Hope everyone had a great holiday season! Mine was pretty busy visiting family and playing with my band… And watching The Force Awakens!
I’m pretty sure John Williams’ Star Wars score is the reason I compose music today… I have a picture of myself listening to the RECORD in headphones while sitting in a chair and playing with a calculator (yep, nerd from the start!-) It was my introduction into the world of orchestral music, and after hearing it accompanying spaceship battles and light saber duels, it wasn’t OLD music, it was new and fresh. It’s been in my head ever since.
So it was pretty exciting to hear Williams back in Star Wars mode. One of the things about the original score that made it so successful (to me anyway) is all the super strong themes. Many composers shy away from making too strong a statement with their melodies but Williams’ SW scores usually bring them hard and loud, in the style of the classic swashbuckling films the series uses as inspiration. The main theme (which I think is Luke’s adventure theme) was an instant classic, as was the Force/Obi-Wan’s theme, and the Empire March. I don’t think TFA has the same instantaneous hits, being more content to underscore the world and ground it in the SW flavors- which is not to say it’s bad… Williams’ lush writing is film scoring school.
The one standout is Ray’s theme, first presented on the flute and strings and a bit reminiscent of some of Williams’ Harry Potter themes – explorative and mysterious, and not quite ready to burst out into its own quite yet – still contained. There was a lot to experience so I can’t say I really caught on to it until the end credits, but then I loved how perfectly it expressed the storyline and characters. It’s an awakening, first steps, and so the PROMISE of becoming something bigger is there, and I’m excited to see where it leads. It’s a new extension to the sound of Star Wars, I think because it’s expressing an action-based female character, which we’ve never really had before: Leia was generally supporting Luke’s story and the romance interest for Han. (Again: not that those themes are bad- cause Leia’s theme and the Leia/Han Love Theme are IMO some of my favorite music.) Padme/Amidala was more of (again) a love interest/politician, and although they tried to make her Lara Croft, I didn’t completely buy it and besides, it was all backstory to Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. I don’t think she has an associated theme except the Anakin/Padme love theme.
ANYWAY, the Rey theme is mostly a jaunty woodwind/string pattern in minor thirds, and that’s mostly all it needs to express itself… just like Jaws only needed a minor second, and Luke’s theme plays around the perfect fifth, it quickly and efficiently sets the stage to explore and develop the character. Although it’s very understated and sneaky, the recap in the end credits uses horns instead of flute, which demonstrates the potential of the character’s thematic development.
One of my favorite moments in all the SW scores is when the fanfare/title music is over, and you get your first taste of the new vibe as the camera pans to whichever new spaceship or world that’s setting the stage. I still remember seeing the prequels, and reveling in that moment: I’d memorized all the original transitions, but here was the new stuff!
I was listening to a movie podcast, and they pointed out the exuberant playing on the part of the piccolo player at the beginning of the end credits. Although I don’t know this person, I get them: how cool must it be to have been a kid when these movies first came out, only to find yourself later in your life working on them?
The movie itself… there were a couple parts I wished they’d have developed more: Po and Finn’s friendship developed awfully quickly, and Rey comes to her powers without really earning them, but I still have to see the movie a few more times for some sort of perspective. It definitely felt like a setup for the next two films… which I understand if some feel is cheating: a movie should stand on its own. But: I am a fan, grew up with and know the world like the back of my hand and so I’m happy to be swept along for the most part.
Got any favorite parts?