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John Williams
John Williams

Ranking the Best Scores by Legendary Composer John Williams on Star Wars Day

Happy Star Wars Day everyone! Over a 43-year period beginning in 1977, John Williams, one of the world’s best film composers, wrote each of the nine OSTs for the gen-spanning film saga.

While each entry was written as such, for a single film, Williams constantly looked back and built on the soundscape and growing library of thematic threads he had created each time. As a result, ideas and motifs created for that original 1977 movie appear over and over.

Indeed, the composer sees this collection of scores as a whole, and Williams’ Ninth is no exception. The Rise of Skywalker introduces numerous new elements to the canon while viscerally and emotionally reflecting on all that existed prior. But where does this unfamiliar final score stand in relation to the other eight?

Here is Sinusoidal’s pick for the best Star War scores. May the ‘fourth’ be with you!

9 / Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

London Symphony Orchestra; London Voices/John Williams

Even at the bottom of the list, this tune promises thrills, spills, and romance. Williams’ soundtrack was heavily edited, especially in the third act, yet there are some notable passages.

The sad love theme ‘Across the Stars’ for Anakin Skywalker and Padme (future parents of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia) is at the top of the list.

There’s a breath-taking pursuit in the clouds above the city-planet Coruscant, but beyond that, it’s a lot of action-heavy music meant to connect distant locales and plot lines.

8 / Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

London Symphony Orchestra; London Voices/John Williams

This third act of George Lucas’ ‘Prequel Trilogy’ (films set before the original 1977-83 trilogy but created 20+ years later) has a great deal of drama, gloom, and some buffoonery. Williams, on the other hand, takes it all in stride, using wide Mahlerian strokes to highlight Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace – spoiler warning, he becomes Darth Vader – and what amounts to Jedi execution.

It’s arguably the more choir-heavy of the soundtracks, and it’s fantastic music, but it’s a little different from the Star Wars soundtracks we know and love.

However, the appearance of babies Luke and Leia, as well as the ‘birth’ of Darth Vader, in the conclusion allows Williams to revisit some classic themes.

7 / Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Studio Orchestra; Los Angeles Master Chorale /John Williams & William Ross

Williams expanded on the armoury of new motifs he established in The Force Awakens in the middle installment of the most recent trilogy. There is less nod to ‘traditional’ tunes, while a much-anticipated’reunion’ of siblings Luke and Leia brings back the composer’s 1983 theme for the couple. Action music abounds, but it is not trivial; Williams appears to be encouraged and takes delight in it.

There’s also levity and brevity, with unique new music for resistance fighter Rosie, an intriguing casino sequence, and raucous music for a pursuit on horse-like beasts known as ‘Fathiers’.

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6 / Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Studio Orchestra; Los Angeles Master Chorale/John Williams

Williams’ final installment in the Star Wars story shows no indications of him resting on his laurels or becoming bored.

Given that this film concludes a tale that began in 1977, Williams uses numerous old themes and situations to connect plot points and characters. It’s done expertly, and at times thrillingly.

There’s also a slew of new material, including a lyrical new subject of belonging and destiny, a wonderful speeder chase across the desert, and a slew of despicably gloomy modes for the wicked Emperor, including an ‘Anthem of evil’.

5 / Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

London Symphony Orchestra; London Voices/John Williams

This was Williams’ first return to the galaxy far, far away, and it marked the start of a new trilogy of films with filmmaker George Lucas. After a 16-year wait, fans were eager to hear what a new Star Wars score might sound like.

There’s refinement and grandeur here, as well as new sounds for vibrant new worlds and personalities. It is an underappreciated score that is a masterclass in musical narrative.

Williams expertly anticipates themes and ideas that will ‘follow’ in subsequent installments of the chronology. Indeed, his theme for the child Anakin Skywalker concludes with a subtle reference to Darth Vader’s theme. The score’s finest achievement is ‘Duel of the Fates,’ a sort of choral-symphonic tone poem. With a complex story to set out, it’s Williams’s music which binds this galaxy together.

4 / Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

Studio Orchestra/John Williams, William Ross & Gustavo Dudamel

Given that this latest and last trilogy of films starts 35 years after the first trilogy finished, you’d expect John Williams to draw extensively on known motifs. He did, however, totally embrace the new strands and characters introduced by filmmaker JJ Abrams.

The composer seemed to have been inspired by both this movie and these people, as he generated an assortment of fresh and distinctive melodies and motifs. ‘Rey’s Theme,’ composed for a character (and actress) who Williams confesses charmed him, is at the centre of the soundtrack. The connections to well-known musical material are well-executed and have a big impact, especially the reunion of the estranged Han Solo and Princess (General) Leia.

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3 / Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

London Symphony Orchestra/John Williams

The first-ever third-place movie The soundscape and patterns had developed to this point and were well known.

This music has a charm and emotional depth that is easy to miss. Williams created brand-new themes for the ‘vile gangster’ Jabba the Hutt, the Emperor Palpatine, and the small Ewok troops. He also created a menacing choral chant for the Emperor.

Some of the composer’s best work may be heard in the fight music for the space and woodland scenes, which expertly balances pace, action, passion, and humour as the rebels defeat the empire.

2 / Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

London Symphony Orchestra/John Williams

This is the first of them all. The request from George Lucas for a traditional symphonic film soundtrack made by Williams would lead to a comeback of orchestral, theme music in movies. Williams’s position at the top of Hollywood’s A-list of composers was likewise assured, and his true hallmark style was established.

With the ‘Main Title’ (also known as Luke Skywalker’s theme) being so well-known, it’s simple to overlook the remainder of the score because this is where all the scores that came after it began. It’s creative,  thrilling, and owing to its popularity outside of the movie theatre, it introduced a generation of moviegoers to the orchestra.

1 / Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

London Symphony Orchestra/John Williams

Williams could never have predicted the significance of the original Star Wars movie or its musical score. With the follow-up, however, he was aware of the situation and was able to experiment and delve a little further.

Some of the composer’s most powerful and thrilling dramatic music resulted from returning themes that were elaborated and a sonic palette that had already been formed. The Battle of Hoth, the chase across the Asteroid Field, and the suspenseful encounter between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader at the end are among the highlights.

Strong new themes were included in this movie too, such as a march for Vader, a covert love tune for Han Solo and the Princess, and a magnificent, lyrical piece for the wise Yoda. Better than this, it gets not!

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An entity of flesh and bones in pursuit of becoming a higher being. A connoisseur of the mystic arts and everything musical. His origins are unknown, and so are his true motives.

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