REVIEW: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story soundtrack (2016)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning coffee.

Rob says:  “Star Wars For A New Generation – May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from Star Wars – The Force Awakens (John Williams), Star Wars – Rebels (Kevin Kiner) and Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (Michael Giacchino). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story original motion picture soundtrack (2015 Lucasfilm/Disney)

A Star Wars soundtrack without John Williams?  Blasphemy!  Right?  Right guys and girls?  No John = No Star Wars, right?

Wrong!

It’s not like Rogue One is even the first!  20 years before, Joel McNeely composed Shadows of the Empire, the soundtrack to a massive multi-media Star Wars story.  It accompanied a novel, a comic, a video game and action figure line.  The only thing missing was a movie.  Since Disney’s $4 billion acquisition of Star Wars, Shadows of the Empire is now considered “legends”, or non-canon, so if you’re not aware of it, that’s OK.  The point is, a non-Williams Star Wars soundtrack is nothing new to long time fans.  And Rogue One is the perfect vehicle for such a soundtrack.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first non-episodic, non-Skywalker-saga Star Wars film ever.  There are two very obvious ways that it differentiates from the main line of films.  One is that there was no opening crawl (nor should there have been).  The second is that Williams didn’t do the music.  Michael Giacchino did, a man who has plenty of credits on his resume including a large number of J.J. Abrams productions.

Giacchino wisely didn’t overuse established Star Wars music.  You won’t hear the fanfare.  The sudden crash opening music of “He’s Here For Us” was actually a pretty cool moment of shock, and it’s right there at the start.  The music feels like the storyline.  When Director Kennic suddenly pays a surprise visit to his “friend” Galen Erso, you couldn’t ask for more abrupt and appropriate music.  The threat has arrived.  Better hide.

Though Giacchino borrows music only sparingly from John Williams, he seems to embody that classic style.  While unfamiliar, these new pieces sound like part of that universe.  There are memorable parts; not so many as the classic films, but they are there.  “He’s Here For Us” introduces one such theme, and there are more, such as the main theme contained within “A Long Ride Ahead” (and again in “The Master Switch”).  You’ll notice the Rogue One theme music in “A Long Ride Ahead” is very similar to the Star Wars main theme, in particular the first two notes.  It’s the same interval, transposed down to a different key.   That’s why the Rogue One and Star Wars themes sound similar, but different.

Other tracks like “When Has Become Now” have bits and pieces that recall prior Star Wars music without copying.  Another fantastic theme is “Jedha Arrival” which really captures the vibe.  You will get to hear the legendary “Imperial March” in “Krennic’s Aspirations”, in which he meets the Dark Lord Darth Vader in his castle on Mustafar.

For action scenes, “Jedha City Ambush” hits a double:  It’s different from past Williams work, but really gets the adrenaline running.  “Star-Dust” is more contemplative, and very unique.  The drama of “Confrontation on Eadu” has that awe-inspiring mix of ingredients that good Star Wars music always has.  Then, for sheer terror, the ironically titled “Hope” gives you all you need in pure musical form.  The solo violin on “Jyn Erso & Hope Suite” will make you weep.

The crux of the soundtrack is this:  It’s nearly impossible to listen to it without consciously or unconsciously comparing it.  That’s natural.  No matter who composed it, fans would notice it’s not John Williams.  Just like fans can tell the Kiss band of today is not the Kiss band of 1978.  What else could Disney do?  John Williams is 85 years old, and they plan on making these movies for years and years to come.  It’s reasonable to think John Williams will be able to complete the third trilogy of Star Wars, as we hope.  It’s not realistic to think he’ll be around as long as Disney plan on making Star Wars movies, as sad as that is.

We’ll leave this review with just some fun speculation.  It is widely known that, at some point in the late 1970s, George Lucas mentioned there would be 12 films.  Not 3, 6 or 9.  12 films.  He later backtracked and said, “Yeah, no, I meant 6.”  And of course he also used to deny he’d even make the prequel trilogy at all.  Then we found out he was already writing Episode I.  And recently, we learned he was actually planning to do the sequel trilogy after all, meaning you can’t trust anything Lucas backtracks on.  Fans always assumed 12 films meant 4 trilogies.  A fourth trilogy (probably focusing on Rey, Finn, Poe or Kylo’s children) does not seem impossible any more.   As long as these movies make money, it’s feasible that Disney could continue the actual saga beyond just these anthology films.  If we imagine that one day we’ll get Episodes X, XI and XII then who could compose the music?  Certainly not John Williams, since this could not happen until the mid-2020s at the soonest.  If it ever comes to pass, the fourth trilogy would have to be composed by somebody new, be it Giacchino or someone else.   Giacchino established himself as a real contender on Rogue One.  Well done.

3.5/5 stars

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14 comments

  1. Really excellent (and brilliantly written) review, Mike. I thought the music was really pretty good… certainly quite a challenge to create something ‘new’ in the whole Star Wars cinematic shenanigans, but there were enough subtle leanings to the traditions of the original saga to ensure nothing felt too distracting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re up early enough in the next few Saturdays, I will be on the air twice more this month!

      I think the quality level is high. Giacchino is no slouch, check out his credits. You’ve seen tons of movies with his music in them.

      Like

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