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Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Composed by John Williams
  • Walt Disney Records / 2017 / 78m

After all the anticipation and speculation, we finally get to find out if the “Jedi” of the title is singular or plural; if Luke turns to the dark side; if Rey is his daughter, or Han and Leia’s; to what extent the porgs are the true masters behind the Sith.  Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is a very different kind of Star Wars film from its predecessors – it moves away from the highly entertaining if nostalgia-fuelled sense of déjà vu that dominated all of The Force Awakens into some new territory.  Kylo Ren is a very different sort of character from those seen before – there are so many shades of grey; and his relationship with Rey becomes something very different from that between the heroes and villains of the original saga for that reason.

While I was greatly looking forward to the great John Williams’s score for The Force Awakens as its release was drawing near, never in my wildest dreams had I imagined it would be as good as it turned out to be.  The veteran composer found reserves of energy from somewhere and wrote the finest blockbuster film score of the last decade or so, introducing some excellent new themes alongside the old ones, with the crowning glory being Rey’s Theme, an instant classic that will without question stand the test of time.  Composer David Arnold recently wrote on Twitter that Williams’s music is the beating heart of the Star Wars universe and it is simply impossible to imagine it without it; how privileged we are that, forty years after he announced his arrival into that universe in the most thrilling way imaginable, we get to hear new Star Wars music from the master for The Last Jedi.

John Williams

Interestingly, if the film itself goes off in some new directions, the score – much more than The Force Awakens or indeed any of the six that went before that – stays firmly rooted in the familiar, with less new material than we are used to hearing, and considerable heavy-lifting done by the existing themes.  It’s great to hear the two primary themes from The Force Awakens getting more development here (in the prequel trilogy, themes were generally given short shrift after their debut film) although a bit of a disappointment that even though Poe Dameron has a much bigger role in this film, his wonderful, heroic theme is entirely absent from the album (it is heard, briefly, within the film).  There are a couple of new little themes and one new theme of real note – more on those, of course, later.

You know how the album starts – the most iconic film theme of my lifetime gets us underway as it always does(I think it’s the same recording as in The Force Awakens).  This time round it leads into “Escape”, a fast and furious action track that is prime Williams/Star Wars – lots of familiar themes return (Kylo Ren’s, rebel fanfare, some very different variations on the Resistance March and, rather less predictably, what sounds like a fairly clear allusion towards Battle of the Heroes quite late in the cue.  Alongside these come a couple of new action motifs, including one real belter.  The orchestration throughout is just stellar – no more so than you would expect from John Williams, but always worthy of note.

“Ahch-To Island” (all polite people will want to say “bless you” at this point) opens with a reprise of the magnificent Jedi Steps theme from the previous film as we return to where that one left off – it leads into some colourful dramatic writing, the Force theme, eventually Rey’s Theme (in a really nice, full-bodied presentation) and eventually to one of The Last Jedi‘s more significant new ideas, a theme which seems to represent Luke’s relationship with Rey – it’s really big and dramatic, comes in two parts (one of which might actually be more a theme for the island) and is heard frequently through the film.

In “Revisiting Snoke” we initially do exactly what the title implies, with a return to the deep chorus that Williams used for the character in the previous film, the piece also featuring Kylo Ren’s and Darth Vader’s themes.  “The Supremacy” initially continues the focus on villainous material (Ren’s theme, some fresh, ominous action material) before the Resistance March  joins in, and then some terrific action music highlighting some wonderful string writing (and indeed playing), very much in keeping with Williams’s modern style.  All of a sudden, an almost mystical version of Princess Leia’s theme appears and then the most delicate version of it that there’s ever been – a little blast of the Force theme and then Leia’s theme absolutely soars away, to accompany the film’s most controversial moment.

After a very brief, sweet bit of Rey’s theme, we are in to “Fun with Finn and Rose” and (by far) this score’s most significant new theme, for Rose (who I thought was a great character).  The first time I heard it, I thought the opening phrase was going to lead into Anakin’s theme but it doesn’t – instead Williams gives Rose a really nice new theme, a bit Harry Potter-ish with its playful sound, but as it’s developed through this score it goes into some very unexpected places.  The piece also features some very light-hearted, whimsical passages of the Resistance March.  “Old Friends” opens with the Force theme – we get a lovely take on Luke’s theme – there’s a beautifully romantic variation on Leia’s – but then things get much darker in the middle portion of the cue, with a little bit of Ren’s theme and some slightly dissonant textures, before the Luke/Rey theme makes another appearance.  The piece closes with a particularly nostalgic take on the Force theme.

Rather disappointingly, there’s only one concert piece on the album (The Force Awakens spoiled us in that regard) – and it’s a rather surprising one.  “The Rebellion is Reborn” focuses not – as is usually the case – on a single theme but instead moves between Rose’s theme and the two parts of the Luke/Rey theme (if it turns out they are two separate things, accept my apologies – it’s a bit hard identifying these things after only seeing the film once).  Rose’s theme really is a delight – as indeed is the other one, but it’s not quite as memorable – and I wish it had its own concert arrangement, but I guess what Williams was trying to do here was encapsulate in one cue the different elements of the fight against the First Order.  It’s a really optimistic piece, leading up to a terrific conclusion, and will I’m sure be getting on everyone’s Star Wars playlists.

In the brief “Lesson One”, the themes for Rey and the Force are intertwined in the first half before a dark, ominous motif takes hold in the second, leading up to a huge climax; and then we come to “Canto Bight”.  I think it sounds like some kind of old disease (“they lost two children to tuberculosis and a third to canto bight”) but it’s actually a planet; and after some great “landing on a planet” dramatic orchestral music we segue into… Brazilian samba.  It’s entirely unexpected, on album rather incongruous (in the film, of course not) and its interpolation of Ary Barrosso’s “Brasil” has already proved quite controversial but it’s actually great fun, half-way Cantina Band and half-way Knight Bus.

“Who Are You?” is largely suspenseful and not tremendously interesting – Rey’s theme has an interesting variant and there’s some colourful writing for winds, but given some of the quality music heard in the film but not on the album I’m a bit surprised Williams chose to include it.  The highlight is the action material late on in the piece, but even that’s a little haphazard.  We get well and truly back on track in the spectacular action cue “The Fathiers” which is just outstanding – it’s quite similar to some of the action from Attack of the Clones, rhythmic and propulsive and absolutely thrilling – and the action version of Rose’s theme is a complete joy.

(Don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled about the return of an old character.)  “The Cave” is a difficult, at times dissonant piece that recalls some of the darker moments of the Dagobah scenes of The Empire Strikes Back.  The music is impressionistic, dark for quite a while, thematically bare until Rey’s theme appears in fragmented fashion later on following a string elegy.  “The Sacred Jedi Texts” sees a couple of Force theme variations before we get to hear once more Yoda’s theme (copied almost directly from its Empire Strikes Back concert version in the final minute or so of the cue), as he appears to once again counsel Luke.

Ominous sounds open “A New Alliance” and, after a minute or so of suspense, we get a massive, epic take on the Force theme and then some frantic action material; then “Chrome Dome” (aka Captain Phasma) is a continuation of the action, with some grand gestures (including the Rebel Fanfare) and some really stark, militaristic material that is actually quite unlike any other music I can recall from the whole saga.  But if those two pieces are a little disposable (forgive me, Lord – I did say “a little”) then the following “Battle of Crait” is certainly not – a wonderful piece of action underscoring the opening act of the film’s denouement, it packs in a load of themes (including a brilliant, heroic little blast of Rose’s theme), a new action motif – and an old one.  Forty years old, in fact – I got goosebumps when Williams brought out “TIE Fighter Attack” (aka “Here They Come”) when the Millennium Falcon started doing some rather familiar-looking manoeuvres (albeit it in a very different setting).  It all leads up to a stunningly powerful choral conclusion.  The track is John Williams and Star Wars in a nutshell – there is so much going on, so many little nuggets hiding waiting to be discovered alongside the obvious thrills – this is prime musical storytelling from the master.

More goosebumps soon follow, in “The Spark” – it’s written for a really powerful scene and the use of music is absolutely spot-on.  After an introductory passage of vintage Star Wars which sounds like it could have been written for the 1977 film we hear a little burst of something that was, the Force theme, and then an emotionally-devastating version of one of my very favourite themes by John Williams, Luke and Leia – it’s heartwrenching.  Then (after Han and Leia’s theme gets the briefest of airings) things just build and build to a gigantic, explosive conclusion: it’s magnificent.  “The Last Jedi” offers some action material before the emotion comes out again, a soaring version of the Force theme and then some stirring music for strings and wordless choir before Williams goes all-out epic for the piece’s conclusion.  It sounds like it should be the finale, but we’re not quite done yet – “Peace and Purpose” is a much softer piece and cycles through a number of themes again (the Force theme in a particularly rousing rendition – as elsewhere in the score but not so much in the prequels or indeed The Force Awakens, Williams plays it out in full instead of just the first half – then Kylo Ren’s, Rey’s, back to the Force and finally the Rebel Fanfare) and it’s a really nice track.

Williams really spoiled us with the last track of The Force Awakens, not only introducing the stunning Jedi Steps theme but offering a full-blown cycle through the score’s themes.  This score’s “Finale” is a bit different – after a gossamer-thin opening (including a lullaby version of Luke’s theme), the Force theme leads us into the familiar opening to the end credits.  But when Williams starts going through the themes, it’s quite different from usual.  An all-too-brief but wonderful arrangement of Rose’s theme very suddenly transitions into a piano arrangement of Leia’s as Carrie Fisher’s dedication appears on screen – it’s very moving when you’re watching it, of course, but a bit jarring on the album.  But after that we go through a slightly unfocused-feeling arrangement of various themes from the score (old and new) – most noteworthy to people will be the one that begins at 5:48, because it’s a theme for Laura Dern’s character Admiral Holdo which I think is otherwise entirely unrepresented on the album.  It features a desperate heroism and is really a very fine theme.

It’s a pity for sure that Williams couldn’t incorporate one of the tracks from the body of the score which featured that theme onto the album; a pity too that Poe Dameron’s wonderful theme is entirely absent.  A couple of tracks that did make the cut aren’t quite as good and so a future deluxe edition will certainly be coveted by many.  (What we all thought was Finn’s Theme from the previous score doesn’t appear anywhere in the film as far as I could tell.)  Make no mistake, The Last Jedi is wonderful music and will bring me (and almost certainly you) great joy for many years to come; it’s not quite the masterpiece from start to finish that The Force Awakens was, but here we are in 2017, with brilliant new Star Wars music from the 85-year-old master John Williams to celebrate.  That’s a remarkable thing.

**** 1/2
More Star Wars gold from Williams

See also:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens John Williams | |

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  1. Erik Woods (Reply) on Sunday 17 December, 2017 at 22:21

    I agree with you concerning Poe’s Theme. We needed more of it. However, it is heard ONCE on the album. 1:54 into Peace and Purpose. It’s also featuring in the film during the amazing opening battle sequence but unfortunately, it’s on the album.

  2. DrTenma (Reply) on Monday 18 December, 2017 at 10:02

    I think it has a lot of merit to be able to rate a Star Wars score, really. I have only listened one time the album (and seeing the movie) but for me this is a wonderful score. My impression is that The Last Jedi needs a complete edition (or, at least that the FYC album includes enough unreleased material) and that the motif at the end of ‘The Spark’ could have been a whole concert suite…

  3. DWM Merrick (Reply) on Monday 18 December, 2017 at 10:37

    It seems as though John Williams was the only one who understood the characters, listening to the score after the movie was potent, it not only hinted but demanded a great movie to go with it.

    No spoilers – I really disliked the movie – but the score kept me in the movie throughout, with its glorious action music, great leitmotifs for all of the characters (save Poe, who just got the Resistance March as his theme).

    What a great score wasted on a sour and disappointing movie.

    It doesn’t surprise me to learn John Williams was writing it well before post production had begun, though as you say there are no concert pieces, you can hear the development and continuation of themes so vividly.

    Never has a movie score made me feel so bitter about the movie it goes with (save perhaps Blade Runner 2049, but for reversed roles, good movie, bad score).

  4. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Monday 18 December, 2017 at 21:19

    I’m only on my first listen-through so far, but if anything I slightly prefer this to the score for The Force Awakens. John Williams certainly hasn’t lost his touch!

  5. Ulrich (Reply) on Monday 18 December, 2017 at 22:29

    Thanks for this Review.
    My personal advice: watch the movie a second time. It’s astaunding; even controversal scenes looks mutch better then and works very good 🙂

    About the “interruption” of the FINALE arrangement with the Princess Leias Theme: I think this cut / break reflects the sudden and unexpected death of our beloved Princess.

    May the Force be with you.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Monday 18 December, 2017 at 22:30

      I will certainly watch it a second time (and many more). I loved it.

  6. Jockolantern (Reply) on Tuesday 19 December, 2017 at 04:55

    It’s a wonderful Williams score to the disappointing, poorly written mess of a film. And, yes, we definitely need expanded cues via FYC or official release– Poe’s theme appeared close to half a dozen times in-film and to have almost all of those missing from the album is a damn shame.

  7. rmagee (Reply) on Wednesday 20 December, 2017 at 17:51

    I had heard snippets of the soundtrack form youtube videos on my laptop and phone, and it sounded pretty good. I saw the movie and really liked it and the score. Now that I have the soundtrack, I am amazed at how awesome the music is. Even after listening to the Master for nearly 40 years, he continues to amaze me with his genius! The Last Jedi soundtrack does what most of his music does. It reminds me of specific moments and emotions from the scenes, and makes me want to watch the movie all over again. A perfect example is ‘Revisiting Snoke’ at 2:08. There is a xylophone/cymbals cue for the Praetorian Red guards taking a sudden defensive posture against Kylo Ren. A synergy of visuals and music that gave me goosebumps the first time in the theater.

  8. Aidabaida (Reply) on Thursday 21 December, 2017 at 19:25

    Nice Review! The moment you mention as “the most controversial” seemed to have only worked for me… its my favorite moment in the film.

  9. NioScaan (Reply) on Monday 25 December, 2017 at 14:35

    Thanks for the review, mostly agree. Was hoping for an epic new theme, akin to the appearance of the Imperial March in Empire. Oh, well. I also feel like there were some similarities between the Droid Invasion theme from TPM and the theme in The Supremacy? Anyone else notice this?

    For those who didn’t like the movie, I think you’re letting your own preconceived notions get in the way. I think repeated viewings will be necessary. I personally loved the movie. Only the naysayers are speaking up, for whatever reason.

  10. David Hand (Reply) on Tuesday 26 December, 2017 at 17:51

    A great review, thank you.. This score is certainly growing on me the more I listen to it.

  11. Dave Martin (Reply) on Wednesday 27 December, 2017 at 15:03

    Thanks for this soundtrack review!

    I enjoyed the soundtrack and the movie and as always, I feel Williams is a master of weaving character themes that supports the drama in the film. I enjoyed the (predictable) break in style for the cantina (or canto) scene. I was, however, somewhat dissappointed that after two viewings and several listenings, no new themes have lodged themselves in my brain the way that Rey’s theme did in TFA, or the spectacular Duel of the Fates did in TPM. It’s almost as if the weight of the existing themes took away from creating new material for the movie.

    I also have to note that I do find myself comparing this lack of new material to the brilliant Giaccino score for Rogue One.

    I hope that repeated viewings will deepen my appreciation for the TLJ score.

  12. Ben (Reply) on Friday 29 December, 2017 at 07:34

    Poes theme being absent might be a shame musically, but in this movie it felt like he was going from screw up to screw up, it was like a downbeat for him, and contrasted directly with his ‘golden boy’ feel in the Force Awakens – in this sense I think the choice to skip the theme may have been deliberately representative, and I hope to see Poe and his theme have more success in IX.

  13. Ar (Reply) on Monday 1 January, 2018 at 13:23

    Searched up an analysis of this fantastic score after watching the movie twice. This might be one of my new favourites, I really loved the inclusion of both old themes and new ones like Rose’s and the way they were woven together. Thank you for doing this incredibly thorough analysis!

  14. Ryan (Reply) on Thursday 18 January, 2018 at 02:12

    I was hoping someone could answer a couple beginner level questions. I’ve been getting more into the Symphony music over the last five years, but while I enjoy it I have much to learn.

    What differentiates “The Rebellion is Reborn” as a concert piece? Is this subjective, or are there specific technical criteria? I think I understand themes and motifs, and I see how many of the works on the album often switch between numerous themes. But what kicks it over the edge into being a concert piece? In the review there was also a reference to the existence of more concert pieces in The Force Awakens, can anyone give examples of which of those tracks are concert pieces? A little comparison may help me to understand it better.

    • Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 18 January, 2018 at 16:18

      In the context of a film score, a concert piece is a piece of music that is not a “cue”, it does not appear in the film (or perhaps only over the end credits), but rather was written specifically for the album and/or for concert performances, usually to showcase a particular theme (or themes, in “The Rebellion is Reborn”‘s case) from the score.

      So The Force Awakens’ concert pieces are “Rey’s Theme” and “March of the Resistance”. I believe “Scherzo for X-Wings” is also a concert arrangement of an action cue that did appear in the film, but which Williams tightened a bit to provide a more coherent listening experience. I’d not be inclined to call that a full-on “concert piece”, but now we’re getting into semantics.