I have to admit when the news broke that there was going to be another Star Wars movie I was excited as the next Star Wars fan. But when they also announced the soundtrack was going to be by the maestro himself, John Williams, well my anticipation for the movie went shooting up to the Outer Rim. I’ve been looking forward to listening to the soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Awakens for quite some time and when it landed on my doorstep on the 18th I was like a kid on Christmas morning.
The soundtracks to the original Star Wars movies have been with me ever since 1977 and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. The first time I watched A New Hope I was 5 years old and even though I can’t remember the experience inside the cinema, what I do remember was nagging my brother on the way home and constantly asking him to hum the theme to the epic movie I just witnessed. From that moment I was not only a Star Wars fan but a John Williams one, too. Now, everywhere I go, whether it’s in my car, in work or chilling at home, a track to Star Wars will probably play at some point. So a new Star Wars soundtrack to listen to in my life is a big event. It’s like a new friend has come into my life that I know will be there for me for many years to come.
Naturally, I had to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens first before listening to the music and fortunately I was lucky enough to watch J.J. Abrams’ take on that galaxy far, far away the day before the soundtrack arrived so I was ready to relive the movie in my head thanks to John Williams.
The soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars score to be recorded in the United States with the highly talented Freelance Orchestra in Los Angeles. Recorded over several months it becomes evident even after the first listen of the twenty-three tracks on the deluxe edition that this Star Wars score is different to the other six and this is largely down to the different style of editing between J.J. Abrams vision and George Lucas. The music is less prominent in the movie but this doesn’t in anyway stop it from being a Star Wars masterpiece. The scenes are longer and less ‘faster and intense’ than a George Lucas movie so with that Williams had to adapt and change the pace of the soundtrack.
Williams had said previously that he was enthused by Abrams’ youthful energy and Lawrence Kasdan’s light, witty script. He also made a conscious decision to make the soundtrack with almost completely new cues and arrangements. In fact out of the 102 minutes of the new score there are only seven minutes of original Star Wars music. John Williams tells us:
“My task and my challenge was to make it feel friendly and interrelated to the other scores, so that it feels comfortably ‘Star Wars’-ian, if you can use that word,” he said, “and at the same time be new and original to this particular piece.”
As I say it is a different style of Star Wars music to the previous incarnations and less prominent but being a John Williams soundtrack you still get some memorable tracks and one piece is already becoming a fan favourite. That piece is Rey’s Theme. Track six on the album and you can tell that John Williams really connected to Daisy Ridley’s character. The composer has even admitted his fondness to the actress:
“I fell in love immediately with Daisy Ridley…She is just a superstar born.” Williams tells us. “It’s an interesting challenge with her because it doesn’t suggest a love theme in any way. It suggests a female adventurer, but with great strength. She’s a fighter, she’s infused with the Force, and it needed to be something that was strong but thoughtful.”
Rey’s Theme is one of my favourites on the album, the music takes a change of pace from the opening tracks with ascending strings and woodwind melody that will evoke emotions similar to the Force Theme from previous Star Wars movies. The theme is featured earlier in The Force Awakens soundtrack and is first heard in track two, The Scavenger. I suspect that this piece will feature again in Episode VIII and could easily become one of the principle pieces to the new trilogy.
The piece reminds me of previous soundtracks, especially The Terminal and War Horse with a hint of Harry Potter. It really is the stand out piece on the soundtrack with a third motif that will leave you smiling.
There are a number of other tracks that stand out for me. For instance track ten, Finn’s Confession. It is a slow and sad piece with strings that unfold to a more uplifting feel as Finn finally relieves his burden by confessing. Again the piece reminds me of War Horse but this time with hints of The Phantom Menace, especially Anakin’s Destiny.
In the movie Finn talks about his experience with The First Order, the horrors he witnessed and being forced to perform. Here the track plays which captures his sadness, guilt and eventual confession. The magic of John Williams manages to evoke all these emotions in just two minutes and nine seconds. A beautiful and powerful piece which has similarities to track six, Rey’s Theme which you can hear hints of at one minute twenty seconds into Finn’s Confession.
Maz’s Counsel is track eleven on the soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. At first it’s a slow piece with a strong presence of cellos and extended strings that evoke a sense of mystery for the first half. Then the piece builds before we have our first occurrence of The Force Theme on the soundtrack which only lasts a few seconds before we have an eruption of instruments bringing the track to a dramatic end. This is a classic John Williams piece that takes you on a journey of various emotions all within one piece. It’s three minutes eight seconds long and feels like a soundtrack within itself.
After Finn’s Confession and Maz’s Counsel which have a slow mysterious feel we are Force pushed straight into the dark side with the appropriate track thirteen, Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle. It’s only fitting that the main bad guy of the movie gets his own theme just like Darth Vader before him. John Williams recently commented on Kylo Ren’s theme, he tells us:
“There’s a more ruminative part that is usually done softly,” Williams said. “I don’t think it portrays any particular weakness, but possibly hesitancy. But then there’s the motif that’s often strong, that seems to be the embodiment of evil. I thought that it should be a relative of Darth Vader, but also something entirely different in terms of melody.”
Using a five note cue and repeated throughout, this track has an aggressive feel and just like Ren himself, a sense of conflict and confusion. It’s powerful, menacing and moody with sweeping brassy statements. I have a feeling it will be heard again in Episode VIII.
I could mention so many more from the album for instance if you are longing to hear the old classics in the new soundtrack then skip to tracks fifteen, Han and Leia and the last track, The Jedi Steps And Finale which contain cues from the original trilogy such as Binary Sunset which is guaranteed to give you goose bumps.
The soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Awakens is magical and mysterious. It does have a different pace to previous Star Wars soundtracks but then so does the movie. John Williams has given us his magic once more. It is easy to dismiss it as not being up to the high standards as the previous six soundtracks but it is. Let us not forget that the other Star Wars soundtracks have been with us for years, if not decades, and ingrained in our Star Wars memories. The Force Awakens is new but already there are some tracks that are becoming fan favourites and will be instantly associated with this new trilogy. You can easily pick these out but, for me the best way to experience this wonderful new soundtrack is summed up by J.J. Abrams himself. He talks about the magic of John Williams and his wonderful music in the booklet to the soundtrack:
“Go lie on a rug, put on your headphones, fire up one of Mr Williams scores, any of them and close your eyes. What you’ll hear isn’t just the soundtrack to a film – wonderful, transportive, impossible music. What you’ll hear is the soul of a man. A sublime man to whom I’ve been grateful for a long, long time.”
I join J.J. in saying I’ve been grateful for John Williams and his wonderful magic since I was five years old. Thank you for being and continuing to be the soundtrack to my life.
–Rob WainfurPowered by Sidelines