With the news that we’re getting revamped versions of the soundtracks from all six Star Wars films, our Jedi Council comes together to share what musical memory from the franchise is at the top of our playlists. Whether you’re a fan of the more high-profile fare like the apocalyptic, operatic heights of “Duel of the Fates,” or if you’re more inclined to lesser-known pieces like the bouncy “Parade of the Ewoks,” it’s impossible to deny that the musical catalog of Star Wars is one of its greatest strengths.
Kyle Warnke: John Williams did a fantastic job on the music for the prequel trilogy. Not only did he turn in a number of instant-classic tracks, but his compositions ended up being the saving grace of several scenes that otherwise might have been unbearable. (I’m particularly thinking of Anakin’s Tusken Raider slaughter in Episode II and his third-degree lava burning at the end of Episode III.)
But there’s one moment in the prequels where Williams’ music doesn’t need to save the scene. Rather, it enhances it, like all great movie music should. It’s only about a minute long, but the sequence in The Phantom Menace where Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Jar Jar Binks swim to Otoh Gunga is one of my favorites in not just the prequel movies, but the entire series. In terms of the design of the city, the unobtrusive special effects work, and the way George Lucas shoots it, the entire scene conveys the awe and anticipation of seeing something so exotic and alien.
The John Williams track, made up of rumbling strings and a chorus of haunting voices, is the cherry on top of the cake. The first time I watched the movie, I didn’t even realize what effect the music was having on me, but now watching it again, I realize it’s the exact push the scene needs to overwhelm you with the unsettling eeriness of the strange world the Jedi are entering. And that feeling of giving the viewer a peek at worlds beyond your imagination represents the pinnacle of what Star Wars can achieve.
David (Razor) Harris: Without a doubt, for me, there is no competition. The “Imperial March” is my favorite track/musical theme from John Williams and Star Wars. There are days I wake up humming the “Imperial March,” and go to bed humming the same tune. There are days that I hum this tune all day long, it has been ingrained in my very DNA since the age of 10. I am the “Imperial March”; I am Darth Vader. This is why I love Star Wars.
Some fun facts about the score: It was composed by John Williams for the second film in the franchise — Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. “The Imperial March” premiered on April 29, 1980, three weeks before the opening of the film. While it is mostly used when Darth Vader appears on screen, it was used for Palpatine’s arrival on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. The score is sparingly used in the prequel trilogy: Mostly when young Anakin’s future as Darth Vader is hinted at, the song is played in low keys. It is also used during Yoda and Palpatine’s battle at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
Besides the main Star Wars theme, the “Imperial March” is probably the most recognizable score in the entire saga, and can be pointed out by people who aren’t even fans of the films. Even now, as I type my entry into this week’s Jedi Council, I am humming the main chorus.
Elaine Tveit: John Williams’s work on every Star Wars score and track is so impeccable and incomparable that it’s difficult to choose just one to highlight. But there is a particular track on the Ultimate Edition soundtrack of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace that comes to my mind and is, in my opinion, powerful though obscure.
“Anakin is Free” is perhaps one of the lesser known Star Wars tracks, and yet its elegance is such that it moves through several different moods, and ends on a thrumming rendition of the “Force Theme” from the original trilogy. In the context of the movie, it accompanies the scenes in which Anakin finds out he is free to go with Qui-Gon Jinn to be trained as a Jedi, as well as the subsequent discovery that this freedom comes at a devastating cost: He must leave his mother on Tatooine in the shackles of slavery.
The emotion of this track, particularly the last two minutes or so which provide a musical background to Anakin’s choice to leave his mother, is monumental in its significance for the greater saga. I argue that Anakin leaving Shmi Skywalker is the moment at which his life began to take a turn towards the dark side, as it is the nerve center of all his choices later on in life. From his nightmares about her, to slaughtering the sandpeople who tortured her to the point of her death, his life is haunted by his choice to “abandon” her to what, for all he knew, would be a life of perpetual slavery and solitude. Later, the memory of her murder leads him to commit heinous acts to prevent like events from occurring again, and in so doing, he seals his fate to the care of the Dark Side.
Though the beauty and power of “Anakin is Free” may not be obvious in its first minute or so, I encourage you to listen to it all the way to its end. Its grace and depth, similar to that of the theme of a not-so-different boy looking out to a binary sunset, will move you perhaps as much as the latter did.
Mike Valverde: “Duel of the Fates” is my favorite theme from any Star Wars movie. How can it not be great? Take one of the greatest composers of the modern era in John Williams and lace that with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Voices Choir and magic happens.
According to the research, John Williams had friends from Harvard University translate the English version back to Celtic, then to Greek, and finally Sanskrit. Williams then reduced the stanza to phrases consisting of a single word to formulate the music. The version in Celtic was translated from a Welsh poem called Cad Goddeu (Battle of the Tree). Since he only chose particular words out of Sanskrit, little makes sense when translated to English. The score takes place when Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul meet in the palace on Naboo.
Joe Prescott: Oh I can’t just name one! The sheer sweeping glory of John Williams score is too exquisitely dense in beautiful melodies and whistle-able catchiness. But slightly superfluous hyperbole aside, maybe if I put my mind to it I could decide.
So when you hear of a theme from the saga, you immediately think of a certain passage or motif played when certain characters appear on screen, or perhaps a piece of music unique to a particular setting or scene. The larger, more exciting scenes have broader melodies and deeper timbres in their instrumentation, and it’s hard not to be stirred when hearing the “Main Theme” or the “Imperial March.” My favourite of the more intense pieces would definitely be “The Asteroid Field” piece from Empire. When listening to this piece I can picture the scene as it plays, quoting the dialogue out loud!
But for me, the real beauty of Williams’ music lies within the more dramatic moments of the movies. One piece, “Yoda and the Force,” stands out and is used to great effect during the scene over which it is played. To refresh your memory, it’s when Yoda lifts Luke’s X-Wing from the Dagobah swamp after Luke judges him by his size.
So having gone through some standout moments for me, it’s clear now what my favourite theme is. Commonly called the “Force Theme” and used when Luke looks at the twin sunset on Tatooine, it was the first time we’d heard the recurring motif and it was used at a poignant moment for our newly introduced hero. On the soundtrack it’s titled “Binary Sunset,” and it’s my favourite piece for its stirring movements and the way it’s used for important moments in the saga.