John Williams’ score for The Rise Of Skywalker is quite simply the perfect musical conclusion to the Star Wars saga.
Here we are at last. The wait has been insufferable, the anticipation positively stratospheric, but finally the ninth entry in John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack saga is here. There will be no direct film spoilers in this review, though of course the score itself may present some through its use of themes or tone, so please bear this in mind before reading on. So, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in.
The album begins with Fanfare And Prologue, opening the score with a brand new and rather fantastic-sounding rendition of the main Star Wars theme. It’s curious that Williams opted to record a new version of this for the final film rather than simply use The Force Awakens’ one for the third time, but Rise’s sounds absolutely stunning so I’m definitely not complaining. As the iconic theme fades away we’re then greeted with a touch of ominousity as loud brass accompanied by some very in-your-face backing drums arrive. It doesn’t take long though before themes then start to make appearances, with a curiously pensive Kylo Ren’s motif then playing through quite lightly on brass. Darkness then fully envelopes the track with deep, threatening brass and almost horror-like rapid strings, and just when you think the music couldn’t get any more villainous the Emperor’s theme from the original trilogy then arrives in typically (for him) malevolent form, playing through fairly briefly to then close out the cue.
The pace is then kicked up considerably for Journey To Exegol, with frantic brass and loud percussion taking the forefront for much of the track’s opening minute. Intense drums then take over at about the halfway mark to give a reprise of Kylo Ren’s theme a particularly imposing entrance, before curiously the Imperial March then arrives to (in a similar manner to Fanfare) completely cement this particular cue in Sith territory. Ren’s motif then briefly appears again in a slightly more subdued state before the album moves on into The Rise Of Skywalker, where the first of the score’s new themes makes its debut. Light and rather uplifting strings open the piece, introducing the new motif in a graceful and very elegant manner. Having not seen the film I can only speculate as to what this new theme may represent, but what I can say is that it is an absolute joy to listen to. Over the course of the track’s four minute runtime we hear it play several stunning times in a concert-like fashion, and overall (both orchestrally and thematically) it’s without a doubt one of the best cues on the score.
The Old Death Star then returns the album to its more gloomy roots, opening with some rather wary-sounding strings accompanied by deep, foreboding brass. The Imperial March then returns at about the sixty second mark, once again trying to pull the music deeper into darkness but this time being slightly impeded by the arrival of both Rey and the Resistance’s motifs, appearing in particularly pensive form. Strings then begin to rise in the background, building an increasingly ominous atmosphere with brass then joining the fray before the track then comes to a decidedly dramatic close. The score then quickens with The Speeder Chase, with frantic strings and near-heroic brass then debuting another new theme. Stylistically this new motif is rather similar to that of Rose’s from The Last Jedi, in that it’s an upbeat and quite fun theme that seems to work best intertwined in superb action score, which (happily) is exactly what this three minute cue is. Destiny Of A Jedi then slows things right back down with a particularly dramatic brass rendition of the Force motif before strings then emerge for a rather hopeful appearance from Rey’s theme. To close out the piece we are then treated to a surprise and delightfully powerful rendition of Yoda’s motif from The Empire Strikes Back.
Solemn vocals open Anthem Of Evil, a track which overall absolutely lives up to its title. A dark new theme makes its first appearance here, and while structurally at points it does sound rather similar to the Emperor’s theme, towards the end of the cue it then gets a particularly loud and evil-sounding brass-based rendition that more then cements it as a villain motif in its own right. We’re getting properly spoiled for new themes with The Rise Of Skywalker, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Fleeing From Kijimi then brings the album back into action territory with several rather frenetic appearances from Kylo Ren’s theme accompanied by intense drums and fast-paced strings, before the softer side of the score then returns in quite heartwarming form with the first half of We Go Together. Triumphant brass then occupies much of the final minute of the piece, closing the cue in a particularly valiant manner before malevolence returns once more with Join Me. High-pitched strings start things off, steering the music back towards horror-like territory before rumbling brass then cascades into the cue, establishing a very ominous atmosphere that is then doubled down on by a curiously dark-sounding rendition of Rey’s theme to finish the track.
Somewhat hopeful strings then begin They Will Come, with the Resistance theme then briefly joining the fray at the one minute mark. The score then starts to build up with short bursts of brass and increasingly intense strings before the Resistance returns in heroic and rather grandiose form. What sounds like another new (and very upbeat) theme then plays at the end of the piece, though admittedly with John Williams it can sometimes be hard to tell. The excitingly titled The Final Saber Duel is up next, and it kicks off an action mood pretty much immediately with tense strings and intimidating drums before bringing in Kylo Ren’s motif for a decidedly dramatic playthrough. Sadly it’s here that the action then pretty much stops, with a rather sombre strings rendition of the Force theme arriving that pretty much grounds the track in a pensive mood for the rest of its runtime. Battle Of The Resistance though is where things really get going, with loud and bombastic brass playing a brief but quite heroic Poe’s motif before the Force theme then arrives in an incredibly grandiose manner for one of its best renditions on the score. Low brass then opens Approaching The Throne, establishing a very creepy and impending-doom-like atmosphere with several fleeting appearances from horror-like strings only adding to the now very menacing tone. The theme that debuted in the The Rise Of Skywalker cue then appears in rather frantic form, with the Resistance motif not far behind. Loud and powerful vocals then completely take over for the last few seconds, enveloping the cue in complete musical darkness before then coming to a rapid close.
The Force Is With You curiously begins with some almost funeral-esque vocals, and several notes from Rey’s theme then play in a particularly sorrowful manner. The melancholy doesn’t last for long however before the motif plays again in an almost heroic-sounding style, but it’s here that the score once again dives into evil with a very malevolent rendition of the Emperor’s theme that makes excellent use of both vocals and brass. Good then rises to do battle with evil as Rey’s, the new Rise Of Skywalker and the original Rebellion motifs all join forces on particularly triumphant brass to musically fight against the album’s rising darkness, making overall for a very thrilling battle cue. Peace then settles over the album with subsequent track Farewell, with a quiet rendition of Rey’s theme starting things off with a similarly pensive Kylo Ren in tow. The music then builds to a rumbling percussive climax intertwined with elements of Rey’s motif, and hope then fully arrives as loud brass, strings and vocals all build up to a spectacularly victorious playthrough of the new Rise Of Skywalker theme.
Light percussion instruments and happy-sounding strings open Reunion with a short appearance from the main theme before then seguing into particularly happy renditions of the Force and Rey’s theme. Thematically there’s a lot to explore in this track, as its basically filled to the brim with callbacks (Yoda, Luke & Leia and Poe to name a few). A touch of mystery then begins A New Home, a cue that overall is very much reminiscent of the first few minutes of The Jedi Steps & Finale from The Force Awakens. Of course, it wouldn’t be a John Williams Star Wars score without an end credits suite, and that’s exactly what we get with Finale, where a now pretty typical Force theme rendition segues perfectly into the credits version of the main theme, and we are then treated to a jaw-dropping ten minutes of utter thematic glory, with appearances by both new and (surprisingly) old motifs from the sequel and original trilogies respectively. It should come as no surprise that the suite is the highlight of the score, and a truly amazing ending.
Overall, John Williams’ score for The Rise Of Skywalker is utterly spectacular. The composer quite simply pulls out all the stops with this one, creating magnificent new and reprising iconic old themes and intertwining them expertly for eighty minutes of pure orchestral heaven. The new Rise Of Skywalker motif is of particular highlight as is the rather intriguing Anthem Of Evil, and the way that Finale perfectly brings the entire saga to a close is a feat to be celebrated all on its own.
It’s the perfect musical end to Star Wars. What else is there to say?
Standout Cue: 19. Finale