A symphonic masterpiece? The sublime soundtrack of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The verdict is in and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a box office juggernaut worthy of celebration amongst the fans of the greatest saga of all time but, did the musical score stand up to the challenge?
It was always going to be difficult following in the footsteps of the musical genius that is John Williams. The man is a phenomenon, one unrivalled in the motion picture music industry. Throughout his decorated career, he has demonstrated the amazing ability to not only produce a masterful score of sublime brilliance from the depths of his imagination, but has proven the aptitude of re-writing the rule book on his very own work of previous years.
With soundtracks like Jaws, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Star Wars Saga listed amongst his many triumphs, it was always going to be difficult for the fan base to accept when Lucasfilm announced that the great man would be stepping aside for scoring duties on Rogue One. With the appointment of Alexandre Desplat, an Oscar winning composer in his own right many of us were more than a little sceptical. Director Gareth Edwards had procured his services for his previous movie Godzilla, which was the composers first foray into the realm of Hollywood blockbusters and the results were greeted with mixed reviews. Desplat’s final score was both energetic and thoughtful but was criticised for not being as ground-breaking as the source material demanded and as result, the orchestration faded into the background of the monster mayhem on the screen.
With an Oscar being awarded to the composer for his efforts on The Grand Budapest Hotel, it was no surprise that he could have handpicked his next project with relative ease. However, with Gareth Edwards taking the helm of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Desplat was swiftly contracted to produce the score. Several months later, amidst murmurings of extensive reshoots for the movie itself, Desplat was inexplicably relieved of his scoring duties. The overrunning schedule of the reshoots apparently conflicted with the composers next project which forced him to release himself from his contract with Disney and vacate the project.
This “statement” was more than a little strange, especially when the movie was due for release as little as five weeks later leaving the next composer very little time to prepare for such a monumental project. The mystery pertaining to his departure may never be revealed, especially in a time where rumours have surfaced that suggest that his score was in no way good enough for the movie itself.
And so, amidst all the chaos, the team at Lucasfilm turned to the man who had single handily reinstalled the beating heart back to Jurassic World and the Star Trek franchise. A man who had proven an unswerving ability to blend freshness with the iconic nostalgia of a cornerstone franchise, the revered Michael Giacchino.
The composer, who had earned himself a reputation for outstanding music on projects like The Lost World Jurassic Park: The Game and the popular television series LOST, had earned his spot on the Hollywood music roster and had been rewarded with a string of big franchise honours. His latest score, Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange was greeted with glee amongst the fan base due in part to its fresh approach which brought a level of tonal brilliance to a chaotic and mystical realm. This was hot on the heels of his Star Trek Beyond score, which returned the franchise to its roots and directed the crew of the Enterprise back to their exploration mandate. His take on the journey through the nebula was a sublime entry into the Star Trek annals of musical brilliance, one that afforded us the haunting nuances of former supremo Jerry Goldsmith.
With a family vacation, mere hours away Giacchino was extended the custodianship of Rogue One scoring duties and despite his inner fan boy jumping with elation at the prospect, the composer was resigned to decline the offer. He was reluctant to accept the honour, due to the tight time constraints that afforded little more than four weeks to produce a score for the most eagerly anticipated movie of 2016. That was, until a family member reminded him that he had been writing the music to Star Wars in his mind for the better part of his adult life. It was an honour he had longed for since childhood and despite the pressure involved in accepting such a task, the composer plunged head first into the Star Wars Universe.
The result was a transcendent score for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first Anthology film to be produced by the studio without John Williams’ classic and archetypal melodies. From the movies opening moments, where the traditional opening crawl of the Star Wars universe had been omitted, we were treated to a bold and masterful score from Giacchino. Once again, his score began with a fresh approach that hinted at the nostalgic masterwork of John Williams without compromising his singular voice and talents.
Track By Track:
With the arrival of Director Krennic, the newest addition to the Imperial antagonist fraternity, we were treated to an entirely new theme for the Empire that would reverberate throughout the entire film. This wasn’t a replacement for Williams’ masterful “Imperial March” but had the ability to revert us to a time when the iconic theme, made famous in the Empire Strikes Back had yet to grace our screens. The tension within the opening title “He’s here for us” betrayed the tragedy of our new heroine, Jyn Erso who was forced to endure a loss of unimaginable proportions. The pain and emotion afforded to us within the musical brilliance of a true master suggested a deeper and overly darker interpretation of the Star Wars universe which, would be a totally different rollercoaster ride than the one we had been expecting.
With the Empire at the height of its power, one that boasts the completion of the dreaded Death Star, Giacchino extended us a truly powerful expression of their might that was interwoven within his theme. He expresses the full force of their power within his composition which perpetuates the return of the sinister and calculated Governor Tarkin perfectly.
His “Jedha City Ambush” theme is both exhilarating an exciting and expresses the battle between the Empire and Saw Gerrera’s militia perfectly giving us the true feeling of a war zone conflict that has savaged the moon for years without end. Heightening this gritty addition to the soundtrack is the accompanying theme of Saw Gerrera, a rusty and weathered theme that betrays the jagged persona of the man himself.
The track named “Star-Dust” reveals the tragedy of Jyn Erso who, after a twenty-year loss of both parents is finally reunited with her dying father. The final moments of Galen Erso’s life are spent in his daughters loving embrace and the pain of the moment is captured hauntingly in Giacchino’s score that translates her pain to us in an unexpectedly powerful way.
His sublime theme for the blind guardian of the Kyber temple Chirrut Imwe, is in a word incredible. The theme is strangely reminiscent of John Williams’ “Across the Stars” love theme from Attack of the Clones but utilises the tone in a completely new way. Instead of a love theme, we are afforded a moving and spiritual theme that reveals the character’s enlightenment and eludes to his belief that he is one with the force. The embodiment of the force and its living spirit are channelled through the theme and it heightens every scene when the ambiances overlay the action depicted upon the screen.
With the assault of the AT-ATC Walkers we were reunited with an old friend, the fearsome Imperial Walkers first appeared on the screen during the Empire Strikes Back and the “Battle of Hoth” theme became synonymous with the sequence. Upon my first screening of Rogue One, I believed the scene lacked a theme worthy of their return, but upon listening to the score I discovered that the original theme by John Williams had been retuned and added amongst Giacchino’s new score to perfect effect. The sequence has taken on new meaning with William’s nostalgic theme included giving the dreaded walkers a perfectly apt return to the saga.
If that wasn’t enough to send the average fan into a spiral of rapture, many of Williams’ original themes crept back amongst the score to accentuate the return of a plethora of vintage characters. The force theme emerges from the ashes as Bail Organa arrives on the screen as well as when Cassian Andor’s U-Wing troop transport lands at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4. The vintage Imperial theme from A New Hope makes a triumphant return, thirty-nine years after its initial orchestration which affords Rogue One a closer relationship to the saga’s original movie.
In the aftermath of Galen Erso’s death, Director Krennic travels to meet with Darth Vader who makes his awe-inspiring return to the screen accompanied by his traditional “Imperial March” which once again conveys the terror and threat that encompasses his presence. John Williams’ masterwork is once again thrust into the fray and the movie instantly feels more like Star Wars with its inclusion.
With the Rebel fleet departing for the planet Scarif, our beloved C-3PO and R2-D2 make their cameo appearance and they are accompanied by the vintage Star Wars theme which accentuates their return perfectly. This is heightened when the fleet emerges from hyperspace and begins its attack on the Imperial forces in orbit around the planet. The Star Wars theme blasts across the action giving the fans that euphoric moment when they can finally mutter the epic words: “Now this is a Star Wars movie!”
As we near the movies climax, Giacchino writes a perfectly tragic theme for Jyn Erso’s final moments to symbolise both her triumph and her tragedy. The victorious triumph of transmitting the Death Star plans to the rebellion walks hand in hand with the loss of her own life and the theme works tirelessly to convey the sense of both in an unanticipated way. The theme is a perfect complement to the power of the moment which displays the mark of a true artist when his themes inspire an emotional response from the listener.
In the aftermath of the Rogue One team’s bittersweet triumph over the Empire, Darth Vader boards the Rebel command ship determined to retrieve the stolen plans and is accompanied by a symphonic rendition of the “Imperial March”. Not only is this sequence a powerful and unforgiving statement from Vader, but the use of choir voices enhances the purpose of his attack which is nothing like we have ever witnessed before. The Rogue One Darth Vader is the full embodiment of the Dark Side and the accentuated choir version of the “Imperial March” is a sublime feat by Giacchino which amplifies the hatred from Vader through the screen.
With Darth Vader slaughtering hordes of Rebel fleet troopers, we follow them as they clamber through the hallways of their Blockade Runner which detaches from the crippled command ship and makes a swift getaway from the space above Scarif. As we travel through the nostalgic hallways made famous in the opening moments of A New Hope, we are treated to the return of the original themes which intertwine with the force theme as we regard the stunning return of Princess Leia Organa. As the movie concludes with Leia clutching the plans to the Death Star, John Williams’ classic Star Wars theme explodes through the speakers and reminds us that Rogue One is indeed an intricate part of the Star Wars Saga.
Rogue One may not have John Williams at the helm, but his loss is eased with Michael Giacchino’s fantastic score. Williams’ themes are used sparingly but are utilised when it counts giving the movie the traditional vibe of a true Star Wars movie. This however, does not detract from the score in any way and Michael Giacchino, offers us a sublime entry into our galaxy far, far away that fits in well amongst the saga’s celebrated masterpieces.
It was always going to take a monumental achievement to top the master work of John Williams, but the astute Giacchino resisted the urge to try. Instead, he has blended the nostalgic themes with his own masterful score which offers us a fresh take upon old friends, as well as a plethora of new themes to adore for many years to come. Considering this achievement, I would have been delighted to have Giacchino at the helm of the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is set to grace our screens next year. However, that task has now been bestowed upon Kung Fu Panda and X3: The Last Stand composer John Powell.
Until then, we are set to bask in the master’s work when Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives upon our screens this December; with John Williams, back in the hot seat despite his eighty-four years of age. The screen legend shows no sign of slowing down and his commitment to the cause is a tribute to his devotion to our beloved Star Wars universe.
However, until that time I will be delighted to fill my iPod with the tonal brilliance of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which takes its rightful place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope in the Star Wars musical symphony. Every fan should add this soundtrack to their collection, even if they were not totally convinced of its brilliance whilst watching the movie. The special effects and eye catching story are enough to command even the most astute of eyes and easily direct attention away from the sublime score, but a personal hearing would more than suffice to persuade you of its brilliance.
So, embrace the force…buy or download the sublime score by Michael Giacchino and channel the spirit of the Star Wars universe at its very best.
After all…it takes one to Rogue One!
May The Force Be With You