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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Review)

posted Dec 19, 2017, 12:52 PM by Kaya Savas

Nothing gets the masses stirring quite like Star Wars, its place amongst our culture is unmatched. Star Wars is infused into our lives whether you’ve seen the films or not, and to see this once dormant behemoth reawakened for new and old generations alike is quite something. Of course one of the biggest reasons for Star Wars’ success is John Williams’ iconic score. A score that sits in the #1 spot of AFI’s 25 Greatest Film Scores Of All Time. At the time, the symphonic film score was dying out. The 60’s and 70’s ushered in the silver age of film scoring, and film music strayed away from the orchestral golden age sound. So having this enormous orchestral score for a sci-fi adventure was pretty awe-inspiring at the time and still is.

So of course when Disney bought Lucasfilm and was planning a new trilogy to continue the saga, everyone was expecting and hoping that John Williams would come back to continue the legacy. Quick humblebrag moment, Film.Music.Media was the first to report John Williams would be coming back for The Force Awakens a few years back when we chatted with him at the BMI Awards (watch that moment here). And John did come back. Old themes and new themes filled The Force Awakens for an overall very satisfying return to Star Wars’ musical world. Now we’re at the second installment in this new trilogy, The Last Jedi is already dividing audiences into the “loved it” and “hated it” camps. So how did the score play into all this, and what was its role in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi?

Let’s compare just for a moment what John Williams did with the prequel trilogy. Each movie got its own central theme with "Dual Of The Fates", "Across The Stars" or "Battle Of The Heroes" respectively. While the movies themselves were quite awful, that idea for anchoring each chapter with its own theme was kinda brilliant. It solved the issue of following in the footsteps of some of the most recognizable themes of all time from the original trilogy.

For The Force Awakens we got a brilliant new theme for Rey, that was the standout, and her theme continues to evolve in The Last Jedi and it seems that is what John Williams is grasping onto because really there isn’t much room for anything else besides orchestral structures to support the narrative. Kylo Ren’s theme which also acts as the theme for The First Order makes its appearance here as well. We also have a new and uplifting theme for the Rebellion that sort of anchors Finn’s and Rose’s subplot, and to be honest it feels rather too playful. The old themes get heavy use too especially the force theme and Leia’s theme. In the end there’s a lot of thematic material in this score and Williams masterfully is able to weave it within the action set pieces and more character-focused moments. And that’s pretty much as much as you can hope for with The Last Jedi. These films are not thought out, in fact The Last Jedi as a film seemed to squash many of the bigger arcs setup in The Force Awakens and instead of setting up the third film of this trilogy it ended up muddling everything. And that is kind of reflected in the score. The score is muddled, it’s a good score, but it’s muddled.

The score is very simply structured, if you see a character that has a theme, then that theme appears. The space between those moments is where Williams does his magic to connect the dots to form something. However since the narrative itself is muddled, the score inherits those narrative weak spots. The score sounds amazing as any John Williams score would, but here we have one of cinemas greatest composers working with a writer/director who has only done 3 (small) features before The Last Jedi. I’m sure John Williams consulted more with Kathleen Kennedy than anyone else, but there’s still a big gap in age and experience and it shows. There just seems to be a disconnect between image and score. And while Johnson's script eliminates all the momentum that was built from The Last Jedi, the score does end up being the saving grace that makes it all work to an extent. The call to action, rousing energy and dramatic force is all there but it just all feels a little flat when narrative structure has some glaring issues. There's more memorable scoring in The Force Awakens and the prequels than there is here, but that doesn't mean The Last Jedi fails on a scoring level. John Williams makes it work despite the awkward pacing and loss of momentum that seems to plague the narrative of The Last Jedi.