When it comes to the Star Wars franchise, one thing that can always be counted on is an abundance of backstory.
Such is the case with John Williams’ composition, “Cantina Band,” part of the soundtrack he scored for the 1977 blockbuster film. “Mad About Me” (the song’s actual title) is known as the tune played by an alien band during the famed scene at the Mos Eisley Cantina. There is an established history of the group, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, including their falling out with Jabba the Hutt and D’an’s brother playing in the most popular band in the universe.
How would Williams write a song fitting to be played by a group of extraterrestrial musicians? Director George Lucas gave the following guidance:
“Imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace ... how might they attempt to interpret it?”
The actors filmed the scene with Goodman’s hit, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” playing over loudspeakers, as to be on beat. Williams later completed and substituted “Mad About Me.”
Among many homages to the original, NPR’s Morning Edition reported a piece about artist Lead Zeppelin, a college student in Arizona who posted a video of herself writing an algebra equation. The scratches of the pencil sound out the rhythmic progression of the familiar John Williams tune.
J.J. Abrams’ 2015 Star Wars film also contained a Cantina scene. Abrams tells the story on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon of happening upon Lin-Manuel Miranda around the time when John Williams chose not to write the song for the new scene. Miranda, always with perfect timing, offered his help, and he and Abrams composed it together.