Film Score Friday Top 5: Ranking the “Star Wars” scores

So on my recent vacation, I kept myself awake on my long drive by listening to the Star Wars scores of Mr. John Williams (No Clone Wars or video game scores here…but maybe later).  And, having now ingested all six as fully as can be had on Compact Disc, I feel confident enough to post my rankings of the scores.  As mentioned in my earlier post, the versions used in this were the 2-disc “Ultimate Edition” of Phantom Menace, the standard 2-disc sets of the Original Trilogy, and the single disc releases of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

So here it goes…in reverse order…

#5) Episode III – Revenge of the Sith: I’ll say this right now, it was hard to compare the films with only a single disc release against those with 2-disc releases because with the single disc you’re getting only the highlights.  That being said, this score was good, but not great.  It showed a good integration of themes, and the “Battle of Heroes” music for the final duel between Anakin and Obi-wan was quite good.  But it there was still something lacking.

#4) Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Say what you will about the film (and I think it is easily the worst Star Wars movie of all time…maybe even worse than Clone Wars), but I think the score is just as easily the best of the prequels.  It is ironic that the Love Theme for Anakin and Padme is among, in my opinion, the best in the series (right up there with the Force Theme, Luke and Leia, and the Imperial March), but yet it is those scenes and their awful dialogue, that utterly destroy episodes II and III.

#3) Episode IV – A New Hope: I always have a problem with ranking both the film and score for the original Star Wars. On the one hand, it is the original and set the stage for what was to come, and there are many great moments and themes (Force Theme, the Jawas, Cantina Band).  On the other hand, though, the subsequent scores takes everything to a higher level.

#2) Episode VI – Return of the Jedi:  Three words – Battle of Endor.  The rest of the score is also good, Jabba’s Theme also being a highlight.  But as good as Jedi is, it can’t really compete with…

#1) Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back:  So many great moments come from this film, and also introduced many classic themes (Imperial March, Yoda, Han and Leia).  The Battle of Hoth sequence is so well scored that one really doesn’t need to watch the film, but just listen, to understand what’s going on.  Oh, and Boba Fett’s theme uses a Contrabassoon, which is just cool.

So the question now becomes, why did I decide to rank Phantom Menace last?  Well, this is where the question of 2-disc vs. single disc comes in, because in listening to the entire Menace score, there were times when I was kind of bored with it, long stretches, probably underscore for dialogue, that I question why they were scored.  In listening to the 2-disc sets for original Trilogy, I experienced no such moments of boredom.  So it could be that the scores for II and III were not markedly better than I, but because they were in single-disc sets “seemed” better.  Thoughts from the gallery?

Also, I have yet to find out why, in the end credits on the album for Sith, it goes into the Throne Room from New Hope, but doesn’t in the actual film release.  I know that there was much editing done after recording, and things are routinely changed, but the fact that it is there makes me wonder if the credits were longer originally, or if there was some sort of mid-credits scene, or something else entirely. 

Anybody out there know?

2 thoughts on “Film Score Friday Top 5: Ranking the “Star Wars” scores

  1. One of the biggest problems with the way Williams assembled the albums (this goes for the original trilogy albums as well) is that he would edit together multiple cues into a single track that was a “more pleasing listening experience”. This is more obvious on the prequel albums than the original trilogy (owing to the ubiquitous use of “and” in the track titles).

    Ultimately I don’t think you can actually compare the scores to between the two trilogies. Yes, they share a lot of material but, as you no doubt know, a lot changed in film music (and filmmaking!) aesthetics in the 16 years from Jedi to The Phantom Menace. Indeed John Williams’ own compositional aesthetic either shifted or asserted itself more strongly (depending on your point-of-view) in the interceding years.

    One thing about the 2-disc set of The Phantom Menace. The album is presented as the music heard in the film; nothing more. As I understand it, the last 30 minutes of the film underwent a heavy re-edit after the scoring sessions. This is why the big battle (and its music) in the last act feel so disjointed with strange cuts and weird transitions. I imagine that what Williams originally wrote fit quite a lot better in order to help make sense of it all.

    As far as “The Throne Room” from A New Hope being on the Revenge of the Sith album, I think Williams did it because he could and really no other reason. I think he thought it would tie the two series together but its was kind of lost on me, too. Personally, I think it would’ve been more interesting if he had written something that connected “Anakin’s Theme” to “The Imperial March” (in a less subtle way than the final bars of “Anakin’s Theme”) and tied it all up with the end credits fanfare from The Empire Strikes Back. But that’s just me.

  2. I agree that it is hard to compare between the two trilogies due to Williams’ evolution as a composer. But as people do compare the two, I felt it was still appropriate, and I simply went with my “what is more enjoyable to hear.” Part of the problem with the “Phantom Menace” score is that either Lucas of Williams (probably Lucas) decided to underscore the whole thing practically, whereas in the original movies, while you may have alot of underscore, there are at least moments where there is no music. It’s an intersting question of when to use music and when not to, and the reason I say it was Lucas’ decision is that it would seem to be in-line with all the other bad choices he made in those films (namely writing and directing them himself).

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