Composed by: Michael Giacchino
Since everything has to have a cinematic universe now, Star Wars has been getting standalone movies alongside the main trilogies. The first of these, Rogue One, tells the story of how the Rebels got the Death Star plans. It’s an okay movie. Most of the characters are one-dimensional and it takes a while for things to get going. There’s little moments of horrible fanservice as well. Do we really need to see those two a-holes from the Mos Eisley cantina? And was it necessary to have a creepy CGI Tarkin? It wouldn’t be sacrilegious to just find a look-a-like actor and cast him. But the final battle is probably the best the franchise has ever offered and pretty much elevates the entire movie on its own.
Along with being a standalone movie, Rogue One is also notable for being the first Star Wars film scored by someone other than John Williams. Originally, director Gareth Edwards had Alexandre Desplat hired on. But thanks to a ridiculous amount of last-minute reshoots and re-editing, his score didn’t fit and he was too preoccupied with another project to rework it. Michael Giacchino was brought in to produce a full Star Wars score in under a month. Giacchino has often been associated with John Williams, with his Medal of Honor music being reminiscent of the Indiana Jones scores and his work on Jurassic World. So does his score stand up to Willliams’ standards? First the themes.
Galen Erso: This is a simple emotional motif for Jyn’s father that appears on piano in “Star-Dust” and plays a large role in the first couple minutes of “Your Father Would be Proud”.
Guardian of the Whills: This theme is for Donnie Yen’s force-worshiping character. It was used by a figure skater at the 2018 Winter Olympics. It serves as a mystical motif, but does get a heroic moment in “Confrontation on Eadu”.
Hope: This theme is for the still-growing Rebellion, With the absence of a title crawl, it serves as a fanfare for the main title instead of the traditional use of Luke’s theme. It even shares the first two notes, suggesting their main titles link. Incidentally, this theme is not heard in the track “Hope”.
Imperial March #2: Giacchino introduces two more themes for the Imperials, which are easy to lump together as one on the first few listens. This march first appears in “When is Now” and in the middle of “The Imperial Suite”. It’s appearances on the actual album are surprisingly scant, though the unreleased music is still available elsewhere so if you’re a fan of it you can still find it.
Jyn Erso: Jyn Erso’s theme first fully appears in “Wobani Imperial Labor Camp”. It usually has a tragic quality to it, but has its sweeping performances, a standout moment being “Jedha Arrival”.
Krennic: The film’s most prominent villain has the second of the new Imperial themes. It appears towards the beginning of “He’s Here for Us”. It’s a short motif, but an effective one, and gels nicely with Giacchino’s Imperial theme.
These are good, memorable themes, quite an accomplishment considering the rushed schedule the composer had to work with. There are also a couple action and suspense motifs that repeat. The suspense motif is a basic building piece in “Jedha Arrival” and “Cargo Shuttle SW-0608”. The action motif is also simple, a whirring piece that first appears in “Jedha City Ambush”
Of great interest is the use of Williams’ themes. As usual, the Force theme is prominent. As this is the days of the Rebel Alliance, the Rebel fanfare also makes quite a few appearances, the best in “Scrambling the Rebel Fleet”. In the same track, Luke’s theme appears for a nostalgic moment. The Death Star motif only makes one appearance, added onto the end of the Imperial theme in “When is Now”. “Krennic’s Aspirations” sees the return of the original Imperial theme from A New Hope, a legitimate surprise since most people only remember the more awe-inspiring Vader’s theme. Speaking of that theme, it also appears in “Krennic’s Aspirations” and after the choral outburst in “Hope”, but it doesn’t get any lengthy amount of time.
So Giacchino has an impressive array of new themes, as well as a dependable set of classic themes to work with. Whenever these themes appear the score is great. The problem is that a lot of the incidental and bridging music is weak, probably because he didn’t have a lot of time so he just had to put something in between the themes. This is most hurtful in “When is Now” and “Krennic’s Aspirations”, which have these wonderful villain themes. But to get to them you have to sit through half a minute of anonymous, low music that’s boring. Some of the action sequences likewise suffer, but these examples didn’t make it onto the commercial album.
“Star-Dust” has a neat easter egg. The scene involves a hologram, so Giacchino uses a bit of the music from when Leia appears as hologram to Luke in A New Hope. Another nice callback is in “AT-ACT Assault”, which uses the exact metallic percussion from the Walker assault in Empire Strikes Back. This track is also where the album really reaches the height of Williams. “The Master Switch” has a typical Giacchino rhythm, which keeps building and repeating until the Guardian of the Whills theme has its heroic last hurrah. “Your Father Would be Proud” really lays on the emotion. It starts off calm, the heroes having accomplished their goals and reflecting on their success. About two minutes in an angelic choir joins in before Jyn Erso’s theme takes over, ending in a trumpet flourish. “Hope” does not sound hopeful at all. It’s intense, evil choral music that concludes in a short rendition of Vader’s theme. The Rebel fanfare from A New Hope’s “Blockade Runner” takes over before the an iteration of the Force theme. This track ends abruptly, as Giacchino decides to split the end credits suite into three concert suite tracks, presenting all of his new major themes. All that really gets cut out is the traditional use of Luke’s theme that always comes on when the end credits start to roll.
Michael Giacchino equals John Williams in his themes and several action cues are tremendous. Where he falls short is some of the non-thematic material, which can get very dull and tedious. This can be blamed on the short amount of time he had to work with. A streamlined album presentation that cuts some of this fat out would be great.
- He’s Here for Us (3:20)
- A Long Ride Ahead (3:56)
- Wobani Imperial Labor Camp (0:54)
- Trust Goes Both Ways (2:45)
- When Has Become Now (1:59)
- Jedha Arrival (2:48)
- Jedha City Ambush (2:19)
- Star-Dust (3:47)
- Confrontation on Eadu (8:05)
- Krennic’s Aspirations (4:15)
- Rebellions are Built on Hope (2:56)
- Rogue One (2:04)
- Cargo Shuttle SW-0608 (3:59)
- Scrambling the Rebel Fleet (1:33)
- AT-ACT Assault (2:55)
- The Master Switch (4:02)
- Your Father would be Proud (4:51)
- Hope (1:37)
- Jyn Erso & Hope Suite (5:51)
- The Imperial Suite (2:29)
- Guardian of the Whills Suite (2:52)