Welcome back! Let me start this off by stating that I spent an embarrassingly large amount of time over the past week debating the pros and cons of various pieces of Star Wars music.
The Force 40 Tournament hits the intersection of a very specific, Venn diagram: Star Wars fans, bracket heads, John Williams fans, with maybe some listicle addicts thrown in as a wild card.
The ironic thing about this tournament is that every single one of these forty pieces is excellent, better than 90% of other soundtracks, and proof of John Williams’ everlasting genius. The tourney has seen forty high-quality pieces of Star Wars music go head-to-head. While all our competitors brought beauty, heart, and skill to their matchups, only one piece can win the Force 40.
Note: For a closer look at all forty competitors as well as a first-round matchups in a bracket check out Part 1 of our tourney coverage. Be sure to check out our matching Spotify playlist for your own takes on these incredible pieces of music.
The First Round
There were some surprises awaiting highly seeded pieces in the play-in games. #40 Lapti Nek and #39 Ewok Celebration and Finale (better known to older fans as Yub Nub) upset #25 Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle and #26 The Fathiers, respectively, to win their play-in games.
Those murderous, unblinking teddy bears are tougher than they look. Like my old grandfather used to say, “Don’t count out the underdogs, especially when they’re pre-Special Edition pieces that didn’t deserve to be replaced in the first place.” Miss you, Grampy. This early success didn’t last long, with both pieces going down easily to top-10 pieces in the first round.
The biggest surprise of this round has to be #10 Princess Leia’s Theme losing out to #23 Augie’s Municipal Band and End Credits. The piece hid its menacing melody with a children’s choir and splatty brass; it disguised its melodic strength in a corresponding fashion to shock the genteel, calm theme of everyone’s favorite princess.
Anything goes in the Force 40. Aside from that and a few upsets among the pieces in the teens, the first round played out as the seeding predicted. On to the Sweet Sixteen!
The Sweet Sixteen
No surprises here, save a gigantic one we’ll get to in a second. For those statheads keeping track at home, there were seven pieces from the original trilogy, five from the prequels, and four from the sequels in the Sweet Sixteen. The highest-ranked original trilogy piece is #1 Main Title, the highest-ranked prequel piece is #4 Anakin’s Theme, and #7 Rey’s Theme is the highest seed from the sequels.
The biggest takeaway here is the overall #1 piece, the Main Title from A New Hope, going down to #17 Jedi Steps and Finale from The Force Awakens. A lot could be said about this upset, but remember that overall beauty and relevance factor into each matchup; Jedi Steps is a gorgeous piece with serious ramifications for the conclusion of the sequel trilogy and the future direction of the films.
Many would take affront with a loss of this magnitude, but they should take their complaints to the commissioner. Oh, wait—that’s me!
The Elite Eight
#17 Jedi Steps and Finale’s Cinderella season continues, bringing down the overly in-its-feelings #9 Across the Stars. Too much emotion can be a distraction. In a tight #4-#5 pairing The Imperial March advanced over Anakin’s Theme. The Empire’s intergalactic anthem is unstoppable, just like its fully operational battle station (#rip)—what else can we say?
#7 Rey’s Theme is a lovely piece and full of heart, a scrappy newcomer from the sequels. But it didn’t stand a chance against #2 The Hologram/Binary Sunset; give it time and I think it’ll prove to be the most memorable theme from that trilogy. The #3-#6 matchup of Yoda and the Force versus Duel of the Fates was another tough competition, but Yoda’s optimism defeated Darth Maul’s hate-filled chorale.
The Final Four
And then there were four: #17 Jedi Steps and Finale versus #5 The Imperial March, #2 The Hologram/Binary Sunset against #3 Yoda and the Force. Three of the pieces are from the original trilogy, none from the prequels, and just one from the sequels; aside from the Cinderella Jedi Steps, they’re all top-5 seeds.
Jedi Steps never stood a chance against The Imperial March. Its meditative celeste was steamrolled by the wall of percussion and brass the Empire brought to the matchup. It was a real Owen-and-Buru vs. the stormtroopers matchup.
Our other competitors were much tighter, but Yoda brought home the win over Binary Sunset. Again, the teachings of the ancient Jedi master personified in the piece triumphed—Binary Sunset conveys a sense of real mystery that is intriguing, but Yoda’s lessons are more helpful to more people in the long run.
The Championship Game
This is it! The winner takes the Force 40 championship home, assured that it is without a doubt the best piece of music in all of Star Wars (at least til next year’s tournament). On one side you have #3 Yoda and the Force, a statement of hope, reassurance, and perseverance in the face of all odds, a perfect musical representation of the tiny green master.
On the other you have #5 The Imperial March, perhaps the most evocative piece of classical music in modern popular culture. No other piece immediately conjures overwhelming strength and dread through just three notes and variations therein.
It’s a great matchup; archetypal, even. Yoda versus Vader; the oppression of the Empire against the bravery of the Rebels; good versus evil, the light side battling against the dark, hope versus fear, the freedom of learning against blind devotion. It’s Star Wars in a nutshell.
Though both pieces are extremely strong and memorable, remember the guidelines for the tournament: melody, importance to the film(s), and musical beauty.
- They each have great melodies, but The Imperial March wins this category—its simplicity is a strong foundation that Williams builds into an unforgettable arrangement.
- In terms of overall importance, Yoda and the Force wins by a hair. It appears in more of the films, as does Yoda himself, and its message is integral to the core of Star Wars.
- Finally, Yoda and the Force also wins the category of musical beauty. The entire piece is lovely, but the section from 2:00-3:30 is simply chill inducing. It’s brought tears to my eyes more than once.
When it comes down to it, Yoda wins out over the Empire because his teachings are so much better, healthier, than what the Emperor and his millions of cronies offer as a worldview. Interpreting the Empire as the misunderstood, real good guys of the films is a deeply troubling prospect. Light over dark every time.
Well, there you have it! After much deliberation, Yoda and the Force is the winner of my first annual Force 40 Tournament. I had so much fun with this project that I’m already dreaming up ideas for next year’s edition of the greatest tourney in the galaxy.