I hold the patience of stone and the will of stars – Video Game Music With A Star Wars Twist
I have written several posts about my favourite video game soundtracks before. This time I thought I’d do a less general one and focus down on what I love musically about just one game: Star Wars The Old Republic.
The Old Republic is a Star Wars MMO made by Bioware that came out late in 2011 and has since then been a big part of my gaming life. It’s stories are superb and the world building is amazing, going in depth into a part of the Star Wars EU that is so full of opportunities. It is probably the most story intense MMO out there. It’s music is a wonderful mix out of known Star Wars musical themes combined with newly composed tracks and motifs specifically for this game.
SWTOR’s music manages to blend in with the established themes so seamlessly that after a few years it’s hard for me to tell what music was originally written for the game actually. They are very worth listening too if you like Star Wars music in general – weather you are an avid gamer or not. They managed to capture the spirit of the movies all while giving a new musical voice to locations, people and their culture. So without further ado here are some of my favourites:
Alderaan – The Throne
When you reach Alderaan in game you have been up and about throughout the galaxy for a while already. And it’s one of those planets that gives you expectations given what we know about it’s story already. And you are not let down. Alderaan is beautiful, full of culture and history and sadly, civil unrest and power struggles between the big houses of Thul and Organa, each backed by either Empire or Republic. There is much going on but the music emphasizes the more beautiful part of the planet. The icy mountain tops, the flying Thrantas, the impressive buildings and throne rooms. The track is a mixture of orchestra and traditional instruments to give it the extra cultural sound and it works splendidly.
Balmorra, The Forge
Balmorra is a planet that has been invaded by the Empire for it’s value in the upcoming war. There is resistance fighting going on all over the planet with the Republic covertly intervening here and there. It’s an industrial planet with a history of getting taken over and haggled over. The theme starts of with a very Sith-Theme oriented piece, it’s like the music wants to emphasise just how put down the planet is and make it clear from the beginning just who is in charge. Later on in the same OST bit we get a very calm and somber throw back to that Imperial theme in an almost desperately sad version, not unlike a lament. (At the 5 minute mark.)
Hoth, the frozen wastes
Now Hoth is just atmospheric to no end. The planet is an iced over wasteland and the game design makes you feel it. The travel times are long and the while everything is bright and light there is not too much to see except… more ice. On top of it: Hoth is a starship graveyard. You can see the remnants of battle that slowly get buried beneath snow and ice. It is a well done mixture of bleakness with some sad undertones and mystery and exploration and the musical theme for this planet falls perfectly in line with that.
There are of course a lot more planet themes. There is an official playlist here for anyone interested.
The Slippery Little Hutt Of Mine
Of course there is cantina music! And a lot of it. Next to the known cantina band song SWTOR has an entire playlist of music for their cantinas and each player can just hit up the juke box and put on their favourite. This one in particular is one I’ve always enjoyed. (I have spent a lot of time in SWTOR cantinas over the years, enough to know every song by heart yet still somehow forget their titles constantly…)
The romance theme of the vanilla storylines combines elements of some planet themes with a new arrangement (there are hints of both Alderaan and Tython on there for instance) It’s a soothing backdrop that has accompanied many a great love story in this game.
The Main Theme
Something that can’t be left out of course: The original main theme of the game. It’s a perfect illustration that Star Wars music will live on far beyond it’s original composers. It fits both the franchise and the game perfectly and the instrumentation is amazing. From what I can make out this is one of the tracks they got an actual orchestra to record for. (About 2/3 of the vanilla game tracks have been recorded with real instruments, the other 3rd, as well as many of the later add on themes until Kotfe/Kotet were done with samples and digital production.)
Rishi battle theme
This is a great example for just how high the quality of music still was even when not having an orchestra there to record it. This is one of the expansion themes that has been done entirely with samples (aka digitally) and it still sounds fantastic and absolutely fitting for the tense battle scenes it accompanies.
Knights of the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne
The latest big expansion focussed on a very family oriented, typical Star Wars story that gave us a lot of new characters, took us onto completely new planets in a very single player oriented story. That story came with some amazing bits of music. (Here is the entire playlist for Fallen Empire, and here the one for Eternal Throne.) But to highlight a few:
Main Theme of Fallen Empire
The return to live instruments. And how impressive it was! The theme is also perfect for the foreboding and somewhat unpredictable story it takes us to. The Eternal Empire is a force no one can accurately assess at the beginning and the music shows us a strong force, pretty sure in itself and very direct. There are moments where the fact that Valkorion is no other than the former Sith Emperor shines through in the instrumentation – a brilliant move.
Lana, the Advisor (Also the love theme)
Lana gets a theme music so beautiful we have to associate it with love itself and get to hear it in our future romance endeavours. (Regardless of them actually including Lana herself in it.) It is an absolutely beautiful piece of music and for me, personally, it rivals established love themes like Across the stars even.
There are many great themes in this expansion but Chapter 14 stuck out with it’s musical score. Partly because they re-used a track “Vode An” (the original) from another, older game “Star Wars: Republic Commando” and partly because of how well the music written around that theme fit the storyline and the planet. Mandalorian lore has always had a lot of fans and this chapter and it’s music was an absolute crowd pleaser.
Main Theme of Eternal Throne
Where Fallen Empire’s theme was majestic but still somewhat ambivalent in it’s intention Eternal Throne comes at you with an aggressiveness right from the start. You hear this theme at the start and you know: there is no messing around. The story is out to get you and so is the new Empress. It is short but very on point and gets across the general pace of the Eternal Throne expansion perfectly.
and last but not least:
The theme of the Emperor for this expansion is probably one of my favourite bits to ever come out of Star Wars musically. I can’t really go into too many details as to why I think this is an absolutely perfect character theme without spoilering literally everything in this game. If someone is interested in my thoughts on that I could probably go into detail in the comments – let me know. But for now let me just say: This theme in all it’s variations just hit gold with me. My favourite version is the one with a single female voice.
This is actually a fantastic edit! There are 5 versions of this theme in the game and on the ost list, all of them follow the exact same structure but are very differently layered. In this edit they start out with the most basic variant – it has all the chords and the rhythm in it, but no actual melody. That one sets in at about 58 seconds in, when the second variation, the pure instrumental version, starts. Then, at 1.45 you have the solo female vocal version starting, layering one single voice on top of the already established theme. She gets joined by a female choir not much later. They go seamlessly into the version where the melody is only hummed instead of having lyrics, layering alto and sopranos with different vocal lines on top of each other. Lastly they go from having two distinct lines to three that keep meeting each other for some unisono parts. Props to the editor!
So here we go. That’s it for some of my favourite music bits in SWTOR. Do you you play? If yes do you agree with me or do you have different favourite pieces? And if you’re not playing but still took the time to read this and maybe listen to a few pieces what are your thoughts?
Like SWG, I cannot imagine trying to play this game without the musical cues. Yes, some of them are oft repeated and can get tiresome (especially as an RPer who spends any time in the myriad cantinas), but they really do add to the ambience and the storytelling of the game.
I can sing every part of the ost by heart I think. And those cantina songs…
But I notice how much I still enjoy it whenever I took a little break from the game. When I come back it’s usually the music that gets me emotional the most.