I'm probably not the right person to review the Rogue One soundtrack because A. What do I know about music and B. I'm too forgiving as a Star Wars fan. I want to like everything. I will give it my best shot though. Spoilers: I dig it. A lot....
This is a soundtrack that, when it gets it right, it really gets it right, but then there are moments when it's kind of meh. Fortunately there are more of the former and less of the latter.
I think Michael Giacchino (Jack-eno for those struggling with the pronunciation) is the natural successor to the maestro himself, Mr. John Williams. Even if Michael's style is a little (see - a great deal) different from Mr. Williams's. Think of it this way: where John Williams would arrive and gently say, "I'm here, baby, let's make some Star Wars music." Michael would rock up and say, "I'm here mofo. Let's do this. Hold onto something and brace yourself."
The difference, to me, is due to the demands of the story. Michael doesn't have the time, narratively, to explore themes. Even though the major players get them, they turn up fully formed, do their thing and move on. Where the maestro had multiple movies to slowly build, to colour in the details, Michael has three acts. That's it.
The knowledge that he had little time to develop his soundscape seems to have helped though. Michael uses our understanding of Star Wars music to his advantage and delivers some true highs.
Here are some selections to listen out for.
Track 3. Wobani Imperial Labour Camp - short but sweet, this is the first thing that screams Star Wars to me. The opening two tracks are from the "cold open" and fail to touch me in any significant way. Somehow the strings in Wobani really hit though, setting up what comes next.
Track 4. Truth Goes Both Ways - this IS Star Wars. The strings, the brass. This has all the grandeur of the prequels, and the up close and personal symphonies of the OT. It is simply beautiful. With a touch of James Bond too. More on that later.
Track 4. cont. there's a mid track break here that takes a dramatic right turn. I believe this is from the 'Bodhi on Jedha' section of the movie. There is something so unusual about the sound design here, I just love it.
Track 6. Jedha Arrival - there is so much to love here. The opening strings are certainly very feminine, followed by a militaristic, rhythmic heartbeat and that weird, Jedha sound again. Very unusual.
There are a few tracks in here are the meh portion of the album. Now I've seen the film a number of times, so I know these work in the movie, and that's what's really important here. The music services the story. And judging the music in that regard allows one to be more forgiving. As does resisting the temptation to draw comparisons to John Williams. But tracks like Confrontation on Eadu and really quite bland for my taste, especially considering all that happens during this section of the movie. It's really only the last minute of the track that throws in some emotional, truly cinematic (that Bond-like sound again) orchestration. What is it with this James Bond like theme. I'm sure it's only me, but I really feel it's trying to convey the whole spies behind borders in a foreign land type theme. If it's intentional then it works well, if it subconscious, well then it still kind of works...
Track 10. Krennic's Aspirations - this track really goes back to this Williams well, calling back to Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope's Imperial signature and the Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back Imperial March. Especially in the closing seconds.
Track 12. Rogue One. Here's something that really caught me of guard. This is Jaws meets Star Wars. There is something about this track that calls back to the scene in Jaws where Brody, Hooper and Quint are prepping the Orca for the showdown with Bruce, the Great White shark. It works, I get the sense of urgency though the music, the metronomic heartbeat driving us forward. Very exciting.
Track 18. Hope. Hands down my favourite moment on the album. This calls back to Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope wholesale and does so with such restraint and respect. Great stuff. There is also a nod to a moment in Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith that costs Anakin his humanity. Exciting, touching and a true highlight.
In short, Michael Giacchino had a thankless task. Not only was he following John Williams, the only man to have scored Star Wars for the big screen, but he had little time to develop themes, both narratively and actually (less than 5 weeks to get this score down) and he also had to lace some of Williams's music into his, due to this films place in canon. So Michael could have been congratulated for simply getting the job done, but to deliver such an impressive score is one hell of an achievement. Well done sir.
I've listened to this soundtrack from start to finish a few times now, and there are moments that really turn my head. In fact there are moments that move me consistently. And I think that is an incredible achievement. My final thought on Michael scoring Star Wars is that he is absolutely the only guy who could succeed John Williams. If he achieved this, in less than five weeks, with all the narrative restrictions that same with this film, then imagine what he could achieve with a truly blank page and a reasonable schedule.
To my mind the question is less should Giacchino score another Star Wars movie, and more when can he start scoring Han Solo?
What did you think of Michael Giacchino's Rogue One score? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you for reading,