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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - John Williams - Soundtrack Review

Hope, you all had a nice New Year’s Eve! I wish you all a Happy New Year 2016!

The first soundtrack review of the new year is the John Williams’ new soundtrack to the new “Star Wars – The Force Awakens”. I did not discuss any of the Star Wars scores on my website so far, so let’s take this one even though I do not think it is the best soundtrack of the series. The music for the trailer raised the expectations so high that some people like me gets disappointed when they had the chance to listen to the music in a quiet moment:

The movie

I watched the movie last week and have to say it was better than I expected. I am a big fan of the first Star Wars trilogy – episodes 4 to 6 -, and really do not like the new ones, the prequels. In my opinion, not only the actors were bad, the story was sometimes totally confused, and George Lucas concentrated too much on special effects and was not able to create such cool characters like Han Solo. Also, I think “Revenge Of The Sith” is too brutal for children, but I have to say that the creation of Darth Vader, especially when the mask is coming down, is one of the greatest moments in cinema.

My favorite movie is still “A New Hope”, it is a great one because it is just pure entertainment, has exactly the right amount of special effects and good action scenes and overall lovely characters. The new movie is exactly good in the parts when it tries to copy the first one. The action scenes are not so full of computer effects, I personally like the action scenes with the Millennium Falcon best, and for me, the movie really started when Harrison Ford was entering the stage. Lawrence Kasdan is such a great screenplay author, and Ford got some great oneliners.

It is also really astonishing that an actor who is over 70 years old is still playing better than the whole actors from the younger generation. I was highly disappointed with the bag guy, played by Adam Driver (why was he casted, because he has so much black hair?), and we do not have to talk about the special scene with Han Solo – I do not want to discuss it further, perhaps some people still did not watch the movie -, but I think you all know which scene I mean. This scene is just crap, and I do not care about the dramatic aspects of this scene and if this scene was necessary to make his character deeper. J. J. Abrams said: This scene is a “massive tradeoff. How can we possibly do that!? But… if we hadn’t done that, the movie wouldn’t have any guts at all. It felt very dangerous.”

So overall, I think the movie was not bad, it is best when it is a 1:1 remake of episode 4, and perhaps by getting older you idealize your childhood memories, but the original ones are just far better movies. In my opinion, “Star Wars” is best when it does not take itself too seriously, episode 4 was a very entertaining fairy tale, and the prequels are too much drama, and therefore, episode 4 is still the best one in the series, but I also have to say that J. J. Abrams is on the right way with the new movie.

The music

John Williams is, of course, back to his typical Star Wars sound. While watching the movie, I was surprised how fresh the music and the themes still sound. I did not recognize a lot of new material, the score is mostly a rewrite of the old themes. In my opinion, John Williams’score to the last of the prequels “Revenge Of The Sixth” is far better, but let’s get into details. I found an interview with John Williams about the new movie:

The album has 23 tracks, a lot of action cues – I personally like very much track 3 “I Can Fly Anything” for one of the best action scenes in the movie. The track before “The Scavenger” is a more lyrical one. There is not really a new main theme, except the weak theme for Rey (track 6 “Rey’s Theme” – one of the lyrical highlights), the new female character. In “Follow Me”, you can listen to the old Star Wars theme, a great moment of the score!

Track 7 “The Falcon” is a great action track in the typical John Williams hectic action writing with heavy emphasis on the brass section. I like the xylophone part here. This track is a good mixture of reusing the old themes and putting them in a new setting. You can skip “That Girl With The Staff”, “The Rathars!”, “Finn’s Confession”, “Maz’s Counsil”, “On The Inside”.

Track 12 “Starkiller” is again a more lyrical one for another sad moment of the movie, before with “Kylo Renn Arrives At The Battle”, we are back to action. Track 14 “The Abduction” is a very emotional one and for me one of the highlights. Track 15 “Han and Leia” is a more lyrical one with the already known theme for this couple. There is not much time for love between Leia and Han in this movie.

Track 16 “March Of The Resistance” introduces a new march that first reminds of “Flag Parade” from “The Phantom Menace”, another highlight of the score, and John Williams at his best. This piece of music reminds you also of the old “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” scores. I do not like track 17 “Snoke” even though this is the only track with a choir (a 24-voice men’s chorus). Its usage reminds me a lot of Philip Glass music for “ Koyaanisqatsi” (1983), so nothing new here. Track 19 “Torn Apart” is sad music, I think people who saw the movie can remember for which scene this track was. For me, another highlight of the score because it deals very effectively with the emotions of the audience.

Track 20 “The Ways Of The Force” is nice because of the use of the famous Star Wars theme, overall it is a more average piece. Far better is the next one “Scherzo for X-Wings”, a typical action track, and we would like to have this kind of music more in this soundtrack, but that is all we get, and this piece is really too short. “Farewell and The Trip” and “The Jedi Steps and Finale”, especially this last one, are another highlights of the score, and the finale is the best track of the whole score.

I found one nice clip with John Williams on the scoring stage:

So, what is the problem with this score? Perhaps the expectations are too high, but overall this new John Williams score is just average for him – which is still a lot compared to other soundtracks these days -, but it has a lack of new themes, really amazing music moments, and it’s just nice because of the usage of the old themes. If you are looking for astonishing new music such as the choral theme in “Duel Of The Fates” of “Phantom Menace” or “Battle Of The Heroes” in “Revenge Of The Sith”, you will not find these moments, and therefore, this album is my first disappointment of 2016.

I found a great live performance of a German orchestra with the great conductor Ulf Schirmer, here you can listen to a track with music we expected from the new Star Wars soundtrack:

But still: Happy New Year, folks!

Jerry Goldsmith First Knight.png
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