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 Original Trilogy

And now for something completely different!  Or not at all.

A New Hope

What’s great about looking at the fourth movie in the saga is that it’s actually the first movie made (duh), so it’s here that we get to see John Williams create the entire score from scratch.  There was no foundation on which to base his work on and his talent shines through.

However, because it’s also the first movie, I find that I like it the least out of all six movie soundtracks.  More so than any of the other movies, there is a lot of brass within the soundtrack, playing short staccato notes.  When the string instruments enter, the music alternates between foreboding and almost sporadic…but did it really matter when everyone thought this was going to be one movie with no future?  George wanted this to resemble the old TV shows of the past with its hero rushing off to save the day.  Trumpets!  Trombones! Tubas!  My guess is that John Williams tried to emulate that with the music as best he could.  No one was really thinking about continuity within the music because they thought there would be no sequel.

But then the movies turned into a grand, sweeping epic saga and Williams began to take his music and use underlying themes throughout to build a more recognizable music that would forever be associated with Star Wars.

Do not discount what I am saying – though I do not like the ANH soundtrack as much because I feel it has such a different feel to it – it still brought us some of the best music for the rest of the six movies.  Again, I am not going to list the main theme in any of these ratings because it is THE best and it would be unfair to list it as the best track for every movie.

Best Track: The Hologram/Binary Sunset.  This track has Princess Leia’s theme running throughout the beginning, but the killer is when it introduces us the Force Theme/Ben’s Theme (this music has had so many different names that no one can really decide what it is).  First it plays lightly in the background, builds to a grand crescendo…and it’s at that moment that I can’t even keep tears out of my eyes.  The music is so powerful that I’m swept away to Tatooine where I too am watching the twin suns set over the Homestead.  In this moment you find yourself completely empathizing with Luke and the need to get out of his home, to explore the galaxy and see what it holds for us.  The suns hold such promise.

It’s also at this moment that the movie is about to change and gain momentum.  Leia is in trouble, a lone farm boy has found a secret message, and we know as a viewer that the movie is perfectly balanced for something to happen.

You should know the crescendo/sunset part when you hear it, but in case you want to skip to it, it’s at 2:20.  Oh, and the chimes around 3:28…beautiful, beautiful touch.  Bravo, Williams, bravo.

Second place: Cantina Band.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axZemDfcfX8  So wonderful.  Who does not love this music?  Currently, it’s the ringtone for my husband.  I always know when he’s calling because it’s so happy and lively.  I can’t even begin to describe why this is so awesome.  Ben and Luke may be walking into a bar in a galaxy far, far away, but it feels like they are walking into a saloon from the 1920’s or 30’s in an old spaghetti Western movie.  According to Wookiepedia, this song is called “Mad About Me” performed by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (the big, bald headed, black-eyed aliens playing this music in the cantina).  When trying to figure out how the music should sound, Lucas said, “Can you imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace—and how they might attempt to interpret it?” Also, this music is one of the few times it is actually played by characters within the Star Wars films.

As a little treat, I’m not sure how many people have seen this…but it’s kind of splendid.  Some genius (Tom Baglee on YouTube) realized that LMFAO’s little dance sequence in their song Party Rock Anthem fits perfectly with the Cantina band music from Star Wars.  Please enjoy and be reminded of just how awesome Star Wars is.

Third place: Princess Leia’s Theme.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Exu4QC2sqbY  The funny thing about this theme is that even though Leia shows up in both movies after this, the theme is not often played.  Her theme is instead combined to create a Han/Leia theme (ESB) and a Luke/Leia theme (ROTJ)…*feminist part of me is rearing her head, must control myself, grrrrr*  This theme starts out delicately, like a flower, but opens up to music showing her strength and vitality.  And that, my friends, is Leia.  She may look delicate, but she has SUCH strength.  And Williams conveys this perfectly in her theme with power coming in the grand crescendo, but coming full circle and ending again with the delicate, pure sound.  Leia is a powerful, determined, feminine leader and this theme is perfect for her.

Empire Strikes Back

Best Track: Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme.  If anyone believes there to be a better composition on this album, bring it on.  Easily the second most recognizable theme from the saga (yes, I would definitely put it ahead of the Force theme), it creates fear and power in one track.  When this theme plays, you listen.  Your ears perk up and you get goosebumps.  Who’s coming?  The combination of the brass instruments playing the main Imperial March, interwoven with the strings in the background, contrasted with clashing symbols and percussion is a MELODIC GENIUS.  Listen, just listen.  What do you hear?  Evil.  Fear.  Speed.  Tension.  Power.

I remember when I was in high school and still known as the resident geek and the cheerleading captain came up to me.

“Kiri,” she says, “I heard some music this past weekend that was amazing.  When I asked what it was, I was told it was from Star Wars.  Do you know it?”  She proceeds to hum the Imperial March.  “I would like to create a cheerleading set to this music.  Do you own it?  Could we borrow it?”  My jaw dropped to the floor.  Once I had picked it up again, I gladly let her borrow my CD to burn the track.

While at work this week and thinking about these posts I’ve been doing on the Star Wars music, I IMed my colleague who has never seen Star Wars (and has no intention to, horror!) and asked if she’s ever heard Darth Vader’s theme.

“Probably,” was her answer.  I sent her the YouTube link with the music and her response?  “Oh ya, I’ve definitely heard that lol.”

People know this theme.  Why?  Because Imperial March = magnificent and John Williams = genius.  Impressive.  Most impressive.

Second place: The Asteroid Field.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVycvLAFXmc  A great, fun piece of music that represents flying through asteroids so well.  The music itself is stop, go, stop, go, swerve…AH! Chances of survival are 3720 to 1!  I also love how it starts with the Imperial March and ends with this beautiful feeling of safety.  Another well executed story through the music by Mr. Williams.
Third place: Yoda’s Theme.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–Y4NqTdfPE  I think that there are better pieces than this one in the movie, but I couldn’t find one that I thought was great from beginning to end.  There are pieces with moments of intensity and brilliance (Battle of Hoth, Carbon Freeze, Han Solo and the Princess) but Yoda’s Theme carries itself wonderfully from beginning to end.  I guess the main problem I have with this theme is that I don’t think it exactly matches Yoda and it’s not a theme that I would equate to our little green friend.  It sounds very youthful, where I expect more gravity and wisdom emanating from the theme.

Return of the Jedi

Best Track: Luke and Leia.  I used to memorize every line that was in this scene and would say them with the music…what for?  I have no idea, but I always felt so proud of myself that I could reenact it.  Surprisingly, this theme is a little melancholy and actually gives off a feeling of death.  If I was listening to juts the music with no context of the movie and was asked what was going on in the scene, I would probably think someone just died.  However, that said – I like how it seems to be a blend of a few themes throughout the Original Trilogy and culminates in a theme devoted to the two main characters.  I would love to hear this theme brought back a little bit in Episode VII when we finally (ok – this is not confirmed yet so please don’t take this as truth) see Leia and Luke back together on the big screen.

Second place: The Pit Of Carkoon/Sail Barge Assault.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT34sc33q0A  I already brought this up a week-ish ago in my ROTJ 30 year anniversary post.  It’s a fabulous piece of music with the main theme running throughout it.  To me, it’s essentially the victory piece of ROTJ.  There’s nothing sad about this music, compared to the last victory song of the movie, which is slightly tainted by Vader’s death.  Instead, all you do is root for the characters as they defeat Jabba, rescue Han, Chewie, and Leia, and get back to their ship.  The music starts off slow, but at 58 seconds, gets to the best part where the brass instruments play seven notes in succession followed by the main theme in full force.  It’s a reminder of the ANH pieces of music with the strong, powerful brass playing the melody and the strings playing a supporting role.
Third place: The Battle of Endor (Part I).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPCPw1dww3E  IT’S A TRAP!  Yup, this is the music playing during that part of the movie.  Sometimes is soooo hard to differentiate the music from the scene and this is one of the cases.  It’s an instant where the music plays a supporting role but enhances the scene so much.  After it ends about minutes into the track, the rest of the music is still just as good, though slower.

 

John Williams is the man.  He really is. I was going to do an “in summary” paragraph here, but this post is long enough as it is.  I will do that tomorrow, next week, next month, or whenever the Force calls upon me.

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.

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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.