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Comments about the soundtrack for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)

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Indulgent review
• Posted by: Sierra Foxtrot   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Wednesday, December 30, 2015, at 12:22 p.m.
• IP Address: 109.128.159.116

The Force Awakens is indisputably a very good score, well above what we can usually expect in the current era. But The Force Awakens is not 'any score': it is a Williams score, and above all, it is a Star Wars score. And as such, i find it very disappointing.

It may be because the music (and its orchestration in particular) is overall of the highest quality, and/or because familiar and beloved themes from the Original Trilogy have returned, but i think some listeners are blinded to the fact that the new ideas in The Force Awakens are generally much weaker than the previous Star Wars episodes.

Among those new ideas, only Rey's theme qualifies as a theme (Poe's theme coming a distant second). Rey's theme is a fully developed idea with multiple elements that are referenced across the score, as it should. But i'm not ashamed to admit that it took me three viewings of the film and one listening of the score to finally memorize it (with deliberate effort), and that is to me the symptom of a problem.

I've been thinking for a long time that Williams is no longer capable, or willing, to do 'simple and effective' as he did between the late 70's and the early 90's. Rey's theme is a beautiful piece, which fits quite well in the Star Wars soundscape, but it is overly sophisticated and nowhere near the admirable simplicity of previous, instantly memorable character themes for Leia, Han & Leia or Anakin & Padmé (to name just a few).

Poe's theme, while also a beautiful phrase, sounds like the bridge between missing ideas, and if reviewers didn't insist on calling it 'Poe's theme', i would merely consider it a good adventure theme for any time when someone does some epic flying onscreen. As a character theme, it feels very incomplete and underdeveloped.

Finn's theme is barely a motif, and an annoying one at that. Even Williams couldn't adapt or develop it for the numerous character scenes involving Finn (or anything other than frantic chase scenes, actually).

But the greatest disappointment is probably Kylo Ren's fanfare, again more a motif than a full-fledged theme. It is so bland and generic that it could have been written by anyone for nearly any film featuring a villain. Some say this is a deliberately underdeveloped idea that could evolve just like the character will in the next episodes - we'll see. In the meantime, given the character's lineage, i'm baffled that Kylo didn't receive a proper theme spawned from Vader's March and Han & Leia's theme.

Finally, the March of the Resistance feels totally out of place in a Star Wars movie with its fugal segments, and its theme is both melodically weak and rhythmically too complex to grasp after a first viewing of the film. Why Williams didn't expand on the Rebellion fanfare instead of going that bizarre route is beyond me.

The remainder of the score makes proper use of the existing themes, which i would argue is the reason why those themes exist in the first place. But outside of that, the orchestration, while very rich and satisfying to the ears, sounds less like Star Wars than like some curious blend of Indiana Jones 4 and The Terminal. For a film that wants to be so close to the Original Trilogy, i find that we have a score that is quite distant from it. To me, it is a great disappointment.

That being said, i also wish to address this following excerpt from the review, which is very representative of my overall disagreement with it:

'You witness countless criticisms of The Force Awakens that revolve around the notion that Williams failed to write themes for the picture that you can retain in your memory after the conclusion of the film, and such comments are cheap and without perspective. Only A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, two truly transcendent, classic scores atop the 'best of' lists of all time, contained game-changing themes destined to be heard in sports arenas for decades to come.'

First of all, i find it very bold, borderline pretentious, to dismiss 'countless criticisms' as 'cheap and without perspective'. If those criticisms are countless (and they are, as evidenced for example by numerous threads on the IMDb message boards where people don't usually discuss film scores), they are significant enough to be addressed objectively and not brushed aside as ignorant rantings with a short argument based on what music should or should not blast in sports arenas.

Secondly, i find it astonishing that this argument is backed by the dismissal of the themes of four of the six other scores in the series. May i kindly remind the reviewer that five out of the six other scores are also rated five stars on this site, Revenge of the Sith only receiving a severe (and, in my opinion, unjustified) four stars. May i also help the reviewer remember the major memorable themes from these four scores alone:

Duel of the Fates
Anakin's theme
Qui-Gon's theme
Droid march
Flag parade
Across the Stars
Battle of the Heroes
Grievous' theme
Jabba's theme
Parade of the Ewoks
Luke & Leia's theme
The Emperor's theme

I will argue that these themes are superior to most of the new material in the score for The Force Awakens.






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