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 Most Pointless Scenes in the Star Wars Saga

The end of pregnancy does weird things to you…for instance – everyone is telling you to “get your sleep” while you can, but yet, you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, uncomfortable, and unable to fall asleep again for at least an hour.

And what do I do during that hour+? Obsess about the weirdest stuff.  Not stuff that makes sense like, “Will I be a good mom? Will I bring my child up safely and politely? Will my relationship survive the strain?”

Oh no.  I obsess about stuff like, “I wonder if I’ll remember to take the trash out when I have the baby,” or “Why is my dog making those weird sounds?  Did he throw up?” in which I promptly jump up, shine a light on him, wake my husband up, and see my dog is just in a funny sleeping position so semi-snoring.  Yes, this happened once.

Last night I woke up and obsessed about my  ideas for Star Wars blog posts and how I haven’t written any yet.  Then it evolved into how I could expand on one of my ideas and write an entire blog post about pointless scenes in the saga.

So here we are!  The fruits of last night’s pregnancy insomnia.

I define scenes as “pointless” if it could have been cut entirely and/or gotten to the point of the scene a lot faster.

 

The Phantom Menace

I think the most pointless scene in TPM would be the bongo scene.  After arriving in Otoh Gunga with Jar Jar who was exiled, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon bongo phantom menaceJedi mind trick Boss Nass into giving them a transport out of there.  He gives them a tribubble bongo and they head off to Theed through the planet core.

What ensues is basically a fish chase.  They almost get eaten multiple times, Jar Jar freaks out too many times and everyone has some pretty dumb lines (“There’s always a bigger fish”).

This entire scene could have been cut.  Instead, we could have seen them get on the bongo then appear in Theed.  Funnily – it’s the scene right after this one that Lucas decides to keep when they arrive above water and have to escape being almost pulled down a waterfall.

If you want to add a little tension and excitement to the movie, that cut scene would have done a better job than the exceedingly drawn out bongo trip.

 

Attack of the Clones

Two scenes come to mind here: 1) the droid factory scene where Padmé and Anakin are on some kind of weird obstacle course and Anakin’s lightsaber dies, and 2) the gladiator arena scene at the end.

The droid factory scene is more pointless than the gladiator scene.  I think this entire segment could have been cut out and replaced with something a padme droid factorylot more interesting.  The point of this scene was to catch Anakin and Padmé somewhere they weren’t supposed to be, therefore giving an excuse to have them in the gladiator scene with Obi-Wan.  Well, why not pick something that made the two main characters look a whole lot less foolish?  Maybe spying on Count Dooku, or, even trying to rescue Obi-Wan right away and failing.  And the whole thing with the lightsaber dying in the droid factory really rubbed me the wrong way.  It took the mystique out of lightsabers that there is a possibility it could fail like anything else mechanical.  Let’s not even go into Threepio in this scene and how must stupider it made the scene look with his horrible puns.

The gladiator scene is a harder to argue against but in this case, I think it was drawn out a little too long, similar to the bongo scene.  I understand it was a convenient setup to have Obi-Wan, Padmé, and Anakin in one place for when the Jedi and clone troopers save the day.  But it was unnecessary to have it be so dramatic when we had both the battle between the Separatists/Clones and Yoda/Count Dooku on the horizon.  I think we could have cut out the entire part with the animals and got rid of the similarities to Gladiator (the blockbuster and Oscar winner that came out around the same time as AOTC) and been a lot better for it.

 

Revenge of the Sith

The General Grievous versus Obi-Wan lightsaber fight.  Way too long and how in the world was General Grievous good enough to last as long as he did?  Again, this is one of the areas where Obi-Wan is so awesome that the fact that he had to keep chasing Grievous and have a weird showdown in order to kill him was yawn-worthy.

general grievous vs obi wan

We all knew that Grievous was not the main nemesis of the movie and there were so many other interesting aspect to get to that the corny lines (“Army or not, you must realize you are doomed.” “Oh, I don’t think so.”) and constant cat and mouse chase got to be too much.  Obi-Wan is one of the best Jedi Masters out there so just kill him already.

It would have been SO much cooler if it was like an Indiana Jones scene where the guy is doing all the tricks with the whip and Indy just takes out his gun and shoots him.  Something like that would have been way better for the Obi-Wan vs. Grievous show down.

 

A New Hope

Surprisingly – I can’t think of any pointless scenes in ANH.  This is one of the things that kept me awake longer than it should have last night because I think every scene in ANH is there for a reason, makes sense, and none of them are pointless.  This could be why I enjoy ANH more and more as I get older.

 

The Empire Strikes Back

This may be a little controversial, but I think one of the most pointless scenes in ESB is the cave scene where Luke sees his face in the mask of luke-dark-side-caveVader.  It’s not that I don’t understand what Lucas and Kershner are trying to do and say.  However, I think it could have been brought up totally differently if they wanted to make that point.  Or, do we even need it?  Was our Star Wars viewing experience enriched by that scene?  Isn’t it something that if you know Luke and see the training he is going through with Yoda, you can kind of figure it out on your own?  It’s a pointless bit of fake foreshadowing that leads the audience to believe and think something else.  Star Wars is also not known for its symbolism, even if it’s blatantly slapped in your face like this scene.  So why pull it in now?

 

Return of the Jedi

Honestly, I had a few scenes in my mind but then when I started to write about them, I realized that they didn’t quite hit “pointless” on my radar.  They did, in the end, have a point and they didn’t need to be cut either.

Therefore, I’m leaving ROTJ as another movie that was pretty well done and not too many scenes that I thought could have been left out.

 

The Force Awakens

Oh c’mon, do I even need to go here?  We all know the scene that should have been cut.

rathtar tfaThe freaking Rathtar scene.

Whhhhy is it in the movie?  As I thought about this, the only reasons I could think of was to a) alert Han that the First Order was looking for two fugitives and a BB droid, and b) to show that Han Solo still has trouble talking his way out of things, albeit in a funny way in that he thinks he can talk himself out of dire situations.

This could have definitely been done differently.  Being a smuggler again, Han probably would have known the First Order was looking for two fugitives and a BB unit…he probably would have had that come in on a priority signal or something.

As for the second part, we didn’t need it.  Han had plenty of time in the movie to show that he was still the same guy.

This scene is up there with the droid factory scene in AOTC as something that could have been completely cut.  It was childish, out-of-place in the Star Wars universe and was thrown in only for the action element.

 

I love Star Wars, as you all know.  But there are some parts of it that drag on too long or don’t seem to have a reason as to why they are in the movie.  More of the fault lied with the Prequel Trilogy than the Original Trilogy as I feel that gratuitous action scenes were thrown in to keep up with other summer blockbusters, when they really just made the movie look a little silly.

 

Let me know if you guys think of some pointless scenes in ANH and ROTJ…or if you disagree with my assessment!

My Husband Insisted I Post This

I got a really cool Star Wars coloring book for my birthday last week.  The only problem is that I don’t have coloring pencils…

A lot of the art is straightforward, but they do have some interesting art that is almost tattoo-like in their designs.  Those are my favorite and they look a little like you are viewing Star Wars through a kaleidoscope.  Mei-Mei also has this book and you can find her post on it here for a better idea.

But when flipping through it, almost my entire family got into a debate on what one of the kaleidoscope pictures was based off of.  My husband is dead set that it’s the Sarlacc Pit, whereas I think it might be something from Tatooine, but not necessarily the Sarlacc Pit.  He makes a good argument though with the rings in the center and he thinks the interesting shapes at the end are part of the appendages that come out of the Sarlacc.

So he wanted me to post this and get your opinions.  I’ve already asked Mei-Mei what she thinks since she also owns the book but she is similarly stumped.

Picture in question:

Star wars coloring book

 

Examples of the other kaleidoscope art in the book that is more easily discernible:

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Does anyone have any thoughts on what the first one is?  You will help immensely with a family debate. 🙂

Haiku Me Friday! Droid Starfighters (and ramblings about AI, losing our privacy, etc)

Not flown by people Similar to BSG This has a droid brain

Not flown by people
Similar to BSG
This has a droid brain

Okay, one of the not-so-great haikus I’ve written, but the Droid Starfighter showed up on my calendar today and I needed a topic.  And then I began to think about jets being flown completely by Artifical Intelligence…and my post formed.

Doesn’t the Droid Starfighter look similar to the BSG Cylon ships?  And the BSG ships are also robots.  Look at them side by side.  Okay, one of them is curved more, but I feel like the concept is the same:

 

This all got me thinking about our real life little Earth…I did some research and currently, the Navy and Air Force are working on their next ships to have AI installed within them.  They wouldn’t have AI completely driving and flying the ships, but instead would have them as a co-pilot.  Their argument is that having the AI as a Chewbacca frees the pilot to focus on fewer tasks, giving them an advantage over the enemy.  The jet will be called F-X (Air Force) or F/A-XX (Navy).

Concept art for the Navy's F/A-XX

Concept art for the Navy’s F/A-XX

Am I the only one blown away by this?  It also makes me slightly nervous.  I feel like there’s a lot that could go wrong.  Obviously, I’m sure they’ll have an override, but remember Hal in 2001?  Yeah, we’re inching towards that.  Further, what if the AI feature can be hacked by enemies?  Oh goodness, that would be horrible!  I feel like that’s always a risk with anything computer oriented.  Even if the AI is just a co-pilot, the enemy could hack in, turn off the override feature and the pilot would have no control.  If the AI is completely in control of the plane and it gets hacked, uh-oh.  In the words of Threepio, “We’re doomed.”

Maybe I’ve been watching too many movies.  I think AI can be a good thing, honestly.  At other times, AI pisses me off.  A lot.  Like yesterday when I was on the phone with Apple support for a client and the robot transferred me to a department that was the wrong one.  Usually not the biggest deal, but when you’re on hold for an hour with crappy music, I thought I was going to break down when I finally reached someone and they told me they were going to have to transfer me.

Do we want AI in our cars, fighter jets, or even fridges?  (Yes they make “smart” fridges now)  At what point will we want our privacy to return?

CortanaMy Surface Pro/Windows 10 has Cortana built into it.  I wanted to use it because I’ve heard great things about it…but in order to use it, I need to let Cortana access my location.  And for some reason, I really didn’t want to.  I’m not sure why I don’t mind so much with my phone – probably because it’s portable and I have a GPS on my weather and maps app so it feels okay.  But on my home tablet/laptop?  Really?  Just so you can spew more ads (“recommendations”) at me?  No, I don’t want that.  I would like to keep my Surface blissfully ignorant of where I am on this planet, thank you.

When is AI useful?  When is AI too much?  I guess I’m not sure of the answer.  I have my limits, clearly.  My fridge and TV are not “smart”.  My phone is riddled with AI and probably knows too much about me.  I refuse to connect my phone to my washing machine or thermostat though both have the options to do that.  Most of the time I don’t even think about it, though occasionally when I’m out, I wish I could turn up the heat slightly so it’s warmer when I get home.

The Trade Federation loved AI.  They were all about droids as were the Separatists.  General Grievous was practically a droid himself.

But then why did Palpatine decide to move to human intelligence?  What are the advantages?  The disadvantages are clear – as we saw with FN-2187.  But the advantages could be that there is common sense and the ability to sense when something is not right/gut feelings.  The Clone Wars did an excellent job in showing us why human clones are a better choice than droids, especially with the camaraderie they build making a better team.  Living beings can’t really be “shut down” or hacked like robots can.

 

What are your thoughts on AI?  Is our American society striving too hard to have everything become easier, but instead, we are only losing more of our privacy?  Is it something we should just accept and let it assimilate into our daily lives?

Book Review: A New Dawn

a new dawn book cover

First of all, if anyone wants my copy of A New Dawn, I will gladly send it your way for free.  Yup, I’ll pay for shipping too.  If I’m not going to read a book again, I like to share the love and give it to someone else who may appreciate it.  And from there, I hope the book karma continues.

A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller follows the life of Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla before they had formed the crew of Ghost as we know it in Star Wars Rebels.  The novel shows how they met and how they decided to stay together as a team.  Watching SWR, I always loved Kanan and Hera’s relationship.  They have a great friendship and my hope is that Disney does not take it in the direction of a romantic relationship only because I think that it’s so rare to see examples of male/female friendships on TV and in movies…so I love seeing this one that works.  And it works so well.

But how did it get to that point?  When did they first meet?  That’s what A New Dawn goes to show us.  The novel has its moments, and I enjoyed some of it, but there were parts that really bothered me as well.

**Spoiler Warning**

We start off by following Kanan and learning that he’s kind of this lone ranger guy (didn’t see that coming).  He works hard at very standard, physical jobs but doesn’t stick around in a place long enough to make lasting friends.  At one such job, there’s a man named Skelly, a former Clone Wars veteran who knows how to build explosives and understands the workings of the planet Cynda and the damage the Empire is doing to it by mining out thorilide.  Kanan realizes it’s finally time to start leaving this planet because he’s been there too long when the Empire starts showing a special interest in its raw material and sends Count Vidian (cue bad guy music) there to make use of it.  Skelly makes a mess of things and Kanan is forced to stick around a little longer than he would have liked, and by mistake, gets attached to Skelly as the story goes on.

Hera enters the story because she is already part of the Rebellion and they want her to find out what Count Vidian’s up to.  Now, it might not officially be the Rebellion yet, but let’s keep it at that for simplicity’s sake.  As she follows around Count Vidian, she inevitably meets up with Kanan and Skelly where they have a bunch of adventures trying to stop Vidian from destroying Cynda.  Skelly dies, as does Vidian (naturally), and Kanan and Hera go off and form a team together.  Though reluctant to have Kanan as her partner, as she also operates alone in missions, Hera does eventually give in and see the advantage of having Kanan with her due to his personality, ethics, and quick thinking in tight spots.  Having the Force probably helps too.

There’s the basic story.  My real thoughts are:

Pros:

  • Kanan and Hera’s relationship stayed strictly as friends. You can tell Kanan wants something more and finds her SloaneKananattractive, but Hera keeps him at a good distance.  Going into this novel, I was most worried about a romantic back story, but none of that happened.
  • A good amount of female characters. We see a female commanding officer of a Star Destroyer in the Empire: Captain Sloane.  There’s also Hera, Lal Grallik (a woman Besalisk manager who mines thorilide), and Zaluna, a Sullustan Imperial spy, but not by choice. She ends up turning on the Empire and helping out Kanan and Hera.  She was my favorite new character in the novel.  Oh yeah, and there are female stormtroopers. Not sure how I felt about that one as I’m not sure it makes sense.  I always assumed the Empire was largely misogynistic at that point in the timeline.
  • Weirdly, you kind of root for the Empire in a strange way towards the end. Miller does a good job at showing the reader that it’s not always cut and dry, good and bad.  When Sloane plays a part in stopping Count Vidian, despite all the promises he threw to her, you cheer for her even though you have a moment of, “Oh wait – but the Empire is bad.”
  • Kanan does a good job at hiding his abilities in the Force. I think as an author, it can be tempting when you have a character with “superpowers” to bring these into the story consistently.  If I remember correctly, Kanan only showed his Force abilities 3 times in the novel, and twice would make it seem questionable to an outsider.  The last time, he saves him and Hera from impending death (of course) and it makes her see him in a new light. Though the last instance was somewhat predictable, I didn’t mind as much because I knew it had to happen eventually.

Cons:

  • Not enough time with Hera. We did get into her point of view occasionally, but didn’t find out much about her background. There was a lot more of that with Kanan and I felt that though the author could have set out to make this a Kanan/Hera story equally, it felt like there was WAY more emphasis on Kanan.  So in the end, it was a male driven story.
  • The story line as a whole seemed like it was trying just a little too hard and playing a little too safe. Miller wanted to make it as Star Wars as possible, but instead it got boring at times and felt predictable. The plot was very convenient and set up in a way that things fell nicely into place.  He wrapped it up in a nice little box that says “Star War Novel”, when instead, the stories that stand out in the EU are the ones that broke new ground and gave us something different, but felt similar.
  • Speaking of predictable, the main nemesis, Count Vidian was not that interesting. I felt like he was General Grievous all over again.  Intelligent, cyborg-ish, and ruthless.    Whenever we were in his point of view, I realized I just didn’t care.

My main gripe with this book is that I wanted more Hera involvement.  I wanted to understand her character, what drove her to ANewDawnbe so passionate about getting rid of the Empire, and what her past was like.

The best thing out of this book is getting to know a lot more about Kanan and understanding that while the Empire is evil, there are some beings within it that make it even more evil.  And sometimes you have to pick between a lesser evil and greater evil, which was what happened at the end of the novel.  You may not be able to take out the entire Empire, but maybe taking out one horrible Count is enough of a small victory.

I’d give A New Dawn 3/5 stars.  It’s a solid book and there are parts of the novel that felt really Star Wars to me, but there were also quite a few times when I thought Miller was trying a little too hard.

Want to read this book?  Let me know.  I’ll mail it to you.