Film scores

Soundtrack review: Star Wars Episode VII – The force awakens (John Williams – 2015)

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I’ve been here before. Even if I was born after the original Star Wars movie got released I got to experience the prequels with the same excitement I feel now. I remember how eagerly I awaited part III, the one where I would finally find out how Anakin became Vader. I went to see the premiere at midnight; I got upset with my friends who kept commenting and having fun because I was so into that story. I am not that excited about the movie now. It will be a whole new story; sure, we will revisit old dear characters and sure, it’s JJ Abrams but the magic of the Darth Vader saga won’t be there. I hope the movie will still be great though. The score though, that’s an entirely different story. I am one of the few who appreciated the prequel scores more than the original trilogy ones. I still consider “Revenge of the Sith” my favorite of the bunch. I can’t wait to see what John Williams has in store for us now. I knew from the beginning of the year that this was going to be the cherry on top of a fantastic year. There is no way JW will disappoint. That’s how much I trust him with this story. I am ready to take one more musical journey in that unique universe…

There are so many fixed moments I usually look forward to in a Star Wars score… The formula for the opening and closing is the same and buy do I love it… I love the main theme and how it descends into the first action moment and I love the fade out of the final cue into the same theme. Still, of course, nothing tops the excitement of that opening theme and I can close my eyes and imagine the rolling credits even before seeing the movie. For this seventh going it descends right in the middle of a very grave situation by the sound of it. “The attack on the Jakku Village” already makes me wish I was there for the recording sessions. The music is rich and there’s no doubt that this comes from one of the best composers in history. A few minutes in and I feel I’m at a film score gala being witness to a very rare performance.

For me a Star Wars score wouldn’t be complete without some flute motifs and the one in “The Scavenger” goes straight to my heart. I didn’t expect it to be followed by such a simple and innocent piano motif, unusual even for John Williams but amazing nonetheless. Is this the new love theme? it charmed me beyond control and I can’t wait to meet it again further down the score. As this beautiful canvas develops in front of me I sense a tone darker than the usual for the franchise. The beginning for me is “Lord of the rings” franchise dark.

Where does John Williams get the vigor I feel in this score? He’s 83 and throwing musical thunders louder and more powerful than he did almost 40 years ago when the first Star Wars score came along. The music is fresh, spectacular and exciting. Nobody does orchestral like the maestro. I love the way each cue develops and grows like a flower on the most fertile of grounds. A moment like “Rey’s theme” is the best advertisement film music could have; a beautiful soaring theme that makes me think of the magic of Harry Potter as well. I close my eyes and instead of imagining scenes from Star Wars I imagine a concert hall.

Halfway through the score and I am not missing the action. I notice that up until “The Rathtars!” the music has been flying gently as a butterfly, charming me and making me drop my defenses. The vacation is over though as the famous and infamous Star Wars action sound comes back in a storm of strings. It doesn’t stay for long as the serious and dark tone from before returns. The music is so complex and beautiful though that it almost doesn’t matter what mood it sets.

The score flows compact and sturdy and I love it even if it means we don’t really get standalone themes. The “Star Wars” musical universe shines through its themes. In “The force awakens”, except the gorgeous “Rey’s theme” there’s nothing else and I at least expected something special for the big bad of the movie, Kylo Ren. I needed him to stand out on this score, to be memorable. The lack of themes was the only unpleasant surprise from this score. A “Star Wars” score without at least one theme that I will remember for years to come is not complete.

I know some fans might also frown maybe at the lack of “Star Wars” identity on this album. Except the main theme there isn’t much else to tie this score to the previous six other than some moments of “Han and Leia” (of course) and the end. I guess since the movie is meant to introduce this universe to a whole new generation the score needed to step away from what we knew so far. There’s no more Anakin, no more Obi – wan and the music is also freed from their heavy inheritance.

Regardless of connections with the franchise or fan expectations, John William created, for me, his best score in 10 years; it’s dark, it’s tense and it moved me. Can’t wait to hear it in context. Until then, I will surely listen to it again tomorrow and the day after…

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 56 / 77

Album excellence: 73%

Highlights:

Main Title And The Attack On The Jakku Village

The Scavenger

I Can Fly Anything

Rey Meets Bb-8

Rey’s Theme

The falcon

The Rathtars!

Finn’s Confession

The Starkiller

Kylo Ren Arrives At The Battle

The Abduction

March Of The Resistance

The Ways Of The Force

Scherzo For X-Wings

Farewell And The Trip

The Jedi Steps And Finale

 

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

2 Comments

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  • Beautiful review! I agree with almost everything you said.
    I said “almost” because I think Kylo Ren has a theme, and it appears many times, although my favorite rendition of the theme is in “Kylo Ren arrives at the battle”. It’s not a complex theme, not a march like Imperial March… it’s simple yet very effective to me!