What is this? A surprise twist? A mere tease? Or is it…destiny?
Let me know what you think of Rey’s “new look”.
What is this? A surprise twist? A mere tease? Or is it…destiny?
Let me know what you think of Rey’s “new look”.
GETTING MORE TALE #772: The Phantom Menace (20 Years On)
If you can believe it, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is 20 years old this year. 2019 is a significant year in the history of Star Wars. It is the 20th anniversary of its return with the prequels, and it will also witness the final movie of the Skywalker saga in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Back in Record Store Tales Part 209: The Phantom Menace, I said I wasn’t “interested in contributing to the background noise” regarding the movie, but I’ve since changed my mind. Now that George Lucas is out of the picture and J.J. Abrams is helming the finale of the sequel trilogy, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for 1999, when things were…simpler.
Netflix has different movies available in different countries, but you can sidestep this with some VPN software. Some countries have no Star Wars, but between them, all of the films are available. Bahamas is the only territory I’ve discovered so far with the first two trilogies, so I’ve been re-watching from I to VIII. And for all its flaws, with the benefit of hindsight, The Phantom Menace is still quite enjoyable.
George Lucas had his own ideas about where to take Star Wars, but the fan hate that Phantom Menace (and the other prequels) received took the wind out of his sails. He laid the groundwork in Phantom Menace, with that talk about the highly maligned midichlorians. Now, midichlorians were an awful idea. J.J. Abrams is right to leave them out of the sequel trilogy. The idea of little microscopic organelles in your blood giving you the ability to tap into the Force? It creates so many problems. Like, if you have more midichlorians in your blood than someone else, does that automatically make you more powerful? Can we therefore rank numerically every character by midichlorian count and deduce who the most powerful is? Can you get a blood transfusion from a Jedi and steal his or her Jedi powers? That’s the kind of shit that fans hate on. Why couldn’t Lucas leave the Force alone with all its mystery intact?
Because he was going somewhere with that. Lucas came up with the name and concept of midichlorians back in 1977; the idea is very old. Now we understand why. George was also setting up the final trilogy, the one that J.J. is currently finishing. Episodes VII through IX “were going to get into a microbiotic world,” George Lucas told James Cameron. So, like Ant-Man? “There’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force.” Fans recall that “Whills” is an old word. The first Star Wars novelization refers to the entire saga as The Journal of the Whills. In Lucas’ own sequel trilogy, Jedi were to be merely “vehicles for the Whills to travel around in…And the conduit is the midichlorians. The midichlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force.”
Like Ant-Man meets Dr. Strange meets The Fantastic Voyage, maybe. With lightsabers? Terrible; undoubtedly awful. I can’t even fathom how he would have executed this idea. The fans would have rioted. You think the hate that fandom gives Disney today is intense? Imagine if George’s microscopic version got made.
But at least George had a vision.
Lucas wasn’t about making the trilogies the same. Having watched both The Force Awakens and Phantom Menace recently on Netflix, it’s clear that J.J. made a better movie that feels more like Star Wars. Flawed, yes, but it seemed to be setting up some pretty epic storytelling (until Rian Johnson took a shit all over it with his left turn Last Jedi.) J.J.’s Star Wars is better acted, paced and edited. The dialogue is far less stiff. But George’s Phantom Menace has something that J.J.’s Force Awakens does not: daring imagination.
One of the most successful sequences in Episode I is the pod race. It’s completely irrelevant to the story, which is one of the many problems, but on its own, it is a glistening example of George’s unfettered imagination. In 1999, this race was unimaginably new. The only thing that came close was the speeder bike chase in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, primitive as it was. Lucas broke new ground in multiple ways with his prequels, whether you like his innovations or not, and primitive CG characters aside. People complain that J.J.’s Star Wars is just a soft reboot. Well, watch Phantom Menace if that’s not your cup of tea. The pod race, at least. Lucas combined his love of race cars with science fiction and directed one of the best race sequences in the genre. In any genre. Even little Jake Lloyd shone in that cockpit, confidently flying himself to victory.
It’s a shame that pod race sequence was completely unnecessary. I mean, you’re telling me Liam Neeson couldn’t figure out any other way to get off that planet, other than a complicated scheme of betting; gambling on a child pod racer? Liam was supposed to be a goddamned Jedi master. They keep talking about how much time they’re wasting on the planet, but they wait to see how this damned race plays out? A race that could have killed a little kid! Weird choices. If you were a Jedi, you could have figured out dozens of faster and safer ways to get off that planet, right?
Once they do finally get off that planet, the Jedi arrive home on the capitol world Coruscant. This was a bit of fan service, something that they wanted to see more of, since it had been such an important part of comics, novels and production artwork. Cloud City aside, it was the first real time we saw an urban city environment on Star Wars. True to form, Lucas made the whole planet one environment, in this case a city. It was also some of the most brilliant visual designs on the prequel trilogy, one which would set the tone for the two movies that followed.
For better or for worse, Lucas spent much of the prequel trilogy defining who the Jedi were. What they could do, what they couldn’t, and what they believed in. We learned of the “living Force”, and oodles of Jedi wisdom about attachment and fear. Jedi couldn’t marry, which was surprising, considering the Skywalker bloodline is the entire focus of the saga. Yet George was throwing tons of ideas at us. Stuff that he had been keeping in dusty old notebooks for years. Nothing in the sequel trilogy comes close to revealing as much about the Star Wars universe as the prequels do.
Though Phantom Menace is the movie with the most cringe-worthy moments, wooden dialogue and shitty acting, there are the odd scenes that George did artistically and perfect. Take the moment that Anakin and friends arrive on Coruscant, an overwhelming moment for the little boy. George shot some of the footage from kid-height, allowing us to experience Anakin’s anxiety without clumsy dialogue. The aforementioned pod race sequence is brilliant, and so is the final lightsaber duel. For the first time, serious acrobatics and martial arts moves were incorporated into the laser sword battles. This went on to define how the Jedi normally fought throughout all the prequels: with a lot of jumping, leaping, and somersaulting. For all the epic duels in the saga, one of the greatest (if not number one) is Kenobi and Jinn vs. Darth Maul. From John Williams’ score (“Duel of the Fates”) to the choreography by Nick Gillard, it was focused through George Lucas’ lens into something absolutely brain-melting. Until Darth Maul lost like a chump. No excusing that; although remember that George did something similar to Boba Fett in Episode VI.
The droid designs were also pretty cool. As iconic as a stormtrooper? No. But sleek, interesting, new and believable? Absolutely. This helped shape the visually stunning Naboo land battle scenes. J.J. didn’t introduce any new infantry troops in his movie, he just updated the existing ones.
There was one thing that The Force Awakens and The Phantom Menace did equally well. One very important thing that neither gets enough credit for: they made us anticipate the next film in the trilogies with hunger. (Until Rian Johnson pissed all over J.J.’s ending, that is.) Both films’ endings felt like the setup for events we couldn’t wait to see on screen. The training of Anakin/Rey, for example. A clue to the truth about the big bad guys (Sidious/Snoke). The next meeting between good and evil. J.J. and George both succeeded in creating this feeling of heavy anticipation.
By the time all three prequel movies played out, each problematic with wooden acting and stiff stories, fans were burned out on prequel-era Star Wars. The Clone Wars TV show did a better job of living in that universe, but fans longed for the old familiar again. X-Wings and Han Solo and the Empire and all of it. So that’s what J.J. delivered. And J.J. Abrams learned what we all know: there is no pleasing Star Wars fans.
We fans take this stuff too seriously sometimes. You’ve just read 1500 words, comparing Star Wars movies’ strengths and flaws. That’s excessive, for both the reader and the writer! We take this too seriously, friend. Sure, we don’t go and harass the actors on Twitter like some juvenile delinquents do, but we’ve invested so much time and thought into a goddamn space movie series. Too late to turn back now. I think it’s important to take a break, step back and appreciate the movies from a different perspective. Having done that with Phantom Menace, I can see it has its mitigating traits that still make me smile 20 years later.
GETTING MORE TALE #763: L’Empire contre-attaque
We didn’t have a VCR in 1980. You could rent them; this was usually reserved for special occasions. That meant, unlike today, we couldn’t just watch the latest Star Wars any time we felt like it. The best way to re-experience the movie was on your own, with action figures and soundtracks. The Empire Strikes Back was my favourite album at that time. I played certain tracks on those records so often with my kid fingers that they started to skip.
I used my parents’ big living room hi-fi. Giant wooden speakers as heavy as oak doors. A turntable, an 8-track, and a receiver. Once I discovered Star Wars, I think I used it more than they did. The Empire Strikes Back came in a luxurious gatefold, with photos from the film, liner notes, and a generous booklet. It didn’t take long for the rips and tears to set in; that record was well loved. Usually, I would plug in the set of headphones and listen quietly while turning the pages of that booklet. On weekends, my sister and I would probably set up a big battlefield and re-enact the movies, with the soundtrack playing in the background. The most frequently played tracks were “Yoda’s Theme”, “The Asteroid Field” and of course “The Imperial March”. Sometimes we would ambitiously re-enact the entire movie in sequence using the whole soundtrack.
We had to improvise. There were lots of characters and vehicles we didn’t have. When the Wampa ice monster attacks Luke Skywalker and knocks him off his tawn-tawn, we had to use Chewbacca as a stand-in for the monster. Before we had a Boba Fett, we used a Micronaut with an actual missile-firing backpack. We didn’t have an AT-AT, so we used my sister’s cardboard Jawa sandcrawler. The centrepiece of our play time was usually my huge Millennium Falcon toy.
Before anyone gets too nostalgic for the good old days, I’ll remind you those Kenner toys were actually quite shit. My two biggest toys, the Falcon and the X-Wing, both broke immediately out of the box. The wings on the X-Wing never worked right and I had to wedge marker lids in the wings to keep them open. The hinge for the boarding ramp of the Falcon snapped when my dad put it together. He tried to glue it, but ultimately the door was held on by an ugly piece of masking tape. Sturdy toys they were not, and parts were always popping off. The guns refused to stay on the wings of the X-Wing. The canopy of the Falcon always popped open mid-flight. It too eventually got locked down by masking tape.
During these huge play battles, my sister and I would take over the entire living room floor. There was a coffee table that usually acted as Imperial headquarters. You could park a TIE fighter on the shelf underneath. All the while, John Williams and the London Symphony spun behind us. I’d flip sides and cue up another track, or just play “The Imperial March” again.
When we were done playing Empire, we would do our own original stories. We usually set these “pre-Empire“, since Han Solo was frozen in carbonite at the end of the movie. He was a favourite character and we had two Han Solo action figures: original Han and Hoth Han. I loved Hoth Han. Not only did he look cool but he was the only figure you could take his gun and plug into a holster on his hip. It was hard to really make good coherant “pre-Empire” stories though, because we also wanted to play with other cool figures like Lando, and Yoda. It didn’t particularly matter because we had tremendous fun without a logical story.
I’ll say it again: improvisation. We built a custom multi-level Cloud City out of cardboard boxes. It had sliding doors and sort of an elevator. We made our own figure-compatible vehicles out of Lego. Before I had a figure of Han Solo frozen in carbonite, I took my Solo and put him in a glass of water. If I put him in the freezer for a few hours, I’d have a frozen Han ready to go for the next adventure. My dad was bemused to go into the freezer and find Han Solo in there so frequently.
No matter the story or setting, the Millennium Falcon was there. You could fit several figures in it, with two in the cockpit, one in the gunner’s chair, and several tossed into the opening rear compartment. The cool thing about the gunner’s chair was that it rotated in sync with the top quad-cannons. The Falcon’s rear compartment was equipped with a space chess table (called Dejarik), a Jedi training area (you know, for that one scene), and a smuggler’s compartment with secret hatch. This made it more of a playset than a ship, but it did have several features that made it more a ship than a playset as well. Close up the rear compartment, raise the working landing gear, and you are airborne. The Falcon also had sound effects and a large battery compartment where the escape pod would have been. While playing on the living room floor, if the track “The Asteroid Field” was playing, you just had to get the Falcon ready for take off. Close the ramp, the canopy, and the rear compartment. Raise the landing gear and you were space-bound! Then I’d fly the ship around the living room in sync with the swells and crescendos of the theme. It really felt like Star Wars at that point.
In 1981, the first Indiana Jones soundtrack was released, also composed by John Williams. It was official then: Williams was my favourite. I didn’t have very many records; most of the others were “Story Of” soundtracks with full narration and dialogue. That was another way to re-live a movie in a pre-VHS household, but I kept coming back to the actual movie scores. I outgrew the “Story Of” records but not the scores. Even so, nothing topped the original two-record set of The Empire Strikes Back. When Return of the Jedi was released in ’83, it was only a single record. It didn’t have as many memorable cues. I loved and cherished it, but not as much as Empire.
Besides, in 1983 something else happened besides the end of the Star Wars trilogy. I was getting older, and there was this new song out. I heard four words — “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto“, and my world shifted once again! But that, friends, is another story.
GETTING MORE TALE #762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?
“Where are the starting points and where are the end points? When’s a song ‘done’? What the fuck does that mean anyway? ‘Done’? When’s a record ‘done’? Where does a record start; where does it end?” — Lars Ulrich, Some Kind of Monster
When Lars Ulrich asked the rhetorical question “When is a song ‘done’?” he wasn’t just yammering meaningless bullshit. In fact he was colourfully paraphrasing Leonardo Da Vinci, who said “A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.” Da Vinci might be the best known example today of someone who laboured over his art. Many of his paintings, including the Mona Lisa, conceal previous unseen versions beneath layers of paint. Scanning the paintings with modern technology, we have been able to discern Da Vinci’s works in progress. It is a little like peaking inside the mind of a creator as they create.
Imagine you’re finishing a painting of something completely imagined inside your head. How much time will it take to be “done”? Perhaps you have to make that sky a little more blue, or cloudy, to match your vision. You will never be able to take a photograph of your imagination, so painting something is by its very nature a compromise. You must decide when you are satisfied that you have accomplished your goal. Let’s say you added that cloud to your painting. It looks good to you. Then you take a step back and look at the whole painting. The corner where you added that cloud now looks too busy. Did you overdo it? Was the painting already “done”?
The same applies to music. Axl Rose laboured over Chinese Democracy for 15 years. There are, of course, some major differences between recording a Guns N’ Roses album and working on a painting. With the rock album, there is far more outside pressure and this can become the dominating influence. Even if outside forces end up pushing you to do something opposite from what they want, it has now effected your music. The music will not take the same shape that it would have without that outside pressure. Is that a good or bad thing? It can be either! Axl re-recorded the album at least once, and continually updated it as new members joined the band. By the time 2008 rolled around and the record was “finished”, dozens of musicians and producers and managers and writers had made some kind of impact, no matter how small.
Let’s not forget George Lucas either. The Star Wars creator fiddled with his movies continuously. Do you really think the 1997 special editions were the first Star Wars that were changed? Not even. The initial updates happened in 1980, when George re-titled Star Wars as Episode IV: A New Hope. He fidgeted with them steadily, even beginning a fairly recent conversion to 3D until he sold the rights to Disney in 2012. (Only Phantom Menace was released in 3D, with Disney putting the project on hold in favour of the sequel trilogy.)
You can obsess over and overthink art. You can also rush it, and end up with something “unfinished” that might actually be better. This often happens out of necessity. Black Sabbath famously recorded their first album in two days. They had been playing the songs live for months and were tight as hell (pun intended) but also had a very limited amount of time in the studio. Maybe they would have loved to stay in there, experiment with different amps and guitars, get different sounds, but there was no time. And so the debut album Black Sabbath pukes overloaded guitar, and you can hear amps hum. You couldn’t have made it better if you tried. (Zakk Wylde will try and will not succeed.) Whatever they did on that album, they did out of necessity and it just happened to work.
Though my “art” is usually the written word (and occasionally video), I also love recording song introductions. This is for our annual “Sausagefest” party, and it’s something that allows me to really get creative with sound. In recent years, in addition to introducing the songs, I also create an introduction for myself. It’s sort of an audio collage of things I found funny. This started out of necessity — it was the only way I could get my comedic bits into the evening! Now it’s something I work and obsess over. And this is the question I’m currently struggling with: When is it “done”? I started recording bits for it almost a year ago, and I began piecing the whole thing together on May 11. Now we’re at the tail end of June and I’m still making changes!
Without giving it all away, I like to begin my intro with a certain, recognizable musical theme. You’d know it. This year, a certain unnamed rock band recorded their own version of that classic theme. I happened to be playing that album in the car when I realized, I had to use it! As soon as I got home, I started editing the audio track that I thought was “finished”. In a couple minutes, I removed the original theme and replaced it with the 2019 rock version. It was a few seconds longer than the original so I also had to extend the space it fit into, but that’s pretty easy to do. Now I’m even happier with the intro.
When will it be “done”? It will be “finished” when time is up and I’m forced to turn it in. Until then, I continue to listen for room to improve.
I’m no Leonardo, or a Lucas, and I’m not even a Lars Ulrich (although we have shared the same hair style on numerous occasions). I do, however, have a keen understanding that art is never done in the eyes of the creator.
Rrrrrhh Rrrhhh Rrrrrrhhhhhh. That’s Wookiee for “We will miss you, Peter Mayhew”.
The 7′ 3″ British actor is best loved as the original Chewbacca in five of the Star Wars films. In his final film, The Force Awakens, he shared the Chewbacca role with his successor Joonas Suotamo. Mayhew mastered the art of performing in a massive costume and mask, imbuing the character with life. His expertise was called on twice more, as a consultant on The Last Jedi and Solo.
Chewbacca would make my “top 10 sidekicks” list any day. As kids we all loved Chewie for his raw strength and loveable personality. Peter gave him that personality. Rest in peace.
Of all the titles available, The Rise of Skywalker was the last thing I expected Episode IX to be called.
The end of a saga. Over 40 years of movies. We never thought there would be a sequel trilogy. Now we’re winding it up, and the whole damn saga too!
Which Skywalker will rise? What’s with the Death Star? The Emperor’s laugh? LANDO! Set course for December.
And I don’t care who knows it!
GETTING MORE TALE #705 Extra Hands
Today we discuss perhaps the most controversial subject ever broached on mikeladano.com. In the past we have fearlessly tackled bands without original members, whiny fanboys, the far right, and the plight of natives. Now we go where no one has dared.
Readers here may think that my sister Dr. Kathryn and I have lots in common. We both love music, schnauzers, and Star Wars. That’s everything, right? You’d certainly think so. We disagree more often than we agree.
Some spans are simply too far to bridge. This is one of them.
Here is the controversy. Don’t judge until you’ve heard us out.
My sister and I disagree, strongly, when action figures come packaged with extra hands.
Say what? I’ll explain.
This issue first arose in 2012 when the Star Wars 6″ Black Series was launched. This was a series aimed at collectors, packaged to display. Many increased in value quickly. Each character was numbered. The larger size (standard Star Wars figures were 3 1/4″) enabled more detail, better facial sculpting and way more articulation. Some of these figures look like the actual actors for the first time. Though quite a few are less than perfect (#03 Luke Skywalker has weirdly bright blue eyes) they were, by and large, exactly what nostalgic fans wanted. Eventually just about every major character was released (though we are still missing a Padme) with lots of the minor ones too (bounty hunters, Jabba’s minions). Fans were peeved that it took until now to get an original Lando Calrissian figure, while we already had such dubious characters as “Constable Zuvio”, plus about a dozen Rey variations! From Star Wars ’77 to Solo, most of your favourites are now available in the Black Series line.
The figure that sparked the controversy is #08, the excellent Han Solo in his 1977 getup: Black vest, white shirt, cool holster and blaster! The Black Series also occasionally threw in some bonus accessories. #08 Han has some of the best. He comes with his regular gun and holster, plus a Stormtrooper’s gun and belt so you can duplicate the look he had when he was running around the Death Star after escaping the trash compactor. He also comes with an extra set of gloved hands, so you can have Han as he looked when he was fleeing TIE Fighters aboard the Millenium Falcon. The hands snap in and out easily with no fear of breakage, still maintaining full wrist articulation. One of the gloved hands has fingers outstretched, as if Han were hitting buttons on the Falcon’s dashboard.
So what’s the problem?
My sister likes to keep her figures sealed. She displays them around her desk in her music room at home. I, on the other hand, put my sealed figures in storage, and sometimes buy a second one to open up and display. #08 Han is one such figure that I opened. (My sealed one is in a Cantina two-pack with Greedo!)
I’ve displayed Han in all sorts of ways: With and without vest, with and without Stormtrooper gear, and sometimes with the gloved hands. Meanwhile my sister’s boxed figure gets quizzical looks when she has friends over.
“Why does Han have two dismembered hands in the box?”
My sister finds the hands to be an eyesore she’d rather do without. For me, they are just another display option. I’ll bag up whatever accessories Han isn’t using right now. (Currently, my #08 Han is put away, while I have “Old Han” from The Force Awakens on display with Chewie.)
To me, a bigger offender is actually R2-D2. R2 is loaded with accessories (which is good since he’s half the size of a regular figure but still the same price). R2 is packed with a sensor scope, an antenna, and a Luke lightsaber that he packs in his dome. There are also blue dome covers for when you want R2 all closed up looking normal. But he also comes with jetpacks for his legs. Many fans consider the “flying R2” scenes to be among the worst in the prequel trilogy. I’d rather pretend it never happened.
“Those are stupid too,” says my sister of the leg rockets.
Han isn’t the only figure in the series with alternate body parts. Qui-Gon Jinn has a bonus hand doing a Force movement. Anakin Skywalker came with two heads so you can do him with two looks: mopey or angry. My sister considers all of these to be very poor display pieces.
I guess we will never agree on this issue. I think the extra hands are a bonus. If her friends can’t figure out that sometimes action figures come with alternate parts, then maybe she needs new friends.
A big shout out to
Derek Deke for bein’ around.
GETTING MORE TALE #701: Amazon You Bastards
This is the story of how 18 cents cost me $21.63.
I’m always on the lookout for cheap Star Wars figures. I collect the 6″Black Series exclusively. I keep my core collection sealed, but any time I can buy a double for cheap, I go for it. May as well have an open one for
The other night I was bored and browsing Amazon, as you do. I noticed they had a couple Black Series figs for under $20 — usually a guaranteed threshold for buying a double. I picked up Lando (Billy Dee Williams version) for $12.46 for my sister last week. This week I noticed Liam Neeson, err, Qui-Gon Jinn, for $12.08. After consulting my sister I decided to pull the trigger. Qui-Gon isn’t the best character and for a Jedi he is pretty bland, but I like the little toy lightsabers. He also comes with an extra hand that you can swap out to give him a Force-push kind of pose.
(I like the ability to easily swap out hands. Dr. Kathryn does not. Look for a future story on this called “Extra Hands”.)
“Go for it!” advised Dr. Kathryn and so I looked for something else to qualify for free shipping. I went to my wishlist and remembered Tommy Shaw’s Girls With Guns album. I’ve loved the title track for eons, but the CD was always somewhat rare. In fact it ended up on a very primitive version of the old Holy Grail list. It turns out that the quality label Beat Goes On Records has done a reissue along with the album What If in a single package. I recently picked up BGO’s reissue of Styx’s Caught In The Act – Live and I was very happy with the audio and packaging. I added Girls With Guns / What If to my cart at the price of $22.74, a solid buy.
Total: $34.82. A measly 18 cents short of free shipping.
There was only one copy of Tommy Shaw left in stock. I wanted to keep it in the cart. Only one thing to do. Add another item to the cart to get free shipping.
I browsed and browsed a bit more. Lots of Black Series figures under $20 (mostly from Rogue One), but I had doubles already. There were a few just over $20 and ultimately I decided to buy a second Imperial Range Trooper at $21.63, far exceeding the cost of the original Qui-Gon figure that set me off on this particular shopping quest. And here’s the kicker! At first I decided I didn’t want to get any figures from Solo. There are so many Black Series characters now that I had to draw a line somewhere. But I broke when some of the new figures turned out so good, and Range Trooper is one of them. He’ll be joining the rest of my opened Imperial troopers soon.
But: Fuck you, Amazon! I bet you have banks of computers spitting out algorithms to keep me just under the $35 minimum for free shipping! Weird prices like $12.08…you think you’re getting a deal but then you buy three fuckin’ things!
I’m on to you, Amazon….
The second Star Wars spinoff movie, based on that ol’ scoundrel Han Solo, is also the second Star Wars movie with a soundtrack by someone other than John Williams. He still helms the main “Saga” films, but this time out John Powell had the difficult task of writing new Star Wars music. Powell’s career has mostly centred on kids’ movies like Antz and Shrek. He had an Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon. He’s also known for action scores, like the Bourne movies and and X-Men: The Last Stand. Though Solo has plenty of action, Powell doesn’t go for tired action cliches in his score. And of course, there are plenty of callbacks and reprises of old Williams themes that you’ll never forget.
The opening cue “The Adventures of Han” begins sounding like an old film reel, before settling into something Marvel-like and heroic. This track was actually composed and conducted by Williams himself, providing the essence of a new theme for Han.
Solo is a different kind of Star Wars movie, even from Rogue One (conducted by Michael Giacchino). Likewise, its score is different too though still living in the same universe. Modern percussion and instrumentation can be found alongside the traditional. Han comes from a dark corner of the galaxy, and the score is fraught with tension over oceans of calm (“Flying with Chewbacca”). The characters of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are loaded with panache, and so are parts of the score. Some of the best tracks are the dark “Spaceport”, which is contrasted by the rhythmic action of “Train Heist”.
“Marauders Arrive” features a children’s choir and a clue. At this point in the film, the masked pirate Enfys Nest enter the scene to pilfer the score that Solo’s crew was in the process of stealing. Later on, [SPOILER] we discover that Enfys Nest is actually a young girl. A Rebel, in fact. Some of her crew were first seen with Saw Gerrera’s rebels in Rogue One. The quite awesome sound of the children’s choir in this scene is a clue to Enfys’ true nature — a child herself. [END SPOILER]
Much of this score just sounds like a heist film. “Is This Seat Taken?” has that kind of quiet tension (with some peaks of themes in the background). It’s all very appropriate for sneaking around and trying to steal stuff like a scoundrel. There there are some more familiar sounds, like when the Falcon shows up. When it does, expect more hi-jinks, excitement and drama from this soundtrack. It rarely gets dull, but strap yourself in for “Reminiscence Therapy”. It’s a virtual greatest hits of themes, including the ones from Solo.
To be charitable, two tracks don’t work as well as others. Star Wars movies tend to have a lounge or bar scene with a band. “Chicken in the Pot” has annoyingly modern R&B beats, just not right for Star Wars, weird languages aside. “Dice & Roll” is also a bit too close to home for a galaxy far, far away.
Solo turns out to be one of the pleasant surprises of 2018. It’s a soundtrack far better than expected.