Film Review: Risen

Release Date: February 19, 2016

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Risen follows the story of Roman Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), who is charged with finding out what happened to the body of Jesus (Cliff Curtis), referred to here by His Hebrew name of Yeshua. He is ordered to do so by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), and is accompanied by newly transferred Lucius (Tom Felton of Draco Malfoy fame). Of course, as a film based on one of Christianity’s central moments, Risen was met with some apprehension. Would it be blasphemous, or perhaps a piece of Christian propaganda?

The film actually opens with a little battle between Roman soldiers under Clavius and Jewish rebels led by none other than Barabbas, who, judging by the film’s chronology, seems to be making trouble pretty quickly after his pardon by Pontius Pilate. Clavius returns to Jerusalem to oversee the end of Jesus’ crucifixion. Once Jesus’ body disappears there is talk of conspiracy and a potential Jewish uprising. Clavius leads his men in an investigation and I have to say that while this lasts the film is highly engaging. It weaves in bits of the Bible and history expertly and it’s a treat seeing familiar figures from the Bible through the eyes of pagan Romans. Pontius Pilate’s annoyance with the local Jewish rulers provides some of the film’s few laughs.

Unfortunately, and here may be spoilers, this plot thread gets resolved about halfway through the film, which turns into a straightforward adaptation of the end of the Gospels, just with a Roman soldier now randomly sitting in the background to observe. Even then the way the story is presented is a little underwhelming and a little rushed. Clavius is supposed to have undergone a great inner change, but this doesn’t get well developed since he spends much of his screentime simply looking at the disciples and not really interacting.

Of course, Jesus himself is in the film, thankfully portrayed by a non-white this time, though still not a Jew. Cliff Curtis isn’t a bad actor, and the problems with his performance stem more from the script, which asks him to look around smiling at everyone. The filmmakers also play it very safe with his dialogue. Adding words to Jesus’ mouth will always be a daunting task, since there’s great potential to offend Christians or accidentally insert some heresy. Aside from a few words directed at Clavius, all he says is direct quotes from the Bible, and in between them he has nothing to do but smile at his disciples.

Risen is a movie that starts off great, but flounders in its last act. I think there are three possible, better directions it could have taken. One would have been to extend the investigation and end with a scene between Clavius and Jesus, instead of having him observe the entire last couple chapters of the various Gospels. Another would have had him never find Jesus, dead or alive, but have him affected by what he hears. A third alternative, which would have perhaps required a bigger budget, would show how he has become a different man, displayed in further interactions with various Romans and Jews.

Risen is good if you want to pass a couple hours and should interest religious viewers. It could have been much better. I would much more recommend the 1953 film The Robe, in which one of the Roman officers in charge of the crucifixion is changed by his experiences and tries to balance his newfound Christianity with his devotion to Rome. Unlike other epics of that period it’s only a little over two hours long.

Rating: 6/10

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Film Review: Deadpool

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Running Time: 108 Minutes

With Fox now attempting its own cinematic superhero universe like Marvel Studios, the X-Men franchise has its own batch of spin-offs in development. Aside from the Wolverine films, Deadpool is the first entry outside of the main X-Men series. In the comics, Deadpool is a violent, constantly wise-cracking mercenary who is aware that he is in a comic book and will often break the fourth wall, addressing the reader and commenting on his own writers. This further extends to his appearances in video games and TV shows, the former case exemplified by him grabbing a health bar and beating his opponent over the head with it.

Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson, portrayed by actor Ryan Reynolds, had already appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a mismanaged film overstuffed with characters. Ryan Reynolds’ few minutes near the beginning as the character were delightful, but his appearance at the end was as a freakish Frankenstein monster with his mouth sewn shut, a total betrayal of the character. Seven years later the character has another shot.

Deadpool is an origin/revenge film. Faced with cancer, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) volunteers for a mutant powers project, which ends up further ruining his life, as he is left looking hideous and his fiance believes him dead. I’ve noticed that his famous moniker as the Merc with a Mouth doesn’t really apply here, as he never once takes a mission for money. His focus throughout the whole film is simply tracking down Francis, the scientist/super-soldier responsible for ruining his life, and forcing him to change him back to a normal human. His power is an incredible healing factor that makes him almost unkillable.

Of course, humor is an essential component of Deadpool and this film is chock-full of it. Almost every line of dialogue from Ryan Reynolds is a joke, even in the grimmest moments. It’s how his character interacts with the world. I would say it’s fairly hit and miss. The audience I viewed Deadpool with wasn’t exactly bursting with laughter non-stop. A good chunk of his material is dick jokes, while many of his references will undoubtedly be outdated in a few years, such as his quip about Jared and “footlongs”. He breaks the fourth wall fairly often too, and these moments work pretty well. The self-aware opening credits and post-credits teaser are a delight and his condemnation of the mishandling of his character in Origins is spot-on. While his humor misses several times, Deadpool is a fun character and generally delivers.

In the comics, Deadpool is at his best when he’s working off of other established characters in the Marvel universe, especially another superhero who’s a straight man. In this film it’s Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), who manages to have more screentime and dialogue within this movie than in all of the other X-Men films combined. In those same films he never really had a developed character, so Deadpool gets to build it. Here he’s an incredibly noble and selfless hero who is under the delusion that he can make a real superhero out of Deadpool. Under his wing is Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), a rude girl who doesn’t share her mentor’s interest in getting Deadpool on the X-Men team.

Weasel (T.J. Miller) is Wade’s best friend, who helps out every now and then and shares some of his humor. Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is the love interest, and is apparently a mutant named Copycat in the comics, though here she’s just a regular human who turns into a typical damsel in distress by the end. She is a pretty good character, not special but her romance with Wade really works. The villains aren’t really all that special. Francis (Ed Skrein) is just a typical “I have good reflexes and can fight really well” character while Angel Dust (Gina Carano) is good at being a super-strong henchwoman, but doesn’t have much personality beyond that.

Much has been made of the R rating, which many felt was necessary for Deadpool. Having read some of the comics myself, I can say that a PG-13 film could have been made with almost the same effect. From what I’ve read, profanity and nudity don’t factor that much in the source material. For example, there wasn’t a ton of f-bombs n Cable and Deadpool. I do see the benefits when it comes to the violence, and many of the best moments come from the dark humor of the action scenes. I didn’t find the violence particularly insane. There was a good amount of decapitations and some blood spurts, but otherwise it was PG-13. In fact, the final battle was a little underwhelming. It feels like I’ve seen it before: the hero and villain fighting with swords, the brawl between the super-strong, and the love interest giving her small contribution when the hero looks like he might be finished. The first fight scene on the bridge, which is broken up by flashbacks detailing Deadpool’s origin, is another story. Almost all the best action and humor can be found in this one sequence.

This is an entertaining movie and it does do Deadpool’s character justice. However, it doesn’t really break all the rules of the superhero film as many believed it would. Many of the plot points can be found in numerous other action or superhero movies and it suffers from underdeveloped villains like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also found some of the humor to be too juvenile at points. Not in the kid-friendly sense, but juvenile in the way that a grade-schooler thinks he’s being edgy. This is a good, fun time regardless and please don’t bring your kids just because it has a couple colorful superheroes in it.

Rating: 6/10

Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Until Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Temple of Doom was regarded by most as the weakest Indiana Jones flick. The love interest is annoying, juvenile humor abounds in some scenes, and there was perhaps a little too much dark elements, creating the PG-13 rating. Still, Spielberg’s worst movies are still a cut above most other films and aside from the whipping scene I don’t think it’s too much darker than the other ones, which had their fair share of skeletons and grisly deaths. This time Indiana Jones adventures around South Asia, seeking the Sankara stones an fighting an evil Kali cult along the way. John Williams crafts a fine follow-up to his Raiders score, though the music feels much lighter this time around. The Temple of Doom is the most enthusiastic musical entry in the series, with several themes continuously popping up in racing action cues.

The only returning theme is that for Indiana Jones himself, as no characters or ideas return from Raiders, but this theme is used quite liberally across the score. There are four new major themes. The first to make its appearance, and the most frequently used, is that for Asian kid sidekick Short Round. It’s playful, but does reach sweeping heights several times. By the way, the track “Short Round’s Theme” isn’t really a suite, but a direct cue which also references the slave children theme. This theme also appears for the village where the children are abducted from. It’s considered the highlight of the soundtrack, with “Slave Children’s Crusade” featuring on John Williams compilation albums.

The female lead for the movie is Willie, an intentional 180 from Marion in that while Marion was a tomboy, Willie screams at pretty much everything in the film. Her theme (or the love theme), isn’t as good as Marion’s theme, but it does what it’s supposed to. It’s showcased at the beginning of “Nocturnal Activities”. The artifact theme this time is a sinister tune for the Temple of Doom, though the actual artifacts in the film are the Sankara Stones. It doesn’t have as large a presence as that for the Ark of the Covenant and doesn’t make an appearance until “To Pankot Palace”. It does factor heavily into the final action scenes in “Mine Car Chase” and “Broken Bridge”.

Original 1984 Album

Things start off with “Anything Goes”, a Broadway number “sung” by the female lead in Chinese. To start the film, it’s a pretty different way from Raiders and Last Crusade, though Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would use Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” in its opening. Notes from the song are inserted into the following action cues, though none of those are present on the original album.

“Fast Streets of Shanghai” introduces Short Round’s theme and features the triumphant return of the Raiders March. “Nocturnal Activities” features a playful version of Willie’s theme, but turns into a light-hearted action cue. “Children in Chains” focuses on the slave children’s theme in its most tragic form, with some clanging metal strikes as well to represent their enslavement as miners. Both the theme and metal percussion return in a much more rousing and heroic rendition a few tracks later in “Slave Children’s Crusade”. “Slalom on Mt. Humol” is a decent action cue representing the seemingly endless descent of Indy and friends down a mountainside before settling into some Indian music.

“The Temple of Doom” is an original piece of source music, from the infamous scene where someone’s heart gets ripped out. It’s quite eerie, starting with sinister gongs and Sanskrit chants. As the track moves along the percussion gets more frequent and the chanting faster, ending with a creepy wail. “Bug Tunnel and Death Trap” somehow effectively conveys both humor and peril, with a simple little motif that builds in intensity before the Indiana Jones theme takes over. “Mine Car Chase” is a wild racing cue which features the Temple of Doom theme. “Finale and End Credits” is a solid suite with all of the non-villainous themes arranged between two statements of the Raiders March.

There is a ton of good music missing from the original album, but, as with Raiders of the Lost Ark, it does a pretty good job given the restraints if a single LP. Actually, I’d say it’s the better of the two in terms of music that was chosen. If I had to choose what cues to put on a roughly forty minute album, I’d choose most of the same music.

Rating: 9/10

Track Listing

  1. Anything Goes (2:54) 8/10
  2. Fast Streets of Shanghai (3:43) 8/10
  3. Nocturnal Activities (5:57) 7/10
  4. Short Round’s Theme (2:32) 10/10
  5. Children in Chains (2:45) 10/10
  6. Slalom on Mt. Humol (2:26) 6/10
  7. The Temple of Doom (3:01) 10/10
  8. Bug Tunnel and Death Trap (3:32) 9/10
  9. Slave Children’s Crusade (3:25) 10/10
  10. The Mine Car Chase (3:42) 10/10
  11. Finale and End Credits (6:19) 10/10

2008 Concord Set Album

It’s really strange how long it took for the second and third Indiana Jones scores to receive expanded releases. The Temple of Doom benefits the most from the expanded 2008 Concord release. Not only was it originally the hardest to find of the three CDs, it now has over twice as much music available. With a chronological track ordering, the tonal shifts of the movie is perfectly captured. The first half is mostly light-hearted adventure fare while the second features more percussion and dark or epic cues.

The nightclub sequence is expanded upon with “Indy Negotiates” and “Nightclub Brawl”, the latter of which features an instrumental version of “Anything Goes” at the end. “The Scroll/To Pankot Palace” introduces the Temple of Doom theme, which was originally only present in “Mine Car Chase”. Here it is played alongside percussion until bursting out as a sinister fanfare. And speaking of outbursts, Williams unleashes an otherworldly choir in “Approaching the Stones” as Indy finds his treasure.

A great deal of the new tracks cover the seemingly endless series of action sequences in the movie’s last third. Most feature Short Round, Willy, and Indy’s themes playing among an action backdrop. “Water!” is a track which literally sparkles, while in “The Sword Trick”, Williams makes a humorous reference to “The Basket Chase” when Indiana Jones fails to repeat his act of simply shooting down a swordsman. The best addition among these cues is “Broken Bridge/British Relief”, the climatic cue. It features various action statements of the Temple of Doom theme, with the Sanskrit chant breaking out at one point as Indy almost has his heart ripped out. The slave children’s theme breaks out chorally as the main villain meets his demise and a little heroic fanfare concludes things.

Three tracks can be found on the fifth disc. The best of these is “Indy and the Villagers”, which is the film’s first appearance of the slave children theme. “The Secret Passage” is an ominous cue with typical creepy crawler music, and “Return to the Village/Raiders March” serves as a good finale for the fifth bonus disc, though it does cut off abruptly where “Finale and End Credits” starts. This release really shows how great the Temple of Doom score is.

Rating: 9/10

Track Listing

  1. Anything Goes (2:51) 8/10
  2. Indy Negotiates (3:59) 6/10
  3. The Nightclub Brawl (2:32) 7/10
  4. Fast Streets of Shanghai (3:39) 8/10
  5. Map/Out of Fuel (3:22) 8/10
  6. Slalom on Mt. Humol (2:24) 6/10
  7. Short Round’s Theme (2:29) 10/10
  8. The Scroll/To Pankot Palace (4:26) 10/10
  9. Nocturnal Activities (5:54) 7/10
  10. Bug Tunnel/Death Trap (3:31) 9/10
  11. Approaching the Stones (2:39) 9/10
  12. Children in Chains (2:42) 10/10
  13. The Temple of Doom (2:58) 10/10
  14. Short Round Escapes (2:22) 9/10
  15. Saving Willie (3:35) 9/10
  16. Slave Children’s Crusade (3:23) 10/10
  17. Short Round Helps (4:49) 8/10
  18. The Mine Car Chase (3:41) 10/10
  19. Water! (1:55) 9/10
  20. The Sword Trick (1:05) 9/10
  21. Broken Bridge/British Relief (4:47) 10/10
  22. Finale and End Credits (6:19) 10/10

From the Fifth Disc

4. Indy and the Villagers (3:54) 9/10

5. The Secret Passage (3:31) 7/10

12. Return to the Village/Raiders March (3:27) 10/10

Overall

The Temple of Doom is at the tail end of Williams’ more in-your-face period. Some people might think it’s a little too frenetic at times, but there wasn’t much in the way of serious moments in the movie and the action did go incredibly over the top. It’s a loud, bombastic score for a loud, goofy film.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Soundtrack Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

With Star Wars hearkening back to old-fashioned sci-fi pulps and serials, the Indiana Jones franchise is likewise based off of adventure serials and film from the 1930s-50s and in fact take place in that era. Created by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones film, was a smash hit that cemented Harrison Ford as a movie star, furthered the popular use of Nazis as villains, and as with almost every Spielberg movie, produced an amazing John Williams score. The Indiana Jones theme itself is one of the most recognizable pieces of movie music, and is often referred to as the Raiders March, after the first film it appeared in.

The Indiana Jones theme is actually two heroic themes that, at the insistence of Spielberg, were mashed together. More recognizable and hummed much more is the first part of the theme, which plays at the outset of “Raiders March”. It’s instantly catchy and is used much more than the second part. I’ve even heard some makeshift lyrics for it (“Indiana, Dr. Jones, Indiana, Dr. Jones, Jones, Jones”). The second part itself always begins the final statement of the theme in the end credits suites. What’s interesting about the use of this theme is that it doesn’t even make an appearance until the end of the opening sequence in “Escape from Peru”. Williams usually brings it out during action scenes or for otherwise particularly heroic moments.

Also considered to be part of the Raiders march is the love theme for Marion.  It first appears in the beginning of “Journey to Nepal” in a low-key manner, but shows its sweeping nature in “To Cairo”. I’d say it’s in my top ten love themes. It’s fullest performance outside of the end credits are at the end of “The Basket Chase” and “Marion’s Theme”.

The third and final major theme is for the film’s artifact. Each of the Indiana Jones films has a major theme for the artifact in question and, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, this theme is of course for the Ark of the Covenant, an ominous tune often accompanied by uneasy whirring strings, emphasizing the divine terror that can arise from this object. It’s first major appearance is “The Map Room: Dawn”, which brings in a heavenly (but not in the lovely way) choir towards its climax. My personal favorite use of the theme is in “Miracle of the Ark”, where it builds into full on horror territory as its power is unleashed, before climaxing in a choral rendition and ending peacefully with Marion’s theme. The Ark theme is probably the best of the artifact themes. None of the others match its power and sense of the supernatural.

There are several other themes. There’s a basic artifact motif that appears as Indy approaches the Incan idol near the beginning and later on segues into the Ark theme in “The Map Room: Dawn”. The Nazis have an aggressive, militaristic theme that doesn’t appear until well into the second half of the movie, mainly in the action set pieces.

Raiders of the Lost Ark has had several album releases, so let’s go through them.

Original 1981 Album

File:Raiders soundtrack.jpg

With the time constraints of a record album, Raiders received only a forty-minute release, with no double LP release like the first two Star Wars movies. It’s not as big as a problem here, since Star Wars scores are much larger in scope anyways.

The first track is “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the end credits suite, while a streamlined presentation of Indy’s theme closes the album as “The Raiders March”. Personally, I think “The Raiders March” could have been replaced by another cue since it’s already inside the end credits suite, but I can see how in the pre-internet days someone might want a single track with just the theme. The second track is “Escape from Peru”, which is actually a pretty lighthearted piece with little sense of danger. “The Map Room: Dawn” showcases the Ark theme. “The Basket Game” is another light-hearted action cue, with its own little recurring motif. The highlight is the moment that accompanies the Cairo Swordsman. Not feeling well while filming, Harrison Ford suggested to Spielberg that instead of dueling the swordsman, maybe he should simply just pull out his gun and shoot him, thus creating one of the funniest moments in cinematic history. For this scene, Williams gives the swordsman a bombastic trumpet motif before a few goofy notes lead to one pluck, coinciding, with Indy gunning him down. “Basket Chase” does get serious towards the end, culminating in a tragic rendition of Marion’s theme.

“Desert Chase” is the action highlight of the score, an unrelenting action cue with many brassy statements of the Indiana Jones and Nazi themes. Towards the end the music gets deadly serious with a repeating seven-note motif that builds and builds until Indy finally gets the upper hand again with the Raiders March. The biggest flaw of this album is that, for some unexplained reason, Williams decided to excise about thirty seconds where the pounding seven-note motif starts. Perhaps he thought that taking out the bridge between the two parts of the cue would make for a more dramatic transition. “Marion’s Theme” combines the main love scene with “To Cairo”. I’ve already gone into “The Miracle of the Ark”.

Considering time limitations at the time, this is a great album. The only flaw is the edit of “Desert Chase”.

Rating: 9/10

Track Listing

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (6:05) 10/10
  2. Escape from Peru (2:26) 7/10
  3. The Map Room: Dawn (3:58) 10/10
  4. The Basket Game (4:50) 10/10
  5. The Well of the Souls (5:00) 8/10
  6. Desert Chase (7:44) 9/10
  7. Marion’s Theme (3:13) 10/10
  8. The Miracle of the Ark (6:14) 10/10
  9. The Raiders March (2:29) 10/10

1995 Album

Raiders of the Lost Ark received an expanded release in 1995, being released on both CD and a double LP in a chronologically correct order. This time listeners are treated to the entire South American sequence, which is full of ominous cues punctuated by loud blasts every time some horror or incident befalls Indy’s expedition.  The first great track missing from the original album release is “The Medallion”, which opens with an eerie rendition of the Ark theme before going into what I have to say is pure evil music for Gestapo agent Toht’s entrance into the film. The entire sequence for Indy’s excavation for the Well of the Souls is present as well, though about five minutes was only available on the double LP release.

Another great track is “Airplane Fight”, for when Indy has a slugfest with a large German mechanic. Just as Indy’s momentum in the fight is always cut short, his theme is constantly being interrupted. This is the first track to feature the Nazi theme. Also to my delight, “Desert Chase” has its missing thirty seconds restored. Most of the final music not present on the original release is for the boat and sub scenes. The first half of “To the Nazi Hideout” is the highlight, opening with a grand rendition of Indy’s theme and turning to a travel cue with statements of the Nazi theme.

Overall, I would say this is the strongest of the three albums if only for the complete version of “Desert Chase”, which is one of my favorite action cues of all time.

Rating: 10/10

Track Listing

  1. The Raiders March (2:50) 10/10
  2. Main Title: South America (4:10) 8/10
  3. In the Idol’s Temple (5:26) 8/10
  4. Flight from Peru (2:20) 7/10
  5. Journey to Nepal (2:11) 10/10
  6. The Medallion (2:55) 10/10
  7. To Cairo (1:29) 10/10
  8. The Basket Game (5:04) 10/10
  9. The Map Room: Dawn (3:52) 10/10
  10. Reunion and the Dig Begins (4:10) 10/10
  11. The Well of the Souls (5:28) 7/10 (11:27 on LP)
  12. Airplane Fight (4:37) 10/10
  13. Desert Chase (8:15) 10/10
  14. Marion’s Theme (2:08) 9/10
  15. The German Sub/To the Nazi Hideout (4:32) 8/10
  16. Ark Trek (1:33) 9/10
  17. The Miracle of the Ark (6:05) 10/10
  18. The Warehouse (0:56) 10/10
  19. End Credits (5:20) 10/10

2008 Release

With Indy’s return to the big screen for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Concord released a five-disc set, giving us the closest thing we have so far to complete scores for the Indiana Jones franchise. Already heavily expanded in 1995, Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t have much new to offer. There are three one-minute cues presented for the first time. “Washington Men/Indy’s Home” features the first actual appearance of the Ark theme. “Bad Dates” is a basic suspense track while “Indy Rides the Statue” features a small part of the music from the Well of the Souls escape scene. Most of the music that remains unreleased is from this scene. Most frustrating is that they use the original album edit of “Desert Chase”.

Rating: 9/10

Track Listing

  1. In the Jungle (4:13) 8/10
  2. The Idol Temple (3:56) 8/10
  3. Escape from the Temple (1:34) 8/10
  4. Flight from Peru (2:24) 7/10
  5. Washington Men/Indy’s Home (1:06) 9/10
  6. Journey to Nepal (2:12) 10/10
  7. The Medallion (2:55) 10/10
  8. Flight to Cairo (1:29) 10/10
  9. The Basket Game (5:02) 10/10
  10. Bad Dates (1:14) 4/10
  11. The Map Room: Dawn (3:52) 10/10
  12. Reunion in the Tent/Searching for the Well (4:02) 10/10
  13. The Well of the Souls (5:28) 7/10
  14. Indy Rides the Statue (1:07) 7/10
  15. The Fist Fight:Flying Wing (4:37) 10/10
  16. Desert Chase (7:33) 9/10
  17. Marion’s Theme/The Crate (2:10) 9/10
  18. The German Sub (1:23) 8/10
  19. To the Nazi Hideout (3:20) 8/10
  20. Indy Follows the Ark (1:40) 9/10
  21. The Miracle of the Ark (6:05) 10/10
  22. Washington Ending and Raiders March (6:52) 10/10

From the Fifth Disc

Track 1: Raiders March (2:30) 10/10

Track 3: Uncovering the Ark (5:32) 8/10

Overall

I’d rank Raiders of the Lost Ark as the number one Indiana Jones soundtrack. It’s consistently engaging, even its moments of low underscore. It’s got the best love and artifact themes of the series and action cues like “Desert Chase” are pure thrills.

Overall Rating: 10/10

Soundtrack Review: The Force Awakens

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Bought out by Disney in 2012, the Star Wars film series was quickly brought back, with the first of a new trilogy released at the end of 2015 as Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It was thankfully and perhaps surprisingly a pretty good movie, much better than the George Lucas prequels. The new characters are actually people you care about and can carry a movie without any of the originals, though having Han Solo, Chewbacca, and others come back was pretty awesome as well. Also making his return was John Williams. His music for the prequels didn’t match up to the standards of the original, but were still pretty awesome. The question was, ten years after Revenge of the Sith and at the age of 82, could he still deliver the goods? His only film work after 2006 had been relegated to Spielberg movies.

Spoilers for The Force Awakens were avoided pretty well, with most plot elements being concealed in the trailers and much of the merchandise not being released until the day of the film’s release. The soundtrack was one of these pieces of merchandise, and the track titles were placed in the middle of the booklet, not on the back of the CD case, a clever move although the track titles don’t reveal too much anyways. Still, a careful listening could lead to some deductions, such as who the main character of the new trilogy is.

I can say that the Force Awakens soundtrack is pretty good. It avoids some of the problems the prequel scores had, most importantly the lack of new themes. Here Williams has many recurring themes and motifs, though only one really seems to match the power of the original trilogy’s offerings.

Action/Finn?: This is a repetitive action motif. I’ve read that it’s Finn’s theme and it does appear in the end credits suite, but it only appears in action sequences, so I’m not sure. It also builds into Poe Dameron’s theme a couple times.

BB-8: As far as I can tell, this whimsical little motif only appears twice in the film. It appears in “Rey Meets BB-8”. BB-8 himself is a delightful character, comedy relief and cuteness done right.

Kylo Ren: The new villain gets a sinister five-note motif. It’s pretty evil sounding, but a little too generic for a Star Wars villain theme. It does sound like any composer could come up with it quickly. Nevertheless, it’s grand entrance in “Attack on the Jakku Village” is pretty nice.

Kylo Conflict: This is a secondary motif for the villain which shows his tragic side.

Poe Dameron: Awesome X-wing pilot Poe gets a short heroic theme that appears in “I Can Fly Anything”.

Resistance: The heroic Resistance gets a bombastic military march. Interestingly, the instrumentation and tune are heavily reminiscent of the Nazi music from the Indiana Jones franchise, which could be considered an irony when the Resistance is fighting a Nazi-style regime. It’s of course showcased in “March of the Resistance”.

Rey: This theme is the main theme of the movie and is the only one that I would rank among the great Star Wars themes. It’s a mix of heroism and innocence and plays during most of the high points. After the movie came out I listened to this theme over and over. It first appears in “The Scavenger” in its most innocent form and gets a concert suite arrangement in “Rey’s Theme”.

Snoke: Snoke gets a ominous choral arrangement based off of the chilling opening of “Palpatine’s Teachings” from Revenge of the Sith. Unfortunately it does come off as a little generic and hopefully the character gets an expanded theme in the sequels.

Tragedy: This sad string motif appears in “Starkiller” and at the low point in “Torn Apart”.

The new trilogy has much more characters and connections to the original three films and so Williams uses the classic themes much more than he did in the prequels. The Rebel fanfare is heavily present, serving as a motif for the famed Millennium Falcon. The main Star Wars/Luke’s theme factors into the climatic cues and appears in particularly nostalgic moments. Of course, with the Force always playing a major role, it’s theme appears fairly often too. Very welcome are the return of Leia’s theme and the love theme from Empire Strikes Back, first appearing of course in “Han and Leia”.

The soundtrack opens with the main title, which leads into some peaceful space music only for a sinister little tune to barge in. “Attack on the Jakku Village” is a pretty good track and introduces Kylo Ren’s theme. “The Scavenger” opens with up music that would fit the Tatooine scenes in A New Hope before debuting Rey’s theme. “I Can Fly Anything” and “Rey Meets BB-8” bring in the rest of the main character themes.

“Follow Me” is a generic action cue which does climax with the Rebel Fanfare. After the concert arrangement for”Rey’s Theme”, the action motif ties together a frenetic action cue in “The Falcon”. The one main complaint I have for this soundtrack is that some of the action cues are just frenetic noise. In the other Star Wars movies Williams would have some scene-specific motifs. Think of the ominous little ditty from “Battle in the Snow” or the fanfare from “The Asteroid Field”. Tracks like “The Rathtars!” don’t hold much interest beyond the occasional statement of one of the themes.

“Finn’s Confession” is a pretty good emotional piece with some statements of Rey’s theme. “Maz’s Counsel” has the Force theme and a grand statement of Rey’s theme that unfortunately gets cut off, while”Starkiller” features a solemn string piece. Rey and Kylo Ren’s themes feature in the next couple cues before nostalgia kicks in with “Han and Leia”.

After the themes for the Resistance and Snoke are properly introduced, it’s on to the climatic cues. “Torn Apart” is a heavily emotional piece, very sad with a glimmer of hope before Kylo Ren’s theme triumphs in the end. “The Ways of the Force” has Ren and Rey’s themes battle each other, with the Force theme in its climax. “Scherzo for X-Wings” is full of fanfares, including Luke Skywalker’s theme.

The last two tracks are amazing. “Farewell and the Trip” opens victoriously with Rey, Poe, and the Force’s themes, all right after another. There is a calm interlude with Han and Leia’s themes before the music swells again with Rey’s theme. “The Jedi Steps” features what could be a separate recurring motif, though it sounds like a permutation of Rey’s theme. This motif dies down before the Force theme slowly builds up, climaxing in a slightly sinister style and seguing into the end credits suite. What’s nice about the end credits suite is that it doesn’t cut and paste any concert arrangements, being its own showcase of almost all the new themes and motifs.

Overall, I would say this is a great soundtrack, though there are several cues that aren’t really that interesting. The use of the original trilogy themes are great and while only Rey’s theme matches up, most of the other new themes and motifs are still pretty good, with the Resistance march in particular being pretty catchy. If less of the music sounded like filler, this would easily get a 9 or 10.

Final Rating: 8/10

Track Listing

  1. Main Title and the Attack on the Jakku Village (6:25) 8/10
  2. The Scavenger (3:39) 9/10
  3. I Can Fly Anything (3:11) 8/10
  4. Rey Meets BB-8 (1:31) 7/10
  5. Follow Me (2:54) 7/10
  6. Rey’s Theme (3:11) 10/10
  7. The Falcon (3:32) 7/10
  8. That Girl with the Staff (1:58) 5/10
  9. The Rathtars! (4:05) 5/10
  10. Finn’s Confession (2:08) 9/10
  11. Maz’s Counsel (3:08) 6/10
  12. The Starkiller (1:51) 7/10
  13. Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle (2:01) 6/10
  14. The Abduction (2:25) 7/10
  15. Han and Leia (4:41) 10/10
  16. March of the Resistance (2:35) 10/10
  17. Snoke (2:03) 6/10
  18. On the Inside (2:05) 5/10
  19. Torn Apart (4:19) 9/10
  20. The Ways of the Force (3:14) 7/10
  21. Scherzo for X-Wings (2:32) 9/10
  22. Farewell and the Trip (4:55) 10/10
  23. The Jedi Steps and Finale (8:51) 10/10