Star Wars is one of the most memorable soundtracks in film history. Even those who aren’t fans of the franchise, or have even seen any of them, know that massive opening fanfare. Star Wars is chock full of amazing themes; Binary Sunset, The Imperial March, Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars, The Scavenger, the list goes on. And of course, all of these amazing pieces have one man behind them; John Williams.
Williams is known for his huge orchestral soundtracks and mastery of melody. His collaborations with Spielberg created some of the most iconic leitmotifs in cinema like the Jaws and Indiana Jones themes. The man is clearly a genius, and has the track record to prove it. The music of Star Wars for some is what makes the series so great. As Luke looks out at the sunset, dreaming about the future, Williams score is what completes that scene, giving it that emotional peak, Family Guy even made a joke about it in Blue Harvest. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to attribute much of The Force Awakens success in bringing fans back to the galaxy far, far away to Williams original, but highly reminiscent score, and for me became just as legendary, even on first viewing.
Which is why many fans were immediately apprehensive to a different name behind the music. Michael Giacchino could have easily made or broken Rogue One, and I think as much pressure lied on his shoulders as Gareth Edwards. Maybe this is why I was so disappointed with it.
To clarify, I think Rogue One is brilliant, objectively it’s the second-best Star Wars film behind Empire. I still don’t rate it as high as Empire, or Star Wars, or even Revenge and The Force Awakens, largely out of personal preference, but I think what Rogue One showed is that Star Wars can be made great by stepping away from the formula. However, I would argue that Giacchino failed at this. I like Giacchino, I think the soundtracks to Star Trek ’09 is really inspired and epic, as well as reminiscent of the original Star Trek scores, especially its main theme Enterprising Young Men, and I expect this was a big factor into how he got the job. But in Rogue One he didn’t take enough risks, when the Rogue One title flashed on screen to big brass theme, all I could think was that it was a rip-off of the original theme, and this is fairly evident through the whole soundtrack. But I don’t think melody is the only issue that Giacchino has, by sticking to a standard orchestral score and using it the same way Williams did only makes you wish you were hearing an actual Williams score and not a Giacchino version.
It’s not like Giacchino hasn’t proven his worth either, look at The Incredibles soundtrack, its completely unique, and really sells the concept of the film. It may be a bad example as its not particularly memorable either, but a large part of Doctor Strange’s uniqueness was its harpsichord lead soundtrack. Only one instrument makes the whole soundtrack recognizable, and Marvel has no catalogue of music to draw on, I mean, other than The Avengers and maybe the Guardians of the Galaxy themes, could you really remember any of the MCU’s music? Star Wars doesn’t have this issue, we hear Binary Sunset and we know it means hope and spirituality, we hear The Imperial March and we know it means evil and despair. Let’s be honest, no Star Wars movie will ever neglect those motif’s, so why not use them?
Take the Rogue One trailer as an example. The blend of the Imperial March and Binary Sunset says so much; the moral grey of both sides, a harder tone, a desperate fight. The music in all of Rogue One’s trailers is spectacular because of its variation from the familiar in melody, timbre and scale. This was the sort of thing I wanted from Giacchino’s score. It sucks because there was so much potential here, and it seems like a wasted opportunity. I know that he only had 4 ½ weeks to write the score, granted that seems like a huge task, so I hope the next composer chosen really steps up, is given more time, and dares to be bold.
Roll on the Han Solo movie.