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?

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.

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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.

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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.