This weekend marks one of the most pervasive and joyous of American traditions: something beloved by young and old alike that brings joy to our hearts in a dark time. With the exception of some black-hearted misers, everyone can join together for a merry shared experience.
That’s right: A new “Star Wars” movie is out.
This is the ninth and final movie about the Skywalkers—though definitely not the last Star Wars movie since they make like a billion dollars each, and Disney ain’t stupid—so it’s a good time to see how much things have changed over these 42 years. And since this a music site, I guess we’re gonna do it with the No. 1 song of the Billboard Year-End Top 100 Singles for each movie’s year.
“Episode IV” (1977): Rod Stewart — “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)”
Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” Heart’s “Barracuda” and Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” all came out in 1977, but the top song was this forgettable Rod Stewart track.
The ’70s, man…
Amazingly, “Star Wars” itself made the year’s list twice: Once for Meco’s regrettable disco remix of the theme, and another for the London Symphony Orchestra’s original. Which just feels right.
“Episode V” (1980): Blondie — “Call Me”
See, now we’re talking. After only one Star Wars movie, America’s collective tastes improve enough that we go from Rod Stewart to Blondie. Truly a miraculous transition.
It’s a pretty good year overall, actually. No. 2 is “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” and No. 6 is Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Down the list is Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” and Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” All thanks to X-Wings and The Force entering the cultural zeitgeist.
“Episode VI” (1983): The Police — “Every Breath You Take”
For context, the No. 2 song behind Sting’s ode to stalking was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” widely considered by me to be his best song. Also coming in behind The Police was Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” Toto’s “Africa,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “1999,” Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance,” Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.”
Other songs that didn’t chart as high as “Every Breath You Take” include Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” Taco’s version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science,” Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” The Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy,” Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.”
I was alive for all of 1983, but I spent most of it less than a year old, so I take no responsibility for people’s abysmal tastes back then.
“Episode I” (1999): Cher — “Believe”
There are plenty of jokes about the song that led to T-Pain by introducing AutoTune as an instrument rather than audio airbrushing, but first I need to rant about “The Phantom Menace” a little.
I was 16 when “Episode I” came out and, let me tell you, I was excited. It was the first Star Wars movie to come out since I was six months old, after all. I was also right in the target age group of the original movie, which I was obsessed with, so I assumed this one was also going to blow my mind.
Then I saw it.
If you’ve ever wondered when the world got so cynical, it was May 19, 1999. Mixing a “Star Wars” level of hype and marketing with that absolute catastrophe of a movie was a recipe for disaster, and I’m a little surprised it didn’t ruin Lucasfilm.
Granted, I still saw “Episode II”…
“Episode II” (2002): Nickelback — “How You Remind Me”
I swear I didn’t make this up, despite how perfectly this encapsulates the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
They’re both vapid, cynically manufactured attempts to mimic past works of art and passion that inexplicably got wildly popular anyway. I was an adult in 2002, and I really can’t tell you why we consumed stuff like this enough to make them the No. 3 movie and No. 1 song respectively. The highest-ranked song for the year that I genuinely like is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at 63, and that just seems weirdly bad.
If any sociologists can explain to me why the concept of art withered and died, only to be replaced by this sort of weird, “Uncanny Valley” facsimile, let me know. I’m genuinely curious.
“Episode III” (2005): Mariah Carey — “We Belong Together”
We’ve gone from aggressively bad to just… forgettable. This song spent the fourth-longest at No. 1 of any song in Hot 100 history, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if I’ve ever heard it before. The No. 3 song of the year was by Mario, who I genuinely can’t remember ever existing at all. It’s bizarre.
It’s not as bad as 2002. Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.” is in there at 37, and it’s the year Green Day’s American Idiot came out. But it’s still pretty bland and bleak. Which also describes “Revenge of the Sith.” It’s not as bad as what came before it, but still not good enough that you can remember it clearly off the top of your head.
“Episode VII” (2015): Mark Ronson — “Uptown Funk”
And we’re back.
The music, and the “Star Wars,” are both a massive leap forward in quality. Both are clearly callbacks to the past rather than new and inventive works in their own right, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining and fun.
Plus, the original “Star Wars” was just a modernized ripoff of Flash Gordon serials from the ’30s anyway. But I digress.
“Episode VIII” (2017): Ed Sheeran — “Shape of You”
I don’t even know how to compare these. They’re both divisive?
At the risk of taking a lot of heat, I kinda like both the song and “The Last Jedi.” Neither is perfect by any means, but if you think anything short of perfect is a crime against humanity your standards are too high. The song is catchy and the movie had some great moments, and what more do you want?
If those nerds would have lived through the “Episode I” debacle they’d be more appreciative of a movie with an awesome scene of a ship flying through another ship. That was so cool.
“Episode IX” (2019): Lil Nas X — “Old Town Road”
No comparisons here; I don’t want to spoil anything. But I really really liked “Rise of Skywalker,” and you should totally see it. I’m not sure what movie critics saw but the one I saw was amazing. Maybe they watched “Cats” by mistake.
I would like to address the fact that Billy Ray Cyrus is turning into Rob Zombie, though. When did that happen? Does this mean he’s gonna make something as messed up as The Devil’s Rejects? Because I’m totally OK with that.
Seriously though, go see the new “Star Wars.” Oh, and also, Merry Christmas.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.