The 9 Best Songs Ever Played in a Star Wars Movie
There’s not much chill-time in the Star Wars universe. After all, there are Vaders to vanquish, Death Stars to dispose of, and large swaths of dense, dippy dialogue to unspool with a straight face. But when the franchise’s characters do get a break, they kick back by listening to some of the galaxy’s best music—from musicians who are usually, much like their Earthbound equivalents, a bunch of tight-pantsed, bar-dwelling alien weirdos: Think the Cantina Band, Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band, or those scallywags who rock out in Maz Kanata’s castle in the newly released The Force Awakens. The Force tunes—courtesy of Hamilton creator-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda—are the latest entry in the franchise’s ever-expanding canon of diegetic music (i.e., music the characters themselves can hear). It’s a list that includes everything from Ewok chants to Gungan dins, so we took the release of Force as an opportunity to update our ranking of the saga’s best space jams.
9. Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band, “Jedi Rocks,” (Return of the Jedi: Special Edition, 1997)
In the late ’90s, George Lucas retooled and reissued the original Star Wars films, presumably because they didn’t have enough pipe-smoking iguanas and, uh, sand-clitorises. But one of Lucas’ most salaciously dumb choices was to swap out Rebo’s ace “Lapti Nek” (see below) in favor of this nearly two-minute-long soul-free strutter, which is so grating that you can almost hear a tone-deaf Lucas beard-smirking approvingly in the background. As if the pointless Pointer Sisters rip-off isn’t bad enough, the Special Edition scene is overstuffed with shrill, noisy backing-band critters—all rendered in D.O.A. CGI—that relegate some of the Max Rebo Band members to near-obscurity. How dare Lucas tarnish the legacy and legitimacy of respected clarinet-thingy player Droopy McCool?
8. Augie’s Great Municipal Band, “Symponik Nabooalla,” (The Phantom Menace, 1999)
Performed by Jar Jar Binks and pals at the movie’s big celebration scene, this closing number was no doubt intended as a feel-good send-off for moviegoers; instead, it soundtracked moviegoers’ sad realization that they’d spent 16 years waiting for a movie about tax loopholes and giant, flatulent space-anteaters. In fact, “Symponik” is the most Phantom Menace-y song on the soundtrack, filled with unnecessary bells and whistles, pipsqueaky little-kid voices, and inept, saccharine moments of forced uplift. Still, it probably helped land Jar Jar the most instantly musty Rolling Stone cover of all time.
7. Unknown artist, “Dex’s Diner” (Attack of the Clones, 2002)
“What’s the deal with my TV show theme being ripped off for a scene with a talking komodo dragon in a stained undershirt?” — @SeinfeldStarWars
6. The Cantina Band, “Cantina Band #2” (A New Hope, 1977)
Performed by an all-alien outfit that George Lucas decided to dub Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes—sure, whatever—this laid-back jazz-for-Jawas instrumental is greeted to a big round of growling applause when it’s revved up at the Mos Eisley cantina. And why not? With its appropriately spacey steel drums and gurgling-synth bassline, the agreeably mellow B-side could easily be confused for a deep-cut Animal Collective outtake.
5. The Max Rebo Band, “Galactic Dance Blast,”
Though the song’s official title is up for debate, what’s undeniable about this funky instrumental—heard as Jabba’s gang cruises out to the Pit of Carkoon, eager to execute our Rebel pals—is its chug-a-long, happily Sarlaccadaisical vibe.
4. Shag Kava, “Jabba Flow”/”Dobra Doompa” (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015)
Maz Kanata’s cantina features two tunes—both co-written by J.J. Abrams and Lin-Manuel, and performed by the two as “Shag Kava”—that are essentially a crash course in reggae history. “Jabba Flow,” which is playing as the Han/Chewie/Rey/Finn/BB-8 fearsome fivesome enter the bar, is a loping ska number with some indistinct chanting. By the time the group is seated with Maz at a table and she’s giving Finn the super-spectacle lie-detector once-over, the music has switched to “Dobra Doompa,” a more modern-feeling number with a dancehall drum pattern and a bouncing bass line. We’re still a little disappointed they didn’t have that giant dude with the tusks bogling in the background.
3. Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band, “Lapti Nek” (Return of the Jedi, 1983)
Before becoming the Rancor’s snack, one of Jabba’s palace-entertainers strutted around to this legit funky synth-rock scorcher, which is one of the few times the Star Wars universe threatens to get naughty, with a frozen-in-carbonite groove that would make even Dirty Mind-era Prince sweat a little bit (we’re still awaiting his response track, “U Make Me Sy”).
2. The Ewoks, “Yub Nub” (Return of the Jedi, 1983)
Harrison Ford once derided Jedi’s Ewok-engorged finale as a “teddy bear picnic,” possibly due to this stomping, woodsy, overly upbeat anthem, which sounds a bit like Up for People attempting to cover Led Zeppelin III. But while the translated-from-Ewokese lyrics are pure new-age nonsense (“The power showed us the light/and now we all live free” could have been L. Ron Hubbard’s yearbook quote), “Yub Nub” is as goofily carefree as the Ewoks themselves, and the woodwind melody made it one of the easiest-to-remember elementary-school playground hits of the mid-’80s. Alas, not every Jedi knight got to hear the Ewoks celebrate as originally intended: In later versions of the film, “Yub Nub” was replaced by a smooth-soul snoozer that’ll make you wonder if someone on Endor had suddenly started bumping Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” in the background.
1. The Cantina Band, “Cantina Band” (A New Hope, 1977)
There have been a handful of hummable sci-fi tunes over the decades—think “Daisy” from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s five-note interplanetary ditty—but none have endured quite like this scuz-swing dive-bar bop, a cacophony of doop-daats and wank-wahs that sounds like an outer-space traffic jam. Known by deep-canon fans as “Mad About Me,” and making its debut just as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi enter the famed watering hole, the bouncy number marks the exact moment when A New Hope turns from semi-intriguing space slog to zippy dumb-fun epic. That may be why “Cantina Band” remains so beloved, having spawned a gazillion cover versions, a 10-hour-long megamix, and numerous Comedy Bang! Bang! cameos (plus a high-charting disco version). Yet none of those reinterpretations can quite match the original, which gave us one of the greatest wait-for-it beat-drops in the galaxy.