Of course with a new Star Wars movie comes a new score. So what does The Last Jedi have in store for us? We’ll have a listen using the fact that we’ve seen the film. So this review will contain spoilers regarding the film itself in a spoiler-part that is clearly indicated!
The first overall impression of the score rather coincides with the overall impression I had of the score to The Force Awakens: solid score but low on catchy new themes. Now when listening to a score like this you should always remember that these are the ‘song’ versions of the music actually used in the film itself. Hence many of the repetitions of themes used in the actual film score might not re-appear in the version that gets published as ‘the score’.
The score does have the genuine and consistent John Williams feel to it. So critics have moaned about ‘Harry Potter’ elements re-used, but these evidently have little knowledge about present and past scores by Williams. The Attack of the Clones chase sequence was scored using almost identical music to a quidditch-chase sequence in Harry Potter. Obviously one cannot criticise a composer for re-using work that ‘works’. If we would do so then you could throw away half of the work of most composers including big names like Bach and Mozart. But that aside … I personally don’t think Williams is overusing anything particular in this new score.
As I also mentioned in my review of the score to The Force Awakens last year many elements of the score of The Last Jedi have a strong Prequel-feel to it. Many of the orchestrations and harmonic ambiances created remind one strongly of Williams’ work on the Prequel Trilogy, in particular on the Revenge of the Sith score. In my mind the Star Wars prequels boast the best 3 Star Wars scores of John Williams where he has achieved the best balance between wonderfully atmospheric yet melodic pieces as well as great new powerful themes in every separate score.
The key new themes in the Sequel Trilogy so far are Rey’s theme, Kylo’s theme and the Resistance March. All three are used profusely in the score of The Last Jedi, and very effectively as well I must add. In fact, I think they work much better here then they did in the The Force Awakens score. Williams cleverly utilizes these three ‘new’ themes and weaves them into patterns with themes from the Original Trilogy, in particular The Force Theme (of course), Han & Leia’s theme, the Brother & Sister theme and Yoda’s theme. But it all bathes in warm arrangements of motifs used copiously in the Prequel trilogy.
The emerging Sequels
In a way this structure perfectly tells the tale of the journey that the Sequel Trilogy is taking. Episode VII and VIII have so far firmly rested upon the actions and interactions of our new heroes with the Original Trilogy heroes. But all of it is deeply coloured and founded upon the lasting impact of the events of the Prequels. To make a few further inroads into the score I want to discuss a few individual pieces in the light of the film scenes they contribute to. So this is where spoilers will come in.
Don’t go here when you haven’t seen the movie yet!
The Last Jedi
Let us start with the piece that carries the name of the film. It starts out with atmospherics before it settles into a beautiful rendition of the force theme that develop into a sombre and tragic piece of gorgeous orchestration that is used in the film also when Finn means to sacrifice himself for the Resistance. It is disrupted by a forceful statement of Kylo Ren’s theme before the final minute builds up to a finale could have come straight out of the Episode III score for the Mustafar scenes.
Starts out on a looming and dark note. A great use of horns and wind instruments with a string section that feels ‘prequelly’ before the Force theme from A New Hope sets in, to give way to the Luke and Leia theme from Return of the Jedi with at the end a hint of “Han & Leia” from Empire Strikes Back. There’s your perfect bridge to the Original Trilogy for you! This music plays out during Luke’s meeting with Leia on the Crait Rebel base. It is surely one of the most touching moments of the film and perhaps of the entire Sequels so far. The brevity of it all captures the chimera-like appearance that Luke is making here. But then the tone and rhythm change. In a superb mix of elements of the Imperial March it develops a very powerful and original statement of a variation on the Imperial March. This is when Luke walks out of the base to confront Kylo and if someone would have played this theme to me prior to watching the movie saying this was accompanying one of Luke’s actions … I would have already known this film was to be as good as it was.
The Sacred Jedi texts
Starts out with a subdued, ‘sunsetty’, Force Theme statement followed by a bridge straight out of Attack of The Clones’ scene of Shmi’s death, into a brief statement of Yoda’s theme. With the force theme powerfully restated the piece continues with atmospherics that highlight Luke’s dilemma of wanting the Jedi Order to end yet not being able to end it himself. Another Attack of the Clones bridge then takes it to Yoda’s theme. Evidently this is where Yoda comes to screen to teach Luke a final lessons, or actually a repeated lesson. Master’s never stop learning. It ends on a beautifully arranged note that accompanies one of the most beautiful shots of The Last Jedi: Luke and Yoda watching the Jedi Tree burn.
Peace and Purpose
Is the last piece I want to discuss. It closes a hugely important chapter of the Star Wars saga that started at the end of Episode III and now comes to a sort of a conclusion in Episode VIII. It delivers what is perhaps the most striking statement of the force theme since that twin sunset on Tatooine in Episode III.
A brief interruption march-theme followed by Kylo’s theme ends in a sweet rendition of elements of the ‘Jedi Steps’ from The Force Awakens and bridges it to an equally sweet rendition of Rey’s theme before the Force Theme returns leading us into a part of the Star Wars finale/fanfare that ends the piece.
Luke has found purpose and peace and with his ‘death’ part of Star Wars dies. But this is nowhere near the defeatist ‘let it die’ or the ‘kill it if you must’ that Kylo proposes during the film as a fate that should befall all of the Original Trilogy lore. Rather this is a statement of conscious and non-violent sacrifice. Luke goes out in a fashion that is utterly consistent with, and a great homage to, his casting away his lightsabre at the end of Return of the Jedi: Peace and Purpose indeed Master Skywalker!
I really like this score despite its lack of new themes. It contains many new pieces of course which I haven’t covered, but nothing of the kind of grandeur a ‘Battle of the Heroes’, ‘Across the Stars’ or ‘Duel of the Fates’ … this simply isn’t the Trilogy for such pieces. I love the confident statement of the Resistance March in ‘The Battle of Crait’ and elsewhere, as I also love the choral segment in that same piece. Many little gems in this score last perhaps just a few seconds and many wonderful conjunctions of well-known Original Trilogy themes. But, as I said above, it all feels to me as if it is floating in a sea of Prequel Trilogy ambience that never dominates the pieces but always solidly anchors them.
I consider this the best Sequel Trilogy score so far. But given how much I enjoyed the Rogue One score I must say that I would be happy to see the films after Episode IX scored by other composers. I think John Williams has had a magnificent run delivering 9 episodes of Star Wars movies. But to me his best work is in the Episodes I through III and, in a way, his Sequel Trilogy scores pick the tasty and sweet fruits of the originality and vigour of his Original Trilogy themes combined with his arrangement and ambiance bliss from the Prequels. But they do not have the strong new themes that the Prequels had and that, in my view, Rogue One had.