10 Best Pieces of Music By John Williams Throughout 'Star Wars'
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One of the elements that makes the Star Wars saga successful is the amazing soundtrack composed by John Williams. His work is as well known as the movies themselves. Everyone knows the themes from Jaws, Superman, Indiana Jones, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Harry Potter, among others. He has won the Academy Awards for Best Original Score for Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., and Schindler’s List and been nominated for almost all his other works. He is known for his use of leitmotifs, or short recurring musical phrases, in creating the larger orchestral piece for the scene. The space opera would not have been complete without the music which helps to build the atmosphere, and contribute to the emotions we felt as we see the story of Star Wars unfold. This author loves the entire Star Wars soundtrack, but we can only choose ten for this article. After much deliberation, these are the 10 best pieces of music by John Williams throughout Star Wars.
10.) "Anakin’s Theme" (Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace)
We see Williams' characteristic use of leitmotifs in this piece. The bright major key speaks to the bright-eyed innocent nine-year-old as he goes about his days without a care in the world. He is hopeful for the future away from his life as a slave on Tatooine. Then we hear the hint of "The Imperial March," played in the major key, foreshadowing the dark path Anakin will inevitably follow.
9.) "Cantina Band" (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope)
While this piece is not an epic orchestral score like the others, the jaunty jazz tune creates the scene of a laid back cantina where patrons of various species and backgrounds come together. This could easily be background music for any cafe or coffee shop in our world. However, its otherworldly sounds tell us that we are not on Earth, but rather in the galaxy far, far away.
8.) "Princess Leia’s Theme" (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope)
The French horn solo speaks to the strong character of Princess Leia. Imagine being an 19-year-old member of the Senate representing your peaceful planet while secretly working with the Rebel Alliance against the oppressive Empire. Then, you come face to face with the menacing figure of Darth Vader and the quiet authority of Moff Tarkin aboard the Death Star, and you see your beloved planet and everyone you love destroyed right before your eyes. The separate flute, oboe, and violin solos picking up the main theme throughout the piece adds a feminine element to the scene.
7.) "Throne Room" (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope)
This is probably another one of the most recognizable pieces of Star Wars. The grand celebration of the first victory for the Rebel Alliance and the destruction of the first Death Star shows that the underdogs can and will win. As the first chapter of the saga closes, you are left feeling optimistic about the future of the galaxy in the true happy ending of the movie. I just love the trumpets fanfare in the beginning which announces Luke, Han, and Chewbacca’s entrance into the throne room, and accompanies them as they stroll down to receive their awards.
6.) "March of the Resistance" (Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens)
John Williams has always been known for his fanfares. Obviously, this piece is not as instantly recognizable as the other pieces we will be discussing in this article, but that does not make it less awesome. Once you play it, you just have to play it again, and then put it on the loop. Someone commented on the YouTube video of this song, “Is this a good guy version of Imperial March?” It does sound like a happier version of "The Imperial March" played in the major key. The militaristic beats make you want to tap your feet along as the Resistance heroes march on to the scene.
5.) "Anakin vs. Obi-Wan" (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith)
This piece plays during the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar. In addition to this being my favorite scene in Revenge of the Sith due to the amazon lightsaber action sequence, the music adds another layer to the emotions associated with the fight itself. "The Imperial March" theme is played in full, representing how Anakin is now deeply in the Dark Side. However, it is played at a slower tempo, juxtaposed with the slower steady ten-note sequence that I would like to think represents Obi-Wan and his unwavering ideal and his internal struggle between doing what is right and destroying someone he loves. Of note, the cymbal crashes and timpani ostinato paint the picture of explosive lava around the two. The choral chant in the middle of the piece is a nod to "Duel of the Fates" from The Phantom Menace, as this is essentially another duel of the fates.
4.) "The Imperial March" (Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back)
Need we say more about the "Imperial March?" This symphonic piece is originally written as Darth Vader’s theme, but has become synonymous with the Empire. Motives from the Imperial March will be peppered throughout other works to announce the arrival of Imperial forces or remind us of the presence of the Empire in the scene. This particular piece will make appearances in pop culture to represent evil. For example, it is occasionally used to introduce Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.
"The Imperial March" is based on Chopin’s Funeral March and Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of Wars.” Interestingly, its livelier variation in major key is "Anakin's Theme" in The Phantom Menace. Its usage increases throughout the prequel trilogy as a parallel to Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side of the Force.
3.) "Binary Sunset" (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope)
Also known as the "Force Theme," this is the music played during the iconic binary sunset scene in A New Hope as Luke looks off into the distance. His life is about to change forever as he is catapulted from the moisture farm of Tatooine to the space battles, lightsaber duels, and the fight for his soul. He is about to hear about the Force for the first time and will be forced to choose between standing firm with the light side or succumbing to the temptations of the dark side. The crescendo as Luke gazes at horizon gives me chills every time I watch A New Hope.
While John Williams originally meant for the piece to represent Obi-Wan Kenobi, the "Force Theme" would later be woven into other musical pieces throughout the Star Wars saga to represent fate and destiny, and how the Force binds the universe together. For example, you can hear the motif played in the duel on Mustafar, when Rey heals Kylo Ren, and in the final scene of The Rise of Skywalker.
2.) "Duel of the Fates" (Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
"This choral piece, which has to do with the sword fight and comes at the end of the film, is a result of my thinking that something ritualistic and/or pagan and antique might be very effective." - John Williams
The duel between Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul would not be the same if it had not been accompanied by “Duel of the Fates.” This is the first battle between the Sith and the Jedi in a millennium. The vocal chant in Sanskrit adds to the mystical nature of the duel between ancient enemies. The Light Side vs. the Dark Side. The outcome of this duel can change the course of history, and the epic score tells its story.
1.) "Main Title"
"It's in my mind a very simple, very direct tune that jumps an octave in a very dramatic way, and has a triplet placed in it that has a kind of grab." - John Williams
The most iconic piece of the soundtrack. Everyone has come to associate the majestic trumpet fanfare that announces the beginning of each movie with the entire Star Wars saga. In addition to accompanying the opening crawl, the “Main Title” theme is also used as “Luke’s Theme” to denote his presence in the particular scene. In addition, it is a representation of the hero’s path toward achieving his goal, as he reaches upward, gathers strength for another try, and finally completes the task.
Written By Apinya Wong
Syndicated From Culture Slate