[Ed. note: here's a post that appeared late last week on my blog "Editorial License", which is linked in the footer of this website. Specifically, it ran on Thursday, the day before a Big Cultural Event ... and since I've still not yet partaken of this Event, it's still entirely up-to-date. Amazing.]
So, here’s the thing about the new Star Wars movie that comes out tomorrow …
For various reasons, I won’t end up seeing the thing until it’s been in theaters for about ten days.
Weep not for me. I have a roof over my head, and food in the ol’ icebox.
But aside from my desperate attempts to avoid spoilers for a week and a half (and still somehow remain connected to my friends on social media) … and aside from my insane curiosity about things like, “who is this Daisy Ridley running-toward-exploding-spaceships character? And who is this John Boyega heavily-perspiring-stormtrooper character? And is there truth to the rumor that Han Solo and Princess Leia didn’t actually stay together, in this new Abrams-verse? And does Luke Skywalker ever take off that hoodie? And how in the world did they build that insanely fast rolling droid thingy?” … and all of those questions undoubtedly will transform into the dumbest questions imaginable, come January …
Aside from those mere trifles, the real suspense for me is … what it was when the last batch of prequel things came out, sixteen years ago:
What’s the score going to be like?
Even now, nearly forty years since Star Wars became A Thing, the same John Williams is at the helm of the Star Wars film music juggernaut as was in charge . Give or take an animated series (i.e. “Star Wars: Clone Wars” spent its first three seasons unsure about whether to avoid the classic sound or embrace it; and the more recent “Star Wars Rebels” has done a very nice job of honoring the good ol’ movie scores, and in some cases gleefully ripping them right off) … the Williams sound has been the sound of the Star Wars franchise.
He and the other handful of composers who have tackled Star Wars projects over the last four decades … have largely been creating new arrangements of that great old material.
The prequel scores, I thought, had the great potential to “reverse-engineer” the original scores (just as the stories were reverse-engineering Darth Vader’s life story) – in addition to being opportunities for more fun treatments of the music that has become, for some of us, like the artistic version of family.
Let’s find out where all those leitmotifs and themes got their start!, I thought. … Ah well.
With the exception of a really clever melodic turn at the end of what was essentially a “kindergarten with ominous foreshadowing” theme for Episode I’s young Anakin Skywalker, the occasional “Force motif” quote, and a marvelous re-setting of the Imperial March as the clone troops inexorably head off to war at the end of Episode II … the music was mostly fresh and new and struck me as the end result of a head-on collision between Harry Potter and Hook, or at least those films’ incidental music.
Well, can you forgive a composer for having a compositional style that has evolved somewhat over forty years of work?
To my eye and ear, the musical scores sold Episodes I, II and III as nearly nothing else did. And yes, there were blasts of identifiably “Star Wars-y” music. But that Star Wars Main Title theme only appeared a handful of times in the prequel trilogy, and … I don’t know about anyone else, but (as chronicled in a previous post hereabouts) I thought the Episode IV music had a certain bombastic charm, and I kinda missed it.
It was as if the extended family had come to visit after being away for a long time, and they were sorta recognizable, but there were more than enough things different about them that we had to get reacquainted again. And it didn’t feel quite the same.
Conceivably, Williams may just have been reacting compositionally to what he was seeing, in the final cuts of the prequels:  a story that inevitably will end badly, and darkly; and  an editing pace to these films that mirrors the accelerating pace of American entertainment in the years since Episode IV – i.e. there’s barely any time to linger on a visual, or bask in a great extended musical moment. The goal of a film composer is to reflect and amplify what’s on the screen; and so Williams did.
So, since “The Force Awakens” has threatened to reference the Episode IV-V-VI story and characters so much more directly than the prequel trilogy …
… the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance in Episode VII has the potential to be the world’s most Wagnerian-scale cover band in recorded history.
Whatever it is, I’ll listen to, enjoy, and in all likelihood lay out bucks for, Johnny Williams’ latest hits. He is arguably at least the greatest living American film composer. Guy knows a little somethin’ about cinematic sound.
But I’m really hoping he goes back to his Star Wars roots, if you will, on this one. I hope the family looks more like it used to.