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The music of Star Wars includes some of the most recognizable pieces in the world. Most of the strange few who have never seen Star Wars can recognize the iconic main theme, the oppressive Imperial March, and the emotional Binary Sunset/Force Theme. The themes and leitmotifs within each score are designed to convey meaning about characters, locales, and situations effectively and quickly. This is paramount in a quick paced space fantasy such as Star Wars.
GMs are often encouraged to play music at the table to focus the players and set the mood, all leading to greater immersion in the play experience. The films are an excellent starting point for pieces of music to play at your table, but so many more Star Wars works are out there, each with their own original soundtrack ripe with pieces to convey unique emotions and ideas. Today we will go through some pieces from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and The Old Republic. If this post is well received, I plan on expanding my view to Republic Commando, The Force Unleashed, and of course The Clone Wars and Rebels.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II Original Soundtrack
No doubt you are wondering why I have jumped directly to Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (KotOR II). The original game’s soundtrack by Jeremy Soule does quite a solid job, but because it is hampered by some technical limitations I feel much of what it does is better done by The Old Republic‘s soundtrack. We need to remember Knights of the Old Republic is 13 years old, this is literally a game you can play on your phone now.
I’ve selected some pieces from the sequel’s soundtrack, by Mark Griskey, because they tackle more rare emotions in Star Wars music due to the game’s unique feel. More an Empire Strikes Back to the original’s A New Hope, KotOR II has a distinctly melancholy and pensive feel to its soundtrack befitting its story experience.
“The Sith Lords,” a piece sharing its name with the title of the game, is fittingly mysterious and thoughtful. Unlike the more bombastic tracks associated with more action packed games, “The Sith Lords” is graceful with sinister undertones. Much like the game is meant to feel, something is wrong within this piece of music. This makes this theme perfect for use in games focusing on intrigue where no one is exactly as they appear, or in campaigns focusing on the mysteries of the Force.
Copright LucasFilm. Embedded from YouTube Upload under Fair Use.
Warning: Listening may induce “the feels.”
“The Rebuilt Jedi Enclave” is perhaps the most melancholy piece of Star Wars music I have ever heard. More steroetypically sad tracks include “Anakin’s Betrayal” and “Padme’s Funeral” from Episode III, but note how over those two pieces are when compared to this one. Those two are used to convey sadness in a heroic, epic context. “The Rebuilt Jedi Enclave” is about a melancholy born of slowly unraveling ideals and even futility of action. This unraveling and feeling of futility, as also experienced during a pivotal event in KotOR II at the Dantooine Jedi Enclave, is not what we expect from Star Wars. It feels wrong, as it is meant to feel. That wrongness spurs the player on to reject this quiet despair and take action in the final chapter. Use this theme when a more nuanced emotional response is needed; when a less heroic, quiet sadness is required.
Star Wars: The Old Republic Original Soundtrack
Prepare for mood whiplash as we move into a more traditional Star Wars score. The Old Republic takes its major influences from the Original Trilogy, incorporating Prequel and Expanded Universe (now Legends) ideas throughout to flesh out the audiovisual feel. The soundtrack is epic in scope and should be familiar in feel for more traditional Star Wars music. The majority of the soundtrack can be accessed from the official The Old Republic YouTube channel here. YouTubers have extracted specific pieces from these videos, as well as the game files, to allow for easier access and enjoyment of particular themes.
Each planet has its own unique theme within the soundtrack, composed to match the visual feel of each world. Tatooine and Hoth are desolate, Voss and Belsavis are mysterious, Korriban and Dromund Kaas are oppressive and dark, and so on. Each world is portrayed pretty much as per the standard conception of that planet across each era, making these pieces perfect for use in games regardless of when in the Star Wars saga the campaign is set.
Special Mention: Oricon – This place is basically Space Mordor, and has a theme to match.
Just as each planet has its own unique theme, so does each of the eight classes within The Old Republic. This is one of the places in which the soundtrack spreads its wings a bit beyond the usual Star Wars style. In particular, the opening segment of the Imperial Agent theme are heavily inspired by the music in spy and detective fiction while still retaining enough in common with the other pieces to retain a very Star Wars feel. Edge of the Empire games can easily work in the Bounty Hunter and Smuggler themes, while the Trooper theme is perfect for a commando heavy Age of Rebellion game. It goes without saying the Jedi and Sith themes are very appropriate for Force and Destiny campaigns.
The cantina music in this game is often as upbeat as it is silly. At my table, I’m more of a fan of using obscure rock and jazz pieces to set the mood but you may get some mileage out of these tracks. Don’t get me wrong, they are VERY fun to listen to and may be a hit at your table should you run a more lighthearted game. My personal favorite is the hilariously titled “Do the Holos Show Up on the Bill?”
Finally, The Old Republic has its share of just good old fashioned high energy Star Wars themes. Full of epic strings and crashing percussion, these pieces are perfect for use in important combat encounters. Examples include “The Mandalorian Blockade,” “The Siege of Alderaan,” and of course the epic “Occupation of Balmorra,” which includes Revan’s theme starting at 2:46.
Ultimately, The Old Republic‘s soundtrack gives GMs a wider selection of tracks that fold in perfectly with existing Star Wars music. By virtue of its MMORPG format the soundtrack is very GM friendly, with specific music composed for specific planetary locales and character archetypes. Considering EA was nice enough to provide it free of charge on the official The Old Republic YouTube channel, I recommend GMs check out these tracks if they haven’t already.
So this is my first kick at covering the wide world of Star Wars music. I’d love to do more of these, if this first attempt is well received. What music do you use at your table? Are you in as much love with KotOR II‘s OST as I am? Let me know in the comments below.