner’s credit, it clicked. It was probably Krull. Not sure.


I definitely remember seeing Innerspace in a theater in 1986, and connecting the eerie sounds of the main titles (the waterphone) to Star Trek: The Motion Picture—and then when I saw Goldsmith’s credit, his name and the connection snapped into place as well.


So the big early 1980s James Horner scores, especially sci-fi—those have a very large place in my heart. Soon I was going through the video store, flipping over boxes, trying to find and watch anything else he scored—which is how I discovered Brainstorm.


Battle Beyond the Stars I sought out on LP in the late 1980s when I began collecting anything with James Horner’s name on it (even the LP of The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, and boy was I disappointed—bluegrass?!?).


I saw Battle Beyond the Stars on cable one time—only I didn’t. It was actually Space Raiders, a Roger Corman sci-fi B-movie from 1983 that was one of a handful to re-use the Battle Beyond the Stars soundtrack. When I finally saw Battle Beyond the Stars, fairly recently, I confess I found it pretty dull.


But I have always loved the BBTS LP. I made a cassette of it as a kid. I had Battle Beyond the Stars on side one, and the Outland LP on side two, and I’d listen to them on my walkman on the way to high school.


This was way before soundtracks were cool. I lived in fear my listening habits would be discovered and ridiculed.


Battle Beyond the Stars had obvious performance problems, but it was teeming with themes and a kind of unforgettable tunefulness to everything—from the transitions to the stings to the suspenseful moments—that put other Star Wars knock-offs to shame. It sort of put almost anything else to shame. It was just so good!


It was just obvious to me as a 14-year-old kid, and as now an almost 50-year-old man, that this James Horner fellow was preposterously, abundantly talented.


As I’ve gotten older, and studied not only movie music but music theory, I’ve long wondered—where exactly did it come from? His style, I mean.


There are some obvious answers: it came from Jerry Goldsmith!


We now know that Horner finagled himself as a guest to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture scoring sessions (he had a casual friendship with Goldsmith’s daughter, Carrie), and Craig Huxley said that Horner turned score pages for him for the blaster beam performances.


I’d be curious to learn exactly which dates Horner attended. One of the repeating space-action passages in Battle Beyond the Stars is a shameless knock-off of the Klingon battle—one of the last things recorded for ST:TMP—which raises the question, did Horner do it from ear and by memory, or did he manage to sneak off a copy of the orchestrations?


There are also a lot of what musicians would call “mediant harmonic relationships” in Star Trek: The Motion Picture—think the beginning of Ilia’s Theme—where the music is moving harmonically a third away, not a fifth. It’s very much associated with space music, because it has a certain weightless, questing quality that is also majestic and expansive. (Bernard Herrmann was into these harmonic relationships; listen to The Day the Earth Stood Still.) And Horner’s famous (to us) “swirling strings,” did they come from “Floating Office”?


BBTS also has the opening echoplexed trumpets, a la Patton, and a passage in the love theme that’s obviously derived from Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars.


But who cares?


Early Horner is full of Prokofiev, Britten and Ives rips—and many more—but it also is stamped so profoundly with Horner’s own personality, that’s all I hear now.


However, there’s one other thing I’ve been wondering, and I guess we’ll never know: I am curious if Horner’s main theme to BBTS was him taking Goldsmith’s Klingon theme—the open fifths—and turning it into a heroic melody.


It makes sense, musically. I’m just wondering if it was a conscious thing that he did.


I also wondered for years whether Horner’s late-1970s concert work, “Spectral Shimmers,” was the source of any of his film music. We can finally hear it:

The answer is, not really. But it does have those heraldic horns that are all over BBTS, Star Trek II and III and Krull, so that was obviously a lifelong fascination Horner had.


Congrats to Intrada for their masterful 2CD set, of this as well as Humanoids From the Deep (which I like much less, but it’s still great to have).


And thanks to Sara Horner who had the tapes and was cool with their release, and accepting the inevitably nosy blog posts like this one!

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Lee Wileman
Lee Wileman
Dec 16, 2023

Great article - I remember losing my Walkman at school with my film score mix tape volume 1 and wondering what on earth might happen if someone found it ….it just happened to be my music teacher who was so astonished I ended up having to make another mixtape as he kept it !! Great memories brought back, Lukas. As for Horner & Goldsmith - I love them both so not going there….maybe i can dream about what might have happened if a JNH / Zimmer style collaboration between any of the masters…. thanks for sharing.

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Delmo Walters Jr.
Delmo Walters Jr.
Dec 15, 2023

"...was cool with their release." Doesn't she get paid for the use of the tapes?

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Delmo Walters Jr.
Delmo Walters Jr.
Dec 16, 2023
Replying to

Fair enough.

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caul harry
caul harry
Dec 15, 2023

Great post! I remember being terrified of bullying and hiding my Walkman to school for just one tape (which I loved to death of course!) that boasted its title in nice big bold letters you could see from across the street. Saturn Records Day of the Dead. All my Varese etc, were hidden in the window. This one was proudly dead center, pun intended.

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Karim Elmahmoudi
Karim Elmahmoudi
Dec 15, 2023

I think that early in his career, Horner might have marketed himself as a discount Goldsmith. So ended up with Star Trek II/III from Goldsmith and Aliens from Goldsmith but was clearly so talented and original that he didn't need to do that Goldsmith thing for long. Sort of like being hired to do something like the temp score but eventually being asked to do your own thing.


EDIT: I think a very important point to raise is that if you listen to very early Horner, he makes the production feel more expensive. That is a very impressive credential to have that a young composer makes the film feel like it is twice its budget. Early Horner was so gre…

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