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
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