It is near impossible to talk about film scores with out mention of John Williams. John Williams has penned some of the most memorable musical themes in the history of film music. There have also been many discussions in regard to the inspiration behind many of John Williams themes but that is a topic for a completely different blog post. The most recognizable piece of John Williams’ career is Star Wars. From the first note of the Trumpet Fanfare as the movie begins, there is no sound that screams John Williams more. And this is where the problems begin. The John Williams sound is the Star Wars sound, the two are inseparable.
Rouge One is the first of the Star Wars movies to stand on its own in a few ways. The majority of the familiar Star Wars characters are missing and/or do not play major roles in the film and this is the first Star Wars to not feature a John Williams score. Michael Giacchino scored the movie with the use of both original material and themes from John Williams. (I would love to know how the publishing worked out on that, and how many lawyers were involved.)
After seeing the movie I could only imagine the stress and creative conflicts Michael Giacchino had worked through to complete the score. John Williams is an influence to any film composer that grew up listening to his scores, and as a film composer myself I can easily see Michael Giacchino being torn between emulating the John Williams sound and going off in a direction of his own…….basking in the spotlight looking to shine. Hans Zimmer was faced with a similar task when he scored the updated Superman movie. The John Williams theme to Superman is tough to top and Hans Zimmer has spoken about that difficulty in interviews. Hans Zimmer took a very different approach, one that is uniquely a Hans Zimmer sound. I loved the music for that movie, but not the movie itself.
Michael Giacchino opted for a more conservative route with The Rouge One score. The Rouge One score was at first a bit disappointing. To be fair I’m not sure what my expectations were and let’s be honest, you are not going to score a Star Wars movie without being compared to John Williams. Giacchino’s score to me, said that he quietly understood what the job was. He scored the movie in a way that felt a bit like John Williams while slowly pulling away from its signature sound to make way for something new. The score carried throughout the movie without drawing too much attention to itself. From time to time the original John Williams themes would pop up. When they did, they brought back the nostalgia and memories of the original Trilogy enough to assist the plot, they felt good, and they felt like Giacchino handled them respectfully. There were many nods to Williams orchestration style. There were a few points in the score that left the Williams formula, but they did so in a way that clearly did n0t shine on its own. I left the theater singing a Williams theme not a new Giacchino theme.
Giacchino made the right choice to take the background in the movie, and that is not a bad thing. Rouge One is a movie that bridges a gap in time between the much hated Star Wars prequels: I, II, III and the original Trilogy IV, V, VI and the beginning of a very different direction for the franchise, that being a stand alone movie other than the original 9 movies George Lucas planned. I am hoping he will score other Star Wars movies and gradually ramp up the use of his own sound in a way that lets people adjust to it over time. Disney already has this in mind when it comes to the franchises production and storyline. They introduce new things in a familiar formula. It doesn’t seem too different. A few films later the die hard fans gripe about it, the new generation loves it, and George Lucas’ vision is a memory. Apple has been transitioning from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook in a similar style. This could happen with Giacchino in a good way.
I have been a fan of Michael Giacchino since I first heard his work in the movie Up. Up is Michael Giacchino at his best and it is his work in Up that makes me feel he could take the reigns from John Williams for the franchise in time if given the chance. Giacchino’s themes in the movie UP bring life to the characters on screen in a way that grabs your heart. Like Star Was the themes from Up are memorable in a way that you could not think about the characters without their music. They are inseparable. He could potentially do something similar for new Star Wars characters in the future and carve out his own signature niche in the Star Wars universe. Thats up to Disney, the franchises producers, and Giacchino.