Lightyear – Soundtrack Review

Michael Giacchino scores yet another soundtrack goal with Lightyear; from the rousing orchestral battles between the unapologetically grandiose, salute-worthy theme for Buzz and the foreboding, ever-marching Imperial-esque countermotif for Zurg, to the quieter, more tender moments as the music contemplates the years gone by to Buzz’s hyperspace travel, this score is simply a joy to listen to from start to finish.

Like with most Michael Giacchino scores, Lightyear is centred around several primary themes. The first and main of which is a light, heroic piece for Buzz Lightyear himself; it’s a short yet rather memorable four note motif that features rather triumphantly throughout the Main (Theme) On End (Credits) and typically punnily titled “Infinite MOEtion” cue from towards the end of the album. Here the theme plays in grandiosely militaristic, salute-worthy style, with a loudly emphatic electric guitar leading the orchestra accompanied by similarly dramatic vocals. The theme also takes point at the start of the subsequent and happily lengthy end credits piece “One Suite Buzz”, and it’s here that the other primary themes of the score also feature in full concert-esque form. At the four minute mark for example, the heroism starts to die down and moody, ominous strings start to play. From there it isn’t long before loud, imposing brass then blasts its way into the foreground, introducing the dramatically foreboding, marching motif for the evil Emperor Zurg (sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance!), a seven note motif that harkens in style back to Giacchino’s Imperial theme from Rogue One, and is similarly and enjoyably memorable to boot.

The final themes of the album starts to play at around the six minute mark of the suite, with the first consisting of two parts; it starts as a solemn, rather downtrodden three-note motif to represent Buzz’s lonely lightspeed journeys during the movie (and the many years that pass him by as a result) before then building somewhat into hope as seven slightly more optimistic notes begin to play, representing perhaps hope for the future, and for the Space Ranger Corps that Buzz hopes to rebuild. The last theme is then a similarly hopeful and also seven note piece, representing perhaps the Hawthornes; both Alisha, a Space Ranger and friend that Buzz has to leave behind, and Izzy (Alisha’s granddaughter) that he meets in the future after his hyperspace travel escapades. Buzz’s theme then brings the suite full circle, closing out the twelve minute track quietly at first before then building with hopeful brass and militaristic percussion until a loudly triumphant finishing crescendo is reached. Overall, Michael Giacchino’s wonderful end credits suites have always been something to behold, and I’m happy to say that Lightyear‘s is no exception.

With the primary themes established, the main motif for Buzz (naturally) opens the score; low-pitched, hopeful brass and some rather militaristic drums build up the orchestra at the start of opening cue “Mission Log”, with the main theme sweeping grandiosely in after a few seconds. The four note motif establishes itself rather quietly in its debut track here, but that doesn’t stop it from being quite memorable pretty much right off the bat. A frenetic pace then kicks off the subsequent “Initial Greetings“, with bursts of aggressive brass keeping tensions high throughout much of the three minute cue. Determined, dramatic drums then open “Lightyear”, with Buzz’s theme sounding through in typically grand, heroic form a couple of seconds in. Hopeful woodwinds and strings then start to build at the one minute mark, with the full orchestra slowly forming behind it until a loud, fist-pumpingly emphatic crescendo is reached just before the track closes out. “The Best Laid Flight Plans Of Space And Men” then continues where the previous cue leaves off with Buzz’s motif held high, until “Blown On Course” loudly interjects with worrisome brass and tense strings. For ninety subsequent seconds tension then slowly builds, with Buzz’s theme playing in unusually anxious form until it all comes to crescendo right in the final few seconds.

Militaristic drums turn slow and solemn in “Lightyear’s Behind”, with gently melancholic strings and piano notes driving the newly sombre tone home for much of the track’s ninety second runtime. The pace however then starts to pick up again in “Mission Perpetual”, with Buzz’s now lightly heroic theme playing together with the seven note Space Ranger Corps motif on quiet brass, with percussion also starting to build in the background. Over the course of the next three minutes the instrumentation then builds dramatically, with additional brass, strings and drums building the themes in both volume and intensity until hitting a loudly triumphant crescendo. After the excitement of “Mission Perpetual” however the music returns to quiet solemnity in “The Lone Space Ranger” with the gently melancholic three note hyperspace theme from the end credits suite playing on quietly morose strings and piano notes. The mood then switches up again in “Afternoon Delight Speed”, opening with some rather frantic action strings before slowly building up into loud, brass-based villainy as crashes of tense percussion and emphatic brass close out on yet another deafening crescendo. This then sets the stage for Emperor Zurg’s typically villainous theme to introduce itself in “Zurg Awakens”; some rather creepy high-pitched strings open the piece with low, malevolent brass and moody vocals then sounding out the opening notes of the motif, turning the mood very sinister for a minute or so before dramatic vocals then close the cue out.

Tensions turn high for the two and a half minute action setpiece “A Good Day Not To Die”, with loud bursts of brass debuting the now rather worrisome seven note Hawthorne theme before rapid strings and frenetic percussion then take over for the remainder of the breakneck-paced cue. “Zurg’s Displeasure” then briefly reprises the Emperor’s malevolent motif on crashing drums and imposing vocals, with “Space Afraiders” briefly pulling the tone back into quiet optimism for its first half on light, playful strings until Zurg then dramatically re-emerges on loudly ferocious vocals in the back half of said track. This then leads into the action-packed duo of “Zurg-onomics” and “Oh, Hover”, with the former focusing on Zurg’s theme as it clashes with Hawthorne’s throughout a frantically paced two minute runtime, and the latter keeping tensions high with continually building brass and percussion until the action then crashes to a close at just under three minute in. “To Infinity And Be Gone” then lightens the mood a tad, with playful strings opening the cue which then slowly build into powerful but also rather melancholic hope.

Rapid strings and the established militaristic drums open “World’s Worst Self-Destruct Sequence”, with marching brass leading the action charge for the next minute or so until Zurg’s theme then loudly crashes the party on its now typically dramatic, imposing vocals. “Time To Space Your Fears” then continues in a very similar vein as Zurg takes centre stage; the moodily malevolent vocals for the evil Emperor occupy much of the four minute track, with the full orchestra stepping into the fray in the final minute to deliver a particularly worrisome finish. The action duo “Hiding From Yourself” and “Improv-Izzy-tion” are then up next, with the former leaving heavily on Zurg’s malevolent motif and the latter starting off tensely and worrisomely before the orchestra then builds into a happily victorious rendition of Buzz’s theme. With the advantage retaken, hope then starts to seep back into the score, with “Back To Buzzness” opening frantically but then building gradually with Buzz’s theme on action orchestra until a loud, vocal-heavy, triumphant crescendo is reached just as the track closes out. With the end of the album in sight, “Home On The Space Range” then delivers a delightfully upbeat and happily lengthy rendition of Buzz’s theme, with the aforementioned “Infinite MOEtion” and “One Suite Buzz” then hammering this orchestral optimism home for a truly sublime soundtrack finale.

Overall, Michael Giacchino’s Lightyear is an absolute delight. I worried slightly that since the composer is delivering so many scores in a very short space of time this year that one or two might suffer in quality as a result, but I’m very happy to say that Lightyear doesn’t have this issue at all. As per usual with Giacchino the themes are the absolute stars of the show, with Buzz’s emphatically grandiose, marching four-note motif leading the charge in salute-worthy style throughout the album, with its best rendition being the loudly triumphant, nothing held back “Infinite MOEtion” main on ends piece. Lightyear almost meets his match however with the similarly memorable, malevolent theme for Emperor Zurg, a dramatically imposing piece that harkens in style back to Giacchino’s “Imperial Suite” from Rogue One, and is just as musically interesting to boot. It’s not all emotional highs however as the score is equal parts heroic and dramatic as it is slow and gentle, with the quietly sorrowful themes for the years lost to Buzz’s hyperspace travels and the fall of the Galactic Ranger Corps also being of particular highlight, especially in the all-encompassing and standout cue “One Suite Buzz”, where the somewhat more hopeful theme for the Hawthornes also features in enjoyably upbeat form.

All-in, each and every one of Giacchino’s wonderful themes here in combination with a couple of solid action setpieces (particularly in the back half of the album e.g. “Oh Hover”) and the composer’s wondrous orchestral style leaves little wanting for Lightyear – bar perhaps a few more renditions of that excellent main theme and an extra action cue or two. Overall though, Giacchino is on a hell of a roll so far this year. Bring on Thor: Love And Thunder!

Score: 7/10

Standout Cue: 30. Infinite MOEtion/31. One Suite Buzz


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One thought on “Lightyear – Soundtrack Review

  1. I am very curious about his work for Thor. Personally, I haven’t been big about the other three Thor scores, but maybe his will break the mold.


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