For me any score by John Williams is a delight and also a treasured moment from film music, it was Williams in my opinion who basically saved the orchestral film score with his music from STAR WARS, SUPERMAN,THE TOWERING INFERNO etc, bringing back to Hollywood some of the lush and romantic musical notions that were first heard in movies from the golden age and written by the likes of Korngold, Rozsa, Newman and their like, when the majority of movies were being scored with tacky sounding synths and artificial and cheap sounding electronics. Williams also acted as inspiration for new composers who wanted to either pay homage to this extraordinary music smith or mimic his grand opulent approach to film scoring. His latest offering is from the seventh STAR WARS movie THE FORCE AWAKENS, well yes its Williams that’s obvious and it’s a STAR WARS score that’s another obvious statement, but for me its kind of lacking, there is just something that is not there like in other STAR WARS soundtracks, most of the cues are action orientated with lots of dramatic and urgent strings being embellished and accompanied by proud and at times rasping brass flourishes, booming percussion and the William‘s trademark flyaway sounding woodwinds.
The familiar central theme is present and there are also a handful of motifs and sounds that we all now associate with the STAR WARS movies, but there are a number of new comers but like I said these are not as developed melodic or indeed as appealing as anything that we heard before. The movie I think does not allow Williams to fully develop any of his rich or romantic thematic properties as before simply because the storyline does not call for them and is an all action fast paced affair. This is great for the fans as the movie is an edge of the seat full throttle adventure and one that has certainly hit all the right spots and pushed all the correct buttons with at least 99.9 percent of the cinema going public. Williams music is good but its not breathtaking as in previous instalments, by this its familiar and grand but the wow factor seems to be lacking here. Maybe it is because JJ Abrahams approach is somewhat different to that of the STAR WARS creator George Lucas, it was said that when writing the screenplays for the original STAR WARS Lucas would often include set static scenes which would allow the music to basically flow and tell the story or enhance and support the scene more prominently, the music becoming integral rather than background similar to the way Leone worked with Morricone and Hitchcock did with Herrmann, with the new STAR WARS however the music I feel has reverted back to being a musical wallpaper or a background its not up there with the characters racing along or if it is it is drowned out by the sound editing and effects etc. I am not going to analyse and examine each and every cue, but maybe just a select few of them.
MAIN TITLE opens the compact disc, the familiar strains of the anthem like STAR WARS theme boom out with the proud brass leading the way with the tumultuous fanfares that open each episode of the series. The man theme or opening segues nicely into THE ATTACK ON THE JAKKU VILLAGE which is urgent, fast paced, dramatic and imposing, Williams swirling strings creating an atmosphere of chaos and fear and being underlined and punctuated by fierce brass and driving strings which push the composition along and breakneck speed. Track number two is THE SCAVENGER, this is one of the very few quieter moments from the score, it does evoke memories of past Williams compositions and not necessarily STAR WARS linked, low strings which are melodic but at the same time have a dark side to them take the lead and soar momentarily to create a near romantic and melancholy moment, the composer employing harp as well as strings and a faraway sounding horn which conjures up a sense of loneliness or solitude, subdued woodwind then take on the central thematic material adding a delicate and touching sound to the proceedings. Track number three, I CAN FLY ANYTHING, is filled with bravado and drama again brass and strings having the lions share of the performing duties, for me this is a treat as it introduces a variation of the central theme which at first is not totally recognisable, but then the familiar strains do manifest themselves fleetingly. The track continues at pace with strings swirling and dodging around the brass exclamation marks and together creating a exhilarating piece. Track number four REY MEETS BB-8, starts out as a lullaby of sorts, it is gentle and calming, building into a somewhat sombre piece that concludes with low and somewhat fearful sounding strings. Jumping ahead to track number six, REY’S THEME this is a piece written to accompany one of the new characters, woodwinds introduces the cue which are joined by strings that build into a full working of the motif, one can hear that this is from a STAR WARS movie or is it the Williams sound, maybe RAIDERS coming to mind? But it is unlike any theme we have encountered before since our musical journey started in 1977 within this series, it is a more upbeat and jaunty sound than one normally associates with the series and maybe not so robust or rich, with ascending strings and woodwind uniting, again its Williams through and through with the trademark sweeping strings that are mirrored and supported by horns and other brass and interspersed with woodwind but different that’s all I can say.
Track number seven THE FALCON has shades of the cue HERE THEY COME from A NEW HOPE, exciting and fast paced with jagged brass and every so often the audience being thrown the familiar central theme amongst all the action orientated music where Ostinato strings mingle with staccato brass creating urgent stabs and jumps that support and enhance the scene perfectly.
Track fifteen HAN and LEIA is a return to the original STAR WARS sound as in LEIA,S THEME, or at least a momentary glimpse of it, as the cue moves up a notch into a more dramatic and martial sound, brass and strings combining again heralding a more dramatic turn of events within the cue, before returning to a more down beat and settled ambiance, which has to it a kind of quirkiness that is laced with a romantic atmosphere. Track number 16, MARCH OF THE RESISTANCE, is a fusion of the drama that Williams created in THE IMPERIAL MARCH and also elements of THE THRONE ROOM which bring into the equation the ceremony and also the sense of pomp from that particular piece. The score is an entertaining one and within it we are treated to a number of familiar themes and a handful of new and vibrant ones also. Is it equal to any of the previous scores, in a word no I don’t think it is, but it is John Williams and that alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.