- Review by Kaya Savas - 5/25/18
We have our second “Star Wars Story” with Solo, and it seems these spin-offs always have a bit of behind the scenes drama that comes along with them. Rogue One of course had Alexandre Desplat leaving the project at the last second. Michael Giacchino then came in and pulled together something with hardly any time. With Solo, the drama was in the directing department. Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired when their approach was not in line with Lucasfilm’s vision. Veteran director Ron Howard stepped in to take control of the wheel, and thankfully he kept John Powell onboard.
The idea for Solo was always to have John Williams write some material and then hand it off to Powell. John Williams wrote a “hero theme” for Han and a B-part to the theme that was more “the longing of Han”. Powell then took those central themes and wove them into the fabric of his own score. The end result is actually something quite interesting. Having a composer do a main theme and then another composer do the body of the score is nothing new, but the way it’s done here is quite different. I’ll use Dante’s Peak as an example where James Newton Howard wrote the theme and John Frizzell did the body of the score. In that case, Howard’s theme is a very separate standalone entity. When it appears, it’s on its own without being meshed with anything else.
With Solo, Powell took Williams’ themes and truly infused them into the DNA of his own score. Very much in the way that Joe Kraemer took the very famous Mission: Impossible theme and made it part of the DNA of his Rogue Nation score, he didn’t treat it as a separate entity. The end result for Solo is actually a bit startling at first, almost as if two different albums are playing at the same time. The first act does take some time for the music to find its comfort zone, you can feel Powell getting a grasp of the Williams sound. The style meshing at first feels a bit awkward, but it's not long before the score finally has a handle on its identity. Then you realize how well the lushness of Williams intertwined with Powell’s more punchy style works. It's almost like cooking and throwing in two unlikely ingredients that ultimately compliment each other in a way you couldn't imagine.
From a narrative standpoint, the score is quite superb. The themes are so strong that we establish our characters and their surroundings so clearly. Not only that, the music really fleshes out the characters and their emotional drives. The music sets up the journey and then takes us along for the ride with ease. We do have a little world-building as well, but the action set pieces are just beautifully executed and where the real fun is at. The momentum behind every note pushes us forward. We have some great use of chorus as well that adds a touch of a James Horner feel in the best way possible, maybe an influence from Ron Howard? The final act is definitely the strongest part of the entire score. We get some really nice and meaty tracks, but we also see reprisals of some of our favorite Star Wars themes. The way Powell has re-arranged them into his score breathes new life into them, especially in the appropriately named track “Reminiscence Therapy”, which is just a punch of nostalgia. The narrative resolves in a nice and tidy fashion and we finally have a fully-fleshed out Han Solo.
If you’re looking for a really well-developed heist adventure score that embraces John Williams’ mark on this franchise and adds lots of new elements, then Solo should please. Powell’s score does a lot of heavy lifting and fleshes out not just the characters, but the world they inhabit. Having John Williams write new material for Han Solo and then passing the baton to John Powell worked out really well. It’s not everyday that you’ll get to hear two vastly different-sounding composers’ style blended together like we do here. Powell embraces the Williams sound yet still makes this a very John Powell score. Powell is joined once again by his amazing support team of additional composers Batu Sener, Anthony Willis and Paul Mounsey. This is a top-notch crowd-pleaser that will be worth re-visiting time and again.