I saw The Rise of Skywalker for a second time on Monday. As much as I wanted to bring my portable recorders, I understand and respect that doing so would be illegal, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way: I took 30 pages of handwritten notes on the plot and the music, which I've edited, revised, and posted below. The underlined time stamps are the film's timeline (ex: 1:14 means one hour and fourteen minutes into the film), while boldface text refers to the soundtracks (ex: OST, track 14, 3:27 means that that music can be heard on the original soundtrack at 3:27 on the fourteenth track; FYC, track 6, 2:49 means that that music can be heard on the For Your Consideration soundtrack at 2:49 on the sixth track). I'll be seeing the film again next week, and no doubt adding to this timeline. Anybody out there in cyber space who can fill in some of the blanks (or make any corrections), please do so in the comments :-)
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”
Opening crawl – OST, track 1, 0:00
Kylo flies his start ship, power motive x2 (horns, fortissimo) – FYC, track 1, 0:08 & OST, track 2, 1:02
Kylo's power motive interrupted (descending horn) – FYC, track 1, 0:29 & OST, track 2, 1:32
Kylo pauses: high strings – FYC, track 1, 0:37 & OST, track 2, 1:40
Kylo finds the wayfinder: wannabe motive – FYC, track 1, 0:48 & OST, track 2, 2:26
Kylo flies to new planet: string ostinato with trumpet melody – FYC, track 1, 0:58
Kylo lands: brass – FYC, track 1, 1:29 & OST, track 1, 1:47
Kylo enters Palpatine's temple: no music
Palpatine: “At last. … Snoke trained you well.” - no music
Palpatine: “I made Snoke. … Unnatural.” - incidental music, not on OST or FYC
Palpatine: “A new empire.” Imperial March as fleet emerges – OST, track 2, 1:57
Palpatine: “Become what your grandfather forever could not. … She is not who you think she is.” Brass play Palpatine's theme – not in OST or FYC
Chewie plays Poe and Finn (“He's definitely cheating”) on board the Millenium Falcon – no music
“A spy in the First Order.” Viola, brass chorale – not on OST or FYC
TIE fighters attack Falcon: Palpatine's theme (brass, fast) – FYC, track 2, 0:21
Finn: “How do we thank you?” “Win the war.” Resistance March – FYC, track 2 0:21 or 0:53?
Finn destroys a TIE fighter: Rebel Fanfare – FYC, track 2, 0:58
Lightspeed skip #1: jaunty orchestral hits – FYC, track 2, 1:53
Lightspeed skip #2: Rebel Fanfare – FYC, track 2, 2:04
Lightspeed skip #3
Rey: “Be with me. They're not with me.” Rey's melody, first 2 phrases, horn with strings – no on OST or FYC
Leia: “Be patient.”
Leia hands Rey Luke's old lightsaber
Rey begins training course: ascending horns – not in OST or FYC
Rey's chimes (horns), as she runs the course – not on OST or FYC
Rey's melody (strings) as she continues the course – not in OST or FYC
Kylo looks at Vader's mask: Imperial March – not in OST or FYC
Rey battles droid on training course, flash to Kylo
BB-8 stuck under tree – no music
Rey: “I didn't finish. I got distracted.”
Rey hands saber back to Leia. “I will earn it one day.” New, tender musical theme? - not on OST or FYC?
Falcon lands – no music
Poe and Finn argue
Poe: “We've decoded...” 4-beat string ostinto – no on OST or FYC
“The emperor is dead.” Palpatine's theme – not on OST or FYC
“The Final Order … Exegol.” String glissandos – not on OST or FYC
Leia: “Always in the shadows.”
Rey and Leia discuss the wayfinder: Force theme (horn, first two phrases) – not on OST or FYC
Rey: “I need to finish what Luke started.”
Rey to Leia: “I don't want to go without your blessing, but I will.” Rey's melody – not on OST or FYC
Poe: “We go together.” Together theme (strings) – FYC, track 3, 0:00 & OST, track 9, 0:00
Rey to Leia: “So much I want to tell you.” Rey's melody – FYC, track 3, 1:07 & OST, track 9, 1:29
Leia hands saber back to Rey: Force theme, phrases 1-4 (horn) – FYC, track 3, 1:22 & OST, track 9, 1:45
Leia: “Never be afraid of who you are.”
Falcon departs – FYC, track 3, 1:16 & OST, track 9, 2:09
Kylo fixes helmet: this is a new theme/motive that appears throughout the film, but not sure exactly what yet since it does not appear in OST or FYC
Kylo appears with fixed helmet: power motive x2 (horn, fortissimo) – not in OST or FYC
Kylo: “We have a spy.” Palpatine's theme – not in OST or FYC
“We must correct the error of Starkiller base.” - no music
Kylo's force choke recalls Vader's own from A New Hope's conference room scene
Falcon lands on Pasaana – no music
Pasaana festival – Lin Manuel-Miranda's music?
Rey sees alien children
Rey: “I don't have a family name. I'm just Rey.” Rey's melody (flute) – not in OST or FYC
Kylo: “Why didn't you take my hand?”
Kylo: “I don't have to kill you.” Wannabe motive – not in OST or FYC
Kylo grabs Rey's necklace
Rey: “We have to go.” Incidental music – not on OST or FYC
Lando saves them.
Lando: “Wookies stand out in a crowd.”
TIE fighters appear: horn call – not on OST or FYC
Lando: “Give Leia my love.” Leia's theme (flute with strings) – not on OST or FYC
Speeder chase – not in OST or FYC (even though one of the OST tracks is titled “The speeder chase”)
Finn: “They fly now?”
Rey: “I've seen that ship before.”
Quick sand – no music
Finn: “Rey, I never told you...”
Leia gets bad news: “Be optimistic.”
Underground tunnels: incidental music – no ton OST or FYC
Rey ignites saber, Poe turns on flashlight
Walking through tunnels – no music
find speeder: incidental creepy music – not on OST or FYC
Discover Sith dagger
3PO: “Location of the wayfinder is on the dagger. … My programming prohibits me.” - no music
Snake appears: incidental music – not on OST or FYC
Rey approaches snake – no music
Rey sees snake's wound: incidental music – not on OST or FYC
Rey moves toward wound: Rey's melody (flute with strings) – no on OST or FYC
Rey heals snake: Force theme, phrases 1 and 2 (horn) – not on OST or FYC
Rey: “Force energy from me to him.”
Knights of Ren: Knights motive x3(?) - no on OST or FYC
Rey senses something: “I'll be right behind you.”
Finn, Poe, and Cheiw board new ship: Resistance March (brass) – FYC, track 4, 0:25
Resistance (clarinet) – FYC, track 4, 0:38
Chewie goes after Rey, Knights of Ren spot him: timpani – FYC, track 4, 1:02
Rey walks out: creepy Bartok- or Shostakovich-like strings – FYC, track 4, 1:08
Finn: “It's Ren.” Agitated strings with horn – FYC, track 4, 1:51
Kylo approaches: hints of Anthem of evil (horn) – FYC, track 4, 1:59
Rey waits, ignites saber: creepy high strings – FYC, track 4, 2:12
Rey leaps, slashes Kylo's ship, Kylo crashes
Finn: “They got Chewie!”
Rey Force grabs shuttle
Kylo emerges from flames: Power motive (horn, fortissimo, x2) – not on OST or FYC
Tug of war between Rey and Kylo: wannabe motive (horn) – not on OST or FYC
Rey's force lightning – no music
Rey: “I lose control. … That power came from me.” - no music
Rey: “I had a vision of the throne of the Sith.”: horn call – FYC, track 5, 0:30
Hux: “Another transport.”
Chewie survived: Together theme (strings) – FYC, track 5, 1:03
3PO: “Only in my memory now” - no music
Poe: “We're all in this til the end”: Together theme (brass) – FYC, track 6, 0:15
Together theme (horn + flute) – FYC, track 6, 0:30
BB-8 activates D-O: Together theme – FYC, track 6, 0:56
D-O meets Rey: “No thank you.”
Rey: “Somebody treated him badly”: Rey's melody (flute) – FYC, track 6, 1:13
Arrival on Kijimi – no music
Poe sneaks around Kijimi – no music
Poe: “They're everywhere.”
Poe: “follow me”: sneaky low strings – not in OST or FYC
Rey kicks Zorri's ass: “We could really use your help.”
Zorri: “Not that you care....”
Rey: “I care”: Together theme (strings, brief) – not on OST or FYC
Knights of Ren appear on Kijimi
Babu Frik – no music
Poe: “Can you make him translate?”
Finn: “Doesn't R2 back up your memory?”
3PO: “If this mission fails...”: incidental music – not on OST or FYC
3PO: “Taking one last look at my friends”: main theme (horn with tender strings) – not on OST or FYC
Kylo informed about Kijimi
3PO: “There's something else we could try...”
Babu pulls plug
Zorri shows First Order captain's medallion, landing privileges for any vessel
Zorri to Poe: “Want to come with me?”: incidental music – not on OST or FYC
Poe: “I can't walk out.”
Zorri: “They win by making you think you're alone.”
Rey: “My parents were on Oggi's ship.”
3PO activated with red eyes
Ren's destroyer: Power motive x1 (horn), followed by high strings – OST, track 8, 2:05
Rey: “Chewie's alive”: main theme (clarinet, softly) – OST, track 8, 2:20
Rey: “We have to go.”
Poe to Zorri: “Can I kiss you?”
Wannabe motive (horn) – FYC, track 7, 0:35
Land on destroyer: incidental – not on OST or FYC
Rey senses dagger: incidental – not on OST or FYC
Rey splits up with Poe/Finn/Chewie
Kylo: “She's close. Search the city again.”
Resistance March (horn, slowly) – FYC, track 8, 1:25
Poe shot, stormtroopers capture Poe, Finn, and Chewie
Rey finds dagger, Vader's mask: Imperial March (horns with creepy strings) – not on OST or FYC
Kylo: “You're hard to find.” - no music
Rey: “You're hard to get rid of.”
Kylo: “I know the rest of your story”: incidental – not in OST or FYC
Kylo: “They sold you to protect you.”
Pryde: “Terminate them.”
Kylo: “You don't know the whole story. It was Palpatine”: Palpatine's theme (brass) – not on OST or FYC
Hux: “I'd like to do this myself. … I'm the spy.”
Rey kicks ass: Rey's melody first phrase (horn) – not on OST or FYC
Kylo's Power motive (horn with agitated strings) – not on OST or FYC
Poe, Finn, and Chewie spot the Falcon: Rebel Fanfare – not on OST or FYC
Finn shoots Hux.
Hux: “I need Kylo Ren to lose.”
Kylo and Rey meet on landing platform: creepy high strings – OST, track 10, 0:00 & FYC, tack 10, 0:00
Kylo: “He saw what you'd become. … You're his granddaughter. … You are a Palpatine.”
Kylo: “We're a dyad in the Force”: Anthem of Evil (heavy strings) – OST, track 10, 0:58 & FYC, track 10, 0:59
Kylo: “We'll kill him together.”
Kylo offers Rey his hand: Anthem of evil (muted horn) – OST, track 10, 1:45 & FYC, track 10, 1:28
Falcon appears: Main theme – FYC, track 10, 1:53
Rey rescued: Rey's melody – FYC, track 10, 2:09
Falcon's landing gear busted.
Rey: “Find Palpatine and destroy him”: Palpatine's theme (woodwinds) – not in OST or FYC
Falcon crash lands on Endor moon
Rey removes dagger: harp ostinato – OST, track 4, 0:49 & FYC, track 11, 0:43
Rey lines up dagger: Imperial March – OST, track 4, 1:15 & FYC, track 11, 0:59
Jenna: “Rough landing.”
Rey: “We can't wait until tomorrow”: Rey's countermelody – FYC, track 11, 1:47
Finn and Jenna both former First Order stormtroopers – no music
Jenna: “We mutinied”: soft incidental strings – not on OST or FYC
Finn: “The Force brought me here”: Force theme, all 4 phrases (horn with strings) – not on OST or FYC
Rey takes skimmer: low string ostinato – OST, track 4, 2:25
Rey on the water: horn call – OST, track 4, 2:40
Rey on the water: trumpet ascending – OST, track 4, 2:54
Finn and Poe argue whether ot not to go after Rey – no music
Rey approaches Death Star: ostinato with horn – FYC, track 12, 0:15
Jenna: “There is another skimmer.”
Rey climbs into Death Star: incidental – not on OST or FYC
Rey reaches throne room: Imperial March (high strings) – not on OST or FYC
Rey finds wayfinder – no music
Rey discovers her Sith self: “Don't be afraid of who you are.”
Rey loses wayfinder, Kylo picks it up – no music
Kylo: “You wanted to prove to my mother you were a Jedi, but you proved something else.”
Kylo: “The dark side is in our nature”: Anthem of Evil (flute) – not in OST or FYC
Kylo crushes wayfinder, Rey attacks (out of anger?)
Maz: “Leia knows what must be done”: Leia's theme (cello) – not in OST or FYC
Rey and Kylo battle – no music
Battle continues – no music
Battle continues: incidental music (horn calls) – not in OST or FYC
Kylo's Power motive (horns, fortissimo, x1) – FYC, track 12, 0:50 & OST, track 12, 0:41
Leia: “Ben”: slow string chord – FFYC, track 13, 1:20 & OST, track 12, 1:03
Rey stabs Kylo – no music
Kylo falls: tender strings with a big suspension – FYC, track 14, 0:00
Rey considers her next move: magical music – FYC, track 14, 0:32 & OST, track 12, 1:43
Rey heals Kylo: force theme (flute, first two phrases) – FYC, track 14, 0:42 & OST, track 12, 1:53
Rey: “I did want to take your hand.”
Rey boards Kylo's ship and flies away: horn and trumpet – FYC, track 14, 1:30 & OST, track 12, 2:40
Maz: “Goodbye dear princess”: Leia's full theme (flute with strings) – FYC, track 14, 1:49 & OST, track 12, 2:54
Kylo stands alone – no music
Han: “Hey kid.”
Han: “Kylo is dead, my son is alive”: high creepy strings – FYC, track 15, 0:00
Ben: “I know what I have to do, but I don't know if I have the strength to do it.”
Ben throws saber: Anthem of evil – FYC, track 15, 1:15?
Palpatine's hologram with General Pryde
Palpatine: “The final order begins.”
Star destroyer blows Kijimi: Imperial March – not on OST or FYC
Poe: “Every ship in the fleet has planet-destroying power”: Plapatine's theme (brass and choir) – not on OST or FYC
Poe talks to Leia's body: Leia's theme (horn solo with gentle string accompaniment) – not on OST or FYC
Poe: “I'm not ready”: Force theme – not on OST or FYC
Lando: “Never ready. … We had each other.”
Poe to Finn: “I can't do this alone”: Poe's theme (first time in film) – not on OST or FYC
Rey burns Kylo's ship on Ach-To island: Rey's melody (flute) – OST, track 6, 0:22
Rey throws saber into flames, Luke catches it: Force theme, first two phrases – OST, track 6, 0:45
Luke: “A jedi's weapon deserves more respect.”
Rey: “I was just doing what you did.”
Luke: “I was wrong. … What are you afraid of?”
Luke: “Because you are a Palpatine? … Leia knew, too.”
Rey: “Leia still trained me”: Force theme, phrases 1 and 2 – not on OST or FYC
Luke: “Some things are stronger than blood.”
Luke gives Rey Leia's saber: Leia's theme (flute) – OST, track 6, 3:20
Luke: “A thousand generations live in you now”: Main theme (flute) – OST, track 6, 3:40
Luke: “You have everythign you need”: Together theme (strings) – OST, track 6, 4:00
Luke lifts x-wing: Yoda's theme – OST, track 6, 4:23
R2 restores 3PO's memory – no music
Red 5: incidental agitated strings – not in OST or FYC
Finn: “It's Rey. … She's showing us the way”: Together theme (strings) – OST, track 11, 0:59?
Resistance formulates plan: Resistance March (strings) – OST, track 11, 1:40?
Poe: “They'll come. We're not alone”: Conclusion theme (first time heard in film, and first time on OST) - OST, track 11, 2:30
Resistance intro & march (horn) – OST, track 11, 1:40?
“Today we make our last stand.”
Finn: “Now we take the war to them.”
Rey arrives on Exegol: agitated string ostinato – not on OST or FYC
Rey enters Palpatine's temple: Palpatine's theme (low brass and choir) – not on OST or FYC
Resistance March and Palpatine's theme, back and forth – not on OST or FYC
Poe: “Welcome to Exegol”: low string hits with icy high strings – not on OST or FYC
Rey approaches Palpatine's throne: Palpatine's theme with high violin trills – not on OST or FYC
Main theme (horn) – FYC, track 16, 0:09 & OST, track 13, 1:18
Finn: “I feel it”: Force theme – FYC, track 16, 0:38 & OST, track 13, 1:46
low string ostinato – FYC, track 16, 0:51 & OST, track 13, 1:56
“They're not using speeders”: Force theme (low trumpet) – FYC, track 16, 1:19 & OST, track 13, 2:14
Rey keeps walking towards Palpatine's throne: low strings with agitated viola and creepy high strings – OST, track 14, 0:00 & FYC, track 17, 0:00
Rey sees the throne: two big orchestral chords – OST, track 14, 0:38 & FYC, track 17, 0:34 (?)
Palpatine: “Long have I waited.”
Palpatine: “It's in your blood”: Rey's melody – OST, track 14, 1:18 & FYC, track 17, 1:21
Anthem of evil – OST, track 14, 1:44 & FYC, track 17, 1:49
Finn and Jenna destroy Nav signal: trumpet/horn sequence – OST, track 14, 2:56 & FYC, track 17, 3:10
Resistance march (horn) – OST, track 14, 3:28 & FYC, track 17, 3:34
Palpatine: “The time has come”: a capella choir – OST, track 14, 3:55 & FYC, track 17, 4:04
Palpatine shows Rey the dogfight: “Only you have the power to save them”: choir – FYC, track 18, 0:30
Mix of Ren's Power motive with Rey's melody orchestration? - FYC, track 18, 1:21
Ren attacks: power motive (horn, x2) – FYC, track 18, 1:35
Knights of Ren defeat Ben
Force theme (flute with harp? Celeste?) - FYC, track 19, 1:20
Rey attacks: Rey's melody (horn) – not on OST or FYC
Rey's chimes (brass) – not on OST or FYC
Rey and Ben see each other: Rey's countermelody – not on OST or FYC
Palpatine sucks life from Rey and Ben
Lando: “More of us.”
Fleet arrives: main theme (trumpet) – not on OST or FYC
Zorri arrives: Main 2nd theme (horn) – not on OST or FYC
Palpatine: “Look what you have made”: Palpatine's theme (brass) – not on OST or FYC
Palpatine: “As once I fell, so falls the last Skywalker”: Palpatine's theme (brass) – not on OST or FYC
Palpatine force lightnings the resistance fleet
Rey wakes up: tender strings/harp/choir – not on OST or FYC
Rey: “Be with me”: Rey's chimes (piano) – OST, track 15, 0:40 & FYC, track 20, 0:44
Rey stands and grabs Leia's saber: Rey's melody (horn) – OST, track 15, 1:42 & FYC, track 20, 1:44
Palpatine: “let your death be the final work in the story of the Rebellion”: Palpatine's theme (brass and choir, fortissimo) – OST, track 15, 2:13 & FYC, track 20, 2:20
Palpatine: “I am all the Sith”: struggling strings – OST, track 15, 2:32 & FYC, track 20, 2:40
Rey: “And I am all the Jedi”: Force theme (horn) – OST, track 15, 2:41 & FYC, track 20, 2:49
Command ship blows up: Force theme (all four phrases)
Conclusion theme – OST, track 15, 3:00? & FYC, track 21, 0:02
Falcon rescues Finn and Jenna: Rebel fanfare – OST, track 15, 3:26 & FYC, track 21, 0:39
Ben pulls himself up: ascending strings – FYC, track 22, 1:09?
Ben approaches Rey's body: power motive (flute) – OST, track 16, 1:06
Ben hugs Rey: poignant strings with big usspension – OST, track 16, 1:49
Ben heals Rey: Rey's melody (strings) – OST, track 16, 2:30
Ben and Rey kiss
Ben dies: solemn low brass – OST, track 16, 3:20 & FYC, track 22, 2:40
Leia's body disappears: strings – OST, track 16, 3:34 & FYC, track 22, 2:50
Rey flies Red 5: horn theme – OST, track 16, 3:57 & FYC, track 22, 3:13
Conclusion theme (horn with choir) – OST, track 16, 4:20 & FYC, track 22, 3:36
Conclusion theme (strings, then trumpet) – OST, track 16, 4:30 & FYC, track 22, 3:50
Ewoks: horn calls – OST, track 17, 0:00
Main theme (woodwinds + horn in octaves) – OST, track 17, 0:17
Force theme (horn, all four phrases) – OST, track 17, 0:29
Poe and Zorri: OST has Poe's theme here (OST, track 17, 1:02), but taken out for the film? Why??
Maz gives Chewie medal: Yoda's theme (why?) - OST, track 17, 1:19 and 1:39
Rey lands: Chimes x1, melody (high strings with flute answers) – OST, track 17, 2:20 and 2:29
Lando and Jenna: Luke and Leia (cellos) – OST, track 17, 2:42
Poe, Finn, and Rey group hug: together theme – OST, track 17, 3:28
Tattooine. Jawa: “Utini” - no music
Rey visits old Skywalker homestead: harp ostinato – FYC, track 23, 0:00 & OST, track 18, 0:00
Rey slides: chimes – FYC, track 23, 0:21 & OST, track 18, 0:20
Rey wraps and buries sabers: key change – FYC, track 23, 0:48 & OST, track 18, 0:48
Stranger: “Who are you?” - no music
Force ghosts of Luke and Leia: Force theme, phrases 1-4 – OST, track 19, 0:00
Rey walks off into binary sunset.
End Credits – OST, track 19, 0:32
OST, track 3 never heard in film (concert arrangement)
OST, track 5 never appears in film
OST, track 7 never appears in film
FYC, track 9 – almost entirely incidental. Difficult to pinpoint in film. Probably around 1:00?
One of my favorite presentations to deliver is “Let it Be: The Beatles, January 1969”, which explores the troubled context behind The Beatles' last-released album. Very much a reaction against their highly processed albums like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and The White Album (1968), Let it Be was conceived as a live recording (both a documentary film and a live album). But as the band discovered, there is good reason for the studio production: It makes the music sound better! So, unsatisfied with the live recordings, they eventually turned the project over to Phil “Wall of Sound” Spector, who ultimately produced the album after making substantial edits, including overdubbing a full symphony orchestra onto several tracks (most notably Paul's 'The Long and Winding Road'). The conclusion of the presentation is that Let it Be is a failed album because the band never committed to a single artistic vision. It could've been a great live album, or it could've been a great studio album, but instead it turned into a diluted mixture of both ideas rather than a wholehearted commitment to a single idea – and the resulting music suffers greatly for their lack of dedication.
I bring up Let it Be to open this review of The Rise of Skywalker because the same problem that hindered The Beatles' album also hinders Star Wars' latest episode.
But first, a detour back two years. I did not like The Last Jedi on first watch. I disliked it even more after my second and third viewings. But it took me a while to figure out why. It wasn't until reading David Roberts' 12 January 2018 article “The Last Jedi came thrillingly close to upending Star Wars — but lost its nerve” that I finally got it. It seems that most fans who disliked TLJ complained that director Rian Johnson went too far with plot ideas, especially regarding Luke Skywalker and his depressive funk. But Roberts and I disagree. “I thought Johnson didn’t go far enough,” writes Roberts. “He feints and flirts with deeper, darker themes, but again and again, loses his nerve before the tone and trajectory of the saga are seriously threatened.” Bingo! Reading that was a revelation – Roberts put into words everything I was feeling but hadn't yet found the words! The key moment of TLJ comes after Kylo kills Snoke, and Kylo and Rey fight side-by-side to defeat the Praetorian guards. Battle over, he pleads with Rey: “It's time to let old things die – Snoke, Skywalker, the Sith, the Jedi, the Rebels. Let it all die. Rey, I want you to join me.” It builds on his earlier words, during one of their ForceTime exchanges, when Kylo uttered perhaps the single most important line of the entire movie: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It's the only way to become what you're meant to be.” How brilliant it would have been to have Kylo and Rey team up not as Sith or Jedi but as a new breed of force uses. “The Rebellion is reborn today,” says Luke's Force projection towards the end of his confrontation with Kylo on Crait. What if it had instead been “The Force is reborn today?” Think of how that would have opened up vast new and exciting possibilities for that famous galaxy far, far away! But no. Kylo chooses the dark side, Rey chooses the light side, and, as Roberts' essay concludes, “That sets up director J.J. Abrams for a pretty conventional Episode IX. I wonder how big the Death Star will be.”
That brings us to the present. The Rise of Skywalker debuted three days ago; I saw it yesterday for the first time. The incongruous conclusion that plagues The Last Jedi returns with a vengeance in TROS. Instead of embracing this new vision and its consequent possibilities, Episode IX practically apologizes for TLJ and its innovative, if unrealized, ideas. Paul Tassi authored a review in which he argues, “one thing that it’s hard to avoid seeing in the film is how badly [director] JJ Abrams wants to 'fix' not only The Last Jedi, which went in some wild directions with major plotlines, but even his own, original film, The Force Awakens. … It is painful sometimes just how much it’s clear Abrams wanted to directly address fan complaints with the past two films.” Tassi proceeds to list the major retcons of TROS including Snoke's origins, Sheev Palpatine, Rey's Jedi training, Rose Tico, Finn's Force sensitivity, Poe's sexuality, the Knights of Ren, Rey's parentage, Ben Solo's redemption, and the Holdo Maneuver. Perhaps my opinions will change after multiple viewings, but my initial reaction is that the constant retconning severely undermines the episode at every turn. It was impossible for me to immerse in the current story when every other scene goes out of its way to apologize for the previous films. As a result, what could and should have been a huge emotional payoff as the Skywalker saga wraps up after 9 movies in 42 years instead comes off as fan service, as if Abrams was “playing not to lose” rather than “playing to win”.
Much like The Beatles' album Let it Be, the Star Wars sequel trilogy could have been successful either way – as a nostalgic, crowd-pleasing space romp (like Solo), or as an innovative and historically significant cinematic landmark (like the original trilogy). But instead, the trilogy never commits one way or the other, with the result that the three films severely lack continuity. And The Rise of Skywalker, being the concluding chapter, is more guilty than the others.
Here's how I rate the 11 Star Wars films out of 10:
The Phantom Menace: 4
Attack of the Clones: 2
Revenge of the Sith: 5
A New Hope: 10
The Empire Strikes Back: 10
Return of the Jedi: 10
The Force Awakens: 9
The Last Jedi: 7
The Rise of Skywalker: 6
Rogue One: 5
On the Eve of "The Rise of Skywalker"
While The Rise of Skywalker doesn't premier until tomorrow, the soundtrack was released this morning. As I always do with a new Star Wars soundtrack, I listened to the end first, since the credits music is always a medley of the most important themes, both new and old.
On first hearing (not knowing what new the new themes are, or what I'm listening for), the word recycled immediately comes to mind. The opening of this track is essentially identical to the ending track from The Force Awakens. Compare 0:00-1:14 above to 1:37-2:54 below.
The famed 'Imperial March' is heard, followed by Rey's themes, all of which are also essentially identical to previous soundtracks. Compare TROS 3:26-4:51 above with TESB 0:05-0:38 and 2:16-3:03 below.
And TROS 5:02-6:03 above with TFA 1:41-2:38 below.
Lastly, the concluding fanfare of TROS (8:55-10:55) is the same as the conlcuding fanfares from ROTJ (6:46-8:33) and ROTS (11:17-13:06).
None of this borrowing is inherently bad - of course there is going to be much overlap - but some of it does seem a little lazy, like he couldn't come up with something different. One thing that stands out as appropriate, though, is how the final films of each trilogy conclude with the same fanfare. Obviously I have not seen TROS yet, but Rey especially seems like her music should be different from TFA because her character is (presumably) different from two films ago. But I'll withhold final judgement until I see the film a few dozen times and more extensively analyze its soundtrack.
Despite the recycled nature of much of TROS credits music, there are three prominent new themes. I have no idea whose themes they are, or what they mean since I don't know the plot of the movie. Nevertheless, there are some interesting parallels to previous themes that might or might not be significant.
First, from 1:20-2:08, is a lush ultra-romantic theme - the kind Williams is so famous for composing. Since I don't have any clue what this theme symbolizes or who it represents, I'll give it the placeholder moniker "Five Golden Rings" due to the similarity to the line from "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
The #4 (G# in D major) stands out to my ears because Yoda's theme, Anakin's Theme, and Rose's Theme all also employ the same pitch. That might or might not mean anything. It's also noteworthy for the common tone diminished seventh chord (highlighted in red). I'll use this in my theory classes from now on as an example that's not either Tchaikovsky or barber shop!
The second new theme is heard immediately after the "Five Golden Rings", at 2:24.
No clue what this represents, but it does remind me of the Resistance March (again with the #4, though in minor) and Admiral Holdo's theme.
The third and final new theme, which I'm temporarily dubbing the "Percy Grainger chorale" since it reminds me of the second movement of his Lincolnshire Posy, is a calm and stable tune that nevertheless modulates effortlessly. I'm imagining this theme is prominent at the end of the film, as it has a "they all lived happily ever after" kind of feel to it.
Now that I have a (slight) idea of new themes to listen out for, I'll turn my attention to the remainder of the soundtrack.
Though I carefully dissected and blogged about The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi immediately after their releases, I've deliberately avoided blogging about Solo. This isn't from lack of interest or enthusiasm, but because I know that I often change my mind about things after multiple views of the film and listens to the soundtrack. With repeated exposures, I usually catch subtle details that slipped past me on the initial encounter, and thus come to better understand and appreciate the subject.
Indeed, that happened with Rogue One. I initially liked the film; not so much the music. My original ratings for RO were a 6/10 for the film and a 5/10 for the music. A few years later, having seen it several times in theaters and at home, and having listened to and analyzed the soundtrack rather extensively, I now hold the opposite opinion – the film has its moments but doesn't make much sense when you think about it in any detail, and the soundtrack, though not superlative, is solid. My new ratings: 5/10 for the film and a 7/10 for the soundtrack.
With that in mind, I've waited to write about Solo until I had seen the movie three times and listened to the soundtrack a dozen times. And, as expected, my thoughts (regarding both the film in general and the soundtrack specifically) have changed.
Let's get right to it: I really like Solo. I liked it a lot the first time I saw it, and I liked it even more after the second and third viewings.
One major polarizing factor with The Last Jedi was that it tried to be innovative. Its target was aimed quite high. And in several ways it hit that target, but in several ways it didn't. I won't go into all the details, but there's clearly a lot to like and dislike about it. That's why it's so polarizing among fans.
Solo, by contrast, aimed at a much lower target. Many reviewers have criticized it for not taking any risks. But remember this is a prequel – the filmmakers couldn't do anything terribly outlandish because we already know that Han survives, as does Chewie. We know he meets Lando, and wins the Millennium Falcon. We know he doesn't get the girl in the end. And we know that he gets involved with smuggling. So there's not a whole lot of room to do anything too surprising.
That being said, the Darth Maul cameo at the end genuinely was surprising – I can't imagine anybody could have seriously predicted that! (This, by the way, is one thing I liked on the first viewing but have come to dislike upon subsequent viewings.)
No doubt: Solo aims low – much lower than The Last Jedi. But Solo hits that low target dead center. The film is exactly what it's trying to be – nothing more and nothing less.
Last week in Ortonville, MI I gave a presentation on The History of Popular Music, in which my fundamental conclusion is that listeners must connect with music on music's terms. Popular music is extremely diverse stylistically, and if you listen to, say, Nirvana the same way you listen to Elvis, you're going to be disappointed because their music is so different. The trick is determining what any given piece of music's strength is/are, and engage with that/those strength(s). If you don't like a particular song that many others do like, it's most likely because you're not engaging with it the same way those other people are. If you're satisfied disliking that music, then there's no need to proceed any further. But if you want to like that music and you're struggling to do so, then you'll probably have to change your expectations and connect with the music in new ways to develop an appreciation.
Film works similarly – to connect with any given movie, you have to connect with it on its terms. If you watch Schindler's List the same way you watch The Emoji Movie, of course you're not going to like it because they're so different. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to like the film in question (I remain underwhelmed with The Last Jedi even though I've come to appreciate many things about it), but as consumers of movies, we must figure out what makes any given film tick – what its strengths and weaknesses are, and engage with it accordingly. To do otherwise is essentially a guarantee that you won't like it.
Applying this principle to Solo, you have to take it for what it is – a space romp prequel that never tries to do anything innovative or unexpected. You can't fault it for being exactly what it tries to be.
If there is anything innovative/unexpected about Solo (other than Darth Maul), it would have to be the music. John Powell, only the second composer not named John Williams to write a Star Wars film score, assumed a different approach from that of Williams in Episodes I-VII and Michael Giacchino in Rogue One.
My biggest problem with the Rogue One soundtrack is that Giacchino tried hard to sound like Williams. While Giacchino is an excellent composer (see Up and Ratatouille), his strengths as a creative musician are quite different than Williams'. And that's a good thing – Giacchino shouldn't sound like Williams because he's not Williams! So while I am quite impressed with his RO score (especially given how quickly it was written), it does leave me wondering what Williams would have done had he scored it instead. In other words, the RO soundtrack strikes me as “John Williams lite”.
After my first viewing of Solo, I felt Powell was out of his depth – he couldn't match Williams, either. (Frankly, who can?) But after seeing the film twice more and painstakingly listening to and analyzing the soundtrack, I better understand that Powell isn't trying to sound like Williams! And that's the big difference between Giacchino and Powell – Giacchino attempted to create a Williams score and did a decent job, while Powell had no interest in replicating Williams' style and succeeded in writing his own film score.
Of course, Williams did write some new themes for Solo. And yes, Powell over-uses Williams' themes (the new themes as well as those from previous films), but each time he does so he adds something different to “make it his own”. I don't always like it, and I don't always agree with it, but I accept it. I've now come to terms with that reliance on Williams' theme in a way I hadn't yet upon my initial exposure.
John Powell is at his best when being John Powell. And thankfully Powell – not Williams – is on full display in the Solo soundtrack.
My Solo ratings:
As a film: 8/10. It's exactly what it tries to be.
As a score: 9.5/10. My only real problem is the over-reliance on Williams' themes.
Lastly, here's a basic catalog of the most important new themes used in Solo, both those composed by Williams and those composed by Powell.
This is by no means an exhaustive catalog (I haven't yet addressed the L3/droid breakout theme), but it'll give me a good start as I make my way through the album, analyzing one track at a time and documenting the different themes and their place in the film.
This track is rather different from what's heard in the film. It'll take another viewing (I'm going for the third time on Saturday) to establish exactly what's the same and what's different. For now, italics mean not used in the film.
0:00-0:22 incidental high harp (reminds me of his music for Home Alone), as children are playing
0:22-0:30 Main theme, A major, harp, 1st phrase only
0:30-0:38 incidental low strings
0:38-1:05 Force theme, flute then strings, all 4 phrases, g minor, as one of the children casually uses the force to grab a broom and starts sweeping the floor
1:05-1:52 End credits: Main theme interspersed with the Rebel fanfare, C major
1:52-2:03 Rose's theme, horn and strings, D-flat major to F major
2:03-2:16 Rose's theme, horn & flute, F major
2:16-2:34 Rose's secondary theme
2:34-2:42 Rose's primary theme, strings & horn, F major
2:42-2:57 Leia's theme, piano, A-flat major (corresponding to dedication on screen)
After Leia's theme, there are major discrepancies between the film and soundtrack. I'm not convinced what we hear on the soundtrack is actually heard in the film, though it very well might be. But, I suspect the music heard in the movie is actually lifted from another cue on the soundtrack.
2:57-3:06 Last-Ditch fanfare, a minor, flute and brass
3:06-3:21 Sarabande, a minor, horns, both phrases
3:21-3:36 Sarabande, a minor, flute, both phrases
3:36-3:44 Last-ditch Fanfare, trumpets, first phrase only
3:44-3:52 Incidental (?) horn. Is this a theme new to The Last Jedi that I've somehow missed? Is it heard elsewhere in the soundtrack? Please comment if anybody out there knows...
3:52-4:01 March of the Resistance, horn, B-flat minor
4:01-4:13 Rose's theme, E-flat major, horn
In the movie, between Rose's theme (above) and the rebel fanfare (below), Ren's Power motive is heard. Since this is absent from the soundtrack, some editing was required.
4:13-4:20 Rebel Fanfare, trumpets
4:20-4:29 Rey's melody, D minor, horn, 1st and 2nd phrases
4:40-5:30 Yoda's (primary and secondary) theme, horn & cellos, C major
5:30-5:48 intense incidental music
5:48-6:00 Admiral Holdo's theme, horn, a minor
6:00-6:10 Holdo's theme, trumpet, C# minor
6:10-6:26 Holdo's theme, horn, e minor
6:26-6:40 Desperation motive, constantly changing tonalities, strings x4 then horn x4 then trumpets x4
6:40-6:45 Rey's melody, horn, d minor, 1st phrase only
6:45-6:56 what is this theme? I've heard it throughout the soundtrack, but I'm still not sure what it is. Again, anybody reading this, feel free to comment with ideas!
6:56-7:11 TIE Fighter Attack
7:11-7:19 Rebel Fanfare, brass
7:19-7:27 TIE Fighter Attack
In the film, the TIE attack is heard three times interspersed with two rebel fanfares. As documented above, the soundtrack only features two TIE attacks with one rebel fanfare in between. Obviously, there's some editing going on, but it'll be impossible to determine exactly what's happened until I can get my hands on the DVD of the new film to compare carefully.
7:27-7:46 Rey's melody, B-flat minor, flute &horn, 1st & 2nd & 3rd phrases
7:46-8:02 Rey's Regal motive, B-flat minor, strings x3
8:02-8:27 Rey's Chime motive, celeste, B-flat minor
0:20-1:05 Force theme, strings and flute, g minor, all 4 phrases. Luke dies during the 3rd and 4th phrases.
1:05-1:10 incidental pensive cello
1:10-1:29 Ren's Power motive, a minor, trombone, march-like
1:29-1:39 Ren's Wannabe motive, brass, superimposed on strings playing his Brooding motive, both in A minor, as Rey and the resistance escape on the Falcon
1:56-2:16 Poe's theme, flute, quietly (only time Poe's theme is heard on soundtrack) as Rey and Poe meet for first time
2:16-2:36 Rey's Melody (english horn, 1st and 2nd phrases) superimposed with Force theme (flute, 1st phrase only). Rey: “Luke is gone.”
2:36-2:50 Force theme, oboe and flute, 1st and 2nd phrases, a minor
2:50-3:05 Rebel fanfare x2
0:00-0:34 Incidental. Is any of this heard in the film?
0:34-0:51 Force theme, 1st and 2nd phrases, horn , d minor. Luke: “Everything you said was wrong.”
0:51-1:50 incidental choir as Rey lifts the rocks to free the Resistance
1:50-2:07 Ren's power motive, horn with tremolo strings, both phrases (the latter in octaves), as Ren attempts to kill Luke
2:07-3:02 incidental. Choir and string triplets, horn calls at end, as Ren discovers Luke's deception and Luke collapses from exertion
0:00-0:27 incidental, low brass and strings in tenths
0:27-0:49 incidental music, some of which reminds me of that heard right before Han's death in The Force Awakens
0:49-0:59 Force theme, e minor, horn, 1st phrase only
0:59-1:53 Luke and Leia, cellos, E major, as Leia and Luke's force ghost converse and hold hands (but I thought Luke, as a ghost, couldn't physically touch anything – that's why Luke's and Ren's lightsabers never touch during their battle...)
1:53-2:03 incidental poignant strings
2:03-2:17 Han Solo and the Princess, viola?
2:17-2:33 incidental do-so-me-do motive (heard in trailer) as Luke's Force ghost heads out to face Ren.
0:00-0:17 Force theme, solo horn with string accompaniment, C# minor, 1st and 2nd phrases
0:17-0:26 Resistance March, trombone, B-flat minor
0:26-0:32 Resistance March, trombone, F minor
0:32-0:48 “Battle of Hoth”-like incidental music
0:48-1:00 Rose's theme, horn with trumpet interjections, B-flat major to D Major
1:00-1:10 Incidental. What's that horn from 1:03-1:10 mean? Is it where we see the battering ram for the first time?
1:10-1:22 Resistance March, strings and trombones, B-flat minor
1:22-1:32 Rose's theme, abbreviated, horn, E-flat major to G major, as the resistance launches their defense
1:32-1:48 Incidental. Key change from D minor to E minor at 1:47. Does the key change coincide with the scene change from the Resistance to the First Order?
1:48-1:53 Ren's Power motive (missing he raised 4th – is that significant?), e minor, as he orders the attack
1:53-2:57 Intense incidental battle music, constantly changing keys
2:57-3:04 Rebel Fanfare, trumpets, as the Millennium Falcon saves the day
3:04-3:13 Rey's melody, d minor, horn, 1st and 2nd phrases, as we see Rey in the Falcon
3:20-3:25 Desperation motive, horn x4 with trumpet interjections, C# minor,
3:25-3:31 Desperation motive, trumpet x4, G minor
3:31-3:34 Rey's melody, 1st phrase only, horn, d minor,
3:34-3:46 Incidental, brass in octaves
3:46-3:54 TIE Fighter attack
3:55-4:03 Rebel Fanfare, brass
4:03-4:15 TIE Fighter attack
4:15-4:23 Rebel Fanfare, brass
4:23-4:31 TIE Fighter attack (this one not heard in film)
4:31-4:56 Incidental, scary incidental low brass (not heard in film)
4:56-5:01 Desperation motive x4, different instrument and key each time
5:02-5:50 Incidental battle music
5:50-6:09 incidental traumatized strings (reminds me of immolation scene from Revenge of the Sith)
6:09-6:48 + choir as Finn continues his attack despite Poe's orders otherwise
Track 15 is the first instance of a theme new to The Last Jedi: Admiral Holdo's theme. We hear this theme loud and clear just before Holdo attacks the First Order fleet at lightspeed. It might be heard in the film before this point (I'm going to see the film again on Saturday, so I'll be listening closely for previous iterations of Holdo's theme), but this is the first time we hear it on the soundtrack.
0:18-0:27 Incidental “Battle of Hoth”-like music. While similar music is heard in the film (on track 16 of the soundtrack), I do not believe this particular music is.
0:27-0:35 Holdo's theme, horns, B-flat minor as Holdo prepares for her lightspeed attack on the First Order fleet.
In the movie, Holdo's lightspeed attack is followed by several seconds of silence. Since this dramatic pause is missing from the soundtrack, I must conclude that the decision for silence was not made by John Williams.
1:05-1:08 start of Rebel Fanfare as BB-8 rescues Finn and Rose in the AT-ST
1:20-2:00 incidental bass drum hits (ala Rite of Spring) as Finn calls Phasma “chrome dome” and they duel.
The Music of Star Wars
These posts will help focus and develop my analyses of John Williams' film scores.