Ranking the Soundtracks

I’ve been sitting on writing this post for a while.  I thought it would be fun, in follow up to the post I wrote years ago on the best compositions in Star Wars (here and here), to instead write my rankings of the soundtracks.  Instead of individual pieces, I wanted to look at the soundtracks as a whole.  Which do I think are the top and which do I think make it to the bottom?

The only reason I’ve been sitting on it for so long is because IT’S SO HARD.  It changes often but I wanted to imagine someone asking me to give my final answer, as if I were playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and something was on the line.

After much thinking (like two months, seriously), here is my own personal Best of Star Wars Soundtracks list:

8.  Rogue One.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I didn’t really like Rogue One as a movie or it’s the fact that John Williams did not write the soundtrack that caused this movie to be on the bottom, but there you go.  The second time I watched it, I did come away feeling slightly more kind towards the music, but I think both having a different composer and not enjoying the movie was a double whammy that landed this at the bottom of the list.  Plus, it never had the wonderful themes that we love so much played enough throughout it.  I am planning on listening to it more, but for now, it ends up on the bottom.

7.  Attack of the Clones

One of my favorite pieces is Across the Stars.  It wows me and moves me every time I listen to it.  But as a whole, AOTC is slightly underwhelming.  There are probably about 2-3 tracks that I would want to listen to that on the soundtrack and if I were being perfectly honest, none of them stand out like Across the Stars.

6.  A New Hope

Agh, I hate even ranking this soundtrack so low because A New Hope introduced the world to Star Wars music.  Some of my favorite tracks of all time are in ANH.  But if I was looking at it as a whole, ANH involves too much brass in it’s soundtracks to make me rank it any higher.  The staccato, brass music is not my style and I don’t like listening to it too much and often skip most of the tracks.

5.  The Force Awakens

Number 5 and 4 are in close competition.  I love Rey’s theme and it was my top listened to track of 2016 (according to Spotify).  Currently, my most listened to track is The Jedi Steps.  Clearly, I love some of the pieces.  March of the Resistance and Kylo Ren’s theme (okay not really called that but it’s played whenever he comes on screen) are also really well done.  I originally did not like the soundtrack that much but as time has gone on, I have listened to certain tracks at least once a week.  I love it, but the reason it’s still ranked lower than most is that I believe I love it because I’m a Star Wars fan.  When leaving the theater, there were not many pieces that made me want to run home and figure out which music was playing when.   My love affair with the TFA soundtrack grew over time as a fan, but I don’t think there is anything in the soundtrack that stood out to the casual viewer.

4.  The Phantom Menace

I love TPM’s soundtrack.  It was a fresh new sound to the Star Wars music and set the Prequels off on the right foot.  The Naboo Palace was one of my favorites, and I loved the battle droid music.  Anakin’s theme was softer than expected but had hints of darkness at the end.  Duel of the Fates is unbeatable and is still one of my favorite tracks of all time.  I probably also rank it higher because it was the first Star Wars soundtrack I ever owned (on cassette!) so nostalgia plays a big part in this decision.

3.  The Empire Strikes Back

There are some great pieces in ESB, namely of course, The Imperial March.  That track is SO GOOD.  I love the Imperial March and could listen to it over and over again.  I also love Yoda’s theme and the music played throughout Cloud City at the end of the soundtrack.  The Asteroid Field and Han and Leia are excellent tracks that round out this soundtrack and brings it to the next level.  I feel like this soundtrack is balanced well, but again, not something I could probably listen to over and over again.  The key pieces are amazing but there are some others in there that bore me.

2.  Revenge of the Sith

I think ROTS is one of the most underrated soundtracks out of all the Star Wars movies.  The expanse of what the soundtrack covers is breathtaking.  Some of the most moving pieces in the Saga come from ROTS.  Battle of the Heroes is the most prominent track, but Padmé’s Ruminations still stands up there as one of my favorite compositions of John Williams.  Every time I listen to it, I actually DON’T want to listen to it because of the breadth of emotions it pulls from me.  I think General Grievous’ theme is brass done well.  The soundtrack flows in a way that even without seeing the movie, you can follow along with the music and feel your soul move.  It starts out fast, clipped, and semi-dangerous.  By the end, your heart is broken and full of foreboding.  If I had never seen the movie, I would still be able to feel the emotions I am supposed to.

1.  Return of the Jedi

I place ROTJ first because it’s a soundtrack where I like almost every single one of the compositions created by John Williams.  Not only does it flow well, but it mixes some of my favorite music throughout the entire soundtrack.  We have the Force theme, the main theme, Luke and Leia, the Emperor’s theme, some of the Imperial March, the second Death Star battle, the Ewok’s forest battle music, and the celebration at the end.  It’s bittersweet in some places, we find resolution in other pieces, there is fear, hope and tension woven throughout the soundtrack.  If I had to listen to one soundtrack from the Star Wars universe for the rest of my life – it would be this one.

 

I’m surprised that I picked ROTJ as my favorite of all time (for now).  I didn’t expect it when I first started out with this project.  Yet out of all the movies, it’s soundtrack has most of the compositions that I enjoy.

 

If you had to – how would you rank your favorite Star Wars soundtracks?

But the Female Lead Theme Music…

I have a little bone to pick with John Williams.  I love him, you know I do and I’ve written posts about the PT music vs. OT music.  I think he is THE greatest composer of this day and age.  While I love Lord of the Rings and its soundtrack, I really don’t think it should have been voted by the BBC as the best soundtrack.  Though it has great themes and music, it’s a little repetitive, whereas Williams’ tracks are always original.

My bone to pick with Mr. Williams started small, but it has lately been gnawing at me a little more: the female themes in Star Wars are lacking, or worse, get forgotten.

There are so few female leads in the saga, but because of that I feel like the main three should get some stellar treatment from Williams.

  • Prequel Trilogy – Padmé Amidala Naberrie
  • Original Trilogy – Princess Leia Organa
  • Sequel Trilogy – Rey (as it stands now)

padme-amidala-coruscantWhen looking at the themes for the PT, I have to ask – what about Padmé?  Why does she not have her own theme?  Padmé is just as an important character as Anakin.  In fact, without Padmé, we would not have Darth Vader – the reason for the saga and why we’ve been following the Skywalker family.  I think John Williams could have done an amazing theme for her and I believe some of her theme, if she had one, shows up in Across the Stars.  The theme is tragic, beautiful, and dark all at the same time.

But unfortunately, and this is where my annoyance also gets stronger in the OT, Across the Stars is a blend of Anakin and Padmé, not Padmé by herself.  It pulls in hints of Anakin’s downfall, a doomed love, and Padmé’s beauty with indications of foreshadowing.

Princess Leia does have her own theme in ANH, which is a step up from Padmé and her lack thereof.  It’s a beautiful theme and really pretty – but we rarely hear it.  There is a snippet of it before she is stunned right in the beginning, but other than that, most of ANH is dominated by brass and some of the Force theme.

I look at the Force theme as Luke’s theme because, obviously, it shows up whenever he is present.  It is similar to the Imperial March being construed as Vader’s theme because it starts playing whenever he looms into the camera.  You’d think that Princess Leia’s theme would also show up when she’s on screen and into the next two films as well.

Unfortunately, Leia’s theme dissolves while the Force theme still rears its head whenever Luke is around for ESB and ROTJ.   What bothersluke-leia-han-gif me more is not the fact that her theme is no longer present – but the fact that Leia’s theme gets pulled into other themes.

Within ESB, there is “Han Solo and the Princess” and in ROTJ there is the beautiful “Luke and Leia”.  Don’t get me wrong – I love “Luke and Leia”.  It’s one of my favorite pieces of ROTJ, but that’s not the point of this post.  It’s like Leia can no longer stand on her own and she becomes interlocked with the two men in her life.  I find it a little jarring because that’s not how I view her character (thankfully) but in terms of the music, the fault lies with Williams.

I do believe that musical themes should evolve – but they should not lose their core identity.  Just like we, as people, evolve through our lives, we still have a core of ourselves that is the same.  Luke’s Force theme shows up interwoven in different pieces throughout the OT and I wish I could see the same with Leia’s.

Water under the bridge at this point.

…Or is it?  Can this pattern be changed with Episode VIII and Rey?

I may like Rey’s theme even more than Leia’s.  Of course I’m biased because my daughter’s middle name is Rey, but the spunky, light-hearted, slightly wistful theme has become part of the weekly repertoire of music I listen to.  It touches my core and brings out something inrey-star-wars me where I almost feel like her at times; an understanding for Rey even though I have no idea what her life is like.  Williams’ music has the power to do that.

Williams said that one of his main reasons for coming back to compose music for Episode VIII was because he didn’t want any other composer writing music for Rey.  I love hearing that and it gives me hope that he keeps the essence of her in the upcoming movie within the score.

My main question and fear is: as Rey evolves as a character, will Williams keep her theme at the core?  Or will he forget it entirely?  Worse, will he blend it with other men?

I never thought I’d have an issue with Williams and his music, but here it is.  I’m also curious to see if Jyn Erso has a theme and if so, what it will sound like.  Or perhaps Michael Giacchino will not have any themes since it’s a standalone film and he’ll break the cycle.

Has anyone else noticed what I wrote about? 

 

10 Reasons I Like Attack of the Clones

attack of the clones

I had only one New Year’s resolution when it came to this blog.  In 2015, I was going to watch AOTC and find 10 things I liked about it.  I never watched it on my own, but I did watch it a few weeks ago with the friends when I worked through the saga with prior to TFA (another post on that soon!).

To find 10 things I liked about AOTC was great up until number 8.  Then I really struggled with the last two items.  I eventually came up with them, but I had to rack my brain.

Here is my top 10 list for AOTC, therefore fulfilling my New Year’s resolution a month from the end of 2015.

10. Kamino. Out of all the new planets introduced in the Prequel Trilogy, Kamino is one of my favorites.  The weirdest thing is, I’m not a big fan of rain, but I love the visual element of it.  Plus, we’ve all had Kamino days before where you kind of feel bad for Kaminoans and the constant battering of rain…though with their skin, I’m not sure they’d last long in the sun.  Regardless, Kamino is one of the coolest planets in AOTC with the city on stilts, their transportation on the Aiwha’s, and their impressive cloning facility.  Super modern for a place that must experience a lot of power outages.

9. Puns. No Star Wars film is as rife with puns as Episode II is.  Part of me groans and hates how corny they are, but the pun-loving side of me rejoices in seeing so many in one movie.

2 Examples:

-Threepio’s head being dragged by Artoo to be put on his proper body: “Oh, this is such a drag!”

-Anakin worrying about Padmé and Obi-Wan says: “She seems to be on top of things,” as she climbs up the pole.

8. “This party’s over.” This is an example of a corny line in Star Wars this party's overthat is done so, so well.  Every time Windu utters that line I just want to woop.  Then all the Jedi start igniting their lightsabers across the Geonosian arena and it looks amazing.  It’s classic good versus evil.  The Jedi show up to save the day and you can’t help but think, “This is how it should be.”

7. The Geonosian language. I had some big debates on this when I was reading my list out loud after watching the movie but I have always loved the language of these critters.  All the weird sounds they make with clucks, clicks, whirring noises, and slightly human sounds in it is super interesting.  It’s my favorite language of species out of the entire Star Wars saga.  In case you ever want to listen to 10 hours of it, someone has granted your wish:

6. Seismic charge. The asteroid chase scene, while an homage to ESB, did not come close to matching the magnificence of the Empire chasing the Falcon.  What it did do was give us two well-equipped adversaries battling it out with lots of obstacles.  So in a sense, it was very different from the chase in ESB as this was not so much of a “chase” but a seek-and-find.  Out of this, resulted the seismic charge, a cool new addition to the Star Wars universe.  My favorite part is the silence when it’s released, followed by the explosive electric sound and the flat horizontal destruction it creates.  According to the Wookiepedia page, the reason I love this so much is actually because it defies science:

The sound from an explosion of this weapon is an interesting take on the Star Wars “ignorance” of the fact that there is no sound in a vacuum. There is no sound at the start of a blast, but there is still the impossible phenomenon of sound in space afterward. The idea during the production of Episode II was that the charge would suck in and absorb all the sound around it (such as the sounds of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett’s ships during their fight in the Geonosis asteroid belt), and then release them in a sonic explosion, resulting in the shockwave effect heard in the explosion sound.

Maybe that’s why I love Star Wars so much…it’s always defying science and reality.

5. The 2nd to last scene. When the Imperial March starts playing and you all the ships are starting to look like Imperial Star Destroyers…I get chills.  Then you see some of the senate members staring out and Palpatine is looking out at everything and you know he’s just maniacally laughing in his head.  Then you see Organa’s head bow down with one hand in a fist.  His misgiving is clear.  And those rows upon rows of clone troopers – amazing.  Begun the Clone Wars has.

AOTC 2nd to last scene

4. Imaginative planets. There’s no denying that the locations and scenery on Naboo are stunning.  Geonosis had the interesting hive of swarming bugs as a planet, and most of the scenes took place within the hive of the Geonosians, with the exception of final battle.    I felt like we really got to dive into Coruscant with the Zam Wesell chase scene that culminated in the underground nightclub.  We got to see the life of an average civilian with the Dexter Jettster diner scene.  As a whole, the film brought us to new planets that were multi-layered and showed us more depth than we had seen before.

3. Sound effects. This plays into my #6 reason, but at a larger level.  You could argue that the sound effects in every Star Wars movie are amazing, and they are, but I’m not a big sound gal.  Yet every time I watch AOTC, I notice the details of sounds and the minute way the play into the scene at a brilliant level.  Some of my favorites include when Padmé’s ship first flies into the scene (I feel like it sounds different than the other ships), the seismic charge, the sounds of Coruscant in the Zam Wesell chase scene, the Obi-wan/Jango fight, and the final battle.  In this movie, I think the sounds play as an important a role as the visual element. 

2. Padmé’s costumes. Beautiful, so beautiful. I would like to put in a caveat that I am not referring to her stupid white costume during the latter part of the movie that was strategically ripped right at her abs.  The rest of them are stunning though.  Not just the lakeside dress, but her sexy leather dress, her picnic dress, even the ones she wears on Coruscant when Anakin is pouting.  I love her nightgown and scoured the internet until I found one somewhat similar and bought it (note: it’s not very comfortable to sleep in, but I don’t care).  I even like the one on Tatooine that we see so little of that also strategically shows her abs…it has a nice feminine flow to it.  Trisha Beggar should have gotten an Oscar instead of Colleen Atwood for Chicago.  Unfortunately, she didn’t even get nominated for this film which I see as a real shame because it wasn’t just Padmé who had beautiful costumes, the others had a lot of detail in them as well.

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1. Across the Stars. Oh man, oh man, this was really close with #2 but I just couldn’t deny putting it at number one. This is one of the greatest tracks John Williams has ever created and it kills me that it’s not more recognized.  It’s beautiful but tragic all at once – which sums up Padmé and Anakin’s relationship.  Even though logically, if you don’t know the story of Star Wars, the ending of AOTC should be happy (a wedding! True love! Yay!)…from the music you can tell it’s doomed.  There are notes of triumph but it’s so overshadowed by the lower notes of heartbreak.  The harp at the end is just a cherry on top.  The music is poignant, it’s crucial, and it evokes so much emotion from me even when I listen to it 13 years later.  Sometimes I feel like this track makes the whole movie worth it. Bravo, John Williams, bravo.

 

What are your top moments from Attack of the Clones?

The Music of the Prequels

**Update 5/31** Just saw this article with John Williams saying he would be more than willing to be the composer for Episode VII.  Good news!

“We’ve certainly talked about that, and I’m happy and willing to do it,” he confirms. “J.J. Abrams, who will be the director, seems excited about the idea. I have to say that J.J. is a much younger man than I, but I will try to keep up with him as much as I can!”

Full article here: http://bit.ly/11tOeek

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This is a post long, long overdue and it’s so long (no pun intended) that I had to cut it into two parts, so bear with me.  Props if you read through the whole thing.

John Williams is amazing.  So amazing that when I was in high school, I burned a whole CD of main themes by John Williams (not including Star Wars, of course, since I owned all the soundtracks already) and I still listen to that CD today.  It includes Harry Potter, E.T., Jaws, and Jurassic Park to just name a few.  I was thinking about Episode VII this week and wondering if he will create the music for that movie as well.  I figured I’d be happy if he created the music for at least VII and then passes the baton onto other composers, but if he could at least start the new movies off on a good foot, it would be good enough for me.

Williams has a power that only a lucky few have.  He is responsible for changing our worlds all around us with just his music and that, my friends, is something else.  Think about it – how many times you have been swimming stealthily under water and been humming the Jaws theme as you sneak up on your little brothers?  Okay, maybe that’s just me, but I’m sure it’s played in your head once or twice while swimming or when you started thinking about sharks.  Or how about putting on a hat and the Indiana Jones theme pops into your head, creating a huge smile on your face?  Personally, I love listening to that tune when I’m feeling blue…it turns my whole day around.

John Williams-2

Most importantly, do you ever just break out into the theme of Star Wars?  I mean, you can’t help it right?  Did you get a promotion?  BA-BA-BADADADA-DUH! (that’s what the main theme sounds like in my head)  Or you finish a run and feel triumphant?  BA-BA-BADADADA-DUH!  Or you just wake up feeling like YOU are EFFING AWESOME.  BA-BA-BADADADA-DUH!

Twice in Boston I have seen Williams in concert, directing music that he composed himself from the movies, as well as directing other movie themes.  Both times I had tickets as far away as you could get, but it was still an amazing event that I always have remembered.

The funny thing about John Williams is that he may be great at what he does, but he has no memory for real plot points.  He messed up on a lot of descriptions, such as, “This is the piece of music I composed while Harry Potter was flying on the monster thing in the second movie.”  Sigh.  That was the hippogriff and it was in the third movie.  “This is the scene with the giant ball space station in the 6th movie and the next piece will also be from the sixth movie, the asteroid scene.”  Oy.  It’s a Death Star and the asteroid sequence was in ESB.  Oh, well.

So, yes, we have established that John Williams is the man.  But this is where I designed a little competition with Me, Myself, and I, to go through each movie in the Star Wars saga and pick the best (my personal favorite) track/piece of music from it and give two runners up for each (yes, I really couldn’t decide on just ONE best track).  Keep in mind that I am not including the main theme in this because that is obviously a-to-the-mazing.

John Williams-1

The Phantom Menace

Best Track: Duel of the Fates.  You can’t deny it, I’m sorry.  This is hands down one of the best tracks in the Star Wars saga.  The choral work that streams throughout conveys anger, tension, and invokes some fear inside of you as well.  And who can forget Obi-Wan’s shout of anguish during this music when he sees Qui-Gon stabbed through the stomach by Darth Maul?  The lyrics are sung in Sanskrit but are based off an old Welsh poem Cad Goddeu, which means Battle of the Trees.  I didn’t know that until researching it for this snippet, but I love how Williams took in some Welsh and they sung it in Sanskrit?!  Wow.

Second place: Queen Amidala and the Naboo Palace.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNGPKSECJeg  I love the deep strings in this piece and the royal element in conveys.  The piece starts off low and threatening and turns happier in the middle, ending with a more apprehensive feeling.
Third place: Anakin’s Theme.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cdi_bKjg1U  A little happy, a little melancholy, slightly teasing what is to happen to this young boy’s fate.  The killer is at the end of the theme, when the last three notes are played…the last three notes that are actually part of the Imperial March!  Booyah.

Attack of the Clones

Best Track: Across the Stars.  Mostly known as the “love theme” of Episode II, I find it hauntingly beautiful.  Where the actors failed at displaying their doomed love, Williams succeeded in pulling out an exquisite, but aching piece of music.  The beginning theme is played by the oboe, with a background of strings and a harp.  I used to play oboe horribly, so I love hearing when they are played perfectly, because they no longer sound like a dying duck but a melodic instrument.  George Lucas describes this piece perfectly when he said “Their love is complicated – pure yet forbidden, personal but with profound ramifications for an entire galaxy. Somehow, John has managed to convey all of that complexity in a simple, hauntingly beautiful theme.” (No joke – I didn’t know that George would use the same words as I did to describe this piece.  Awesome.)

Second place: Yoda and the Younglings.  It’s just so youthful!  And I loved the scene it accompanied because…I don’t know…did you ever think of Yoda as someone who had interaction with little ones?  He always seemed so serious!  Yet here he was, cracking jokes with little younglings.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhUb4JhDN4A
Third place: Jango’s Escape.  About five seconds into this piece, it gets exciting with the brass blaring and repetitive notes (one of John Williams common touches in his music).  I remember my brother and I used to run up and down the stairs singing this music at the top of our lungs and pretending to shoot blasters at each other.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HWzgrb9Z4U

Revenge of the Sith

Best track: Padmé’s Ruminations.  Creepy.  Sounds like music that should be from a horror movie.  According to dictionary.com, “ruminate” means “to meditate or muse; ponder.”  During this track, we see Padmé just wandering around her apartment thinking and Anakin wrestling with himself as he tries to figure out what path he should take.  This whole track has an obvious feeling of dread.  If you listen closely, at one point there’s the “Across the Stars” playing ever so lightly in the background.  Oooo, shudder.  I really want to watch the movie again and see what part that actually comes in.  Is it as she’s staring at the Temple burning?  Or is it when the tear is running down Anakin’s face?

Second place: Battle of the Heroes.  The combination of brass, strings, and vocal work tie this piece of music into a nice transition between Prequels and Original Trilogy.  Though it’s a definite war/battle track, at times it sounds almost like something you would find in Return of the King or a fantasy movie.   The anger and resentment portrayed throughout leads it to become a piece of epic proportions.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GW-E0dOfdoc
Third place: Anakin’s Betrayal.  Oh, the tears, the tears…whenever I go to midnight showings of movies, I usually cry at some point because I’m so tired and it’s about 3:00AM and there is no more emotion control.  This piece always reminds me of how I was crying in the movie theater with these scenes.  This is more than a “betrayal”; I feel like it should be rightly titled as “Anakin’s Massacre.”  Slight vocal work at just the right moments enhances the music and doesn’t oversaturate it.  I can just hear mothers crying all over when they hear their little Jedi babies are dead and this music wrenches my heart.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evRJGVn6ikk

Ok, so those are my thoughts for the prequels.  I know that not everyone listens to the Star Wars soundtracks back to front, but if you’re a fan who has seen the movie at least more than five times, you should be recognize some of the music I gave above.  Stay tuned for the Original Trilogy music next week.  I’ve noticed throughout my life that the music differs a lot, with A LOT of brass in ANH, then by ROTJ, Williams adds more strings.