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.
0:12-0:25 low male voices as we see Snoke. We hear this low male chorus twice at this point in the movie: First at the 93-minute mark, second at 98. On this track of the soundtrack, we only hear it once. Which one (or is it both) comes from the soundtrack? I don't know.
Interestingly, immediately after the second instance of those low voices (at 98 minutes into the film) Palpatine's Sith Theme is heard in the movie. That is absent from the soundtrack, so I suspect editors borrowed this music from Return of the Jedi. Consequently, I do not believe John Williams ever intended Palpatine's Sith Theme to be used in reference to Snoke.
1:17-1:33 Force theme, B-flat minor, 1st and 3rd phrases (but not 2nd), brass, loudly, as Ben kills Snoke. I believe this iteration of the Force Theme was removed from the scene where Snoke dies (about 1:45 into the film - which is where the rest of this track is heard in the film) and is instead used in the scene where Yoda burns down the tree on Ahch-To (about 1:22 into the film – most of which is heard on track 13).
1:33-2:26 incidental battle music, Reylo vs. Red Guards
2:26-2:35 Rey's melody with trumpet and trombone accents, 1st and 2nd phrases, horn, loudly
2:35-3:11 incidental. Kinda sounds like “Rite of Spring” in spots. Reylo defeats guards.
0:00-0:34 Force theme, horn, 1st and 2nd phrases, D minor as Rey departs Ahch-To island.
0:34-0:45 Yoda's theme. Yoda's ghost appears. Luke: “I'm going to burn it all down.”
Next in the film, the 1st phrase and a revised 3rd phrase of the Force theme is heard in the trumpet. But I believe this comes from track 14 at the 1:17 mark – not from track 13. This music is heard as Yoda sets fire to the sacred tree and texts.
0:45-1:04 incidental scary brass followed by a weak flute. Not heard in film.
1:04-2:09 Force theme, trumpet, loudly, A minor, 1st and 2nd phrases. This was replaced by another iteration of the Force theme (played by a horn) in the film. I don't yet know from where this horn iteration was borrowed.
2:09-2:40 Force theme, solo horn, quietly, C# minor, 1st and 2nd phrases.
2:40-end Yoda's theme, cello, C major. Much dialogue over this music. Luke: “I can't be what she needs me to be.” Yoda: “The greatest teacher failure is.”
0:00-0:26 creepy incidental music as Rey enters the cave
0:26-0:40 incidental noodley clarinet
0:40-0:55 incidental noodley viola
0:56 crescendo to quiet #1
0:57-1:27 more creepy incidental music
1:28 crescendo to quiet #2
1:29-1:35 crescendo to quiet #3
There's more editing going on at this point. In the movie, the music swells to quiet only one time – as Rey sees herself in the infinite mirrors. But in the soundtrack, we hear three such crescendos to quietness. Which one of those three is heard in the film, and which are the two that are edited out? I am uncertain.
1:38-1:52 incidental high flute solo
1:52-2:00 incidental high clarinet solo
2:00-2:15 incidental poignant strings
2:15-2:29 Rey's melody, C# minor, flute, 1st and 2nd phrases. Not heard in film.
2:29-2:58 incidental poignant strings. Not heard in film.
The Music of Star Wars
These posts will help focus and develop my analyses of John Williams' film scores.