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THE CLONE WARS
Rather limp music from latest Star Wars venture
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
Original Star Wars music
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Lucasfilm Ltd.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
The latest milking of the Star Wars cash cow comes in this cartoon, which tells the story of what happens in between the second and third of the prequels (which is obviously what all Star Wars fans really want to know about). I'm a big fan of the films but doubt I'll be enticed to watch this offering, and can't really say I understand its point (aside from the money-making, obviously). Musically, there's no John Williams here - no great surprise - but the surprise comes when you put the CD in and hear the music, by Kevin Kiner - I guess that since the characters don't look like "real" Star Wars characters, then it should only follow that the music doesn't sound like "real" Star Wars music - but it's still very disconcerting when the CD begins.
The Williams theme is there - how could it not be? - but instead of the portentous, grand arrangement we're all so familiar with, there's an almost frighteningly limp version which sounds like an orchestral arrangement of the (in)famous Meco disco version of the main theme - I never imaged you could get an orchestra playing this music and have it sound so dreadful, but George Lucas should praise the Lord that Williams didn't arrange the piece this way for the first movie else he'd probably have a billion or two less in the bank.
I know I'll get emails from people saying that I should judge things for what they are and not what they're not, but seriously - this is Star Wars, not some third-rate Marvel adaptation, and an expectation has been created about the music, and to write a score which sounds like it comes from a completely different world is really surprising. The other emails I'll get will say that Kiner was only doing what he was told, but whatever the circumstances of the music ending up sounding like this doesn't really matter, it's the fact that it does which is important. This is not a Star Wars score - it doesn't have that vital, distinctive sound - it doesn't inhabit the same world - it's somewhat typical, generic, John Debney-style orchestral music (though not quite with the flair of Debney's finer efforts) which would probably sound OK on television, but is a bit inadequate in not just a film - but a Star Wars film! People will say, get over yourself, enjoy it for what it is - but what it is is an album with "Original Star Wars Themes and Score by John Williams" given equal prominence to Kiner's credit on the front cover, which does create a certain expectation as to how it will sound (in actual fact there is very little use of any of Williams's themes here). Presumably that credit's only there to make people think it sounds like Williams's music - which is a little naughty on behalf of the label.
Still, if one forgets for a moment that this is from where it is, then it's not an album entirely without its share of enjoyable moments. It's very simplistic music - the florid orchestration masks a construction which betrays its obviously computer-based origins - and sounds like one of the more middle-range computer game scores, with the kind of grandstanding themes which please certain types of listener, but leave others feeling unfulfilled. It has its moments because it does try to push the right buttons, it just loses points because it really isn't particularly interesting music - the sort of thing which is best heard when doing something else, I think. Stick it on in the background and it sounds pretty grand, it's only when you listen closer that the cracks begin to show.
I guess there's no problem per se in trying a new approach in the Star Wars musical universe - it's perfectly possible to argue that asking a composer to simply ape Williams would be unfair - but this very modern approach is a curious one. There was a certain timelessness about Williams's scores - Star Wars certainly doesn't sound like any other film music of 1977, for instance - whereas this is very much dated to the present day. The ethnic (and occasional rock) elements would be unwelcome in any case, but it's the orchestral parts which dominate, and I can't help but think another composer could have done a better job. Take Joel McNeely's Shadows of the Empire - you can instantly tell it's Star Wars music, yet you can also tell it's written by Joel McNeely and not John Williams. I'm surprised McNeely didn't get this gig - I had always assumed he was the heir apparent, having been recommended by Williams for a couple of Lucasfilm projects in the past - and perhaps Kiner was just working under large constraints over what he could and could not do, but I hope this approach is abandoned before the next time the cow gets milked.