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?

Star Wars ComLINKS: Most Emotional Scene

Apparently I was supposed to get this done by March 22nd – oops, I completely missed that note the first time I read through the post!  I’ll be better next time.

First, thanks to Graphic Novelty2, I re-discovered the blog Anakin and His Angel.  I remember I had it saved at some point on an old computer and then when I switched to Chrome, I think I lost it.

Anakin and His Angel does a monthly topic and invites other blogs to participate.  I love this…I get to write my own blog post without thinking about a topic!  Lazy me celebrates!  (Except lazy me got in the way of getting it done on time…)

 

Most Emotional Scene in Star Wars

My vote for the most emotional scene has to go to Han getting put into carbonite.

I picked this scene for four reasons:

  1. Han’s vulnerability,
  2. Leia’s realization of love,
  3. Chewie’s anger and sense of helplessness,
  4. Lando’s regret,
  5. The music.

That’s a heck of a lot of emotion to pack into one scene!

Let’s start with Han’s vulnerability – this goes back to my assessment of his clothing choices throughout the trilogy.  When he is stripped down to only that shirt, it’s not the Han we know and love.  He is not cocky or over-confident, but instead vulnerable.  Vulnerable is not a word we often associate with Han.  He’s about to be put into carbonite and he has no idea if he’ll survive.  That look on his face when he looks to Leia and Chewie before the steam rises…what is it?  Sadness?  Unspoken feelings?  Despair?  It’s something we don’t see on Han’s face very often.

Then we have the classic interchange between Han and Leia of, “I love you.” And “I know.”  Who doesn’t enjoy those lines?  We knew Princess Leia was hiding her feelings for Han during most of the movie but in this moment, she knows she has to say it.  If she doesn’t say it, she will kick herself every moment afterwards.  Watching her step forward with anguish on her face to tell Han those deeply personal words…I wouldn’t want to be in her position.  She’s seeing the man she realized she loves being put into a situation where he might not live.  And let’s not forget her moment of abject fear and disgust right before those moments when she looks over at Darth Vader.  *shudders*

This scene is often overshadowed by Leia and Han’s exchange, but I think one of the most emotionally moving parts is Chewie’s scream when the carbonite takes effect.  He starts off the scene by throwing Stormtroopers over the edge of the chamber in a last effort to save Han.  Han calms him down by saying he has to look after “the Princess”.   He acknowledges he might not live through this ordeal but is transferring Chewie’s life debt from Han to Leia.  But this is not something Chewie wants to hear.  Han was his best friend, the smuggler who saved him and to whom he owes a life debt.  I’m sure Chewie thought that if Han ever died, he would go down screaming with him (though we saw how that played out).  Instead he has to stand by helplessly in this whole scene, clinging to Leia until the deed is done and his roars are one of despair, anger, and frustration.

Lando, oh, Lando.  The moments the camera is on him during this scene are few and far between.  And when they do steal a moment to look at him, you have to watch closely.  But you can see it.  It’s there.  The “What have I done?  Was this the right thing?” look.  He looks at Leia and Chewie and his thoughts are clear.  I’m sure he’s feeling that deep uncertainty and regret…that gut feeling when you know you should not have made that deal.  Too late now, buddy.

Finally, the music.  Oh my gosh.  I get goosebumps every time I hear the music by John Williams for this scene.  Even when I’m not watching the scene and I’m only listening to the music, I get transported away to a tense place.  Everything in me stops and I’m filled with emotions of dread and anxiety.  I can’t concentrate on anything I do when hearing that music.  It’s the cherry on top of this whole scene.

 

That, my friends, is why I think the carbonite scene is the most emotional.  Hopefully I’ll get on my game faster next time and participate in ComLINKS before it expires.

 

What do you think is the most emotional scene?  This can include Rebels, TCW, anything in the Star Wars universe!

 

Haiku Me Friday! The shield doors must be closed

Dread fills my inside
But I have no choice; door shuts
Was the right thing done?

When I went to Celebration/SWCA in 2015, there was a very interesting panel done on the music of the Empire Strikes Back.  They took all the music John Williams had written that was left on the cutting room floor per Lucas’ decision and played the original music where Williams intended them to go.  Some of it was silly – there was music with Luka and Yoda’s training that made you think it was a fun jaunt as opposed to serious preparation for facing a Sith Lord.

A lot of the music that was cut out of the final movie involved scenes at Hoth.  I remember vividly this scene: when the shield doors have to be shut for the night and Leia makes the hard, but right, decision to close the doors despite her two best friends being out in the freezing temperatures.  By closing the doors, she was signing a death sentence (and that’s not an easy thing to live with).

The music Williams had composed for this scene was full of trepidation, it was robust and deadly.  The music fit quite well and I think if it was in the movie, I would never have thought twice about it.

Yet George Lucas decided to leave it on the cutting floor.  This immediately turns the scene into an awkward, this-doesn’t-sit-well-with-me, uncomfortable feeling.  When there was music, the scene turned into a subconscious distraction for your feelings.  It’s almost like a glass of wine to handle the pain better.

But when the music is removed your feelings are left bare and you connect with Princess Leia in a raw, emotional way.  You feel what she feels: the indecision, the doubt, the regret, the fear – all happening as the loud shield doors pull to a close.  When they finally shut and you hear Chewie’s despairing howl, you get goosebumps.

Without the music, this scene turns authentic and harsh.  You are in the moment with Leia, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio.  Threepio’s assessment of the situation rings in your ears while they doors shut.

The odds of survival for Han and Luke are 775 to 1…and that is not very reassuring at all.

 

In case you were wondering what the scene sounds like with the original Williams music, I found it on YouTube.  Enjoy.

 

 

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? 

 

In Which I Defend General Hux and Speculate on Supreme Leader Snoke

General Hux

I think I’m in the minority out there…but I really like General Hux.  I’ve been reading many reviews that label him as a superfluous character in The Force Awakens but I would like to argue that people who are writing about that are missing the point of who he is.

General Hux is a bad guy, sure.  He’s not the main antagonist like Kylo Ren and, possibly in the future, SL Snoke, but he falls more in the realm of a secondary antagonist.  Maybe J.J. was trying to create him to be the new Grand Moff Tarkin but he fell short.  Not in a bad way necessarily, but just because General Hux is different from Tarkin.

General HuxHux represents a new generation of the Empire.  He is the ideal First Order candidate.  Similar to Finn, he was raised with Imperial propaganda as his breakfast, lunch and dinner.  General Hux sincerely believed that the Empire saved the Republic from the Clone Wars and the current New Republic is weak.  He grew up as a beast frothing at his mouth, trapped by the New Republic.  He’s what I would label a First Order Fanatic (FOF…nice ring, right?).

This is where he is different from Grand Moff Tarkin.  Tarkin worked strategically to get the Empire where it was.  Hux believed it was his God given right to rule the galaxy as one of the best Generals in charge of the biggest, baddest base.   Tarkin was someone who firmly believed the Empire should rule the galaxy.  Hux believes the First Order is there to wipe out anyone who doesn’t agree with them and he should be leading it.

He’s a maniac. I love it.

All his thoughts and actions are surrounding the First Order in a way that reminds you of a deranged serial killer.  He’s obsessed with bringing the First Order to the height that the Empire once was.  He steals kids from birth to brainwash them into being perfect stormtroopers for the First Order!  Wow.

Everything he says and does is purely for the First Order. Starkiller base and it’s troops are his tools that he works into perfection.  Even Kylo Ren does not live up to his expectations, possibly because he knows that he has not completed his training or maybe it’s because of his heritage that involves people who so vehemently opposed the Empire, and now, the First Order.  Though Hux makes mistakes, you can see that he genuinely believes he still has the best army in the galaxy, unlike Kylo Ren who shows a moment of weakness when Hux accuses him of purposefully letting BB-8 escape in favor of taking the girl instead.  General Hux hates weakness and hates mistakes, especially large blunders like the one Kylo Ren made.

All this leads me to talk about why I loved his speech.  There were a lot of complaints out there about how it was badly written, but I didn’t even pay attention to what was said.  I was enraptured with Hux’s face because in that moment, he is in his glory.  Everything he has worked so hard for over 30 years is coming to a the epic climax.  His eyes fill with tears and you can see he means every single word of what he is saying to the core of his being.  This is his moment to show the galaxy that General Hux and the First Order are not ones to be trifled with.

He’s crazy.  I love it.

 

Supreme Leader Snoke

There are rumors going around that Snoke is Darth Plagueis.  He looks like someone once dead and most importantly, people are arguing that Snoke’s theme is eerily similar to the music played during ROTS when Palpatine and Anakin discuss Plagueis at the opera.

I sincerely hope that Snoke is not Plagueis.

Why?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

Because the more I’ve written in this blog about Palpatine, the more I love his character.  Lucas did an excellent job intertwining Palpatine’s story between both trilogies to see that he was an absolute genius and mastermind in creating the Empire bringing the Sith back into power.  He was, in supreme leader snokeshort, a genius the galaxy had never seen.

Palpatine, as we know, also learned everything he could from his master Darth Plagueis, and then killed him.  He stole everything he learned.

Do you really think that Palpatine would let there be a chance that Plagueis could return?  By doing so, it shows a weakness in Palpatine’s planning and takes away from how amazing and intelligent 60+ years of his life was.

The music being similar is a good argument, but LFL and Disney has a bunch of tricks up their sleeve.  Remember that the previews led us to believe that Finn was the Force user, as opposed to Rey.

Or perhaps Williams is getting up there in years and forgot he already did a very similar piece.

I just don’t like the idea of Snoke being Plagueis because it takes away from Palpatine’s greatness.  I much prefer Snoke being Palpatine resurrected but, for some reason, I just don’t think that’s the case.  I could be wrong, but I think that would be yawn-worthy and hope they don’t do it.  I like Palpatine’s story just the way it is and I don’t think he should be brought back.

It would also be somewhat out-of-character for Disney to bring in a character that was only mentioned in the PT when they are focusing so much on pulling similarities from the OT.  I will argue that the opera scene is one of the most interesting and best acted scenes in the PT and I don’t think anyone could argue with that so perhaps if they take anything from the PT, they go with the Plagueis storyline since it is canon.

If you’re interested in reading all the theories out there on who Snoke is, combined into one place, click here.

But please don’t.  Leave Plagueis to history and leave Palpatine with his body in fragments across the galaxy after the second Death Star was destroyed.