In cinematic history, there is no one in my book that can top the soundtracks of one John Williams. His scores for movies in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T., and more are some of the best, and work really well with the movie material.
To my sheer delight, I was able to snag a ticket to see John Williams in person as he comes to Chicago in April for a weekend of concerts. I cannot imagine how this will sound (especially because I got a pretty great seat), and I will be sure to share my experience when it happens.
I have written an article on my personal ranking of the best John Williams Star Wars soundtracks. This time around, I am going to pick out the essential tracks that fully en capture the wonderful marriage of John Williams and Star Wars!
"Duel of the Fates" The Phantom Menace
"Battle of the Heroes" Revenge of the Sith
While "Duel of the Fates" is a sign of impending doom, "Battle of the Heroes" is a tragedy unfolding. They really do envision the rise of the Empire and the downfall of Anakin Skywalker through music.
These two tracks are best when combined together. When it was time for Lucasfilm to release a single from Williams' soundtracks, they chose these two. Both tracks also feature a chorus, which is rare in a Star Wars album.
"The Asteroid Field," The Empire Strikes Back
I can almost hear C-3PO yelling in the background of this track. I love how intense it gets in the middle. Often the best parts of Williams' music is how you can see things happening as the music is playing. The orchestra is just as frenzied as the Millenium Falcon.
"Princess Leia's Theme," A New Hope
I love this piece, but not as a companion for Princess Leia. To me, this piece is too delicate for someone so strong as Leia. I suppose maybe you could interpret it as showing the vunerability of the princess. However, when I think of the time period in which it was written, I don't think that was the purpose. Still, it is a lovely piece.
"Rey's Theme," The Force Awakens
This piece, however, encapsulates Rey perfectly. John Williams himself has said that the reason he came back to compose The Last Jedi was because according to him, "I did't want anybody else writing music for Daisy Ridley." I love its adventurous, whimsical quality. It also has a little bit of mystery in it.
"Augie's Great Municipal Band," The Phantom Menace
This was the "celebration track" for Episode I, a very joyful piece of music that eclipses the stoic celebration from Episode IV and the galaxy-enveloping celebration in Episode VI. (Though I think "Yub Nub" is still tops.) But the reason I love this piece is the melody that the children sing. Listen to it - it is something that had to be pointed out to me, but once I heard it I was blown away. (It's the Emperor's Theme from Episode VI! In a major key!!!) What foreshadowing!
"Hyperspace," The Empire Strikes Back
This has a great pulse beat to it. It does increase the tension and makes you think that Leia and company aren't going to make it out of Cloud City. Then R2-D2 comes along and they're off into hyperspace! I also like this piece because it was inserted at the beginning of the movie when the snow speeders are looking for Han and Luke, and there's a sense of concern in the piece that the Rebel scouts are going to make it out alive.
"The Forest Battle," Return of the Jedi
This is a favorite, and I've documented that fact very well on this blog. I love the beat of the piece and how it just keeps pushing and pushing until the end. This features the turning point of the entire Battle of Endor, and whenever I hear it or see the battle turn in the movie, I get excited. It isn't tense - it has a playfulness about it, showing how creatures dismissed by the Emperor as unimportant end up rising up with the Rebels to take down the mighty Empire.
"Across the Stars," Attack of the Clones
The score for Episode II had problems, and that can be heard in the movie as Padmé and Anakin are running through the droid factory on Geonosis. None of that is new - it was recycled and repurposed from the chase through Coruscant scene earlier in the movie. Much of the score in the movie was cut-and-pasted, resulting in a pretty disjointed soundtrack. This is really the only quality track of the score - a tragic theme for the two lovers that borrows its title from Romeo and Juliet.
"The Imperial March," The Empire Strikes Back
Hum just two bars of this and everyone could finish the rest. They might not know where it came from, but at least they know the music. Unlike the first Imperial theme that was in Episode IV, this one comes in with a vengeance and never leaves your head. You can almost see the stormtroopers marching in time with the music.
"The Return of the Jedi," Return of the Jedi
This is another one where I geek out. All of the first 15 minutes of the movie has led to Luke perched on a platform, his death lying below him. The music is just pulses of brass and quiet hum of strings. He jumps...and then Luke's theme leaps up as he grabs the platform, flips back onto the barge, and gets his green lightsaber from the sky. I listen to this one on a regular basis by itself, and the excitement is hard to match.
"Yoda and the Force," The Empire Strikes Back
While the track ends in a weird place, the climax of the piece is where it's at. Go to about 2:30 into the piece, and you'll hear a musical selection so embraced that it was used in one of the trailers for The Force Awakens (and a few other Star Wars trailers, if I recall correctly). It not only reflects the X-Wing coming out of the swamp, called upon by a little green dude, it shows just how powerful the Force can be.
"Brother and Sister," (AKA "Luke and Leia") Return of the Jedi
Leia gets some of the best tracks. She has her own theme, she has a love theme with Han, and now she has a sibling theme with Luke. Unpopular opinion: I prefer this theme over "Han and the Princess" and it might be my Episode VI bias showing. Or my Luke-preference. One of the two. But I really, really, reallyreally hope they insert this theme into The Last Jedi if Luke and Leia meet up again. That might just make me cry.
"Scherzo for X-Wings," The Force Awakens
This is my newest favorite. Scherzos were kind of unpopular at the time they originated - they were simply waltzes sped up. But this scherzo is perfect for the time in the movie where it appears - Poe's assault on Starkiller Base. Say what you want about Starkiller Base, I love this section. I wonder if Williams had foreshadowing up his sleeve when he inserted Luke's theme into this piece, or if he simply is using it more as a Hero's theme, which would work for Poe. I hear that Williams performs this one in his live concerts, and I hope that's true. I want to hear this live!
I could just keep going, but I'll stop here. Do you have any favorites that I did or didn't mention? I would love to hear about them! Tweet me, leave a message on my Facebook page, or comment below. I can't wait to add more when The Last Jedi soundtrack is released!
(By the way, I have a very special Star Wars Saturday coming out next week. It might be a little later in the day, but it will be WORTH IT!)
My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!