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The Music of Star Wars: The Best Musical Themes, Ranked from Worst to Best

The Music of Star Wars: The Best Musical Themes, Ranked from Worst to Best

From John Williams’ history-making musical themes to Ludwig Göransson’s Emmy-winning score for The Mandalorian, let’s take a look at the music of Star Wars, ranked from worst to best.


When John Williams composed the score for Star Wars‘ Episode IV: A New Hope, back in 1977, history was made. In the 1960s, Hollywood had started to follow a new model for film scores, moving away from orchestral music and experimenting with compilation scores, as well as musical themes that combined elements of different kinds of music — from pop to rock’n’roll to rap and disco — that were deemed to be more appropriate for a specific film genre. But, just when the industry seemed to have moved away from the models of the past, favouring a subtler musical language over grandiose, romantic scores, John Williams arrived and revolutionised a genre.

With A New Hope, not only did the Oscar-winning composer revive the leitmotif—a kind of musical theme that we associate with a specific character, idea or even a feeling, and that acquires symbolic meaning every time it is repeated throughout the film, but he also proved that there was still room for epic orchestral scores and loud sound design to be used in big-budget Hollywood productions. And so, if the 20th Century Fox fanfare preceeded the film, Episode IV also began with a fanfare of its own that immediately grabbed our attention with a single, loud note and went on to become one of the most recognizable themes ever to be composed for the screen.

A New Hope paved the way for a romantic renaissance in film scores, featuring several history-making, instantly identifiable musical themes that embodied all the heroism and the adventure of one of the most beloved sagas in film history. But that’s not all. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Williams’ themes evolved and acquired new meaning. In the prequels, new cues emerged that immediately improved the quality of the weakest Star Wars chapters. In The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, beloved motifs reemerged and evolved to leave room for new ones, bringing us an equally epic score to mark a fitting farewell to the saga. In the standalone movies, composers like John Powell and Michael Giacchino helped give a sound to new and old characters who didn’t have a motif of their own yet. And then came The Mandalorian, where Ludwig Göransson‘s Emmy-winning opening theme made us fall in love with Jon Favreau‘s intergalactic western world.

The Star Wars saga features a huge number of iconic, history-making tracks that have the ability to make us nostalgic and emotional in no time, and most of them also mark incredible achievements in film music. Let’s take a look at the twenty-five best musical themes from the saga (according to us), ranked from worst to best. And,


25. “THE DUNE SEA OF TATOOINE / JAWA SANDCRAWLER” (THE JAWA THEME)

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “Cantina Band” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

“Jawa Sandcrawler” might not be as memorable and regognizable as the saga’s most popular musical themes, but it’s still absolutely effective at capturing the essence of the most hated (at least by C3PO) humanoids in the saga. Thanks to Williams’ clever use of the oboe to mimic the creatures’ walk and attitude, the Jawa theme is just as playful and goofy as it needs to be.


24. “STAR-DUST”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: “Star-Dust” by Michael Giacchino (Walt Disney Studios)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the first of the standalone movie to be released, and it was also the first Star Wars film whose soundtrack wasn’t composed by John Williams. When Michael Giacchino was given the arduous task of composing Rogue One‘s score, he had to give viewers enough references to Williams’ cues to remind them of other beloved chapters of the saga, but he also needed to create something completely original that could tell the story of an entirely new set of characters. Giacchino rose to the challenge, and Rogue One‘s soundtrack fits with the style of the saga, containing many references to Williams’ work that the composer made his own. But it also features more than one cue that are completely different from what we’ve heard before, and “Star-Dust” is one of them. Haunting, seductive and heartbreakingly sad, the track takes its name from Galen Erso’s (Mads Mikkelsen) nickname for his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones), and subtly, but unequivocally, foreshadows her fate by building intensity until the end.


23. “THE THRONE ROOM/END TITLE”

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “The Throne Room/End Title” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

“The Throne Room/End Title” is yet another proof of John Williams’ ability to transform and adapt his themes to the many different moods of the Star Wars universe. This cue plays at the very end of A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) are given a medal by Leia (Carrie Fisher), having successfully defeated the Empire. To celebrate our heroes’ victory, Williams reprises the film’s main theme, which we heard at the very beginning, and turns it into another grandiose, fast-paced, uplifting fanfare that also comprises the many melodies that accompanied us throughout the movie.


22. “THE FORCE IS WITH YOU”

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker: “The Force is With You” by John Williams (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

“The Force is With You” plays during the battle of Exegol, and, though it isn’t the best musical theme on The Rise of Skywalker‘s impressive soundtrack, it’s still an immensely powerful, epic cue. If the first half of the track is quieter, with dark, distressing undertones, the second half is grandiose, first echoing “Rey’s Theme”, then becoming darker and disquieting as her journey against the Dark Side intensifies, and finally transforming into the familiar Force Theme we know all-too-well when evil is defeated. But there’s more: the last part of the track is also an achievement in itself, encompassing familiar cues from A New Hope, like “The Tie Fighter Attack”, but also ultimately embracing Rey’s identity with a heroic, positive ending.


21. “CANTINA BAND”

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “Cantina Band” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

No list of Star Wars musical themes would be complete without John Williams’ “Cantina Band”, the iconic track we hear when Luke and Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) enter Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina in Mos Eisley, Tatooine for the first time, looking for a pilot who’d take them to Alderaan. It’s at Chalmun’s Cantina that Luke meets Han Solo and Chewbacca for the first time, and not only is “Cantina Band” in no way the most important part of that scene, but it significantly stands out from A New Hope‘s other tracks. But that’s precisely the point of “Cantina Band”.

Performed by an alien band in the film, and by nine jazz musicians in real life, the song perfectly reflects the mood of the Cantina, a place filled with bizarre-looking aliens, eccentric criminals and one-of-a-kind bounty hunters. There’s a Cantina scene in The Force Awakens too, and it also comes with a song performed live by a band, but there’s a reason if John Williams’ 1977 cue from A New Hope hit number one on the Billboard 100 and Shag Kava’s “Jabba Flow” didn’t: “Cantina Band” is catchy enough to be instantly recognizable and repetitive enough to make it impossible for you to get it out of your head, no matter how hard you try. If you’d like to find out more about the history of the song, here‘s a helpful article with some anecdotes on your favourite galactic band. And if you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan, check out this fun quiz from Brainfall.



20. THE EMPEROR’S THEME

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi (1983): “The Emperor Arrives” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

Though the Emperor’s Theme’s first appearances are in Return of the Jedi‘s “The Emperor Arrives” (in the clip above, from minute 0:43), which accompanies Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) arrival on the Death Star, and “The Emperor’s Throne Room“, later in the film, the cue is heard many times throughout the saga, each time assuming a slightly different tone. If, in The Phantom Menace, the theme is understandably associated with Darth Sidious, in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith it also accompanies several scenes in which Anakin (Hayden Christensen) behaves badly, giving them the darker connotations linked to the Dark Side of the Force. The Emperor’s Theme is an ominous cue indeed, performed in a dark timbre by a wordless male chorus that gives it an otherwordly, evil quality. Which makes us love it even more.


19. “THE BATTLE OF HOTH”

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980): “The Battle of Hoth” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

Though “The Battle of Hoth” is not as recognizable as some of the musical themes on this page, it is still an incredible 14-minutes-long achievement that accompanies one of The Empire Strikes Back‘s most epic battles. Williams effortlessly switches from one mood to the other as the rebels attempt to resist the Empire’s attack, creating a track that heightens our investment in the action and also leaves room for bright, hopeful trills, a brilliant fanfare rendition of the Imperial March, and nostalgic hints to our heroes’ themes.



18. “THE JEDI STEPS”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: “The Jedi Steps” by John Williams (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

If the theme we usually associate with Luke — not only in the early films but also in recent additions to the saga, such as The Mandalorian — is the Force Theme, The Force Awakens provides our hero with a different sound entirely. There are traces of the Force Theme in “The Jedi Steps” (in the video above, minutes 0:00 – 2:10), but the track also encompasses all the sadness of a character that has been deeply affected by the many challenges he has withstood throughout the saga, accurately portraying the more experienced, tormented Luke we meet in Episode VII.



17. “PRINCESS LEIA’S THEME”

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “Princess Leia’s Theme” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope”. This memorable line from Episode IV is meaningful in more than one way, as Leia herself becomes a symbol of hope throughout the series, not only as the resourceful, brave leader of the rebellion, but also as a compassionate, loyal friend to Luke, Han, and Chewie. Though Leia’s Theme is not as strong as many of the other cues in A New Hope‘s soundtrack, it is still a memorable track that instantly reminds us of our princess, and of all the ideals she stands for, with its soft, hopeful notes.



16. “TORN APART”
(KYLO REN’S THEME)

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: “Torn Apart” by John Williams (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) theme is heard many times throughout Episodes VII-IX, but its first appearance is in “Torn Apart” (minute 2:53 in the clip above), where John Williams establishes a completely new motif that embodies not only Ren, but also the First Order and the Dark side of the Force in the sequels. In the same way that the Imperial March immediately conjures a mental image of Darth Vader in our minds in the original trilogy, listening to Kylo Ren’s theme is more than enough to alert us of his presence, and of the evil to come, in Episodes VII-IX,. And what’s even more impressive is the fact that, so many years (and so many iconic musical themes) after A New Hope, Williams was still able to create a highly effective leitmotif by using only five notes.


15. “ANAKIN’S THEME”

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: “Anakin’s Theme” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

The Phantom Menace presented Williams with a challenge, as he had to compose a score for a film that revolved around a familiar character that, up till that point, had only ever been represented as the worst possible version of himself. If Williams was already acquainted with Darth Vader, the evil Sith Lord who liked destroying planets and getting rid of underperforming employees in inventive ways, he wasn’t familiar with Anakin Skywalker, the ambitious but well-meaning boy who had yet to be seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. The brilliance of “Anakin’s Theme” is that, though its soft, hopeful melodies embody all the innocence and aspirations of the latter (0:00 – 2:33), the unmistakable leitmotif at the end (2:33 – 3:08) reminds us of the man he’s destined to become.


14. “TESTING ALLEGIANCE” (HAN SOLO’S THEME)

Solo

Solo: “Testing Allegiance” by John Powell & Williams (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

Solo: A Star Wars Story is quite possibly one of the least successful standalone films in the Star Wars universe, but the same cannot be said of its soundtrack. Before Solo‘s release, Han Solo didn’t really have a theme of his own, as his scenes were usually accompanied either by epic action cues to accompany chase sequences on the Falcon, or by tracks defined by the characters with whom he shared the screen. In Solo, John Powell and John Williams absolutely nail the essence of our favourite smuggler, composing a track that is just as fast-paced (0:44 – 1:20) and as glorious (1:45 – 2:00) as the scenes he’s in, but also as good and sweet-natured (2:40 – 4:00) as we know his heart to be.


13. “YODA’S THEME”

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980): “Yoda’s Theme” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

“Yoda’s Theme” perfectly reflects what our favourite Jedi master means to the Star Wars universe – a wise, powerful character that symbolises, almost in a religious way, all that’s good and pure in the galaxy. Williams’ cue embodies Yoda’s curiosity, wit and fundamental goodness, serving as a fitting introduction to the legendary creature.


12. “HAN SOLO AND THE PRINCESS”

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980): “Han Solo and the Princess” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

If “Leia’s Theme” is just as delicate, strong and hopeful as our princess is, “Han Solo and the Princess” turns all of those emotions into something that’s even more powerful, as it first and foremost represents Leia and Han’s feelings towards one another. The track does feature “Leia’s Theme”, but Williams also adds another set of delicate, bittersweet notes that serve to represent Han’s emotions. And, since Han is about to be frozen in carbonite when the track plays in the film, darker undertones take over in the second half of the cue, with the Imperial March forcefully threatening the couple’s (and everyone else’s) happiness and ultimately being replaced by dark notes of anguish and desperation. The dynamics one can hear in “Han Solo and the Princess” are complex indeed, and Williams masterfully conveys not only Leia and Han’s state of mind, but also how complicated their relationship can become when threatened by the forces of evil.



11. “BATTLE OF THE HEROES”

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith: “Battle of the Heroes” (John Williams)

If you’ve read my ranking of the Star Wars movies, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of Revenge of the Sith. But even if I wasn’t impressed by how Lucas approached Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, I still have to admit that the film’s score is incredible. Though “Battle of the Heroes” is not the best track on it, it’s a close second for me, as it shows one of Williams’ most effective uses of a chorus to emphasize a scene’s solemnity. The titular battle is one of the most important moments in the film – the final confrontation between Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), and the theme highlights just how high the stakes really are for the two “heroes”, making this iconic showdown even more intense, gripping and meaningful than it already is.


10. “THE ASTEROID FIELD”

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980): “The Asteroid Field” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

“The Asteroid Field” plays when Han, Chewbacca, and Leia lose Vader’s Imperial Ships by flying into an asteroid field, ultimately taking refuge into what we now know to be “no cave”. Williams’ score makes this iconic moment from The Empire Strikes Back even more memorable and engaging, with a track that begins with many hints to the Imperial March but then evolves into a frenzied, fast-paced sequence of high-pitched notes that convey all the danger in which our heroes find themselves, only to dissolve into a series of ominous echoes at the end.

See Also



9. “A NEW HOME”

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker: “A New Home” by John Williams (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

“A New Home” is heard during my least favourite scene in The Rise of Skywalker, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) visits Luke’s childhood home on Tattooine and buries his and Leia’s lightsabers, at the end of the film. But if the scene itself sparked a debate (and many, many, many memes) amongst fans, the score that accompanies it is brilliant. In “A New Home”, Williams combines parts of two great musical themes from The Force Awakens — “Rey’s Theme” and “The Jedi Steps” — but changes them to form something new, that also reflects Rey’s journey through both sides of the Force. The end result is a cue that starts slowly, with darker low notes, then assumes softer, hopeful shades and eventually becomes epic and heroic, only to end on a quieter, haunting note that embodies Rey’s many conflicting emotions and makes us wonder about her future.


8. “ACROSS THE STARS”

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones: “Across the Stars / Love Theme” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

Let’s forget about Anakin’s hate for sand and Padmé’s tendency never to age: “Across The Stars” is a great love theme, and possibly one of the very few good things about the disaster that was Attack of the Clones. Though the track is over 5 minutes long and often features the same repetitions of notes and refrains, it’s just as epic, melancholic, multilayered and tragic as it needs to be, successfully portraying the doomed romance between our two protagonists, and giving the film’s flawed screenplay more depth.


7. “REY’S THEME”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: “Rey’s Theme” by John Williams (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

“Rey’s Theme” is, quite simply, absolutely brilliant. There’s something haunting and magical about the first notes of the cue (0:15 – 0:23), which soon picks up the pace (0:24 – 0:30) and surprises us all over again, conveying the character’s wit and curiosity, as well as a sense of urgency behind everything she does. But then the theme evolves again (from 0:32 – 1:00), preserving the softness that defines Rey but also alerting us of her importance in the saga. The rest of the track is just as epic, hopeful, solemn and unique, perfectly representing one of the most complex characters in the sequels and anticipating the journey that lies ahead.



6. “DUEL OF THE FATES”

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: “Duel of the Fates” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

There’s a reason if “Duel of the Fates” has been a fan favourite ever since The Phantom Menace came out, that reason being that it’s unlike any other theme we’ve heard in any of the Star Wars films. Not only does it feature a choral piece (performed in Sanskrit by a children’s choir) that foreshadows Williams’ work on the Harry Potter films, but it also contains an irresistible motif (00:45 – 00:59) that highlights the solemnity of the moment, gaining momentum throughout and emphasizing the importance of the duel in question – the fight between good and evil, or, in Star Wars terms, the Jedi and the Sith.



5. “BEN KENOBI’S DEATH / TIE FIGHTER ATTACK” (THE TIE FIGHTER MOTIF)

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “Ben Kenobi’s Death/Tie Fighter Attack” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

Though “Ben Kenobi’s Death / Tie Fighter Attack” ‘s best part is repeated many times throughout the track, it only lasts five seconds (0:40 – 0:45, 0:51 – 0:56, …). Yet, it is still one of the most recognizable leitmotifs in the saga, instantly transporting us to the Millennium Falcon, where our heroes are under attack, battling the Empire’s Tie Fighters. The Tie Fighter motif is just as militaristic, aggressive, repetitive and loud as it needs to be, conveying the urgency of the battle and forever ingraining itself into our brains.



4. “THE MANDALORIAN”

The Mandalorian

“The Mandalorian”: by Ludwig Göransson (UMG / Walt Disney Records)

Ludwig Göransson’s score for The Mandalorian is incredible. The beloved Disney Plus series is really more of an intergalactic western, and Göransson embraces the show’s unique identity with an Emmy-winning theme that conveys all the loneliness of its titular gunslinger, as well as the hardships of the world he inhabits. But if the most repetitive parts of The Mandalorian‘s theme remind us of Ennio Morricone’s scores for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, the track is also unique enough to be unmistakenly Göransson’s. So, press play on the clip above and let the music do its magic, transporting you to an entirely new but also, somehow, familiar universe.


3. “THE HOLOGRAM / BINARY SUNSET MEDLEY”
(THE FORCE THEME)

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “The Hologram / Binary Sunset Medley” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

There’s something about the Force Theme that can make us feel insanely emotional, as we look into the horizon and get ready to embark on an epic intergalactic adventure. The Force is pretty much a character of its own in the Star Wars universe, and it is also immensely important for every single one of our heroes. John Williams’ theme for the Force effectively represents the Jedi’s ideals and beliefs, as well as our characters’ hopes and journey, making key scenes from the films even more iconic and meaningful. Not only that, but it’s also, without a doubt, the most emotionally powerful theme in the movies, and a leitmotif that can turn us into emotional wrecks within the range of seconds.



2. “THE IMPERIAL MARCH”
(DARTH VADER’S THEME)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

“The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”, played live by John Williams & Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon)

“The Imperial March” isn’t just one of the most iconic themes from the saga, but also one of the most haunting leitmotifs in film history, and one that’s so ingrained in our memories that it’s hard to believe that it appeared for the first time not in A New Hope, but in The Empire Strikes Back. Instantly identifiable from the very first notes of its rhythmic, wonderfully dark opening riff and simply irresistible when the brass instruments join in and the march-like motif begins, Darth Vader’s theme signals impending danger, and embodies all the arrogance and the assuredness of the Sith. There’s a reason this Star Wars classic sounds so evil, and it has to do with the range of the notes in its riff and melody, as well as the instruments playing it: check out this really great article to find out more about it, and prepare to marvel at John Williams’ genius.



1. “MAIN TITLE / REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER”

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): “Main Title / Rebel Blockade Runner Medley” by John Williams (Soundtrack Studio)

Star Wars‘ main title might just be the most popular musical theme of all times, and it’s no surprise that it earns its rightful spot at the top of this list. In 1977, this history-making track subverted viewers’ expectations of what a big-budget, sci-fi blockbuster should sound like, initiating a romantic renaissance in film scores. To this day, it still remains one of the most groundbreaking achievements in film music, encompassing Star Wars‘ many themes in a two-minutes long track that conveys all the solemnity, the adventure, the thrills and the emotion of this spectacular saga.


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