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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Michael Giacchino (Review)

posted Dec 20, 2016, 4:41 PM by Kaya Savas

Ever since Disney resurrected Star Wars from the dead, the idea of who would be behind the first non-John Williams Star Wars score was always swirling. And even before Rogue One was even announced, Michael Giacchino’s name was always rattling about and for good reason. Michael’s sound is a bold and effective modern orchestral style that would be perfect, and he demonstrated that with his supremely entertaining Star Trek scores. Plus he scored the Star Tours ride! Anyway lets fast forward through all the drama that we know already. Alexandre Desplat was brought on by director Gareth Edwards who worked with Desplat on Godzilla. Then the thing that many people suspected from the get go actually did happen, Desplat was let go extremely late in the game over “scheduling issues”. If you want to believe that PR mumbo jumbo go right ahead, but whatever the case they needed a score fast. The deal was finalized in a heartbeat. Giacchino literally just wrapped Doctor Strange in London and started on Rogue One immediately. He wrote this bad boy in 4.5 weeks, oh and not to mention he also did 2 LOST concerts in Los Angeles in that time as well. So yes, the inhuman super composer pulled out a Star Wars score in a magically short amount of time, and actually it’s pretty good!

Here’s what you should know about last second replacement scores. In reality, the time limit is never an issue, in fact it’s usually (“USUALLY”) a blessing. The composer is literally free to do whatever they want and no one will argue, because literally there is no time. And that right there is why Disney picked Michael, it was the trust. Giacchino’s long career in the industry actually started way back when he worked in Disney’s publicity department, and of course the countless Disney and Pixar movies he has written. So, Michael walked in knowing he had Disney’s trust and essentially a carte blanche to do whatever he wanted for the most part. Given the fact that this was a Star Wars movie, and the first one without John Williams, his approach is nothing groundbreaking but it’s wholly effective.

The score is pretty easy to breakdown, Michael found the key characters and storylines and gave them very Giacchino-esque themes. The score as a whole doesn't carry the brightness or sparkle that a John Williams Star Wars score would have, and that’s by design given the melancholic tone of the film. There is a “Star Wars” feel to the orchestrations and yes, they use the original Williams themes here and there. I feel like that was on order by Disney more than anything, because where the weakness of this score lies is in its attempt to please everyone. It’s true, there wasn't much time for Giacchino to be truly innovative or experiment. Everything you hear is his first gut reaction to the material, because also that’s how he writes normally. But again, he didn't work with director Gareth Edwards when the film was taking shape, in fact I would say he worked with Disney execs more than anyone. This was a finished film and all it needed was score. When that happens, the director, the editor and the composer can’t build a relationship to truly make the score a piece of the film’s fabric. And when you hear the music you can tell that Giacchino is literally just trying to make sure it worked and made everyone happy. Some people may say it feels like a “cheap” Star Wars score, kind of sounding like Williams but never going there. And in some cases that criticism might be valid. There is no main title crawl here, but when that Rogue One logo comes up, it’s almost jarring not to hear that fanfare we expected. And yes, this movie is trying to distance itself from the main Star Wars canon for sure, but nostalgia sells. So we have this weird low-key yet effective Giacchino sound trying to be its own thing, but then you can almost imagine the Disney execs shouting “make it sound like Star Wars!” as Williams sounding flourishes are peppered throughout. All in all there is a deep emotional undercurrent that is woven through. There is also this militaristic aspect to the music that touches back to Giacchino’s work on the Medal Of Honor games, plus you’ll notice some other elements from his signature sound. I think a few Cloverfield nuances popped up here and there. Overall, the score does shine when Giacchino is left to be Giacchino versus trying to tap into nostalgia.

Rogue One will be analyzed by many and everyone will have their opinion on it, but let’s recall that this is a film from a director on only his 3rd studio feature and one that’s being guided creatively by heavy hands from the producers and executives. Let’s not forget that this movie went through reshoots and that Giacchino’s score is a product of both an auteur composer trying to add something special, and fulfilling a checklist of requirements that I’m sure were laid out at the start of his 4 week sprint to write it all. Rogue One is a great first attempt at branching away from one of the most iconic scores ever written but that heavy John Williams hangover bogs it down from really becoming something unique. I’m sure Giacchino will be called upon again in the future to do a Star Wars score, and hopefully he’ll come into the project on the ground floor and be able to plan his attack alongside whatever director he ends up working with.