The top 15 musical moments from Star Wars movies and TV shows

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Dec 18, 2018, 9:00 PM EST (Updated)

It's been 32 long years since we last saw our heroes on the big screen in Return of the Jedi. But on Dec. 18, one of the most famous franchises -- if not THE most famous franchise -- in movie history is returning to theaters in the much-anticipated next chapter of their story with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Over the next 20 weeks, we will celebrate the franchise by looking back and ranking the best, the worst, the weirdest and the most amusing moments in Star Wars history.

Star Wars would not be Star Wars without its music. The soundtracks for the movies and TV shows are essential for making us feel like we’re in that galaxy far, far away. 

Composer John Williams helped shape our six-film journey with his scores and will continue to do so when he returns to the new trilogy with The Force Awakens. In addition to Williams, composer Kevin Kiner has also had a hand in musically shaping our favorite Star Wars stories. His work on the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels not only includes great original compositions, but also mixes in some of Williams’ themes that tie the franchise together.

As the universe continues to grow, we’ll have even more composers giving us Star Wars music to enjoy. Until that time, however, I wanted to highlight some of my current favorite songs from the universe. Here’s my countdown of the top 15 tracks from Star Wars:

15. Star Wars Rebels Opening Theme 

The opening theme to Rebels does a good job of bridging the gap between the prequel and original trilogy eras. It combines familiar themes with a new sound that helps establish Star Wars: Rebels within the same universe. In an interview, composer Kevin Kiner said he doesn’t think there’s a composer as good as John Williams, so he listened to Williams’ work and added his own voice to Williams’ classic sound. Kiner wanted the sound of Rebels to be closer to A New Hope, and the theme is a perfect example of this. Listening to it after just one season makes me instantly think of the Ghost and her crew.

While it’s short, it’s still a fun theme reminding us of the old Star Wars we love and the new adventures that await us in the franchise.

14. Ewok Celebration 

The Ewoks may not be everyone’s favorite aliens, but admit it; you got a kick out of hearing them all sing “Yub Nub” on Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi, didn’t you? While Williams composed the music, the catchy Ewokese words were written by sound designer Ben Burtt. A translation of the lyrics is available as well for those fans that have always wondered what the Ewoks were saying. Despite the polarizing effect Ewoks had on Star Wars fans, the catchy “Yub Nub” tune managed to make the Billboard Hot 100 for 8 weeks in 1983.

It remains a classic song from the original trilogy, and the fact that it was removed in the special-edition version of Return of the Jedi remains a travesty.

13. Ventress the Nightsister

Asajj Ventress is a fascinating character we were first introduced to in the Clone Wars microseries. Luckily, she made the leap to the longer Clone Wars animated show, where, over the course of the seasons, we had the chance to get to know her better. When her connection to the Nightsisters of Dathomir was explored on the show, it made her even more interesting. Given away by the Nightsisters, taken in by a Jedi, and eventually becoming Count Dooku’s apprentice, Ventress’ life has never been easy.

This music does a great job of capturing the dark, tumultuous nature of Ventress.

12. The Clones 

One of the best parts of The Clone Wars was learning more about the clones themselves. We learned that while Rex, Fives, Echo and all the clones may have shared the same face, they differed in a number of ways. Though the trio developed relationships among themselves and were loyal to the Republic, things changed as the war went on. Kiner translates all of that into this unforgettable military-style piece.

11. Across the Stars 

The romance seen between Anakin and Padmé in the prequels isn’t exactly convincing. If, however, you forget about the performances that didn’t quite fit and listen to this love theme by Williams, it’s exactly what the romance between the Senator and Jedi should have been. The track was first heard in Attack of the Clones and then reappeared in parts of Revenge of the Sith. The song is romantic with creeping hints of darkness that allude to how this love story isn’t exactly going to have a happy ending. Even George Lucas is a fan of this piece, telling Billboard in 2002 that the song's “ the perfect accompaniment to the developing relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Their love is complicated—pure yet forbidden, personal but with profound ramifications for an entire galaxy. Somehow, John has managed to convey all of that complexity in a simple, hauntingly beautiful theme.”

It’s bittersweet and gets across the emotion that was slightly lacking in the Anakin and Padmé romance seen on screen.

10. Anakin’s Betrayal

This track succeeds in making us feel Anakin’s turn to the dark side in our very cores during Revenge of the Sith. In my opinion, the fact that it strikes the perfect tone is a huge reason most people break down as they watch the downfall of the Jedi. Williams’ music tugs at all of our emotions and makes the moment we’ve all been waiting to witness befall the Jedi truly hit home. The song was even nominated for a 2006 Grammy award in the Best Instrumental Composition category. In fact the entire Revenge of the Sith soundtrack was nominated in the Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television, Or Other Visual Media that year but the movie lost in both categories.

9. Yoda’s theme 

You can’t listen to this and not think immediately of Yoda and the Force. First appearing in The Empire Strikes Back along with the diminutive Jedi, it perfectly captures the essence of Yoda. The music manages to get across the mystical nature of the Force, Yoda’s wisdom, and the hope that still remains in the galaxy. It continued to appear in subsequent media from the prequels to the animated Clone Wars series and remains one of Williams’ most recognizable Star Wars themes. . 

8. Han Solo and the Princess

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the romance between Han Solo and Leia Organa is among the best in sci-fi. Of course, that means they have to have an epic love theme to match, and Williams delivers in this tune. This beautiful composition captures the relationship between the smuggler and the Princess, and is as unforgettable as the unique relationship between the two. 

7. Anakin vs. Obi-Wan 

Revenge of the Sith contained a lot of things Star Wars fans had been waiting years to witness, including the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Luckily, Williams gave us a grand theme fitting for such an epic moment in the saga. The track can be heard during their duel on Mustafar. The incorporation of other themes like the "Imperial March" in the score do a great job of tying this to what we know is coming as a result of the fight between the two former friends. It’s a brilliant tip of the hat to what we already know while giving us something new to always remember the moment by.

6. Cantina Band

This is one of the most recognizable songs in the entire franchise. Who can forget the first time they heard this as they watched Luke Skywalker enter the Mos Eisley Cantina? It’s a great fit for the establishment that introduced us to so many alien faces and a unique clientele that included Han Solo and Chewbacca. The Bith band playing the tune is none other than Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes, who even headlined their own CD single in 1997 to commemorate the release of the special edition DVD box sets.

Asa with the Ewok Celebration, Meco also performed a version of this song titled “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” that earned a number one spot on the Billboard charts.

5. Luke and Leia 

The sudden family connection between Luke and Leia is hauntingly represented in every note of this emotional piece heard during Return of the Jedi. The twins’ changed and growing relationship as well as their link to the Force can be felt from the quieter moments to the louder crescendos. The track has continued to be a classic beyond the films, appearing in two LEGO Star Wars games and Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.

4. Ahsoka Leaves

When "The Wrong Jedi" aired, we didn’t know yet that it would be the last episode of The Clone Wars to air on TV. Looking back, this music was the perfect way to end Season 5 and the show's TV run. It had a huge impact because it was so different from what we had become used to hearing at the end of an episode, something that Dave Filoni has said was important to him. Kiner really reached a new level with this finale piece, which captured everything about the surprise and sadness viewers felt along with Anakin as we watched Ahsoka leave the Jedi Order. “Without the score, without Kevin Kiner going out on his own, on his own dime, creating that score for us. It wouldn't be the same episode,” the voice of Ahsoka, Ashley Eckstein, said in an interview with Newsarama. How better to cap off such a game changing moment and acknowledge that the fate of a character who had become so beloved to fans was now up in the air than with this emotional music?

3. Duel of the Fates

There’s a lot that can be said about The Phantom Menace, but there’s no debate when it comes to the score being as amazing as those of the original trilogy. Williams gave us one of his best pieces in “Duel of the Fates,” which continued to appear in the following prequel films. He proved we were returning to the dangerous, exciting, and epic world of the Star Wars we all loved with this music. The words being sung during the track are Sanskrit and are a translation of the poem The Battle of the Trees.

Williams deliberately chose the obscure language of Sanskrit due to its beautiful sounds, “I collaborated with some friends at Harvard University, first asking them to translate it into Celtic, then into Greek, and finally into Sanskrit, just looking for good choral sounds and good vowels."

2. Imperial March

What can I say about the “Imperial March” that hasn’t already been said? Not only is it one of the best Star Wars scores, it’s one of the best themes found in movies, period. You can’t help but feel like conquering the galaxy after listening to it. This track joins a few others on this list for being first heard in The Empire Strikes Back. It has appeared in numerous Star Wars media since as well as other areas of pop culture. It’s been used in sports and been covered by a number of bands. It’s a track that’s probably recognizable even to those who have never seen Star Wars before.

1. Star Wars Main Title

If there’s one piece of music that captures the spirit of the entire franchise,  it’s this one. At the beginning of every film, Williams’ score welcomes us back into the galaxy far, far away. This epic, Grammy-winning track has become one of the most famous theme songs in film history. 

"When I thought of a theme for Luke and his adventures, I composed a melody that reflected the brassy, bold, masculine, and noble qualities I saw in the character. When the theme is played softly, I tended towards a softer brass sound. But I used fanfarish horns for the more heraldic passages. This theme, in particular, brings out the full glow of the glorious brass section of the London Symphony Orchestra,” Wlliams once said.

It promises us action, adventure, and a fun, epic sci-fi story we’ll never forget.

That's our list! What do you think of our choices? What's your favorite piece of Star Wars music? Let us know in the comments!

Previously in 20 Weeks of Star Wars...

9 Ways Georg Lucas nerfed Return of the Jedi

The best Star Wars stunt scenes ranked by a professional stuntwoman

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