Saturday, September 26, 2015

Star Wars Saturday: The Music Zone

There have been many constants in the Star Wars movies: lightsabers, blasters, flying ships, and the Force. But another wonderful constant has been the epic music that accompanies the movies.

If you've read my posts for a while, or have taken a look at my AtMousePhere music posts on TouringPlans.com, you know that I love music of all genres. But there has never been a time in my life where I haven't known or loved the music of Star Wars. 

Because of this, I was one of the unfortunate when I picked up the soundtrack to The Phantom Menace in 1999. It came out two weeks before the movie, and I just had to have it right away. I wanted to be thorough, so I looked at all the photos and details of the CD and case...only to see a major spoiler in one of the tracks' titles. ("Qui-Gon's Noble End") 

This time around, Lucasfilm and Disney have wisely decided not to release the soundtrack to The Force Awakens until December 18 - the same day the movie is released. At least we know the soundtrack won't spoil anything for us before the movie comes out.

Although I felt a bit betrayed by that information, I still loved the soundtrack. It felt very much like a Star Wars soundtrack, even when the movie itself didn't at some points. (More on that in a later post.)

The six Star Wars soundtracks are some of the best you'll ever hear, but as always, there are some standouts. Here are my choices for the best pieces of Star Wars music you'll ever hear - all composed by John Williams.

(But seriously. Just go and buy all the soundtracks. You won't regret it.)

"Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner" (A New Hope)

This was the first time that Star Wars main title was revealed, and it blows me away every time! Once the main titles were known as Luke's theme, and I still like to think of it that way. 
Another great part of the piece is the Rebel Blockade Runner sequence. It's so large and demanding, and you can envision the Star Destroyer getting bigger and bigger on the screen when you listen to it!


"The Return of the Jedi" (Return of the Jedi)

If any piece makes you sit up in a theater and say, "Yep, this is Star Wars," this is the piece. After a whole movie of depressing things happening to Luke, Leia, and Han, this segment says, "We're not gonna lose any more!" I love everything about this piece - it is definitely one of my top three favorite Star Wars tracks of all time. The last 60 seconds - when the speeder is racing away from Jabba's exploding barge, followed by the Millienium Falcon and Luke's X-Wing speeding off into space - is my favorite segment of Star Wars music!
(Bonus: the version below has the final film version first, followed by the first version written - and not used.)


"The Imperial March" (The Empire Strikes Back)

Speaking of "The Imperial March," here it is. This was the second piece I learned to play on the piano, and I always loved playing it. The initial Imperial theme from A New Hope was merely adequate - this piece brought out the threat of the Empire in full force. And if you want to signify that someone - or something - is evil and dangerous? You play this song. 


"Duel of the Fates" (The Phantom Menace)

This first came out as a music video on TRL. Yep, somewhere in my parents' house is a videotape with that Total Request Live episode on it. To my delight, the video lasted quite a while on the TRL chart. Even without the accompanying clips from the movie, the music is incredible. It's the most expansive that Williams got up to that point, because he had so many resources at his disposal. And the language? It's a Celtic poem translated into Sanskrit. *The more you know!*


"Burning Homestead" (A New Hope)

The string bass section really nails it here, as Luke realizes the stormtroopers were heading for his childhood home. You can just sense that something is wrong. Plus, I love the transition to the burning homestead to the shot of the Death Star. It doesn't get any better than that. 



"The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral" (The Phantom Menace)

This reintroduces us to one of the most iconic themes in all of Star Wars - Yoda's theme - and also brings in a new piece of music during the funeral pyre scene. I loved that Yoda's music came back, along with a small hint at the Imperial March as well, implying some future danger hiding in the shadows. The somber funeral music, to my delight, returned in Revenge of the Sith as Padme (and Anakin, too, in a way) dies. 


"The Forest Battle" (Return of the Jedi)

Not only does this piece signify the turning point of the Battle of Endor - Chewbacca and his two Ewok pals take over an Imperial AT-ST and rescue Han and Leia, which allows Han to come up with a plan to overpower the Imperials inside the bunker, capturing them and blowing up the shield generator, and finally allowing Lando and his men to invade the Death Star - it is a great piece to run to!


"Hyperspace" (The Empire Strikes Back)

They used part of this piece at the beginning of the movie when Rogue 2 goes looking for Luke and Han in the snow. Then it came back in the end. I can understand why it was used multiple times. There is real urgency portrayed in the strings with their mad bowing skills. 



"Anakin vs. Obi-Wan" (Revenge of the Sith)

This one is very similar to "Hyperspace" from Empire because it has that fast pulse at the beginning, and then throughout the piece it intersects "The Imperial March." As expected, this is from the start of Obi-Wan's fight with Anakin, and the best part of that fight was at the very beginning, when it's just lightsabers blazing and no extra set pieces getting in the way.


"The Moisture Farm" (A New Hope)

We hear the theme for the Jawas again, but we also get that first glimpse of the hero of the story, Luke Skywalker, and a beautiful horn solo to introduce his theme. I could listen to that horn solo on a 10-hour loop, as some YouTube people are prone to make nowadays.


"Qui-Gon's Noble End" (The Phantom Menace)

I chuckled putting this one on here, since I am so upset that so many people thought it was okay to release this title name on a soundtrack! But it is a piece where you know its exact location in the movie. (Even without the title.) There's that Sanskrit mumbling, and suddenly the music swells, and you can hear Obi-Wan yelling, "No!" (Sometimes I yell "No!" at that point when listening to it.) The drums and the pregnant pauses are used very well. 


"Battle of Yavin" (A New Hope)

I like this whole piece a lot, but the best part is at the very end, when every instrument is just going Bam-Bam! Bam-Bam! Bam-bam-BAM-BAM-BAM! and then...nothing! This would be where the Death Star explodes in the movie. So usually I add my own sound effect of the Death Star exploding at that point. The triumph at the end isn't huge, mind you. It's happy, but it's not final. You just know there's more coming. (I usually insert "The Imperial March" right after this piece, just to put the Rebels back in their place.)


"Yoda and the Younglings" (Attack of the Clones)

This track brings in the lovely theme of Anakin and Padme (which is used quite a lot all over the soundtrack), but also brings in innocence with the younglings' "theme". It's the only bit of innocence that is ever seen in the movies, to be honest. To wrap it up, the Force theme comes back with a sense of foreboding. 



"The Battle of Hoth" (The Empire Strikes Back)

I love all the battle tracks, but this is one of my favorites. The best part is the beginning, with the low percussion banging away and the piano only using the low keys, with the low brass bringing in the melody line first. It's fantastic!


"Augie's Great Municipal Band" (The Phantom Menace)

Yes, it's another end-of-movie celebration song, hearkening back memories to the ends of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. But have you ever really listened to this triumphant song? First, listen to the Emperor's theme from Jedi. Then listen to this. It's the same melody, but in a major key!!! How's that for foreshadowing?! (Plus this one is sung by youthful kids instead of serious old men. What a change.)


"The Asteroid Field" (The Empire Strikes Back)

This piece defines insanity. To perfectly portray Han Solo's crazy attempt to fly through an asteroid field, you could only use this track. At its height, the piece introduces not only the insanity, but the helplessness as the ships survive merely by the luck of the rock. This segment of the movie is stellar in so many areas - sound effects, visual effects, acting, and music.


"Zam the Assassin and the Chase Through Coruscant" (Attack of the Clones)

I like this track because of the risks that it takes. It has a frenzied feel, plus it brings in electric guitar. These things definitely don't make you think of a remote village in space somewhere, but rather a busy city chase. Fits pretty well, doesn't it?



"Into the Trap" (Return of the Jedi)

I love this piece thanks to a memory. Over 10 years ago my older brother and I would have to drive 12 hours to get back to where we went to college from our home in Michigan. We listened to a bunch of random stuff, but the Return of the Jedi soundtrack was one of them. When this piece came on, my brother would recite all of the dialogue to this segment - Lando, all the X-Wing fighters, Ackbar - right where it would have been in the movie. Then, in unison, we would both shout together in our best Ackbar voice, "IT'S A TRAP!"


"Battle of the Heroes" (Revenge of the Sith)

This was the third track released with a music video before the movie came out. To be honest, I like this one better than "Duel of the Fates" because of the tragedy that is behind the piece. Sure, there is action and evil, but it's also very sad. The thing that you've been waiting for - Anakin's fall - finally happens. What's worse is the title: two heroes of the Clone Wars - friends, companions, and brothers - square off against each other!



"Luke and Leia" (Return of the Jedi)

Another song that is tops on my list. This piece doesn't get the recognition it deserves. It is so dramatic and sad - the revelation that Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and they were denied the chance to grow up together thanks to the evil brought into the galaxy by the help of their own father. Now they both have to stand up for what they believe in and help change the galaxy - how tragic. This is one of the very first pieces of Star Wars music I really latched onto, and will always hold a special place in my heart. 
(It is also used very well in the end credits, and the last part of the piece transitions beautifully into the Rebel Fanfare that concludes the movie.)



So what is your favorite piece of Star Wars music? Are you as psyched to hear brand-new Star Wars music in a few months? Do you wish they would do a music video like they did for the prequels? Did I miss a great piece? Comment below!


I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 


More Star Wars articles by Claire Nat:
Fears and Star Wars
Why Star Wars is the Best Trilogy Ever
Obsession

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