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Soundtrack review: Star Wars: The last Jedi (John Williams – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Star Wars: The last Jedi (John Williams – 2017)

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (also known as Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi) is a 2017 American epic space opera film written and directed by Rian Johnson. It is the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The film is produced by Lucasfilm and will be distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, and Gwendoline Christie in returning roles, with Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio del Toro joining the cast. Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.

After so many years the excitement of seeing a Star Wars movie and listening to a Star Wars score is as fresh and intense as John Williams’ desire and inspiration to continue building on his unparalleled musical saga. He is 85 years old and still finding new resorts and new ideas to expand his legacy; he’s doing it without compromising quality or depth and for me, even if I’m in a minority, his best “Star Wars” score is “Revenge of the Sith” from 2005. That’s my favourite and I was also very into “The Force awakens”; “Rey’s theme” is among my favourite SW themes, so right for that character and for the new life that this saga has, for the new generation of characters. It’s time now for “The last Jedi” and considering that I also considered last years Michael Giacchino score for “Rogue one” amongst the best of the year, I couldn’t be more excited to listen. I am also hearing the music before seeing the movie so I will have an objective opinion.

The “Star Wars” sound is so embedded inside me, so familiar and so much a part of me that every time a SW score begins, with the main theme blending right into the first cue I am about the happiest I can ever be while listening to film music; I am back to a place I’ve know and felt comfortable in for over 30 years and I know it’s still there, just as meaningful, just as deep and that I am in for another magical adventure. It’s like John Williams gives us the time, with the main theme, to settle in, get all our stuff in order and be ready for what’s different this time. It’s the opening credits of our favourite show that you sit through anticipating what comes next; it’s one of the most precious things in the world and something I never want to lose. This time it’s “Main titles and escape” and I listen to it and wonder how can John Williams still do it so fresh, so exciting, I mean this spectacular orchestral theme explodes in my ears and takes me over with bits and pieces from older themes I love and recognise, all of them part of a swarm of sounds that just obliterates everything in its path; the jumpy string motifs are there, the mighty horn, it’s everything and more. This majestic opening theme has it all, nostalgia and freshness, it’s epic and deeply embedded already in the Star Wars musical legend. The first new motif comes in the last minute and I can’t wait to hear what’s it for. “Main titles and escape” is a masterclass in building a suite that echoes back to 30 years of music while also bringing the story forward.

Goosebumps are even greater on the next cue “Ahch-To Island” because it includes my favourite motif from “The force awakens”, not counting “Rey’s theme” of course; I imagine this is where we finally hear more from Luke and the use of that motif that played during the final scene of TFA when Rey finds him and brings him the lightsaber is brilliant. Add to that the always thrilling “Binary sunset” motif that appears whenever a character is channeling the Force and a bit of Rey and once again I am in awe of how all these different, older musical gems connect with each other like puzzle pieces building the most beautiful fresque. I did not expect to get so many of the motifs from the previous movies in this one but they are everywhere like the most charming of spider webs clinging to me; each cue from “The last Jedi” is both new and nostalgic. “Revisiting Snoke” echoes the darker motifs, not missing, of course, a shadow of the “Imperial march”. This is the biggest twist of this score and I imagine it mirrors what happens in the movie: all elements from the past coming together one last time int the present; John Williams is such a master that the older motifs play hide and seek with the news ones, blending seamlessly in the new texture and for a fan, for someone who has listened to and lived and breathed all previous movies and scores this is a cornucopia of favourite tastes. Everywhere I look it’s like a parade of my favourite things from years past, it’s a fantasy. “The supremacy” has me grasping for air as the love motifs and even Leia’s theme play with each other like fireflies.

The new characters get their own for the first time in “Fun with Finn and Rose”, a quiet and gentle orchestral musing that just warms me up. Of course an older motif sneaks up in here as well and I will let you discover it on your own. A lot of nostalgia comes from “Old friends” and it’s really all in the title as I don’t need to see the movie to know who comes to visit, it’s all in the music as those old friends meet the new generation. The joy goes on with “The rebellion is born” which is one of those optimistic celebratory cues that light up the room, the land, everything. For me this emotion, this smiling hope is at the core of the “Star Wars” world, its the heart of this musical universe that John Williams built for 40 years and nobody can express this orchestral, even playful hope as well as him, with the twist of motivation at the end. There is even a “Cantina band” like cue “Canto bight” to complete the throwback to the older scores.

The second half of the score gets serious with more sombre and darker motifs and a more discrete presence of the older themes, except maybe in “The sacred Jedi texts”; if the first half of “The last Jedi” was the connecting part it’s time for the action to take over. It’s more and more fascinating how only through his music John Williams can make me guess and anticipate plot and action; I know at the beginning of “The battle of Crait” when “The Force theme” shows up that some major character will channel it and get ready for battle. Also in that cue I can identify who might be fighting alongside also by catching the musical nuances from past stories. “The last Jedi” is full of them and if you are a fan of the music of this saga you will discover what might be the most complex SW composition yet; it will be a challenging and rewarding game to catch all the references to previous movies and marvel at how they connect and build up into such a fantastic score once again. Is it corny if I say that these older motifs are midoclorians coming together to form a Force of a score? Well who cares if it is. It’s Star Wars and I am geeking out.

As the end of the score is getting closer I know that this hour I’ve spent with the music, emotionally charged and rewarding as it was, was nothing compared to the climax. John Williams is a composer who can dazzle with the most beautiful, complex and charged orchestral compositions before hitting with an even better and more intense emotional climax. What’s a pinnacle for other composers is regular to him. “The spark” is the quiet and melodic sanctuary before that climax. “The last Jedi”, the cue, gives me instant goosebumps. “The Force theme” is strong in this one once again and I am literally holding my breath as I listen to this cue and imagine what might happen; finally there’s a trace of that phenomenal choral work that John Williams can deliver in this one, and I’ve been missing the vocals, the choirs in this score; it was the only thing missing so far and even if the choral motif is not long and not as powerful and shattering as the choirs sounded in “Revenge of the Sith”, it’s everything I needed. Choral pieces have been the backbone of Star Wards themes for me and this score would’t have been complete without a choral motif.

When the “Finale” comes with a tenderly emotional, almost fairy tale like beginning, with what in some moments sounds like the main theme played with children’s toys. Then once again, “The Force theme” majestically comes to close this score as it has done so many times before and usher us into the main theme which marks the curtain call of yet another fantastic film music composition that takes its rightful place in a legend that will never end. Another score is already over and I think 2 years to enjoy it and let it sink in is just the right amount of time before the next one.

Years might pass, the world may change, but a John Williams “Star Wars” score will never be anything other than fantastic. This is a franchise, probably the most beloved story in the world of film and people need to recognise it as such and feel the connection with the past episodes in the music as well; the composer gives the fans everything they need with “The last Jedi”, for me even more than before; if with “The force awakens” he took his time in introducing the new themes and characters by now they are part of the family, no different from Luke and Leia and the rest so in this score he just blends their themes and their musical essence with the ones from the past; usually the second movie of a Star Wars trilogy is the most appreciated and the one where everything settles in and this score certainly shows it.

With about all the “Star Wars” themes we know and love (except my favourite “Across the stars” but it made no sense for it to be here since both Anakin and Padme are long dead and now it’s their grandchildren that are part of the story) making a cameo, perfectly blending into the new score, with Rey hand in hand with Luke and with the Force unifying all the cues, “The last Jedi” was, if possible, even better than I expected. “The force awakes” was a great score and John Williams was actually just warming up with it. It’s rare that a film score, especially for a movie like “Star Wars” where the story is everything, provides a listening experience as rich and rewarding as actually watching the film itself but this is the case here; 80 full, enjoyable and emotional minutes pass in a heartbeat and I just want to start all over again and know the music by heart before I go see the movie.

There were a few composers in the history of film music with a unique stamp and voice, the kind of composer that leaves a void that can’t be filled when he’s gone; John Williams is one of them and perhaps the last one still standing, alongside Ennio Morricone. With “The post” coming up soon I am just glad and grateful that we can still revel in his magnificent craft.

You don’t even need a review to go pick up “The last Jedi”. It’s John Williams. It’s Star Wars. It’s everything you imagine and more.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 66 / 78

Album excellence: 84%

Highlights:
Main Title and Escape
Ahch-To Island
The Supremacy
Fun with Finn and Rose
Old Friends
The Rebellion is Reborn
Lesson One
The Fathiers
The Sacred Jedi Texts
A New Alliance
“Chrome Dome”
The Battle of Crait
The Spark
The Last Jedi
Peace and Purpose
Finale

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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).

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7 Comments

  1. Rob 17th December 2017

    Great review of a great soundtrack

    Reply
  2. Stuart 18th December 2017

    I was fortunate enough to have the honour to be a part of the orchestra (LSO with a few handpicked key players from overseas who John specifically wanted. Disney flew me in from Australia to cover the timpani parts & some xylophone pieces. This is my fifth SW film recording with John. Anyway the point I wanted to make was I also thought that “Across the Stars” was the best recording I had played & heard with John & at that point I rated the Revenge of the sith as the best SW recording I had played/heard BUT (& I know it’s a Big call) but I rate “The Last Jedi “ soundtrack as the best SW soundtrack of them all. Particularly as a musician playing the music. It just made the hairs on my back of my neck stand up. There is a great instrumental piece called “Hymn to the fallen” from Saving Private Ryan which is equally brilliant. I agree with your 96/100 rating. I would love to hear your explanation as to why you deducted those 4 points. I knew that John was getting on a bit but didn’t realise he was 85. He just gets better with age & he is a classy & wonderful human being as well. I shouldn’t think about it but when that day comes when he passes on I am seriously worried about how I will handle his death. He has the closest thing to a father that I have had & we have a very close bond. The world is a much greater place because of people like him. He deserves every accolade he received .

    Reply
    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 19th December 2017

      Thank you for all these details and wow on being part of it, it must be a dream. The overall rating is an average of the ratings for each cue and there were a few cues (the cantina band one of them) that weren’t perfect, 5 star material for me.

    2. Marc-Andre Leclerc 20th December 2017

      Thanks for having shared your experience Stuart!

  3. Andrea Guariguata 21st December 2017

    I have heard the theme in “The Spark” before. The track has The Force Theme, and later Leia’s theme. But in between there is a melody that sounds so familiar, does anyone know what it is?

    Reply
  4. Anthony Smith 11th January 2018

    Great review, I really love this soundtrack too. It is a shame that it slightl spoilered the movie for you, there were some great surprises in there.

    Andrea Guariguata: if you haven’t realised what the theme is since you asked the question above, it is Luke and Leia’s theme when they are in the Ewok village together in Return of the Jedi 🙂

    Reply
  5. Bren 5th February 2018

    Hi Folks,
    Great soundtrack review and fantastic to hear the views of one of the musicians who recorded it. There’s nothing I can add to whats already been said, si I’ll just say thanks for saying it !!
    Bren

    Reply

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