Top 10 Pieces of Music from the Star Wars Franchise
The Star Wars franchise is the best for many reasons. It’s the characters we know and love (except for Jar-Jar Binks). It’s the story lines and memorable quotes we’ve come to cherish. It’s the lightsabers, the spaceships, the idea of good vs. evil.
Tying it all together is the music- seven scores crafted by the brilliant composer John Williams, who’s been with the franchise since A New Hope came out in 1977. Williams has written some of cinema’s most memorable music, and some of his scores are so iconic, you don’t need to have seen the movies to know the sounds of greatness. His work on Star Wars is no exception.
On this Star Wars Day, May the Fourth, we’re counting down the best Star Wars music. These tracks encompass the franchise, getting us pumped for battle, hopeful for the fate of the galaxy, and torn between the light and dark sides of the force. Overall, Williams’ films scores are iconic, and even the snippets of these tracks get stuck in our heads for days.
For this list, we’re excluding the opening theme song. I 1,000,000% acknowledge that this track is one of the most important pieces of film score ever composed.
I’m also excluding music from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I know it’s technically in the canon, but John Williams didn’t write the music for it (and on top of that, nothing really stood out from the film score to me).
So here we go. Lock S-foils in attack positions.
"Scherzo for X-Wings" (from The Force Awakens)
Like I said, lock s-foils in attack position. Even at 83 years of age (which is how old he was when he wrote this score), it is evident that Williams can still kick ass with his battle themes, and this tune appearing toward the end of Force Awakens is no exception.
"The Asteroid Field" (from The Empire Strikes Back)
It’s got an air of danger surrounding it, which is, well, what it has in common with most asteroid fields. Found as Han, Leia, C3PO and Chewie are attempting to evade an Imperial Star Destroyer by taking it on a trip through an asteroid field, this piece gives us all the anxiety of being struck by a flying object at a moment’s notice. The best part of the song comes at 2:18 of the above video, where the tension is at its height. The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3,720 to 1. This piece hits that stat home.
"Ewok Celebration" (from Return of the Jedi)
When George Lucas re-released the prequels in 1999, he made a bunch of changes, some of which were unnecessary (see Vader’s added “nooooo” during the final lightsaber battle), to say the least. One of the best changes he made, though, was adding this gem to the very end of Return of the Jedi, replacing that fakakta “Yub-Nub” victory dance. Lucas’s replacement for the song was this uplifting, hopeful, and triumphant piece that ties the original trilogy with a nice little bow, as celebration shots of many of the planets seen in the prequel trilogy were also added for extra time. This is a much better fit than gratuitous shots of dancing Ewoks to a traditional Endorean folk song. Also, I like the touch of adding Hayden Christiansen as ghost Anakin to the re-release. I enjoy continuity. Bite me.
"Finale" from (The Empire Strikes Back)
The Empire Strikes Back is not only the best film in the Star Wars franchise; it may also have the best music. Found at the end of the film, as Luke recovers from having his hand chopped off and learning that Darth Vader is his father (pain both physically and emotionally), Lando and Chewie prepare to regroup and eventually find Han Solo’s frozen body, all while the Rebel fleet prepares for the next battle with the Empire. While the film certainly is light on the action, it’s heavy on the drama, and would certainly leave the audience member disheartened, and scrambling for answers to the question “what comes next?” This piece of music provides us a little bit of closure for the film. The sweeping violin theme at around 1:00 makes me feel like Williams and the filmmakers were hiding something, as if to say “something big is coming. And you’re gonna love it.”
"Activate the Droids" (from The Phantom Menace)
So if The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the canon, The Phantom Menace is unequivocally the worst. Plagued by wordy dialogue and bad acting (mostly from Jake Lloyd as Anakin and whoever the hell voices Jar-Jar Binks), the film does have some pretty solid action sequences. One of them comes at the beginning of the film, as the Separatist Droid Army invades the peaceful planet of Naboo. This march appears again as the droids unfold themselves during the battle with the Gungan army. This is the version I’ve chosen, which features some glorious French Horn slides at 0:53. Paired with the thunk-thunking of metal footsteps to the beat of the music, the droid invasion theme is a LIT battle anthem. Hey, at least one person knew what he was doing for this movie. John Williams is the man.
The Top 10:
10. "Rey's Theme" (from The Force Awakens)
Our newest hero, Rey, is exemplified perfectly in this moving piece. She's the silent scavenger; the quiet, scrappy hero, discovering new and creative ways to stay alive among the desolate landscape of Jakku.
9. "Throne Room" (from A New Hope)
It's almost like a wedding march, at first listen. This tune, from the end of A New Hope, occurs as Luke, Han and Chewbacca are honored for their valiant efforts in destroying the Death Star.
8. "Cantina Band" (from A New Hope)
Of course the Cantina Band song is on this list! No Star Wars music list would be complete without this bouncy romp, which features more electronic instruments than any other piece of scoring in the franchise. As Luke and Obi-Wan journey into the Mos Eisley cantina to find a pilot, the cheerful song juxtaposes the slimy, dark atmosphere of the wretched hive of scum and villainy.
7. "Order 66/March at the Jedi Temple" (from Revenge of the Sith)
Much like the droid army before it, the execution of Order 66, and subsequent march on the Jedi Temple is accompanied by intense music. The image of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and his intimidating army of clone troopers is chilling, made more menacing by the piercing trumpets and pulsing bass. A truly badass procession deserves an even more badass fanfare.
6. "Across the Stars" (from Attack of the Clones)
Attack of the Clones is not even close to the best film in the Star Wars franchise. Hayden Christiansen is about as good an actor as Jake Lloyd. His romance with Natalie Portman's Padmé seems forced. But one thing that helps, of course, is music. Thank God for John Williams, who developed this love theme for Anakin and Padmé. Featuring a lonely oboe which builds slowly to a full orchestral swell, while also illustrating for us the backdrop of war midway through the song, "Across the Stars" is one of the more underrated themes in the canon. It's haunting, and it makes the romantic scenes between Anakin and Padmé a little more bearable.
5. "Battle of the Heroes" (from Revenge of the Sith)
If you listen closely to "Battle of the Heroes," you can slowly hear the crumbling of everything we've seen in the first two prequel films, as this final battle tune accompanies two major battles: Yoda against Emperor Palpatine, and Obi-Wan against Anakin. Featuring a choir sound that was also featured heavily in "Duel of the Fates" from The Phantom Menace, "Battle of the Heroes" makes us feel like everything is falling down around us, spiraling toward a cruel, inevitable heat death (get it? Because heat death- Mustafar- lava? Never mind.)- which is actually what's happening. When I hear this, all that comes to mind is Obi-Wan's constant pleading with Anakin to see the errors of his ways, only to have Anakin's twisted mind pull him further toward fully becoming Darth Vader.
4. "Battle of Endor" (from Return of the Jedi)
I'm cheating a little bit with this one, as the Battle of Endor music actually has many different themes within it. The first occurs in the first few minutes. You may know it better as the "It's a trap!" sequence, as the Rebel forces attack the Second Death Star, only to find that the Empire had been expecting the attack, and had prepared an ambush for them. The half hour long track takes us through all the tension of this lightsaber-space-and-land battle, throwing in themes like the Ewok theme, the Imperial March, and others. If you feel like listening to all 32 minutes, you'll see the tension rise and fall, and you'll actually be able to imagine the Rebels turning the tides of the war, all while Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor face off in one last showdown. The other best part of this song comes in the last 10 minutes, as Lando leads the charge into the main reactor of the battle station. We hear this as a reprise to the TIE Fighter dogfight sequence from A New Hope, but I think it sounds a little fuller in Return of the Jedi. That's just me though. That sequence takes place in the second video, at the start of Part III of the track. Part III also features Vader's death, which is sad in its own right.
3. "Duel of the Fates" (from The Phantom Menace)
"Korahhhhhh... Matahhh..... Korahhhh... Ratahmah......"
Doors opening on Darth Maul. The double lightsaber. The ensuing triple battle. Everything about this sequence from The Phantom Menace is epic. Taking original Sanskrit chants translated from the Celtic epic poem Cad Goddeu, and using the powerful London Voices choir as ammunition to its frantic orchestrations, "Duel of the Fates" is one of the best battle themes in the Star Wars franchise. It also makes a return in Revenge of the Sith, as Yoda and Palpatine throw senate chairs at one another during the battle of Coruscant.
2. "Imperial March," (from The Empire Strikes Back)
Well, here we are. Yes, the Imperial March is probably one of the most well-known pieces of film score of all time. But the bad guy never wins in the battle of good versus evil, and so, the Imperial March ends up as the #2 on this list. A fiercely menacing tune, this song personifies everything in this world (yes, the real world, not just the Star Wars world) that is bad or evil. Your boss. Donald Trump. The New York Yankees. Whatever is bad in your life, you can personify them or their arrival with the Imperial March. And as if the well-known first 30 seconds weren't intense, it only builds from there, adding syncopations and really ramping up the volume at the end. How those flute players and brass players manage to play all those extremely fast rhythms for three minutes I'll never be able to fathom.
1. "The Force," (from A New Hope)
I could genuinely listen to this on loop for hours and get goosebumps with every orchestral swell. This song exemplifies everything that Star Wars is: an escape to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This theme accompanies Luke on Tatooine, as he stares out at the binary sunset against the soft twilight, hoping for a way out. This is my favorite Star Wars theme, and what makes it special is how often it is played throughout all of the films in the canon. When I hear this song in trailers for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I truly get emotional. If the Imperial March is the theme song for the dark side of the force, this is the theme song for the light.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the force.
That chill that you get while listening to this: it's the force flowing through you.
Which musical themes from Star Wars are your favorite? Leave a comment down below.