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Soundtrack review: Solo: A Star Wars story (John Powell – 2018)

Best of 2018 Blockbuster Film scores

Soundtrack review: Solo: A Star Wars story (John Powell – 2018)

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“Solo: A Star Wars Story”, or simply Solo, is a 2018 American Space Western film about Han Solo, a character from the Star Wars franchise. The film is directed by Ron Howard and produced by Lucasfilm, from a screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. It is the second of the Star Wars anthology films, following 2016’s Rogue One. A stand-alone installment set prior to the events of A New Hope, it explores the adventures of a young Han Solo and Chewbacca, including meeting Lando Calrissian. The film stars Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, alongside Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany.

Now even if Han Solo and Lando Calrisian weren’t my favorite SW characters I can’t wait for this movie because it looks like it will recapture the lightness and fun of the original Star Wars and besides, I like having some sort of SW movie each year. I am leaning more towards the dark side though so I would have preferred another movie in the vein of the fantastic Rogue One; I loved that story. Musically as well, Michael Giacchino’s “Rogue one” was my score of the year 2016. Now it’s John Powell and I know he can deliver the magnificent adventure, his “How to train your dragon” scores are among the best of the kind. John Williams wrote the main theme and that’s further incentive for people to get on board with the score.

It’s that Williams new main theme, nicely titled “The adventures of Han” that opens this score; there is no mistaking where this particular theme belongs and what universe it’s from. it’s Star Wars from the first note to the last magnificent blow of the horn, it’s Star Wars adventure music at it’s wonderful best and a dedication to those who were complaining that “The last Jedi” has no new themes; JW can still write new Star Wars themes just as good as he ever could. Those horns, those epic, loud, thunderous horns that have been haunting me for so many years, since childhood, are the pillars of the Star Wars musical universe.

The balls on John Powell to sign on to follow this up like on the same album, was a passing thought in my mind during those few seconds between this opening theme and “Meet Han”, Powell’s response to Williams. Those few seconds were all it took to cast the last of the doubts aside as mr. Powell takes over the deck in mid flight and soars as if nothing happened and nothing changed. Both “Meet Han” and “Corellia Chase” are about he best epic adventure cues I have heard in years, without exaggeration. This is what fun, adventure music should sound like without any doubts, shadows or restraints. This is film music at its best and with every cue that passes I am more inspired, I am happier and moth grateful; all these feelings come of me, none as strong though as the joy of listening to this composition. When I hear film music like this, when I hear cues as explosive and epic as these I remain speechless and wonder how can anybody not be touched, affected, motivated by them.

“Spaceport” comes next and it’s just no stopping John Powell; the adrenaline rush almost chokes me, the sweeping beauty of them music, the epic dance of strings and horns, the amazing way in which this sounds like a Star Wars movie about Han Solo, the ultimate adventurer, should sound, everything about this score makes me wonder how on Earth was he able to write it; this is not of this Earth (pun intended) and I am rethinking my John Powell rankings on the go. For me the two “How to train your dragon” scores and “Pan” were masterpieces that couldn’t be touched but there’s always the unique inspiration that comes from a world like “Star Wars” to make a composer take it to an entirely different level. There’s always he immense and benevolent shadow of John Williams to motivate composer to go beyond everything they thought they were capable of, and it’s the brilliant, wonderful case here with John Powell.

“Flying with Chewie”, what could I say about this cue? It’s the perfect homage and representation of the two characters in music, a happy, triumphant piece of adventure music that in itself is a roller coaster ride; the goosebumps are all over the place and the horn sound once again soars before the flute section comes to bless another new, fantastic theme from this score, and I bet John Williams has a huge grin of satisfaction on his face when he heard it and realized that his legacy is safe and ready to be expanded. I don’t want this score to end, as I am listening to it I am looking for the repeat button to make sure once it’s over it will start again because this is a spell I don’t want to escape from under.

If you need a break, the beginning of “Train heist” shows the quieter, more melodic side of “Solo” before, naturally, firing up the jets again and bringing a wall of brass to accompany the on screen adventures. There is just no stopping this score and I imagine the movie is the same; it’s non stop fun, action, adventure and usually I would have been happy to find a couple of cues like this on a score but now I need to rethink my rankings, my standards, because let me tell you, John Powell’s “Solo: A Star Wars story” will mark a paradigm shift in a way scores are regarded, that’s how epic it is from beginning to end. Even the original Star Wars score had some breaks, some emotional, quiet moments but this is a different story. I need to catch my breath after each cue, because if it’s not horns it’s the choral work in “Marauders arrive” (what would a Star Wars score be without choral sections) or the percussion and everything is melodic and inspiring there isn’t a single note that doesn’t bring joy.

All this and we’re not even halfway through the score; actually the score could have ended there and it would have been worth the money. “Is this seat taken?” goes the seductive Bond way and reminds me that Han Solo wasn’t just about piloting and smuggling and that he had a life before Leia. This cue marks the change of pace, the moment when we can finally get our towels to dry up after the intense workout from before. Lando’s presence is marked clearly in the music and we get a few moments to watch Han and Lando get acquainted and there’s a tiny bit of trace of the original Star Wars theme hidden right during the moment when we get to finally see the Millennium Falcon, right in the middle of “L3 & Millennium Falcon”, before those Easter European sounding choirs return.

For me the most distinctive sound of a Star Wars score, besides the sound of horns, is the sound of flute for the more emotional moments and I get plenty of that in “Lando’s closet” and once again I hear echoes of John Barry and a sweet, gentle feeling of nostalgia take me over. The wonders of this score never cease… is this the most beautiful romantic theme John Powell has ever written? Of course it is, since it made me think of John Barry. Is this the best score John Powell has ever written? I don’t even need to hear all of it to say that yes, it is.

Fortunately there are still cues left as Han and Lando need to have some adventures together as well. “Mine mission” restarts the fun and once again my ears are invaded by epic, melodic adventure music that I just cannot get enough of. “Break out” picks up where the previous one left off and you, just as me, will have a hard time choosing your favorite adrenaline inducing piece of music from this album. There’s a hidden reference to old SW scores in this one as well. As the music goes on all I keep thinking that just like now mobile phone companies are striving to get the highest screen to body ratio, after “Solo” we should introduce a similar ranking for film music scores “Epic to duration” ratio. Or simply call it “The Solo factor”. It doesn’t need to be 100%, as I adore the romantic pieces from this score as well, cues like “The good guy”, which is enough to make me care for Han more than I did watching the movies.

“Solo: A Star Wars story” sounds like the perfect Star Wars score without sounding like any of the previous Star Wars score. John Powell has achieved the impossible, that it creating a piece of the puzzle that fits right into that world, honoring and expanding it in the same time. When you will listen this one you will know from the first to the last minute that this is a new Star Wars score. What’s even more amazing is that I can’t see anyone, die hard fans, purists or new fans alike complaining about this score. It’s simply perfect. There are subtle, minimal, seconds of subliminal references to John Williams’ previous themes, just enough to subconsciously seal the deal. There is a cue towards the end aptly titled “Reminiscence therapy” (which is basically what I always do through music), a cue that connects “Solo” not only with the old SW movies but also to “The last Jedi”; it connects it to everything. It’s fantastic and it’s here and on “Into the Maw” where John Powell weaves the old themes more obvious in his fabric.

Without a doubt, “Solo: a Star Wars story” is the score of the year so far. It will be very hard to beat and if there were any doubters of John Powell, they will be silenced forever by this magnificent, epic, wealthy old school orchestral bonanza. This composition is a pure and unfiltered mix of joy, hope and nostalgia and it will be a while before I will be able to listen to something else. Thank you John Powell for this.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Highlights:
The Adventures of Han (John Williams)
Meet Han
Corellia Chase
Spaceport
Flying With Chewie
Train Heist
Marauders Arrive
Is This Seat Taken?
L3 & Millennium Falcon
Lando’s Closet
Mine Mission
Break Out
The Good Guy
Reminiscence Therapy
Into The Maw
Savareen Stand-Off
Good Thing You Were Listening
Testing Allegiance
Dice and Roll

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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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2 Comments

  1. Timothy Sexton 28th May 2018

    Hello Sir, I love your site and appreciate your reviews of so many Soundtracks. In a lot of the posts you mention that this is one of your favorite cues. I was wondering if you could or would be able to do a review and list all of your favorite cues (maybe a top 20) of all time. If you had only 1 cd and could record only 20 cues on it…which one’s would make that list. Just hoping you will.

    Reply
    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 28th May 2018

      Hey thank you for reading. Actually I have a list ready, I have a top 100 cues and I will soon do an article on my favourites so yeah, that’s happening 🙂

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