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?

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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.

Lightsaber Battles Part II – The Prequels

We are now at the prequels, where the lightsaber fights are more dazzling and fast-paced than the Original Trilogy, but the dialogue is lacking.  And is emotion present within these scenes?  After reviewing the Original trilogy battles, I realize that they had so much emotion seeped into them, and the Prequels really lack some of that human touch.

Lightsaber Battle #4 – TPM – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn vs. Darth Maul

This lightsaber fight is beautiful and I just LOVE it.  Darth Maul is terrifying.  Think about it – we hadn’t seen his cloak taken off so we had no idea he had those horns, but his face enough is a mixture of Satan and a nightmare.  Then, of all things, he has a double bladed lightsaber.  Double whoa.

Just watching the technique in this fight and the clarity of the lightsabers is amazing.  It picks up the pace extremely well from the Original Trilogy and I remember being in awe of how good this fight was.  I even had a poster up in my room for many years of this fight because it was my favorite part of the movie.

But really, what makes this fight for me and what I love the most is the music.  Duel of the Fates is an amazing track, and if you don’t own it, buy it off of iTunes!  However, as a disclaimer: try not to drive with it playing in the background…I find it makes my driving more reckless.  The music has a different feel from the OT, and it enhances the fast paced battles of the prequels, while it combines enough emotion and amazing choreography by Nick Gillard.  It has the tension that I love as well; when Obi-Wan sits there behind the laser shield trying to exhibit the patience of the Jedi but inwardly hating that he is stuck behind this impenetrable shield and can’t help his friend.  As an audience, I feel the angst building within me as Darth Maul duels Qui-Gon alone.  Qui-Gon is good, but you also know that it’s been years since the Jedi have fought opponents and rivals like this.  When he’s stabbed through the stomach, I remember wanting to yell that horrific “Noooo!” just like Obi-Wan did.  Ewan McGregor also nailed that “No”.  How many times have I wanted to mimic that word in my life exactly as he portrayed it in the movie?

The greatest part of this fight is when Obi-Wan is unleashed from the laser shield.  Oh, he definitely uses his anger and the fighting is full of hatred and power.  Mr. Reticent believes the fighting in this whole battle is so good because Ray Park is actually trained in martial arts, which I’m sure makes a huge difference.  Oh man, I just can’t say enough good things about this fight because I love it.  Perhaps I like my battles to be more technically and visually appealing versus having emotion behind them.

My vote on this battle: 1/6.  Obviously.

Lightsaber Battle #5 – AOTC – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda vs. Count Dooku

Oh, the dialogue in Attack of the Clones.  Why?  Why do you have to hurt my eardrums with the corny, melodramatic lines?  I forgot there was a reason I hadn’t watched this movie in a long time…

You know, this battle could be quite good if it wasn’t for Anakin or the dialogue.  I have to admit, I really didn’t mind both times Anakin’s butt was whooped and he ended up on the sidelines.  The only reason why this lightsaber fight takes precedence over ANH for me is because the flow of the moves is actually done quite well.  Not so much with the fight against Yoda because I thought some of that looked fake and like they were helicopter twirling their blades around, but when Dooku was fighting Obi-Wan individually or Anakin individually, I thought it looked like a well choreographed dance.

However, it doesn’t make up for the fact that Anakin is annoying and the battles of Dooku against Obi-Wan and Anakin are actually quite short.  The only battle of substance/length is when Dooku fights Yoda, but I am not a big fan of Yoda fighting with the lightsaber.  He reminds me of a monkey jumping from tree to tree.  I feel like they did that to make it seem like Yoda has real skill, but to me it just looks like he only has skill at running away and avoiding the blade since he’s so short.  I actually don’t need to see him fight; I would have been fine with how the end of ROTS played out with Yoda vs. Palpatine and no real lightsaber battle.

My vote on this battle: 5/6.  After writing this review, I’m tempted to bump ANH up a slot and move this down to last.  Will have to sleep on that.

Lightsaber Battle #6 – ROTS – Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker

Every time I watch this, I think, “Now why isn’t this my favorite duel again?”  And then I remember.  I don’t like them going over the lava on those dumb lava droids (DLC-13 mining droids) and the dialogue, though not heavy in this duel, still leaves much to desire.

However, the technique and actual fight is really good.  It combines the emotion of the Original Trilogy with the great clarity and fighting skills of the Prequels.  Part of me aches to see both friends going at it, knowing that if Anakin could – he would kill Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan, being a softie, doesn’t kill Anakin when he has the chance.  In a nutshell, that kind of sums up both sides of the Force: I think Obi-Wan knows there is still good in Anakin, despite his yell of “Then you are lost!” and I hope that is why he didn’t kill Anakin…not because of their friendship.

I love the battle when it takes place in the Klegger Corp Mining Facility.  It’s a good combination of excitement and dread.  Seeing all the dead bodies litter the room as they fight their way through it is haunting.  It was essentially a massacre in there done by one person and that’s a frightening thought.  When Anakin tries to strangle Obi-Wan, he is out for the kill and if I was watching just this battle, with no knowledge of the other movies, I would be surprised that Obi-Wan came out ahead.  Anakin does lose the battle because of his arrogance in his new powers, but his lightsaber skills are clearly better than Obi-Wan’s.  In fact, after reviewing each battle, I feel like Obi-Wan comes up short in almost every battle he’s in.  Even within TPM when he ultimately is the victor, he almost falls to his death.

I don’t like when they are on the lava field because it’s full of shots that seem a little useless.  I have also stood next to lava and know that you cannot fight that close to it without burning…they would at least want to take off all their clothes at that point and it’s hard for me to suspend my disbelief for those moments.  I feel like there could have been a better way to have Anakin jumping from a lower ground than have them floating and fighting through the lava river.  It’s a small part of the battle, but I could have done without it.

My vote on this battle: 3/6.  The speed of the lightsabers within the fight more than makes up for the dialogue and lava sequence that I dislike.