Today is the birthday of composer John Williams, who might be the best film composer to ever grace us with his talents. Williams has done countless gorgeous scores, but his most iconic work is probably from the Star Wars saga. To celebrate his birthday, here are our favorite tracks from the entire saga, from the epic “Duel of the Fates” to the romantic “Han Solo and the Princess.”
Scroll through and open up Spotify; let’s listen to some of the most beautiful tracks to complement sci-fi.
The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace has an excellent score, no matter what you think of the movie itself. The most memorable track, by far, is “Duel of the Fates,” the epic backdrop to the Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul fight. Blasting it automatically makes you feel like you’re deftly wielding the Force while dueling your enemies; it might be one of the most iconic pieces of Star Wars music from the entire saga.
However, the film ends on a strong note, as well, with both the melancholy track that plays over Qui-Gon’s funeral (which finds a reprise in Revenge of the Sith during Padmé’s death and funeral) and Augie’s Great Municipal Band playing an upbeat, celebratory version of the Emperor’s theme as Naboo celebrates victory and newfound peace. Both tracks stand out from the crowd and set the tone for both the ominous future awaiting the characters and the victory of the moment they are celebrating.
Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones does not have my favorite soundtrack overall from the films, but it does feature one of my favorite themes from the franchise. “Across the Stars,” the Anakin/Padmé love theme, is sweeping and gorgeous—epic, yet suitable enough to be played on a more intimate scale. It’s similar to the score for Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, which makes sense, given the star-crossed elements of their romance.
Revenge of the Sith
In my opinion, Revenge of the Sith has one of the best soundtracks overall from the entire franchise, and has the best prequel score by far. From the dramatic opening that sets the tone of the entire film, to General Grievous’s theme, to the moody operatic score that provides ambiance for the tragedy of Darth Plageuis, there is hardly a weak track among them. One of the most achingly lovely musical motifs is “Padmé’s Ruminations,” which echoes as Padmé and Anakin both gaze out across Coruscant and Anakin comes to an ultimately tragic decision.
The film is given an epic theme with “Battle of the Heroes,” which plays as Anakin and Obi-Wan duel on the lava planet Mustafar. The Force theme swells in the middle of the piece, which adds a mythic layer to an already emotional battle. Pretty much every track in the third act, from “The Immolation Scene” to the score that plays as a newly born Vader looks out on the Death Star being built, is truly epic.
But the best part is the finale, which features Leia’s theme sweeping in as Bail Organa brings his new daughter to Alderaan, and then the “Binary Sunset” theme plays as Obi-Wan delivers a baby Luke to the Lars family. As Owen and Beru look out on the twin suns, the music swells, reminding us of a new hope in the galaxy. It’s the perfect musical finale to a particularly dark chapter of the Star Wars saga.
A New Hope
The original Star Wars has too many amazing musical motifs to count. From the first time we heard that opening fanfare throughout the action of the first scene, Williams’s score immediately transports you galaxies away. Of course, I’d be banned from the universe if I didn’t mention Leia’s romantic, elegant theme that we first hear as she hides the Death Star plans in Artoo. The full concert version of theme is a gorgeous listen that usually leads to tears.
Of course, the Force motif first introduced in this film is so very important to the saga itself that to not mention it might get my fan card revoked. The motif, which plays whenever the Force or something particularly momentous occurs, is vital to the very fabric of what makes Star Wars, well, Star Wars. Both the “Binary Sunset” motif, which plays as Luke longs for adventure, and the “Burning Homestead” version, which plays when Luke discovers his uncle and aunt have been murdered, are stunning and iconic examples of the theme.
Finally, there is the “Throne Room” finale track, which plays a heroic version of the main fanfare as Han and Luke are given medals for their roles in defeating the Death Star. The theme is triumphant and ends the film on the perfect, joyous note, inspiring us all to believe in heroes and space fairy tales, even if for a moment.
The Empire Strikes Back
Let’s get this one out of the way: the “Imperial March” is the best villain theme short of Williams’s work on Jaws. Instantly identifiable, the “Imperial March” just conjures the image of Darth Vader flanked by stormtroopers, lightsaber drawn and ready to use the Dark Side of the Force. Without the ominous notes of this theme, it would have been hard to capture the sheer might of the Empire.
This film also introduced us to “Han Solo and the Princess,” a sweeping romantic theme for Han and Leia’s love story. Suitably epic, it also conveys a different feel than Williams would later go on to capture with “Across the Stars.” The Han/Leia theme is classic and sweet, and just soaring enough to serve as the perfect finale track for the last shot of our heroes looking out into space and plotting their next move.
My favorite of the new themes though is Yoda’s theme. A surprisingly powerful theme to match a surprisingly powerful character, the theme captures the same magic as the Force motif without just repeating it. We get a sense of mysticism and power through this particular theme that complements the more Skywalker-centric Force theme.
Return of the Jedi
Rumored to have been a love theme back when Luke/Leia was a romantic option, Williams composed a theme for the Skywalker siblings called Luke and Leia. The full concert suite of their theme might be the best theme in Return of the Jedi. The soft, sweet music captures the magic of the saga and always reminds me of one of my favorite scenes, where Luke reveals to Leia that not only is she his sister, but that she possesses the Force, as well.
The joyous, bouncy theme “Parade of the Ewoks” is a delightful addition to the franchise, even if Ewoks aren’t universally beloved. The finale of the trilogy was originally the joyous Ewok anthem “Yub Nub,” but was changed in the special edition. While many do not like the Special Editions, the celebratory track added in as part of the change is a lovely theme that rings a little bittersweet, knowing what happens in the sequels. It’s a positive change compared to Greedo shooting first.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the best use of the Imperial March in the film; as Vader dies, forgiven by his son, the theme plays mournfully in the background, a reminder of what Vader did while he served the Emperor.
The Force Awakens
As a Rey fan, my favorite track from The Force Awakens is by far Rey’s theme. An adventurous, hopeful tune that speaks to the dreamer in all of us, it’s a lovely piece of music that sets the scene beautifully when the character is first introduced and has been used excellently throughout the sequel trilogy to indicate her growth and journey. Those opening notes are instantly identifiable, and it’s hard to imagine Rey having any other music.
“March of the Resistance” is a triumphant, defiant piece of music that instantly sets the stage for the bold fighters pushing back against the First Order. Similarly, Poe’s motif fits the best pilot in the Resistance perfectly. Kylo Ren’s theme feels unfinished, but in the best way; he is a character whose fate is unknown. However, here is where my sole critique comes in: Where is Finn’s theme? He deserves his own motif to match Rey, Poe, and Kylo, so please fix that in Episode IX!
The final track, which combines Rey’s theme and the Force motif as Rey presents Luke’s lost saber to the exiled Jedi Master, is perhaps the finest final track on any Star Wars soundtrack. It holds the promise of future adventures while paying homage to the past, and as it transitions from the powerful Force motif to the ending credits fanfare, it reminds us all of the power that the franchise holds.
The Last Jedi
Rose gets her own hero’s theme in this film, a sweet and charming motif present first in “Fun with Finn and Rose” but also very present during the fathier chase scene. Rose’s theme might be my second favorite of all the new characters’ themes; much like Rey, it sounds unique and fresh, and has a sweetness to it that I absolutely adore—an excellent theme for an important character.
Both “The Spark” and “The Last Jedi” are powerful tracks that capture everything about Star Wars that’s important: the past, in terms of motifs reused, and the future, in terms of the story they tell. While The Last Jedi might not have inspired universal love, it’s hard to argue that the soundtrack is anything less than excellent.
Most important is the use of Leia’s theme during the credits. As a memorial to Carrie Fisher appears onscreen, the music shifts into a gentle, bittersweet take on her theme to honor Lucasfilm’s princess.
What is your favorite John Williams-created Star Wars soundtrack? Let us know in the comments!
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