John Williams returns to the Star Wars franchise in glorious form with The Force Awakens; an excellent tapestry of exciting new and iconic old themes woven together to create what is quite frankly one of Williams’ best Star Wars scores to date.
With the final act of the latest Star Wars trilogy fast approaching, I felt it was high time that John Williams’ compositional work for the sequel series got featured on this site. While the movies themselves have been somewhat…controversial, one thing that has remained pretty consistent throughout all three films is the high musical quality that Williams always brings to his scores (particularly that of Star Wars). So without further ado, let’s dive into the first sequel soundtrack; The Force Awakens.
Grandiose brass opens Main Title and the Attack on the Jakku Village, and we are treated to the seventh main title rendition of the Star Wars theme (or Luke’s theme, arguably). It’s one of the most iconic pieces of film music around for good reason (as its absolutely fantastic) and this particular version only adds to that. After the theme finishes up, rather mysterious-sounding strings then start the score proper, with loud and menacing brass joining the fray after a few seconds to deliver a cold and rather oppressive tone. Rapid percussion then takes the forefront in combination with now rather frantic-sounding brass to make for some rather tonally desperate Williams action score, and it’s at this point that we are then introduced to the first of Williams’ new themes for the sequel trilogy; Kylo Ren’s theme. Here it’s established with a dark and particularly villainous-sounding atmosphere, which is then only added to by the arrival of intense brass and strings seconds later which do a pretty excellent job of hammering the rather bleak mood home before the track then closes out. Overall, it’s a decidedly unhopeful opening to a Star Wars score, but a curious and well-crafted one nonetheless.
Next up we have The Scavenger, and it’s here that the composer debuts another of his new motifs – Rey’s theme. The track opens softly, with light strings establishing a rather hopeful mood before woodwinds arrive at about the one minute mark. The music then slowly starts to build up, adding strings and low brass until Rey’s theme is then played in full for the first time. Thematically it’s much more complex than Kylo Ren’s five-note motif, and is quite a lot richer compositionally-speaking. The theme also gets a considerable fleshing out in a later track entitled Rey’s Theme, where the woodwinds reappear in conjunction with light percussion instruments and similarly upbeat strings for a full three minutes of pure thematic performance. In all honesty, save for another small motif right at the end of the score (which we’ll get into later) the theme for Rey is probably the most enjoyable and indeed interesting new composition on this album, at least for me.
The action then fully kicks into gear with I Can Fly Anything, where the signature fast-paced John Williams brass wastes no time in setting an exciting and rather heroic mood before then introducing another of the new themes, this time for Poe Dameron. This particular motif is light and full of energy, and it’s a bit of a shame as it doesn’t quite receive the lengthy album time that certain other motifs do (though the character himself does get similar screen time treatment in the film, so it at least makes sense). After this rather flourishing thematic debut, rapid and rather frantic brass takes the forefront for the track’s remaining minute.
The action music then returns in full force with The Falcon, where another new theme (this time for Finn) gets a particularly fast-paced and percussion-heavy rendition to start things off before (rather curiously) the Rebellion theme from previous Star Wars scores then appears, this time in similar brisk form to Finn’s. Dramatic brass accompanied by frenzied strings and percussion then occupies centre stage for much of the track’s remainder, with short but powerful bursts of the Rebellion and Finn’s themes cropping up infrequently to ground the score in solid Star Wars action territory.
Rey’s theme then makes a rather pensive reappearance in The Girl With The Staff, where slow woodwinds and deep strings set quite a solemn mood for the first minute or so. Loud and rather threatening brass then takes over for the final few seconds of the cue, leading nicely into subsequent action setpiece The Rathtars. Stylistically, the track’s opening sounds very similar to rebellion-esque score from the original trilogy, a feeling which is then reinforced considerably by a gradual and particularly hopeful rendition of Luke’s theme. Frantic brass and loud, rapid drums then arrive to kick things into full action territory, and these combined with several rather tense renditions of Finn’s theme and a very triumphant appearance from the Rebellion motif at the end overall make for a pretty enjoyable and rather thematically heavy track overall.
Solemnity and sadness occupy much of The Starkiller‘s two-minute-long runtime, with slow and particularly mournful strings being the compositional centrepiece. It’s a stark contrast to the considerable pace of past cues, and one that sadly doesn’t get explored much past this track. Kylo Ren Arrives At The Battle then (as you might expect) features the return of the titular character’s theme, in similarly dramatic and menacing brass-heavy form accompanied by frantic strings. Rey’s theme then makes a short and decidedly forlorn appearance before the music then moves into The Abduction, which opens with a loud and very evil-sounding Kylo Ren rendition. Strings then arrive at about the halfway mark for a climactic and rather helpless appearance from Rey’s theme.
Han And Leia then features several thematic blasts to the past, beginning with a slow and strings-based playthrough of Princess Leia’s motif before then moving into a particularly pensive rendition of Han Solo And The Princess. Theme-wise this track is absolutely packed, as shortly after the aforementioned the new Resistance motif debuts on typically hopeful brass. Compositionally-speaking it’s one of the more interesting new motifs, though it is dwarfed considerably by its Rebellion counterpart. To finish up the track then heads back into Han Solo And The Princess for another sadly short rendition before then closing with a touch of the ominous with Kylo Ren (I did say this track was packed with themes, didn’t I). March Of The Resistance then features the new titular motif in all its heroic and triumphant glory, with loud and powerful brass taking the forefront for much of the piece. Annoyingly however the track does not feature the specific rendition of the Resistance theme from that point in the film, nor the subsequent and gloriously triumphant appearance by Poe Dameron’s motif, which is a shame.
Very ominous-sounding vocals open Snoke, which despite its very dark and foreboding tone I find is actually one of the weaker new themes of the sequel trilogy. This is primarily because there isn’t much of a recognisable motif here, just sheer atmosphere. The track also doesn’t last for very long, so the theme gets barely any time for fleshing out before the album moves on. Speaking of which, John Williams then moves back into action territory for the start of the score’s finale; The Ways Of The Force. Tense strings open the piece, with the Force motif then appearing in short and anxious form before Rey’s theme arrives, this time curiously in the menacing brass-heavy style typical of Kylo Ren’s. It doesn’t take long however for the aforementioned motif to arrive, in of course the same malevolent manner as all its previous iterations. A small glimmer of hope then arrives towards the end as the Force theme returns in full brass force, accompanied closely by a similarly dramatic Rey’s theme to close out the cue.
Scherzo For X-Wings then brings the score back into full upbeat action territory, with loud and grandiose brass playing Luke’s theme in all its rightfully heroic glory. This is a proper Star Wars action cue pure and simple, with even the Force theme making a little appearance right at the end. Things then slow right back down for Farewell And The Trip, opening with a rather triumphant Rey’s theme which then segues rather seamlessly into similarly cheerful renditions of both Poe Dameron’s and the Force motifs (so many themes, so little time!). The track then ends with a particularly hopeful Rey’s theme flourish, leading nicely into the album’s standout cue; The Jedi Steps And Finale. Mystery opens the piece, with Williams’ debuting yet another new theme – the Ahch-To motif. Brass starts to build in the background, strings arrive and before long the Force theme emerges for one final contented appearance before the credits then roll. The remainder of the cue is then taken up by a spectacularly crafted and happily lengthy suite of all the new themes, and it is quite simply a joy to listen to, not to mention a great way to finish the album.
Overall, John Williams’ score for The Force Awakens is damn nearly a masterpiece. It serves as a pretty fantastic thematic and stylistic bridge between the original and sequel Star Wars trilogies, bringing back several beloved motifs from the former and introducing a considerable number of highly enjoyable ones with the latter. Of particular note (at least for me) are the ones for Rey and Ahch-To, but all of them are well-crafted and quite memorable (except perhaps for Snoke’s). The action music is superb as always with John Williams, and the way that he expertly weaves all the old and new themes through the orchestra is a remarkable feat that has and continues to amaze me. All-in, it’s a truly magnificent score, and one I find well worthy of the Star Wars franchise.
Stay tuned for The Last Jedi.
Standout Cue: 23. The Jedi Steps and Finale