Updated: May 16, 2020
STAR WARS WOULDN’T BE STAR WARS WITHOUT JOHN WILLIAMS.
Now that the Skywalker Saga has come to an end with Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, I thought it would be appropriate, as one of our first articles as a website that focuses so much on film, to dedicate one to one of the most influential franchises of all time.
We’re thinking of doing a group article ranking the Star Wars movies later on, so instead I thought I’d rank something else: the musical themes. For this list I’ll only be counting themes composed by the legend himself John Williams for the Main Saga (so no Rogue One, Solo, Clone Wars, Rebels, or The Mandalorian, although they also have some fantastic scores). Also, I'm not counting the Opening Credits because it's so iconic it would beat all of the others hands down, and it's also not really a theme/motif like the others.
So settle down, grab a pack of lightly salted Doritos (they were the only ones left) and your pre-coronapocalypse, definitely out-of-date dip, and prepare to get nostalgic!
10. Leia’s Theme (ANH,ESB,ROTJ,ROTS,TFA,TLJ,TROS)
Oh Leia… my favourite character in Star Wars. Leia has always been an inspiration to me, a paragon of strength and resilience in the face of adversity. To me, that’s what her theme represents: hope in the face of evil, the eternal struggle of light and darkness. While used in some cases in A New Hope as a general theme, it mostly belongs solely to Leia, recurring in all her later appearances even after her death. Parts of it make up 'Han Solo and the Princess' (Han and Leia’s love theme), a theme that itself came very close to being on this list. I chose Leia’s, however, because it’s not only used much more, but like I said: to me it represents the core ideals of Star Wars itself. This one never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
9. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s Theme (TFA,TLJ,TROS)
When John Williams had to come up with a new major evil theme to rival the Imperial March for Kylo Ren, he more than rose to the challenge. Out of all the themes of the Skywalker Saga, this one probably represents Ben as a character more than any of them do their respective characters. There’s conflict in the music, just like Kylo himself and the sudden bursts of loudness are like his sudden outbursts. What truly makes this theme so great for me, however, is how it evolves into Ben’s theme. Once Ben is redeemed in The Rise of Skywalker, a new rendition of his old theme is used to represent him, and it is incredible. It was JJ’s idea to use the same theme and make it heroic, and Williams absolutely delivers, turning a theme of evil and fear into one of hope and love which now fills Ben in that moment.
8. The Rise of Skywalker (TROS)
The newest theme on this list, 'The Rise of Skywalker' is the main theme for, you guessed it, The Rise of Skywalker. What makes this theme stand out on the list is that it really has no obvious meaning or relation - is it a theme for the Skywalker family? Is it a secondary theme for Rey? Is it just an overall theme for the movie, like, say the individual themes for each of the Indiana Jones movies?
I like to think it’s a theme for Rey and Ben (it does sound like a love theme) but there’s absolutely no indication of that being its intention, so I’m leaning towards it being just a general theme for the movie. Whatever it means, it’s absolutely beautiful, with a balance of hope and tragedy that reminds me of 'Anakin’s Theme'. The only reason I have it at number 8 and not higher, is because of what I mentioned before: it has no real meaning to attach it to which makes it feel less special, and also, the others are just so iconic it’s hard to argue this deserves to be up there yet.
7. Battle of the Heroes (ROTS)
'Battle of the Heroes' is one of the most epic themes of the entire saga. It makes every scene in which it's used in Revenge of the Sith even more powerful, especially the Mustafar fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan, which the theme was presumably made for. The fact that this theme is only used in Revenge of the Sith is a tragedy, but then again, it has such a specific purpose I can’t argue with them not reusing it. In fact, reusing it might make it slightly less special, as it can be seen as a theme for Anakin and Obi-Wan, and using it as a generic 'tragedy' theme might cheapen it. I don’t know, I’m not John Williams; whatever he decides is best, is best.
6. Yoda’s Theme (ESB,ROTJ,TPM,AOTC,ROTS,TLJ,TROS)
The classic X-Wing lifting scene of The Empire Strikes Back, and now the paralleled version in The Rise of Skywalker, are both scored with one of the most underrated Star Wars themes - Yoda’s. Maybe because Yoda isn’t actually on screen all that much in the Saga, or maybe because it’s not as flashy, but I don’t see people talking as much about how good his theme is, besides the X-Wing scene (in fairness easily its most prominent use prior to TROS). I love how it was used again for Yoda’s scene in The Last Jedi (one of my favourites in the whole movie) as well as in the Yoda’s journey arc of the Clone Wars, and if we do see the guy again (hello, High Republic movie rumours) I expect his iconic theme will be there with him.
5. The Imperial March (ESB,ROTJ,TPM,AOTC,ROTS,TFA,TLJ,TROS)
How could I not list Darth Vader’s theme on this list? Everyone and their mother can, and do, hum this tune when they think of evil and darkness, and Williams clearly agrees as he’s used it in all of his Star Wars movies ever since composing it for The Empire Strikes Back. Sometimes it appears just to signify Vader (most of the time in the Sequel Trilogy and in Rogue One), other times as a theme for the Empire (Solo even used a more upbeat version as the in-universe Imperial Anthem which is super cool). There are some more sneaky uses that are my favourite though, like its inclusion in 'Anakin’s Theme' as part of the angelic lightness of that theme to foreshadow his fall, and some even hear it as part of Luke’s The Last Jedi theme. All in all, it remains just as iconic now as it was then, if not more so.
4. Rey’s Theme (TFA,TLJ,TROS)
If you’re like me, and you see 'Binary Sunset' as more of a general theme rather than Luke’s Theme specifically, then 'Rey’s Theme' is arguably the best character theme in the saga. You can tell Daisy Ridley and the character of Rey are John Williams’ favourite figures in the films, because he absolutely knocks it out of the park with this. From the get go, it establishes Rey as her own person, with her own unique sound: the chimes that have become synonymous with the character. It then opens up into a sprawling theme that encapsulates just how vast her future is and where her destiny will take her. It carries an emotional weight to it that is built up over the Sequel Trilogy, particularly in The Rise of Skywalker, where it appears in several different ways and, as Williams himself put it, in a more 'mature' way.
3. Binary Sunset (The Force Theme) (ANH,ESB,ROTJ,TPM,AOTC,ROTS,TFA,TLJ,TROS)
The most iconic Star Wars theme besides the main saga theme, Binary Sunset is the theme most broadly used and with the most broad meanings in the franchise. Originally intended as Luke’s Secondary Theme back when the Main Titles were intended to be his primary theme and not the saga’s, it’s now come to be associated with many things including Luke, the Force, the Jedi, hope, and the Tatooine sunset. Everyone knows this theme and it’s probably one of the only themes to not just appear in every saga movie as well as spin-offs and TV shows, but also be used frequently, and not just as a quick reprisal.
2. Duel of the Fates (TPM,AOTC)
Yes, I know. I’m supposed to put this theme first, but while I absolutely love this theme and it deserves its iconic status, I still prefer “Across the Stars” which I’ll get to next. What makes this theme unique is that, much like the aforementioned “The Rise of Skywalker” this theme doesn’t have an obvious connection to any specific character, relationship, place or recurring element. Rather, it’s simply there to make the final act of The Phantom Menace more exciting, and do that it does as the Darth Maul fight has since become iconic - in many ways thanks to this very theme, the only classical music song to ever be on MTV’s Total Request Live. Since earning its legendary status it recurred during the speeder chase scene of Attack of the Clones, and has mostly been adopted now as a theme for Maul, appearing with him in his cameo appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
1.Across the Stars (AOTC,ROTS)
The love theme of the star-crossed lovers Anakin and Padmé, “Across the Stars” is John Williams’ finest Star Wars work, in this writer’s opinion. A perfect mix of tragedy and levity, it perfectly sums up their relationship and the power of their love. It’s so good, in fact, that it very often overshadows the couple themselves, who remain iconic despite being questionably written - at best - in the movie this theme makes its debut in. Ultimately, this hauntingly tragic theme captures the heart of the story of the prequels and it’s a damn shame it’s not reprised in the Sequel Trilogy, with its two other star-crossed lovers.
Honorable Mentions: The Trio Theme, Han Solo and the Princess, Anakin’s Theme, Rebel Fanfare, Poe’s Theme, Ach-To Island, Rose’s Theme, Palpatine’s Theme.
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