Star Wars: The Force Awakens - John Williams
Click HERE for our guide to the themes of the (pre-TFA) Star Wars saga!
What You Will Hear: Standard John Williams orchestration, minimal use of the original themes, and the introduction of a few themes for new characters/groups.
Standout Tracks: The Scavenger, I Can Fly Anything, Rey’s Theme, The Falcon, The Rathtars!, Maz’s Counsel, The Starkiller, The Abduction, Han and Leia, March of the Resistance, Snoke, The Ways of the Force, Scherzo for X-Wings, Farewell and the Trip, The Jedi Steps and Finale
Will You Be Humming Along? Rey’s theme is instantly likeable and memorable. The classic themes aren’t used enough to be noticed regularly, and there are no stand-alone action cues akin to the Asteroid Field. Beyond Rey, there isn’t much that will stay in your ear.
The score this makes me want to dust off: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - John Williams
Will I come back to it? As hard as it is to say, I just have to say it at the top: probably not. This is a great score. But, it is not an iconic score. If it were any other composer, for any other film series, this score would be considered a triumph. But, we're talking about John Williams and Star Wars. In the original trilogy, Williams maximized his use of the greatest collection of leitmotif in film history. The Force theme, the Rebel Action theme, the main title, and more were intertwined with every action cue and tender moment. And even when the themes were not dominating the soundscape, each track had something unique to offer. The prequels did not often make use of the original themes, but it was understandable because of a new cast of characters. Williams, at least, gave us some wonderful new material like Anakin’s theme and Across the Stars (and arguably Duel of the Fates). With this score, William’s writing is enjoyable and exciting, but The Force Awakens gives us neither the themes we love, nor a collection of new classics.
The one exception is “Rey’s Theme”. Found on many tracks and utilized in a variety of moods, it is pure magic. The introduction material is a delightfully playful tune most often performed by flute, celeste, and bells. This figure moves into the main part of the theme; a sweeping work of adventurous hope. Williams has somehow crafted a motif that is both powerful and delicate. Rey was already the character with the most level of fan interest, and this theme confirms that she will be a wonderful addition to the Star Wars family. (And how about that D chord in the middle? A better music theoretician could probably explain it better, but that was an unexpectedly modern sound.)
But following this wonderful cue, where are the themes for Finn and Poe? What and/or who is Snoke? Does that five note line belong to Kylo Ren? Hard to tell. Why does the “March of the Resistance” lack a strong heroic center? It is a fun march, but It almost sounds villainous. The film seems to be filled with compelling new characters, but based on the album presentation, they will not be backed up by thematic material in the score.
There are a few new motifs that I can’t instantly assign to a character or event. Check out “Han and Leia” at 3:45 and “The Jedi Steps and Finale” at 0:40 for two very cool examples. (Check back for updates after I see the film.)
Please keep in mind, despite all my complaining, this is still John Williams. The pulse of the action makes this a fun ride. There is some new writing here. For example, the mixed meter found around 3:00 of “The Rathtars!” Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of thematic battle music. Overall, the woodwinds and strings get a workout, and the brass is as powerful (and fast) as ever. How can you listen to this and not want to jump into an X-Wing?
The softer moments are beautiful, but sparse. The strings featured on “The Starkiller” is Williams at his best, and “Finn’s Confession” also gives us some great music. But, again, where is the Force theme for these moments?
The Rebel Action theme doesn’t show up until “The Falcon,” and is always used sparingly from that point on. The Force theme takes even longer to materialize, not making its debut until “Maz’s Counsel.” Following the "Main Title and the Attack on the Jakku Village,” the main theme (Luke’s theme) doesn’t show up until “The Rathtars!” Han and Leia, a focal point of the promotional materials seem to hardly share any moments on screen beyond “Han and Leia” and “Farewell and the Trip.” The Luke and Leia motif is completely absent until the penultimate track. On a whole, the original trilogy themes don’t really take over until “The Ways of the Force,” “Scherzo for X-Wings,” and the rest of the final tracks. Maybe this makes sense where the story is concerned, but as a listening experience, it is ultimately disappointing.
The Force Awakens score is easily my least favorite of the saga. But that being said, it is still a fun listen. Rey’s Theme is a big hit, and I’ll return for it often. The rest of the score will be fine when I’m in a Star Wars mood. In the end, I just can't be happy with a Star Wars score that lacks so much previous material we all know and love.
One More Thing: Is it me, or does Williams sometimes tease us with intervals? So often, a new phrase will begin sounding like it will take us through a theme, but then it just kind of meanders away. It's that or I'm crazy.