Gordy Haab is back for another excellently-crafted Star Wars game score, complete with a versatile main theme and many an exciting action setpiece.
First Jedi: Fallen Order and now Squadrons; it looks like EA is on a roll with the Star Wars videogame music releases, and I hope they don’t stop any time soon. Much like with the long-awaited (and recently-reviewed) Fallen Order, Squadrons also manages to keep the elegant orchestral John Williams Star Wars sound while also throwing in a few of its own new, unique ideas into the mix, all-in-all to some extremely musically satisfying results.
The album begins with A New Squadron Is Formed, and right off the bat we’re introduced to the score’s rather grandiose main theme – comprised of but a select few notes, the motif is boldly heroic and also hints delicately towards the musical style of John Williams’ theme for the Rebel Alliance (or maybe that’s just me hearing things). Epic brass and upbeat strings then lift the theme up for a rather dramatic rendition towards the end of the cue before then seguing into the motif’s full debut in second track Main Theme. Here for two loud, heroic and rather grandiose minutes the aforementioned theme gets a full orchestral fleshing out, and quite an enjoyable one too. There are also definitely some further hints towards John Williams’ Star Wars here; at one point I genuinely thought it was going to break out into the iconic theme. It didn’t, but the track’s pretty great all the same.
The only thing I will say so far is that the music at times does sound a little bit…synthetic. Kind of videogame-y (which I guess is to be expected), and sort of like what Kevin Kiner’s score for the Clone Wars tv series sounded like. Fallen Order on the other hand sounded like it had some actual orchestra behind it at times, whereas this does have a slightly more synthetic, electronic-y feel to it. It doesn’t detract too much from the themes and general style of the score (both of which are very good) but it is noticeable all the same. This however isn’t much of a problem in Hyperspace Ambush, a four minute edge-of-your-seat action setpiece that features many a stylistic callback to John Williams by way of several signatory rapid swirls of strings and dramatic bursts of brass. Fallen Comrades then slows things down considerably for a predictably melancholic cue, where slow, solemn strings and gentle percussive notes play a quiet rendition of the main theme. Things then perk up in the subsequent Preparing To Move with hopeful brass arriving alongside upbeat strings, and an overall musical style once again very reminiscent of that of John Williams’ Star Wars. You really have to hand it to Haab, he does know his Williams.
The pace quickens in Evacuation, with the instrumentation turning tense and at points rather frantic as brass turns to action and strings to drama. The New Station then accelerates this tone with heroic brass and strings sweeping in for an upliftingly grandiose though sadly short cue overall. First Assignment properly brings the Star Wars-esque action score, complete with fast-paced epic percussion and several particularly tense brassy moments. The Dockyard then brings this happily lengthy section of enjoyable action to a rousing, victorious finish. Something rather musically intriguing then happens with cue Imperial Ceremony And Briefing; the main theme returns, but this time with a twist – gone is the heroic, rebellious orchestral style and in its place are marching, dramatic, considerably more serious statements of brass – and ones that are (naturally) incredibly reminiscent of John Williams’ iconic Imperial March. What Gordy Haab has done here is take his previously heroic main theme (that assumedly had represented the Rebels) and change its style so much so that it now works as a motif for the Empire. Clever stuff, and very entertaining to listen to. The action music too now takes darker undertones, with subsequent piece A Losing Battle utilising moodier brass notes accompanied by much more worrisome strings than before. Hints towards the lighter rebellious side are still present though, with light swirls of strings ever present throughout the cue. The fight then continues to partway through Imperial Victory, at which point the marching Imperial-esque brass returns for a proudly victorious finale.
The rebellious side of the main theme reappears briefly at the start of Stealing Data Plans, before darker-sounding percussion and sinister strings then arrive to plunge the remainder of the cue into ominous action territory. Interestingly, I definitely also heard a hint or two towards John Williams’ theme for the Rebel Alliance in here. The rapid pace then continues in Chasing The Spy, with the darker nature of the previous track turning more to anxiety and tension. Pirates takes this stylistic idea in stride, adding swirling action strings (once again reminiscent of the maestro) and epic bursts of brass. Tension then returns once again for the edge-of-your-seat three minute cue Taking No Prisoners, with the darker version of the main theme hinted at several times throughout and then bursting through fully at the end for a particularly dramatic close to the track. Three Way Battle then starts to blend the two musical styles together, opening with the marching percussive elements for the Empire before switching into the rapid hopeful action style for the Rebellion a minute or so later, then crescendoing in rather epic orchestral fashion as the cue ends. The main theme takes the Empire’s side at the start of Defending The Starhawk, before then recurring in epic action style throughout the piece and overall making for one of the most enjoyable cues on the album.
Solemnity returns to the score in Saying Goodbye, with slow, sorrowful strings taking the musical forefront for much of the cue alongside some quietly pensive brass notes. Things do perk up right at the end though for a rather spectacular rendition of the main theme in rebellious form. Retaliation continues this orchestral hope at the beginning with a powerful playthrough of the main theme, before then jumping right back into frantic action mode complete with dramatic bursts of brass and crashing percussion. Loading Gear And Surprise Attack takes this stylistic idea and runs (well, sprints) with it, increasing the tension tenfold with fast-paced percussion, strings and in-your-face action brass playing several brisk renditions of the rebellious main theme. Moon Explodes then opens with some particularly heroic-sounding brass, before then dialing up the main theme alongside frenzied strings. The cue then closes with several dramatically triumphant notes from said theme. Action cues Bombing Run Successful and Unsuccessful Run play as musical antonyms to one another; both are loud, epic and at times rather frantic with several dramatic renditions of the main theme dotted around, but that’s where the similarities end. Where the former becomes bolder and more heroic as time goes on – ending with a grandiose playthrough of the main theme – the latter does the opposite, turning more and more musically desperate with the orchestration getting louder and tenser until the main theme plays unceremoniously and almost angrily right at the end.
The percussive marching of the Empire opens Wanting Revenge, with a quietly ominous main theme playing carefully in the background. Loud action brass enters the fray at about the halfway point, with swirling strings joining it seconds later and overall making for a rather dramatic back half of the cue (with a villainous main theme rendition being of particular highlight). To close the score, the composer then has one final treat in store for us; Finale, an upbeat and happily lengthy playthrough of the main theme that starts off in rebellious form on strings before then hinting towards its Imperial side halfway through with dramatic brass, and then coming to an epic finish a minute later with a heroically brassy crescendo. It’s a perfect summary of the main theme and its usage across the score, and so naturally the standout cue of the album.
Overall, Gordy Haab’s score for Star Wars: Squadrons is an absolute joy to listen to. Much like with Fallen Order the orchestral style resides very much in the musical land of John Williams, and it just adds so much richness to the score, not to mention cementing itself perfectly within the Star Wars musical universe. The main theme is also excellently crafted and very versatile, as it adapts to represent both the heroic Rebellion and ominous Empire so effortlessly it’s unreal (not to mention very entertaining to listen to). The theme gets two dedicated tracks (the dramatic Main Theme and exquisite sendoff Finale) as well as considerable album time as it appears woven into the action throughout the entire score. Speaking of which, the action cues are numerous, lengthy and for me the highlight of the album, with standouts Defending The Starhawk and Bombing Run Successful/Unsuccessful Run being absolutely unmissable. The only slightly negative thing I have to say is that the orchestra does sound a little synthetic at times (especially in comparison to Fallen Order), but that’s more of a personal dislike than a genuine criticism against the score. Plus it doesn’t stop the album’s standout moments from being truly excellent, so there’s that too.
Knocked it out of the park, Mr. Haab.
Standout Cue: 26. Finale