Joseph Shirley takes the compositional stage for the third season of The Mandalorian and quite simply knocks it out of the park, reprising the infamous main theme for Din Djarin for some of its most triumphant renditions yet together with the ever-increasing catalogue of excellent established motifs for the series – and a few intriguing new ones added to the mix – all in spellbinding orchestral/electronic fashion.
It’s been a little while since we’ve had a new season of The Mandalorian. Well, technically there are a few episodes of The Book Of Boba Fett which qualify as that in some ways – certainly on the music front – but it’s been a while since we’ve had new Mando music in its own seasonal habitat anyway, and I must say after how good the score for season two was I was certainly excited to hear what was in store for the third. Intriguingly though, as the weeks closed in on the season premiere, it was announced that Joseph Shirley – composer for The Book Of Boba Fett – would be taking over scoring duties for The Mandalorian, with previous composer Ludwig Göransson seemingly taking a step back to work on other projects. It was an interesting bit of news that admittedly hit me with a bit of disappointment on first reading it, but I was still intrigued to hear what Shirley had to offer musically as full composer for The Mandalorian – especially after his genuinely solid score for Fett last year – and now that we have the score for the first half of the new season in our hands.. it’s got to be said, the composer did not disappoint.
So onto the album then; it seems Disney has once again opted for the now rather traditional soundtrack release schedule for these shows. Two volumes, one releasing now (for episodes 1-4) and another in a few weeks for the remaining episodes 5-8. As per usual it’s the former we’ll be reviewing here and now, and I’ll then be editing in a few paragraphs for the second one once it drops in a couple weeks time. So, without further ado – ‘The Living Waters’ opens the album rather ominously, with hints toward the Mandalorian Creed motif (from season one) and unnerving electronics shortly reaching a worrisome crescendo at around a minute in. From there though tensions only escalate, as loud drums and imposing vocals chant their way into centre stage, sticking around dramatically and ominously for a further minute or two until the cue then comes to a quietly imposing strings-based close. Action then kicks off ‘The Apostate’, with an electric guitar and deafening percussion setting a fast pace in the opening few seconds before the main Mandalorian theme then thunders triumphantly into frame from the sixty second mark onwards, cementing it’s introduction with whistling woodwinds and the now rather well-known Mandalorian-y percussive elements we’ve all come to know and love. Ah, it’s good to be back.
Gently ethereal vocals then open ‘High Magistrate’, with wondrous-sounding strings and percussion occupying the background until the Mandalorian’s infamous whistle sound then blows through, followed by the opening notes of the theme playing in a rather optimistic fashion. From here the music then takes on an almost folk-like tone, with hopeful strings and drums hammering this newly upbeat mood home for the rest of the cue. ‘We Got Pirates’ however then kicks the music up into faster paced territory for the score’s first major action cue; the Mandalorian’s theme opens the piece, playing fiercely and worrisomely on rapid bursts of brass for the first minute or so accompanied by similarly frenetic strings. From there the theme plays in fragmented and sporadic renditions, continually gaining confidence though with each appearance until finally emerging rather victoriously at the two minute mark. This doesn’t last for long though as the music crescendos quickly, with a dramatically imposing new theme then briefly emerging for the villainous Pirate King Gorian Shard before the track then comes to a rapid end.
‘A Castle’ then features a welcome reprisal of Bo Katan’s motif from season 2 – opposite both Mando’s and a brief appearance from the Creed theme – but those somehow aren’t even the most interesting aspect of this particular track as another new theme is then introduced; a theme for Mandalore. This six note new motif plays quietly and subtly through its debut cue here, almost too quietly to notice, but given – spoilers for later in the review -how big a thematic impact it has on the rest of the album, it’s worth noting all the same. Lighthearted, playful strings are then the centrepiece of the subsequent ‘Back For A Tune Up’, before ‘Mando’s In Trouble’ then pulls the musical tone down into rather sinister territory to start with – with creepy-sounding electronics – before frenetic strings take over in the back half for two minutes of dramatically worrisome action until a quietly withdrawn rendition of the new Mandalore theme on muted brass closes out the track. The new motif then continues in this stylistic vein into the subsequent and similarly withdrawn ‘The Old Mines’, with downtrodden strings and moody brass notes occupying the majority of the cue’s three minute runtime.
Standout cue ‘I Swear On My Name’ however then really kicks things up a notch. The cue opens softly, with the Mandalorian’s theme playing in an initially quietly hopeful manner on strings before rising incrementally in both volume and intensity until a sudden crescendo is reached; and the orchestral thunder begins. Frenetic action is the centrepiece for the remainder of the track, with the new Mandalore theme leading the dramatic charge as tensions continue to escalate, until another new theme then crashes into centre stage; an emphatically grandiose, imposing five note motif for the legendary Mythosaur creature itself. It’s a near perfect orchestral crescendo to this already pretty enjoyable action track, and the way the Mandalore theme then flairs quietly with the Mandalorian theme to end the track is just the cherry on top. What a track! And this isn’t even where the action finishes either, far from it; ‘Attack On The Gauntlet’ picks up pretty much right where it leaves off, with both the Bo Katan and Mandalorian themes charging through in fast-paced, worrisome form with the orchestra rallying behind. From here they then weave heroically together throughout the happily lengthy five minute setpiece, with the Mandalore theme also making infrequent and similarly emphatic appearances until Mando’s motif then brings the track overall to a rousing finish.
Another new theme – this time a rousing and rather fitting flourish of a motif for the planet Coruscant – debuts at the start of ‘Amnesty Scientist’ on emboldened brass. This orchestral majesty doesn’t last for long however as the music then quietens for the remainder of the cue, with the new theme playing gently on strings and electronics. ‘Coruscant Street Fair’ however then makes things even more interesting; it takes on the style of fairground music for much of the first half of the cue, before suddenly none other than John Williams’ theme for the Resistance (from the sequel trilogy) makes an unexpected appearance, playing in the same fairground-y way. The motif has appeared previously in the show – notably in season two – but still, hearing it again here is a welcome surprise, especially given the intriguingly diagetic way in which it appears in the show. The subsequent ‘Worth The Risk’ then reprises the new Coruscant theme on optimistic brass, but this time also with a rather ominous percussive undertone that then segues directly into the subsequent and rather worrisome ‘L52’. Here the same percussive undertone takes centre stage, with similarly worrisome electronics accompanying it pretty much throughout its three minute runtime.
The infamous Mandalorian whistle kicks off ‘You Are One Of Us’, with the now moody Mandalore motif then following subtly suit on quietly foreboding brass. The theme for the Creed reprises in a similarly quiet fashion on strings until the Mandalore theme then plays on risingly heroic brass to finish the track. Deafening electronics open action cue ‘Playtime’s Over’, with a rather frenetic Creed motif playing on loud strings, percussion and chanting vocals. This then leads into the subsequent ‘There Are No Others’, with worrisome strings in centre stage until a crash of drums and frantic electronics then escalate tensions considerably for much of the five minute cue. With the first volume overall starting to draw to a close, ‘Quest For A Foundling’ then wraps up the action with the Mandalore, Bo Katan, Creed and Mandalorian themes all coming together for one last and indeed highly enjoyable thunderous orchestral rampage. Final track ‘Double Signet’ then reprises the Mythosaur motif from ‘I Swear On My Name’ together with the Creed, Mandalore and Bo Katan themes, all playing in similarly quietly hopeful fashion until the track then comes to a gentle end.
Overall, Joseph Shirley’s score for the first half of season three of The Mandalorian continues to build upon Ludwig Göransson’s excellent stylistic and thematic work from prior seasons, and at times genuinely even exceeds it. Established themes – Bo Katan’s, the Creed and of course the main Mandalorian motif – all reprise throughout this first soundtrack volume in spectacular fashion, and the way Shirley seemingly effortlessly weaves the motifs with the orchestra and electronics is simply sublime to listen to, and results in some genuinely breathtaking music (see action setpieces ‘We Got Pirates’ and ‘Attack On The Gauntlet’ for example, or ‘Quest For A Foundling’). And the excellence isn’t all older themes here either; indeed, there are some pretty fantastic new motifs here too in the Mandalore, Mythosaur and Coruscant themes, with the first of these in particular being an absolute thematic highlight throughout the volume (look no further than standout cue ‘I Swear On My Name’ for just how awesome the Mandalore theme is). All-in, this combined with all the enjoyable musical interactions said new themes have with the established ones, as well as the genuine orchestral excellence displayed throughout the album makes this first half pretty much a triumph from beginning to end. Bring on volume two!
A Few Weeks Later…
‘Adelphi Jukebox’ kicks the long-awaited second volume off, and as its title suggests its some rather intriguing-sounding diagetic music for the series, complete with very alien-sounding vocals and enthusiastic electronics which overall make it pretty firmly Star Wars-y in both tone and style. ‘Siege On Navarro’ then reprises the motif for Pirate King Gorian Shard (first heard in ‘We Got Pirates’) for the volume’s first action cue; here frenetic strings and loud, bombastic brass take centre stage with the aforementioned villainous motif doing orchestral battle with the new Mandalore theme as well as both Bo Katan and Mando’s throughout this five minute setpiece. ‘Open Fire Below’ then picks up where it leaves off, with darkly dramatic percussion leading a frantic pace until the Creed theme then bursts in for a particularly heroic flourish on bagpipes of all things at just before the minute mark. From here the tide of the battle then turns in favour of the heroes, with Shard’s motif then playing one last time before the track then closes on a rather optimistic bagpiped note. ‘Walk The Way Together’ then reprises the quietly mysterious Mythosaur theme from the first volume alongside the Mandalore motif to start, before then building to a loudly triumphant crescendo on brass as both the Mandalore and Bo Katan themes rousingly close out the track.
‘A Challenge’ opens with light percussion, as Bo Katan’s electronic motif then slowly fades into frame with increasing intensity until a loudly in-your-face action crescendo is reached at the two minute mark. From here the music then quietens for a bit with quiet woodwinds echoing a few notes from Mando’s theme, before instrumentation and volume slowly start to build back up with the Mandalore and Bo Katan motifs playing loudly and emphatically to close the cue. The eight minute action extravaganza ‘The Great Forge’ however then delivers the various Mandalorian themes into considerable orchestral plight, with the main Mando motif for example hurrying along on increasingly frenetic strings for much of the first few minutes of the piece before the Creed theme then enters the fray and tries defiantly to fight back on determined brass. This optimism doesn’t last though as moodily ominous, almost Hellraiser-esque vocals then imposingly win out the day as the Praetorian Guards make their villainous debut in the show, with the track then solemnly crescendoing out a short while later.
It isn’t long though before musical hope re-enters the fray, with ‘Let’s Take Back Our Planet’ holding heroism high in its opening minute as both the Creed and Mandalore motifs leap boldly back into the fight. The Hellraiser-y Praetorian Guard motif then locks the latter theme in orchestral combat for much of the remainder of the track, with Bo Katan’s motif arriving at the end to segue the action into the subsequent and standout cue ‘Stronger Together’. Here Mando’s theme takes one last stand against the Praetorian Guards, with the former of the two motifs receieving a particularly heroic full rendition at around the halfway point of the track. It isn’t either of them that finishes the fight off however as Grogu’s theme then enters the fray on particularly hopeful brass and vocals, closing the cue in honestly about as an epic a manner as possible. To end the volume (and the third season of the show), ‘Forever Forged In My Heart’ then quietens things back down for a rather peaceful finale, with closure occurring for both the Mandalore and Mythosaur motifs in the first half before Mando’s theme then fades the music gently out on hopeful brass.
All-in, volume two of Joseph Shirley’s score for this season of The Mandalorian does an excellent job of fleshing out the new themes established in the first album – with the Mandalore motif being a very clear standout still – while also still keeping the now rather classic older themes from across the show as musically relevant as ever. The main Mandalorian, Bo Katan and Creed themes for example all receive enjoyable and happily lengthy renditions across this volume, and the way they all – both thematically old and new – weave and interlink with one another across multiple exquisite action setpieces here really showcases Shirley’s genuine orchestral skill. Standout cue ‘Stronger Together’ is the best of the bunch in highlighting this, particularly with its heroic playthrough of both Mando and Grogu’s motifs in the back half. Overall, a strong finish to the already pretty fantastic start that the first volume was, and I for one cannot wait to hear what’s in store for season four.
Standout Cues: 9. I Swear On My Name/16. Stronger Together
Follow me on Twitter for the latest soundtrack and review-based news!