Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Michael Giacchino (2016)

Why You Should…
If you’re interested in hearing Giacchino step into the Star Wars franchise, a clear distinction in atmosphere present whilst introducing admirable material of his own into the existing tapestry. 

Why You Shouldn’t…
If your speculations about Desplat’s prior attachment leave you yearning in curiosity in what his dramatic sensibilities would have introduced, or if the universe is never quite the same in Williams’ noted absence. 

Release Date: 16th December 2016
Composer(s): Michael Giacchino
Length: 1:09:18
Recorded By/At:
Label: Walt Disney Records

If the success of 2015’s most beloved space opera epic Star Wars: The Force Awakens proved anything, it’s that the Force is still strong many years after the franchise’s inception in 1977. After the relieved success of the seventh installment in the main narrative tapestry, it was all too clear that two new sequels were underway and green-lit, to expand and complete a brand new trilogy of its own. These days, you’ll genuinely be hard-pressed to find a film that isn’t part of a franchise- everything’s interconnected, all part of a larger plan in store, built across several years’ worth of investment and dedicated sincerity. The concept of world building within a fictional franchise has slowly begun to erode in its novelty, but fiscal profits for the seventh film were too strong to ignore, raking in a surprising 2 billion dollars worldwide alone. In simultaneous tandem with the primary storyline surrounding the Skywalkers, Disney had hired Godzilla reboot director Gareth Edwards to help conceive the saga’s inaugural spin-off, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. You have to give the filmmakers astute credit for being very precise from the beginning in its clear detachment from the rest of the films thus far, despite existing in the same parameters- audiences these days have become too sentimental, longing for any new continuation of the original trilogy to be just as perfectly etched. Set before the events of A New Hope, the film’s narrative focuses on Jyn Erso, a tempered captive who is isolated from her father by the Empire in its primitive stages for a nebulous purpose (remember that big metallic ball full of storm troopers and tie-fighters in the sky that always gets blown up in these films? No? Well here it is again, for your viewing pleasure, I’m sure!). Freed from captivity, an older Erso must now ally with the Rebellion if they are to deliver a crippling strike to the Death Star and set forth the events that transpire the original entry. Whether it was the well-presented final product or the five something minutes of Darth Vader’s menacing presence that sold the film as gold to both critics and audiences alike, is something that remains subjective to opinion.

This unexpectedly marks the first time legendary composer and franchise familiar John Williams does not provide the original score for the film. Instead, any input that can be fairly attributed to the man is through an echo, or a force ghost, via his many motifs and thematic suites for the tapestry established thus far. Williams had enjoyed his return to Star Wars with an ambitious, complex artistic effort of sophistry that showcases his superiority over his peers, lauded unanimously as the best score of 2015 by several longtime community enthusiasts. Rogue One, however, was a menace in itself, due to its inability to decide on a composer first try. Rising drama master Alexandre Desplat was originally attached to score the project as per a surplus of interviews would report, dating as back as March 2015. Most of his enthusiasts were readily poised to see how he would adapt his dramatic sensibilities to capture the mood of the Star Wars universe, and the composer attributed his collaborative relationship with Edwards as the backbone of his involvement. Desplat fondly spoke of his passion for the film, citing, “[Edwards and I] had a great partnership on Godzilla, and I can’t wait to be starting with him. It will be in a few weeks from now, and it is very exciting and frightening at the same time because it’s such a legendary project. To be called to come after John Williams… it’s a great challenge for me.” Alas, the famed tragic curse of “post-production” and “scheduling conflicts” ruin the day once again, with contrasting but confirmed reports of Michael Giacchino attached as his replacement instead. Although the definite reason for the swap in maestro is still obscure, Desplat was reportedly left unable to cohere his dates with the production’s, thus ending his part in the making of the film. One can only wonder what he would have conjured for the film, but listeners needn’t worry too much, as Giacchino’s efforts were more than adequate.

Giacchino states that his time frame for composition was very limited, having only been gifted four weeks to complete the score with. Fresh after finishing Doctor Strange, he described the film, “It is a film that is in many ways a really great World War II movie, and I loved that about it. But it also has this huge, huge heart at the center of it, and that was the one thing I just didn’t want to discount. Yes, it’s an action movie, and it’s a Star Wars film, and it has all the things that you would come to expect and love about that, but I didn’t want to forget that it was also an incredibly emotional movie as well. That was what really pulled me in.” Ironically, Desplat is somewhat of a veteran in appearing late into post-production on films and rapidly writing music to service the final product, a mutual quality to admire between both men. The most distinguishing element of Rogue One is his hybridization of both his own unique voice and that of Williams’s, so seamlessly blended together to cause any distractions in the listening experience. Maintaining the role of thematic continuity, he states, “It does borrow from traditions that both John Williams and George Lucas borrowed from when they made the original Star Wars, you know. George was looking at Flash Gordon, the old serials, and John was looking at Gustave Holst and different composers along the way to get a baseline for what he wanted to communicate. There is a wonderful musical language that John put together for the original films. I wanted to honor that vernacular but still do something new with it, something that was still me in a way.” As per aspirations, he succeeds.

In the vein of his predecessor, Giacchino introduces a set of three new themes for the film. By far the biggest and most impactful creative decision made is to omit the iconic title fanfare for the films as well as the opening crawl completely, so as to firmly plant the notion that it is a stylistically different entry. The darker tone and brooding atmosphere were also of note, and Giacchino adheres to this successfully. The title theme is sorely missed, and will serve as an inevitable point of detraction for admirers of the seven previous scores, but this creative decision is justly supported by the film’s mechanics. Also missing is his sense of humour in the cue titling, with straightforward descriptors for each track (an alternate version with humourous titling is present in the sleeve booklet!). The composer maintains a consistently taut and troubled tonal atmosphere for the majority of the score’s running time, with occasional flourishes of major key warmth and optimism to represent the Rebellion’s damning hope in their mission.  In the opening cue, “He’s Here For Us,” he introduces the new theme for the Imperials, a bold and flighty 9-note identity that continues the title fanfare’s obsession with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries quite amusingly. Gone is the mighty bombast of the fanfare, replaced with an orchestral slam and a mysterious wandering flute, wire brushes, fluttering strings that evolve into ostinato form and stocky timpanis. The theme is delineated in “A Long Ride Ahead”, with light snares, and an engaging action portion built on timpanis, low octave piano rambles, strings and mute brass bursts. Its final appearance is in the penultimate, “The Imperial Suite”, where it is effectively interwoven with a shade of Darth Vader’s identity, and the rhythmic movement of his infamous villain theme, as well as the new theme for the primary villain, Orson Krennic.

The second, and arguably most prevalent theme introduced is the theme for the protagonist, Jyn Erso. Scattered meticulously throughout the score, it serves as the principal backbone of the score’s narrative structure. Giacchino addressed his proud feelings on the theme, and he has every right to be- it’s an effective motif that captures the relentless yet isolated nature of Felicity Jones’s portrayal. It makes an appearance tenderly in the opening two cues, as she is separated from her father in childhood, but matures into to tonal warmth and resilience in her later years. Your best visit is in the cue, “Jyn Erso and Hope Suite”, where it is given a dutiful cyclical treatment over layered orchestrations, evoking a Schindler’s List– feel with the haunting solo violin iteration, but it is almost omnipresent in every cue, that it’s hard to miss out- the composer effectively hammers the theme in. It loses its novelty towards the final third of the score, but makes for compelling listens in “Wobani Imperial Labour Camp”, where she is shown in her adulthood for the first time, the tonal shift from B minor to G minor representing that growth. French horns and selling strings accentuate this theme, and it is counterpointed with the beloved Force theme in “Trust Goes Both Ways.” Her material is often associated with the Rebellion, in “Scrambling the Rebel Fleet”, embodying now the militaristic connotations of her role against the Imperial forces, with bassoons, timpanis and horns. The Force theme is again used for good measure here, and a brief highlight is the sole statement of the main fanfare by Williams on rollicking woodwinds, as a wink by Giacchino. The third and final new prominent theme is that of Orson Krennic- conversely, despite the consistency of the Erso theme, it’s the villain’s identity that steals the show. Embodying the same march rhythm for Vader himself, Krennic’s theme debuts in “When Has Become Now”, with a superb statement of the identity, that leads nicely into the memorable tritone for the Death Star motif. Krennic is given sustained Imperial treatment musically, so as to reinforce his position in the Empire as a demanding, absolute presence. The best statement comes in “The Imperial Suite”, with new life on brass and fuller, developed performances.

Instrumentation is key in addressing the score at hand, Giacchino remaining loyal to the sound of the space opera as defined by Williams. Exemplary brass work is easily the selling point, with dynamic string and woodwinds repeatedly serving as decorative embellishment. Solo violins are crystalline in their adhering to Erso’s character, foreshadowing her brave decision to aid the Rebellion and the consequences it come with. Bassoons are earthy and salty in their sound, and clarinets and flutes contribute to the overall soundscape of the sweeping melodrama so commonly associated with the franchise. Harps convey the more lighter moments in the story, and whatever semblance of humanity remains in wake of the Imperials’ invasive desires. The timpanis are given rough, brutish muscular performances, to signify the more outlandish feel of the planet Jedha, featuring two action cues. “Jedha Arrival” showcases all of this atop mild synthetic percussion, whilst “Jedha City Ambush” ripples with tense rhythms of action, courtesy of the rampant strings, brass and timpani working. The precise articulation in percussion never overbears the overall atmosphere. The various interpolation of endless brass triplets that Williams is characteristically defined by are also omnipresent, showing true integration of both composers’ mannerisms. Two final themes are of importance in the score. Giacchino conveys the fragment of hope left behind after the finale in “Hope”, tying the idea into “Jyn Erso and Hope Suite”, the former cue conveying choral gravity in its shrill bursts, as the brass overlaps the raging choir. Of interest are the Rebel Blockade Runner and Force theme appearances. The final cue, “Guardians of the Whills Suite” entices a dreamy atmosphere based on a 4-note motif, ending the score with a fade from its haunting, operatic progression.

It’s hard to fairly and precise rank this score within the monumental tapestry thread of the music in the Star Wars franchise, for a multitude of reasons. First is the fact that it is Giacchino, not Williams, helming the score in this film. Both are vastly accomplished composers, but any musician who steps in the shoes of the latter are always bound to elicit comparisons unfairly of not matching the same level of intelligence and thematic style, as well as abundance in memorability and gravity of individual cues. Giacchino has experienced this with Jurassic World, and it is unfortunate that despite his powerful efforts, there will be a crowd of detractors who will be colder to this music in the absence of the original master. Second is his tonal approach, which is very well maintained for the necessity of the film’s narrative, but these films have always been defined with a sense of new discoveries, adventure and romantic progressions. Rogue One doesn’t narratively employ that tactic, setting itself up ironically to elicit further tonal complaints, despite Williams having had pushed down this direction for the third and seventh main installments respectively. The sparsity of choral input in comparison to the more weighted orchestral presence has been a constant factor in these films, the only true exceptions being battle cues. The overbearing reliance on Jyn’s theme is a distraction, in part due to its excessively highlighted use in comparison to the other new themes introduced. Rogue One contains a more disillusioned, sharper recording quality in its mix, and the tonal shifts between the main mission and the few instances of hope as conveyed by the characters makes for an unbalanced atmosphere overall. But still… this is a worthy Giacchino score in its own terms, one that for the most part enhances the viewing experience of the film, successfully accomplishing the two primary criteria for any good film score. He treats the listener to prior themes held popularly in the franchise, and respectfully incorporates a dutiful sense of neoclassical loyalty to his own new material for the newly christened Anthology series, which this film serves as the first installment of. There are individual highlights to be heard, and at the very least, there are two to four concert pieces to be heard, particularly the lengthiest cue on album, “Confrontation on Eadu”, and guilty pleasures in the form of the Darth Vader theme in “Krennic’s Aspirations”. For some time in recent memory, Giacchino has often been regarded as the logical successor to Williams, and his place in the franchise is well and truly validated with Rogue One. It’s best to treat this one as its own entity, and not to compare it excessively with the shadow set by its predecessors. Whichever way you look at it, it’s one of the better scores of 2016.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:
(all music written by Michael Giacchino) 

1) He’s Here For Us (3:20)
2) A Long Ride Ahead (3:56)
3) Wobani Imperial Labour Camp (0:54)
4) Trust Goes Both Ways (2:45)
5) When Has Become Now (1:59)
6) Jedha Arrival (2:48)
7) Jedha City Ambush (2:19)
8) Star-Dust (3:47)
9) Confrontation on Eadu (8:05)
10) Krennic’s Aspirations (4:16)
11) Rebellions Are Built On Hope (2:56)
12) Rogue One (2:04)
13) Cargo Shuttle SW-0608 (3:58)
14) Scrambling The Rebel Fleet (1:33)
15) AT-ACT Assault (2:55)
16) The Master Switch (4:02)
17) Your Father Would Be Proud (4:51)
18) Hope (1:57)
19) Jyn Erso and Hope Suite (5:51)
20) The Imperial Suite (2:29)
21) Guardians of the Whills Suite (2:52)




One thought on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  1. The music for the film was better than as a standalone album experience for me . I am not complaining about Mr. Giacchino’s revision of the imperial theme, but again in the album it didn’t build in away were he could have hyped and introduced his theme with the original one like he did in Jurrasic World. Overall an commendable effort for the time he got to score, expecting a lot if he is going to take the baton from the master.


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