Ludwig Göransson’s score for The Mandalorian is the latest attempt to modernise the musical sound of Star Wars, but is it a successful one? The answer is…kind of, but not really.
Rather intriguingly, The Mandalorian‘s score has a rather different release schedule to traditional television soundtracks. Instead of having a singular album filled with various cues from across the show come out towards the end of the season, Disney have opted to release Göransson’s music weekly alongside each episode of the show with short EP-style albums representing the score for their respective episodes. This is completely new in terms of the methodology behind soundtrack releases, and while it is fantastic (as us fans get more music more quickly) this rather wacky release schedule is what I admit initially made me pass on reviewing The Mandalorian (hence this review’s lateness), but the ongoing discussions in the film score community about the music as well as several review requests have me rather intrigued, so here we are. This is a review of the first three chapters of the score.
We begin with Chapter 1. Our first taste of Göransson’s score arrives with Hey Mando!, with Western-style woodwinds greeting us within the first few seconds, letting us know that this is not the Star Wars sound we know and love. These are then joined a short while later by low and dark electronics, which then take over the track in its back half for some loud and rather intense percussion-heavy moments before the cue then draws to a close with a hint towards hopeful by introducing the opening notes of the titular character’s theme, played on piano. The immediate controversy here is that the composer has opted for a very Western sound over the classic orchestral and theme-heavy style that Star Wars is so very famous for. Having seen the show it’s hard to argue that thematically it doesn’t fit, but it is still a shame that no hint towards Williams’ beyond iconic work for the franchise is shown, at least not so far.
Face To Face then makes the situation a little worse, being primarily an ambient five minute long mood-setter cue that utilises woodwinds and light percussion to hammer home the Western feel…and stray even further from Star Wars. Back To Beskar hints at the main theme again at the beginning before then descending into imposing electronic action score, an intensity which is then continued through into HammerTime, where fast-paced and rather drums accompany brass again hinting at the Mandalorian motif. There’s a moment at eighty five seconds in where the brass starts to rise, strings appear in the background and an electric guitar takes prominence for a few seconds of soaring, almost heroic score, but the previously introduced electronics then take back over for the rest of the track. You Are A Mandalorian then premieres the main theme in its full dramatic glory, with loud Western-esque brass accompanied by marching percussion.
Bounty Droid then returns us to the frantic electronics-heavy action score introduced previously, which is in all honesty mostly underwhelming save for the track’s triumphant finale, which features an elongated version of HammerTime’s heroic moment. The Asset then gives us ninety seconds of pretty much pure ambience until right at the end, where the main theme is hinted at in order to introduce us to the next (and standout) cue; The Mandalorian. Essentially, it’s a three minute long full rendition of the main theme, and if I’m honest the only real glimmer of thematic hope to be found here in chapter one. It’s a good track featuring an enjoyable and rather fitting theme for the main character, and a great way to end the first album. Of particular note is the victorious and very classic Western-sounding thematic moment at 2:10.
Chapter 2 is up next, and it begins with the continually ambient Walking On Mud. The main Mandalorian motif is hinted at throughout with the same style of woodwind presented in the previous album’s cue, and the plodding drums then return right at the track’s end. Intense percussion along with rapid strings form the musical backbone of Jawas Attack, with bursts of brass appearing frequently alongside Western woodwinds to continously push the composer’s cowboy action style. Solemnity then features prominently in Trashed Crest with some rather beautiful-sounding strings and backing percussion, giving us a glimmer of orchestral hope amidst the electronic darkness.
To The Jawas brings back the main theme in loud, triumphant and brass-heavy form, though annoyingly only for a few seconds. The Mudhorn then suddenly descends the score into musical madness, with what can only be described as EDM-inspired electronics taking loud and almost-eardrum-destroying prominence for much of the track’s three minute runtime. Thankfully Celebration then brings us back to orchestra, playing the main theme on heroic strings which in turn serves as a great introduction to The Next Journey, where the motif features prominently once again for another lengthy and very enjoyable end credits performance.
The third chapter thankfully opens orchestrally, with light percussion and a very Morricone-esque guitar that are then joined by some rather delightful almost Jerry Goldsmith-style strings. Like most of them here though this musical moment doesn’t last for long, as loud electronics start to build in the background and blaring brass then completely takes over for a few seconds before tense, atmospheric ambience then descends for much of the track’s remaining four minutes. The main theme is hinted at towards the end, but only that. A rather ominous-sounding electric guitar then takes prominence at the start of Mandalore Way, which then combines with more electronics and pensive percussion for a minute of intensity and then two of atmosphere. The main theme then finally arrives in loud, brass-based glory towards the end of Signet Forging, though it sadly doesn’t stay for long.
Whistling Bird opens promisingly, with a solo and rather solemn electric guitar taking the forefront for the first twenty seconds or so in dramatic orchestral form before dark and tense percussion then arrives to bring things back down to ambience. However, this musical idea is then continued in Mando Rescue, this time in combination with triumphant brass, marching beats and distorted electronics for overall the most heroically Western track so far, but again a sadly short one. I Need One Of Those then brings back the main Mandalorian motif for a surprisingly pensive final rendition to close out the chapter. Like with the last two albums, this chapter features many a promising but short musical moment, too much reliance on electronics, and a near complete lack of any thematic material (save for the sporadic main theme).
So far, Ludwig Göransson’s overall score for The Mandalorian is odd, to say the least. The western feel that the music has here is quite interesting, but it’s brought down by loud and distracting electronics and very little theme-wise. The composer also makes a conscious effort to completely ignore the established musical continuity of Star Wars both stylistically and thematically, and the latter I believe is a fundamental mistake. It’s one thing to avoid the compositional style of John Williams, but his themes should not simply be shoved aside. (SPOILERS) For example, in episode two the Force is used, and the Force theme should have appeared. End of. Even just a hint would have been enough. Williams’ various themes for Star Wars are arguably its most iconic aspect, and are a large part of why it is such a beloved franchise, so ignoring them isn’t just disrespectful to the composer, but frankly to Star Wars as a whole.
Speaking of themes, Göransson also appears to have only created one for this score – the main Mandalorian motif – and in all honesty, it really is the the various albums’ saving grace, as when it doesn’t appear Göransson can’t seem to decide what he wants the score to be. One minute its Western-style orchestra, then electronics, then bizarrely EDM (please don’t ever do that again by the way). Simply put, the main problem here isn’t so much that the compositional style of Williams’ Star Wars is gone (though that isn’t great), it’s that there isn’t much of a new style to replace it. The three chapters so far have been musically all over the place, and if it wasn’t for the main theme they would honestly be completely unremarkable and frankly a mess. There are hints of other interesting musical ideas (take HammerTime, Trashed Crest and Mando Rescue for instance) but none that last long enough to get properly fleshed out.
Overall, the Western style does work well within the confines of the show, but the electronics/EDM have to go and more themes are badly needed. So far, these three chapters seem to be pretty representative of what Göransson has to offer for The Mandalorian, but if this changes over the coming weeks as more musical chapters arrive, I will alter my review accordingly, so stay tuned.
Five Weeks Later…
Long story short? It didn’t. As I had anticipated, those first three musical chapters by Göransson gave a pretty accurate insight into the scoring style behind The Mandalorian, and having now listened to the full eight EP-esque releases I can safely say that the music overall is still solidly…fine. Granted, a couple new themes do start to recur – namely ones for the Creed (Mando Rescue/A Thousand Tears) and IG-88 (Bounty Droid/Nurse And Protect) but The Mandalorian overall still has the fundamental problem of refusing to acknowledge John Williams’ iconic musical world of which it (whether it likes it or not) is very much a part of. There were plenty of opportunities across the show to thematically link up (The Force, Imperials etc.) but they simply don’t happen. Additionally, while the Western style does work the overall score is still compositionally dull at best. There’s a light smattering of decent music but aside from maybe the main theme there’s nothing here I particularly enjoy or indeed wish to revisit.
Göransson has dug himself a bit of a hole here as his music refuses to (thematically) be a part of Star Wars, but at the same time offers up nothing of particular substance in its place, making the albums overall just…bland.
Standout Cue: 9. The Mandalorian