Monday, January 18, 2016

Score Sample: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

John Williams = Star Wars. There really isn't any argument against it, so don't try it! Without his masterful score for The New Hope in 1977, I feel the film would not have been as memorable and powerful as it turned out to be. So when J.J. Abrams stepped up to take on a new Star Wars film in 2015 he had a choice to make. Stick with his talented friend Michael Giacchino, or ask John Williams to return. 

Really, there was no choice. Williams returned and Giacchino got to play s stormtrooper in the new film. So everyone wins!

I've seen a lot of negative responses to Williams new score for The Force Awakens. I'm a bit surprised by this. This score is really great in a lot of ways. But it is certainly not written in the style of the 1970s and 1980s Star Wars scores. John Williams has not written in that style in a long long time. HIs style is more complex, more detailed and in a lot of ways more dynamic than his older work. But this means that the simple clear themes he used to write are few and far between.

A perfect example of his new style of theme is this lovely one he created for the new character Rey. It actually has three different elements to it, and Williams uses each element in different ways throughout the score. Sometimes he uses a single element, like the rhythm that opens this track. Other times he uses two portions, or all three of them. This theme is also highly malleable, as he can make it sound mysterious, frightened, horrified and noble. This is a testament to Williams skill. But, there is no obvious "hook" in this theme. During the film you aren't really given a clear obvious single statement of the full theme. But he uses it in various guises the entire time. 

For me, this is a clear winner of a theme, and the more you listen to the score, the more you hear Williams genius at work. I'm really looking forward to hearing the next couple Star Wars scores to hear how this theme changes as the character and her story evolve.

So here is Rey's Theme from The Force Awakens, by John Williams


  1. Yes, the theme is quite lovely. Williams will always be a great choice. It's emotional and has all these levels and facets to it. I don't see why a director of a films score shouldn't grow and develop in their style as much as any other musician (or artist), and why we shouldn't expect that from them or like other musicians we'd get bored and move on.

    1. Just like actors, film composers get stuck creating in one speed. Most of these guys are very versatile, but once they create an popular sound that are asked to duplicate it again and again. Or they only get pulled into certain types of movies.

      Jerry Goldsmith actually got tired of scoring action and science fiction films. He was so good at it, but he kept getting asked to do the same stuff. He jumped at the chance to work on family films, comedies and dramas. It explains his enthusiasm for working with Joe Dante who always let Goldsmith indulge in his creative side for things like "Gremlins", "Explorers" and "Loony Tunes: Back in Action".

      But yeah, I still love Goldsmith's science fiction and adventure scores best. :)

      I think that may be one of the reasons why Williams works with Spielberg. He gets to score things like "Jurassic Park" and "Adventures of Tin Tin" but also dramas like "Lincoln" and "War Horse".

  2. When listeners are fond of a musician's early work, they commonly have one of two complaints about a later work: 1) it sounds the same, or 2) it sounds different.

    1. That is pretty much how it goes with film composers too. I tend to prefer Williams' earlier work from the 70s and 80s. But I realize that he just doesn't write that way any more. Jerry Goldsmith changed up his style too, somewhere around the mid 80s he stopped experimenting with atonal and jagged rhythms. He focused more on melody and long lyrical lines. HIs stuff after that point is much more accessible, but I enjoy Goldsmith's more experimental (and often unique sound) of his earlier work.