Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens missing John Williams’ iconic musical themes?
If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, read on without fear of spoilers. We won’t be discussing that one scene everybody is talking about (and if you’ve seen the film, you know which one). No, instead we’re going to talk about the one element The Force Awakens is missing–a sweeping, epic score from John Williams.
Don’t get me wrong, Williams did score this entry in the franchise, and his music certainly isn’t bad. But astute viewers will notice a major change in the way director J.J. Abrams turns his camera on that galaxy far, far away. While George Lucas is primarily a visual director prone to sweeping landscapes and grandiose set pieces, Abrams is far more frenetic in his directorial style–there are few breaks in the pacing that let viewers take it all in. Abrams himself has acknowledged this, telling The Guardian that the Terrence Malick film “The Tree of Life” inspired him to show more restraint:
“There were many scenes where I might have typically wanted to rush the camera around or cut more frequently. But in trying to grow a little bit, and in trying to tell the most powerful story possible, you learn lessons in restraint, you learn lessons in stillness, you learn lessons in confidence and trust in your characters and the audience. And so I found myself working to not just keep things moving as fast as I could, which sometimes has been my default. But rather sometimes to keep things as still as I could, or let things breathe, as a balance to the action, of which there is much in the movie.”
Still, the pacing of The Force Awakens simply doesn’t allow for the kind of grand, sweeping themes that made the other Star Wars films (yes, even the prequels) so aurally impressive. Lucas even wrote queues for Williams’ score in the screenplays for his films, setting the stage for such iconic shots as the Binary Sunset.
Abrams’ film relies heavily on nostalgic queues from previous installments in the franchise and generally limits individual character themes to a few seconds. Just compare Kylo Ren’s theme from Force Awakens with that of General Grevious from Revenge of the Sith.
Notice how General Grevious is treated to a full characterization in musical form, something Williams has made his trademark from Indiana Jones to Jaws, whereas Kylo Ren’s theme simply meanders on, occasionally treating us to something exciting but never really delivering the kind of immortal musical backing a character so integral to the story deserves. Ren’s theme sounds more akin to the dutiful work of Alan Silvestri.
None of this is to say The Force Awakens is harmed by its too-fast-for-Williams pacing. In fact, it’s probably best for the low-key production style the film manages to achieve so effortlessly. Still, one hopes Williams’ music will play a larger role in the Star Wars entries yet to come.
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