While not quite as masterfully composed as The Force Awakens, John Williams’ score for the eighth entry into the Star Wars franchise still manages to be a highly enjoyable, thematically rich and ultimately Star Wars-y musical experience.
Continuing the Star Wars sequel trilogy score reviews in the lead up to the conclusive The Rise Of Skywalker, this week I’m tackling the score for the somewhat…controversial eighth movie in the franchise – The Last Jedi. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.
The album begins (as most Star Wars scores do) with a loud and bombastic rendition of the main theme, this time housed in the somewhat unimaginatively titled Main Title And Escape. Sadly, this particular version of the theme appears to be exactly the same as the one from The Force Awakens (i.e. it hasn’t been rerecorded) which is a bit of a shame as I do like to hear John Williams try different takes on the opening, but oh well. After it finishes up the score then really begins, starting softly with a light and rather mysterious-sounding woodwind instrument before the music dives straight into dramatic with loud and imposing brass accompanied by rapid backing percussion. Before long it enters rather villainous-sounding territory with Kylo Ren’s theme on brass, and then segues rather seamlessly into action with several short bursts of the Rebellion and Resistance motifs, with the latter then getting a fuller performance a bit later on. There is a bit of a desperate feel to this track, and I feel that Williams rather expertly gets across the high stakes of the film’s opening scene – particularly towards the end, where frantic yet sombre strings pair with the Force theme for a particularly poignant ending to the cue. Overall, as both standard and Star Wars score openings go, this is a very enjoyable, thematic and action-packed piece, and so for me Main Title And Escape gets the standout cue award of the album.
Light strings open Ahch-To Island, and after a few seconds the Ahch-To theme from the finale of the The Force Awakens gets a dramatic reprise, initially by strings and then rumbling brass as the music builds both in mystery and intensity. Things then settle down a bit at the halfway mark for a soft rendition of the Force theme, before Williams then introduces a new motif for The Last Jedi. Given its context and rather mysterious-sounding qualities, I’d wager its perhaps a new theme for Luke, or the Jedi in general? Either way, it doesn’t stay for long as Rey’s theme then makes a rather thrilling strings-based comeback. To close out the track the new Jedi theme then returns, this time in more imposing form on loud brass. The Resistance motif then reappears in a rather cautious manner in The Supremacy, where frantic and boisterous brass takes the musical forefront for much of the first half of the cue. Kylo’s theme also appears here with infrequent bursts, which then all come to a head at about the two minute mark with a somewhat solemn rendition of Leia’s theme that then turns rather triumphant at the end of the piece in conjunction with the Force motif.
Curiously, The Last Jedi‘s score as a whole doesn’t actually contain much in the way of new themes, with the only other one of note being a motif for new character Rose that plays for the first time in Fun With Finn And Rose. Light woodwinds form the musical backbone of this particular rendition, and the theme overall is cheerful and quite energetic, which represents the character herself rather well. All-in, it’s an enjoyable motif, though I do find myself a little disappointed at the general lack of new thematic material for The Last Jedi. Methodical strings then arrive in the midsection of the track, with elements of the Resistance theme making a brief appearance before rather pensive strings arrive. Rose’s theme is then displayed in much fuller capacity in The Rebellion Is Reborn, where jubilant brass and agile strings accompany the previously established woodwinds. The new Jedi motif then returns in the track’s back half, with the brass switching into darker and gloomier form and the theme itself getting a much anticipated fleshing out. After this, Rose’s theme then comes back for a decidedly concert-like concluding arrangement to finish up the cue.
Rey’s theme returns rather pensively in Lesson One, this time on woodwinds and slow, solemn strings. This then segues into a similarly sombre appearance by the Force theme before loud and dramatic brass then take over for a particularly tense finish to the cue. John Williams then channels his inner Mos Eisley Cantina for subsquent track Canto Bight, where steelpan drums, various jazz instruments and light percussion all come together for quite an upbeat cue overall, and one that is very remiscent of a certain Cantina-themed piece from Williams’ original Star Wars score. Action music then arrives in full force with The Fathiers, with frantic strings and striking brass kicking off a fast pace right off the bat. Like with The Falcon this is a John Williams action cue pure and simple, and a very enjoyable one at that – there is a rather spectacular rendition of Rose’s theme at about the ninety second mark that is honestly one of the best musical moments on the entire album. A quietly pensive Force theme then opens The Sacred Jedi Texts, with mysterious-sounding strings beginning to swirl in the background until we are treated with a surprising yet welcome appearance by Yoda’s theme from the original trilogy. Sadly though this doesn’t last for long as the Force motif then plays in loud and bombastic form for a decidedly climactic arrangement, but a little later on Yoda then returns in a strings-based and rather peaceful manner to close out the cue.
Rather villainous-sounding brass then starts A New Alliance, with dark and particularly ominous vocals then joining the fray a few seconds later to indicate the thematic presence of Snoke. Said character doesn’t really have a specific motif associated with him, but The Force Awakens’ score established the aforementioned vocals as a bit of an atmospheric indicator that sort of works as a “theme”. The Force theme then arrives on intense brass followed rapidly by a switch up into action with Rey’s theme then playing in a frantic and rather anxious manner. This fast pace is then continued in Chrome Dome, where tense strings and marching percussion accompanied by swift bursts of brass form much of the track’s two minute runtime, with the only thematic presence of note being a brief and rather heroic reprise of the Rebellion motif. If themes are what you’re after though then look no further than The Battle Of Crait, a six-minute action extravaganza that begins with loud and imposing brass before being quickly followed by a upbeat rendition of Rose’s theme and then a particularly triumphant Resistance theme. Over the course of the next few minutes a considerable number of different Star Wars motifs appear including a tense Kylo Ren’s, a grandiose Rey’s and a rather spectacular brassy rendition of the original Rebellion motif that overall make for easily the best action cue on the album.
The Spark is where things really get interesting. Low, ominous-sounding brass and strings open the piece before a rather pensive Force theme then plays, which is then followed pretty much immediately by a surprise reprise (haha) of Luke And Leia from Return Of The Jedi. At this point hope begins to swell in the cue and a sadly short rendition of Han Solo And The Princess plays through, however this doesn’t last long as the strings becomer tenser, with brass and percussion then starting to build in the background. A bold crescendo is then reached at about the three minute mark and the music starts to die down slightly before then rising right back up again for one of the most dramatic musical moments on the entire score. The Last Jedi then continues right where it leaves off, diving straight into brass-heavy action territory accompanied by strikingly powerful vocals. The motifs for both the Force and Kylo Ren also appear in brief dramatic bursts, with the latter closing the track in a very villainous manner.
Peace And Purpose then brings back the Force theme once again for a particularly climactic and poignant arrangement, evoking a rather solemn mood that then takes over the remainder of the track (notably with quite a melancholic appearance from Rey’s theme). Hope then rises again for the score’s final cue simply entitled Finale, which opens with a rather cheerful Force motif before then moving into the main theme for end credits. As per usual, what follows for the remaining eight minutes is a highly enjoyable suite of musical highlights from across the album, though sadly this does appear to be just cut and pasted from various tracks rather than specifically arranged in a concert-like manner like The Jedi Steps And Finale, which is a bit of a shame.
Overall then, John Williams’ score for The Last Jedi is pretty good, though for me it doesn’t hold a candle to The Force Awakens. Thematically, for the most part the composer reuses motifs from the aforementioned film and original trilogy, which while not necessarily a bad thing does highlight the fact that this particular score doesn’t really contain much in the way of new compositions. A motif for Rose and a new theme for the Jedi are the only new thematic additions of note and they are great (though the latter could have done with a bit more album time) so it is a bit of a shame that there isn’t well…more. On a more positive note though, we do get several excellent action cues (Main Title And Escape and The Battle Of Crait being key examples), further fleshing out of established sequel trilogy motifs (not to mention the two new ones) and of course the spine-tinglingly dramatic The Spark, so all-in, The Last Jedi is still a great Star Wars score, and one that makes me very excited to hear what John Williams has in store for us with The Rise Of Skywalker.
Standout Cue: 1. Main Title And Escape