Updated April 11, 2019 to include Spotify and YouTube playlists.
If you’re a fan of cinema, you’re likely familiar with the work of John Williams. He’s worked on films like E.T., Indiana Jones, even the early Harry Potter films. In case you didn’t know, the Academy Award-winning composer has also left his mark on the Star Wars franchise — having scored all three film trilogies from 1977 through 2019. Today, I bring you what I judge to be the most iconic pieces of Star Wars music, composed by Williams and performed by a live orchestra.
9) “Rey’s Theme” — The Force Awakens
The sequel trilogy has been an emotional roller coaster. Fans were divided on the new characters, the reticence to embrace the prequel trilogy, and the lack of an impactful score (despite John Williams’ best efforts). However, one new song has broken through the mold: “Rey’s Theme”. For all the fans clashing over Rey’s character, her leitmotif is genuinely engaging. The staccatos lead to a grandiose string crescendo, expressing a sense of wonder and adventure. This warm and inviting piece perfectly conveyed that Rey was ready to leave her surroundings and answer the hero’s call.
8) “Across the Stars” — Attack of the Clones
The prequel trilogy is a great many things. There is plenty technically wrong with the films, such as bad acting, writing, and overall directing (or maybe fans are just nitpicky). But the music has always been on point,and one of the testaments to this is “Across the Stars” — the romance theme from Attack of the Clones. While this film remains my least favorite prequel, this song is John Williams understanding the chemistry of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala better than the films could ever convey. This was such a beautiful track that he recently re-released it! Listening closely, I sense the Romeo and Juliet angle being expressed here–the forbidden love between two people who are passionate about one another.
7) “Han Solo and the Princess” — The Empire Strikes Back
When you’re a kid, you probably don’t give two shits about romance. This is often especially true for young boys. However, whenever this song came on, I was open to seeing how things played out. Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa were the sci-fi power couple I grew up on, and this song was one of the two reasons it worked (the other being the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, which was apparently more than just on-screen). The soft beginnings of the medley showcased how the mutual attraction was silent, before the eventual transition to the loud, triumphant expression of passion and love.
6) “Battle of The Heroes” — Revenge of the Sith
Thirteen years is a long ass time. It is often the amount of time before one is considered to be “coming of age”. In this case, it was the amount of time Anakin Skywalker spent in the Jedi Order before surrendering fully to the Dark Side of the Force and becoming Darth Vader. It’s the amount of time he spent fighting at the side of Obi-Wan Kenobi, his master, friend, and brother. These two had become heroes of the Clone Wars, but were now faced with battling each other to the death. The darkness of the choral chants echo Anakin’s fall as the horned accompaniment echo Obi-Wan’s dedication to discipline and duty.
5) “Cantina Band” — A New Hope
This is probably the most fun song to listen to in the entire franchise. It’s incredibly upbeat, it’s pop-radio short (two minutes and 47 seconds!), and features a wild mixture of jazz instruments. This is pure earworm territory, and it also comes from the scene where audiences are first introduced to Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Greedo, as well Obi-Wan’s dismemberment fetish.
4) “Duel of the Fates” — The Phantom Menace
Do yourself a favor: close your eyes before you play this song. If you’re like me, and have seen The Phantom Menace countless times, you can see the scene between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul playing out in your head as the Latin chants grow ever louder. The staccatos build the tension as the fight begins, and you can sense that the characters are planning several moves in advance. The strings, horns, and tempo are epic in scale. The steady crescendos and decrescendos draw you in as you watch one of the most hyped fight scenes of the last 20 years.
3) “The Force Theme” — ANH
While it’s spread throughout several songs (namely “The Hologram/Binary Sunset”), “The Force Theme” has endured the test of time. It has been consistently featured in films, television shows, and video games, making it an obvious mainstay. While it is officially Obi-Wan’s theme, it is also heavily associated with Luke Skywalker, playing during some of his most pivotal moments in the series. In A New Hope, it plays as he peers onto the horizon at Tatooine’s binary sunset, just before he loses his family and embarks on his journey with Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2-D2, and C-3PO. It’s also the song that plays at the end of the film, mixed into “The Throne Room”, as he and Han receive their medals from Leia. It plays during Luke’s final scenes in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. It also plays when Obi-Wan delivers him to his family on Tatooine at the end of Revenge of the Sith. If anything, “The Force Theme” might technically be Luke’s at this point.
2) “The Imperial March” — ESB
This theme came to define Darth Vader, and rightfully so. With its horns, strings, and woodwind accompaniments, “The Imperial March” is ominous, powerful, and befitting of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, this is by far one of the most popular songs from the franchise. Live bands have performed it at concerts, football games, and even during live orchestra screenings of the film. It has been remixed in beats. Its staying power is tremendous. And yet, it still loses out, for now, to the most iconic theme in all of Star Wars.
1) “Main Title” — ANH
Before we ever saw Vader go on a killing spree of his Imperial officers; before we saw Luke defy the Emperor and declare himself a Jedi; before we even knew who C-3PO was, we knew this song. It may seem trivial, but the title theme has always primed audiences for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, before being used again in both the prequel and sequel trilogies. While Rogue One and Solo lack the iconic theme in the beginning, it does appear in the ending credits, as well as in the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels (I haven’t watched Resistance. I just can’t). Interestingly enough, this is Luke’s official theme song, and it sometimes shows — like when it plays during his rescue mission in Return of the Jedi. However, we’ve come to know this as the main theme song for the franchise.
And there you have it! What did you think of the list? What are your favorite songs? Will John Williams add a new iconic piece in the upcoming film? We’ll find out soon enough!
Star Wars: Episode IX is in theaters on December 20, 2019!
By Brandon C. Kesselly on .