Andor – Soundtrack Review

So far, Nicholas Britell’s Andor score is yet another Star Wars series soundtrack that prides itself on not using any of John Williams’ themes, which would be somewhat forgiveable if the new, “improved” sound was actually interesting. Aside from the new theme for Cassian Andor and the Rebellion however (which in fairness is pretty good) the score here instead opts for a more ambient, reserved approach that’s relegated to the background for much of the series itself, which overall does not an entertaining soundtrack make.

You could almost hear the collective sigh of disappointment from the film music community (and let’s be honest, a lot of Star Wars fans in general) when Andor series creator Tony Gilroy said the following regarding Nicholas Britell’s music for the (then upcoming) series; “Music in Star Wars is just absolutely essentially identified with John Williams—I mean, bow down—but we’re going in a whole other direction. We needed an entirely new vocabulary.” I mean, that just says it all really. Yet another mainline television series for the popular franchise that simply refuses to utilise the more than iconic music that one could argue had an awful lot to do with its rise to infinite popularity in the first place. Now, I’m not going to get too bogged down in this argument again as I have already covered it pretty extensively in my previous reviews for other Star Wars series (if you are looking for that though I do go into a pretty spectacular rant about thematic continuity in my Obi-Wan review), so I will simply say this; if you’re looking at creating some music for your brand new Star Wars series and your first thought genuinely is “we should go in a whole different direction” to John Williams’ iconic themes & style, especially when your series is set around the same time and places as the original films, you might want to reconsider that absurdity of a decision. But then, here we are.

Anyway, like I say I don’t want to get too bogged down in thematic negativity there, so let’s focus on the music itself for Andor. As the quote above pretty well summarises, if you’re coming here looking for the John Williams Star Wars themes and musical style, I’m afraid you’re out of luck as neither are present. Now I can sort of understand this creative decision with Andor, as its meant to be darker and grittier than the movies, showcasing the crueler, more fascist-side of the Empire and the horrible things they do, and perhaps the Williams themes wouldn’t fit too well with that on paper, but still I can’t say it’s a decision I really agree with. I simply believe that when the Empire appears, the Imperial March should play. End of, really. Hell, even Rogue One understood that much, and this series is based on that film (again, trying not to spiral into another rant here, so I’ll leave it at that). So, with the above in mind then, with Andor composer Nicholas Britell has gone in a very different musical direction, utilising a mix of solemn, downtrodden orchestra and moody electronics for much of the three soundtrack volumes that will be released for the first season (one every four episodes, third one still pending), all centred around one primary theme; the Andor theme.

Throughout the series, the five-note Andor theme performs as a bit of a double act; representing both main character Cassian Andor himself, and also the wider hopes, goals and build-up towards the eventual organised Rebellion that the series is slowing building up to. The theme plays and is noticeable most of all in the hopeful moments of the series where it matters, and overall is actually a pretty solid piece of thematic work. The best cue to really hear this theme play fully in (as many cues across these albums are sadly far too short) is in the nearly four minute, and standout cue “Past/Present Suite”. Here the music starts off quietly and almost serenely, with the Andor theme building slowly and gently on strings with emphatic percussion and brass later rising to join it. Over the course of the cue’s runtime the theme plays and repeats in an almost Zimmer-esque build-up manner, becoming louder and more powerful until then crashing into an almost heroic crescendo right before the track then closes out. Notably as well, the theme also plays in different emotive forms at the start of every episode, with the first soundtrack volume here for example opening with “Andor (Main Title Theme) – Episode 1”, as the theme plays in solemn, strings-heavy form for a short twenty second or so rendition to kick off the first episode’s section of the score.

Now, you might have listened to those two cues above there and gone, huh, the music for Andor actually sounds pretty good, and you’d be right… for those two cues. Unfortunately though, this is kind of where memorability for Britell’s music begins and ends really (aside from a couple of short, barely-noticeable character motifs dotted around anyway), as the remainder of the score is sadly much more reserved and background-relegated by comparison. This is less my opinion than it seems an actual stylistic decision by the creators of the show, as the score genuinely just doesn’t do a whole lot throughout 90% of the show (opting for quiet, ambient mood-setting instead), which is I’ll say a… curious decision for a Star Wars series, but hey, it’s their show. Now, admittedly that does make the moments where the music finally chooses to make a louder appearance – whenever the Andor theme appears in hopeful form essentially – much more prominent and noticeable, but this then of course comes at the sacrifice of a decently enjoyable soundtrack album experience, as most of it just isn’t particularly interesting.

Take second track “WE BEGIN (Time Grappler)” for instance, it’s just… some bells. Sure, they’re pretty interesting in the episode they appear in – the character hammering the bells does make for some intriguing world-building – but on album? Not so much. “Niamos (Morlana Club Mix)” is pretty fun to be fair, being a rather futuristic, electronics-heavy ninety second cue to represent the background music of a club Cassian visits on Morlana One, but again, that’s all it is. And then subsequent “action” pieces like “Morlana Drop” and “Pre-Mor Shakedown” are little more than Blade Runner 2049-esque, emphatic mood-setter tracks that do not an entertaining listen make. So then, with the above in mind I feel like we should do something a little different for the remainder of this review. Rather than me sitting here painstakingly talking about every cue and essentially repeating myself as above, what I’m going to do instead is pick out the more standout moments I mentioned earlier – where the music finally makes an actual, proper appearance – from across all three soundtrack volumes, and talk about those instead, opting to simply ignore the ambient, mood-setter nature of, well I’ll be honest, most of the score. So without further ado – let’s do that.

The short “Rix Road” reprises the Andor theme on hopeful strings, building up to it in a similar manner to “Past/Present Suite” though in a sadly much shorter runtime of just over ninety seconds. That is actually one other thing I will knock about this score as well; nearly all of the tracks are far, far too short, mostly coming in at under two minutes and sometimes even less than sixty seconds long, which overall doesn’t give the music here a lot of time to grow. Even the standout cue mentioned above there could’ve done with an extra minute or two. But anyway – one of the earlier-mentioned short character motifs then emerges in the sub-minute “Bix Caleen”, establishing a gently hopeful, electronics-based theme for the titular associate of Cassian. This then reprises in quieter, more worrisome form in “Bix Has A Secret” with the same electronics now accompanied by ominous strings. “The Cassian Way” then brings back the Andor theme in similarly worried form on emphatic percussion, before another main title rendition of it then reprises in the short second episode’s title cue. A loudly strings-based character motif then introduces itself for “Luthen Rael”, with the new motif playing in a manner that sounds like its trying to be hopeful and heroic, but at the same time is hindered before it can get too bold, which in all honesty sums up Luthen and his struggles against the Empire in the series pretty well, so props there.

Andor’s theme reprises in louder, more action-oriented form with percussion joining the strings in the title track for episode three, with subsequent piece “Mirror” then continuing this thematic performance in now more worrisome style for a minute or so. A villain theme of sorts then arrives in “Corpos”, though it seems more like a collection of aggressive instrumentation than an actual motif, but worth noting all the same. The main title track for episode four then continues to build Andor’s theme in a louder, more action-esque style with now even louder percussion joining the fray, with “I Came For You” then calming the motif down and playing it in a more hopeful, strings-based manner. “Luthen of Coruscant” then reprises the character motif from earlier in a much more downtrodden, solemn style, with the first soundtrack volume then ending on a double-act of small character motifs; the former a sneaky, almost investigative cue for Syril Karn in “Syril Suite”, and the latter a similarly downtrodden, strings-heavy piece to that of Luthen’s for “Mon Mothma”. Two things I will say about these character motifs so far though is that one; other than Andor’s, they tend to rely on instrumental emotion rather than tangible, memorable notes and two; they don’t get nearly enough album time, which altogether makes the motifs sadly rather unmemorable and difficult to pick out (again, a consequence of the shorter track times for much of the score) and with that, thus ends the first volume of Andor.

The second volume opens as you’d expect with a title rendition of Andor’s theme for episode five, this time now somewhat returned to the more solemn, strings-based style of earlier title pieces. The main theme then builds progressively into hope in “The Valley” on increasingly bold strings and percussion, with this renewed optimism then continuing into the main title piece for episode six on strings and optimistic piano notes. This episode interestingly takes a more action-oriented turn, with cues like “Get Down” and “No Turning Back” building electronics-heavy tension until the music finally gets to breathe a little in longer, four minute setpieces “The Vault, Parts 1 and 2” and “The Vault – Parts 3 and 4”. In the former setpiece, the renewed hope from earlier builds on increasingly emphatic strings with tense percussion hinting toward the Andor theme all at the same time, with the latter cue then running with the theme on explosively fast-paced brass and percussion. Finally here, the music feels like it’s actually doing something, though it sadly doesn’t last for long. With the action building to a close, the Andor theme is then utilised in hopeful though also rather solemn celebration in subsequent cue “The Morning After”, with the main title piece for episode seven then playing the motif on serene electronics.

A new, tensely electronic motif is introduced in “Kleya” (for the titular associate of Luthen’s) which bears a striking resemblance in part to the opening notes and structure of the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order main theme, though I’d imagine this is entirely coincidental. “Niamos! (Coruscant Lounge Mix) then plays a slower, more relaxed electronics-y rendition of the Morlana club music from earlier in the score, with “Niamos! (Galaxy Mix) then returning to the faster dance pace of the original track on similar electronics. “Maarva’s Rebellion” then offers a touchingly solemn, strings-heavy view of Cassian’s mother, making for one of the more emotive cues of the score overall as it delves into a particularly sorrowful side of the series. The main theme then takes a more reserved position on quiet electronics and strings in the main title track for episode eight, with subsequent piece “Narkina 5” then hammering this more solemn tone home on downtrodden electronics as Cassian is sent to the prison complex of the planet for his six year sentence. “Unit 5-2-D” then continues to emphasize this considerable downturn in Cassian’s life, with “Shut It Down” then ending the second soundtrack volume on a quietly saddened, strings-based note.

We’ll come back for the third volume once it comes out. Stay tuned here for details.

Overall, the first two thirds of Nicholas Britell’s unusually ambient (for Star Wars) score for Andor isn’t entirely without merit, but you really do have to dig in order to find it. The vast majority of the two soundtrack volumes released for the series so far simply contain quiet, reserved electronic music to set the atmosphere and tone, which while functioning well enough in the show itself, doesn’t really make for a particularly entertaining series of soundtrack albums as it’s far too absent and minimalistic to be enjoyable separately, at least for me. The remaining areas when the music can actually be bothered to make a more prominent appearance though are pretty decent, with the theme for Cassian Andor himself for example being a clear standout; the often downtrodden but also at times rather hopeful and even heroic main theme for the series seems to represent not just Cassian but also the general hopes and dreams of the Rebellion itself, and that narrative idea combined with a memorable five-note structure and many enjoyable appearances across the album (see standout cue “Past/Present Suite” for its longest and indeed best performance) make it a solid and pretty enjoyable main theme.

That being said though this is about as good as Andor gets, with mostly sub-two minute cues and a dreary electronic/orchestral sound dampening the memorability of the majority of the score quite considerably, paling it in comparison to the main theme aside from the moments of course when the theme actually weaves through. Sure the club music is kind of interesting and some of the action isn’t too bad, but like… is that the standard we’re happy to accept now for Star Wars music? Not too bad? Don’t even get me started on the lack of John Williams (style or themes) as well, as there simply isn’t any of it present here, not even a hint. I can kind of understand that decision to a degree given the gritty nature of the show, but a quiet Imperial March rendition or two wouldn’t kill them either. This seems to be a recurring thing with these Star Wars shows in general now, and it’s just sad to see. A waste, even. Still, at least Andor’s score is more interesting on its own than Obi-Wan‘s was. I’m not even going to talk about that one anymore.

In summary then with Nicholas Britell’s work here, come for the Andor theme, and stay… for the Andor theme, as there’s little else to enjoy. Maybe the third soundtrack volume will brighten the skies a little in that department, but I can’t say I’m all that hopeful.

Score: 6.5/10

Standout Cue: 25. Past/Present Suite

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