Have you ever watched a movie and then as soon as it was over, listened to the soundtrack of it?
I love listening to soundtracks. They make schoolwork, long car rides, and chores way more fun. You can imagine you’re helping Frodo take the Ring to Mordor, or are battling the Empire, instead of just doing algebra. After I watch a great movie, I love closing my eyes while listening to the music and trying to picture the scene in my head. It brings back all the feelings and memories I had while watching it. The soundtrack of a movie can have a lot more to do with how you experience it than you may think. Some people say they get too into the movie to notice the music, but I believe if it wasn’t there, we would notice right away that something important was missing. The music in a movie plays a huge part in helping us feel empathy for characters, giving scenes certain moods, and helping people understand what’s going on. Each part of a score affects certain things that the music communicates.
Tempo: The speed at which a passage of music is played.
This has a significant part in determining the intensity of a scene. Fast tempo melodies convey frantic energy, or rapid movement. Action scenes or battles are usually accompanied by it. Slow tempo conveys a relaxed pace, or lack of energy. Sad scenes, or serious moments normally have a slower tempo. And while slow tempo songs can be beautiful, I personally prefer fast-paced ones.
Volume: Quantity or power of sound. Degree of loudness.
Volume affects the feeling of a scene by creating a sort of space surrounding it. Think about it like this: If during the Revenge of the Sith battle between Vader and Obi-Wan on Mustafar, soft, quiet music had been playing, would it have felt less exciting? When everyone is saying goodbye to Frodo in The Return of the King, would it have been distracting to have a lot of noise in the music? Loud music seems to shallow characters, making the action more exciting, while soft music creates a more meaningful moment. If the volume starts out quiet, and then gradually grows, it can mirror the growing action, excitement, or conclusion of a scene.
Key: A group of notes based on a particular note and comprising scale.
There are two basic classifications of musical keys: Major and Minor. Major keys sound bright and cheerful, while Minor keys sound darker and sad. It’s easy to see how this would affect what a piece of music makes you picture. Generally, you wouldn’t write the theme for the bad guys in a major key, and you wouldn’t put minor key music in a lighthearted scene.
Different instruments can create the mood of the environment in a scene. They also help establish the setting, which is the place and time the movie is happening in. For instance, you won’t hear many drums or electric guitar riffs in the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, since it takes place in 18th-century England. Those really don’t fit in with that movie setting. At all.
One more thing I want to talk about is called a motif, which is a repeating theme in a score. A leit motif is like a kind of musical label assigned to a character, place, idea, or emotion. Once it what it represents has been established, it can be repeated. Examples of this are the Imperial March, Rey’s theme, the Fellowship theme, and so on. As soon as you hear a few notes of it, you know what’s going on in the scene. One of my favorite times this is used is during the Rey and Kylo mind probe scene in The Force Awakens, and later on in the same movie during their lightsaber battle. You can tell who has the upper hand by listening to whose theme is playing.
Music is an un-removable part of a movie, because it’s the emotional and communication connection from the screen to the audience. While words and pictures deal with specific, concrete things, music deals with responses, values, emotions, and attitudes.
Now, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite pieces of music! By favorite I either mean the ones that bring back the most feelings and make me stare off into space whenever I hear them, or ones I like listening to because they sound exciting.
“Samwise the Brave” (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
This is one of my very favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings. It proves that Frodo really did appreciate everything Sam did for him, and that they’re both heroes in this story. If loyalty, humility, and courage were music, this is what they would sound like. Even though this is a pretty bleak part in their journey, this song isn’t sad because they still carry hope that good will win. Or at least Sam does, and he passes that on to Frodo.
“Hera Soars” (Star Wars Rebels season 2 soundtrack)
I always end up smiling when I listen to this one. It makes me picture Hera’s exhilaration at getting to do what she loves best. She’s also getting to test a new fighter for the Rebellion, another thing she cares deeply about. Doing your favorite thing in the world is fun, but watching someone else do what they’re passionate about is almost as exciting. The music in this one is perfect for flying!
“Your Father Would be Proud” (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
This is one of the ones I always end up stopping whatever I’m doing to listen to. I will confess to tearing up the first few times I listened to it after Rogue One. It’s so sad sounding, yet there’s still a lightness to it. Whenever I hear it, I don’t just see Cassian and Jyn’s sacrifice, I see the whole team’s. Their bravery, teamwork, dedication, and hope are all remembered through it.
“The Battle of Endor II” (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi)
At ten minutes, this is a pretty long track. While I do like the music for the battle at the shield generator, my favorite parts of this take place in the Emperor’s throne room. Vader and Luke fighting, Luke’s choice, and finally, Vader’s redemption. Before I saw Star Wars, I knew many things. I mean, are there really any people over the age of six who don’t know Darth Vader is Luke’s father? I even knew that Vader died, but this I did not expect. I remember being so proud of both Luke and Vader after watching this scene, and the music brings all those memories back.
“The Ways of the Force” (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
I love this battle, and the music that goes with it is terrific. Switching between Kylo’s, Rey’s and the Force’s themes, the music itself seems in conflict. Rey’s theme is more powerful than what was played earlier in the movie, symbolizing her taking the next steps in her journey. This is one of my favorite parts to picture in my head, and I might have pretended to swing a lightsaber around while listening to it more than once.
“It’s Over Now” (Star Wars Rebels season 2 soundtrack)
Another name for this one could be “Attack of Feels”. Kanan’s blind, Maul’s back, Ahsoka’s gone, and Ezra has a Sith holocron in his possession. Because this ending whole montage has no words, the music plays a vital part in driving the emotion of the scene. The vocals and the drums make it feel foreboding and like there’s no going back to how things were.
“Sabine’s Catharsis” (Star Wars Rebels season 3 soundtrack*)
The word catharsis means “The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” You can feel that in the music as Sabine confronts her past. It builds and builds until the whole story comes out, then gets quiet at the end, as a spent and broken Sabine questions whether she can go through with this. At the very end, her friends show their confidence in her, and because of that, she finds the confidence to keep going. Sabine’s theme encompasses both the tough Mandalorian side of her, as well as the artist side that knows that the Mandalorian way is not always the best way.
“Concerning Hobbits” (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
This is the happiest piece of music there is. It’s so beautiful, sometimes I find myself randomly humming it. It represents everything about Hobbits: Their love of everything good, like plants, food, and friends. Their ability to see the bright side of situations. And their courage to do incredible things. It also makes me picture the peaceful Shire, with its green grass, trees to read in, and cute little houses.
“Ahsoka Leaves” (Star Wars: The Clone Wars soundtrack)
I haven’t even seen all of The Clone Wars, but the first time I heard this, it made me stop completely and imagine what Anakin and Ahsoka are feeling in this scene. I’ve never heard the Force Theme sound so sad. Even though Ahsoka believes she made the right choice, that doesn’t make what she has to do any easier. I don’t think anyone who cares about her story can listen to this and not feel a little of her pain.
“Jyn Erso and Hope Suite” (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
This song has a lot of Jyn’s theme in it, as well as a some parts of “Your Father Would be Proud”. It starts off pretty and sad sounding, which is the part that has been Jyn’s theme throughout the movie. Then it has part of the track “Rebellions are Built on Hope”. At the end, it switches back to Jyn’s theme very quietly, sounding almost like it’s fading away. Basically, it will make you melt into a pool of Rogue One feels. The entire Rogue One soundtrack is amazing, so if you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend it.
“Rey’s Theme” (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
It amazes me how composers are able to create themes for people that suit them so well. Maybe they seem to fit them because our brain has associated them with the particular character ever since they first appeared. There have been so many characters to have their own themes in Star Wars: Luke, Leia, Vader, Yoda, Jyn, the Emperor, Maul, Ezra, Sabine, Ahsoka, Anakin… but I think Rey’s is my favorite because it’s pretty, but not super slow. I love how it progressively changes a little as the movie goes on, just like the character.
“Ahsoka Duels the Inquisitors” (Star Wars Rebels season 2 soundtrack)
This is one of the ones I like because it’s fun to listen to, with lots of drums and vocals. It’s the first time we get to see Ahsoka with her lightsabers in Rebels, and it’s a very dramatic fight. It also makes doing math problems feel way more urgent and exciting.
One other thing I like about soundtracks is how you can sometimes find little bits of themes for things in a scene. Like how they put a few notes of “The Imperial March” into the very end of the credits for Revenge of the Sith, or how Han and Leia’s theme plays for just a moment in “Farewell and The Trip”.
*The Star Wars Rebels season 3 soundtrack has still not be released in its entirety in digital or CD form, however this track, and many others from all four seasons of the show, are available for listening on StarWars.com
What is your favorite movie soundtrack? Do you have a favorite song from it?