By Joseph Walter
Much like Rogue One, Solo justifies its existence and manages to move the Star Wars universe forward in new directions visually, tonally and in terms of storytelling. And that's wonderful. Because the last mainline entries were the exact opposites of that. VII was a far too safe reboot IV under a different name, and VIII, while certainly subversive, irreparably damaged the Star Wars canon by eliminating any storylines that could have built to head for IX.
In short, we need more Solos and Rogue Ones.
That said, perhaps the most surprising and forward-thinking element of Solo is its truly bold score by John Powell.
John Williams is a god amongst men. We all know that. His operatic score for the original film, with its awesomely realized motifs, was a game changer and inspiration to many. Alas, Williams' work on the new trilogy, while still enjoyable, seems rather infantile and safe, just like the films he wrote them for.
John Powell doesn't play it safe. He takes themes, ideas and the very sound of Star Wars in a completely new and bold direction, delivering possibly the best score since Return of the Jedi.
It's time we jumped into three primary examples of this excellent soundtrack!
(Note: the tracks in question are linked to the titles of their respective entry, so give 'em a click!)
Frenetic action and desperate variations on the fresh motif (which sound far fresher than Williams' initial performance of the piece) abound, and are accented with incredible flare and groups of instruments that are rarely given the spotlight. Case-in-point is at 2:07: After an awesomely rich brass rendition of Han's motif, Powell employs a robust percussion section that defies anything we've heard in the entire saga up until this point, with occasional bursts of staccato horns. And it's brilliant.
This easily enjoyable, sweeping masterpiece is a great example of a phenomenally done action showpiece, and a prime entry point for fans looking to hear what Powell brings to the table.
The opening minute and twenty-or-so seconds are interesting in their own right, boasting instruments rarely heard in Star Wars, but it's the section that starts at 1:25 that we're really here for.
We're eased into an ethereal and triumphant crescendo, only to realize that this is the most majestic interpretation of the Star Wars main theme on record, followed by a gorgeous strings-only "Rebel Fanfare." If you don't have tears in your eyes and chills down your spine, I'm not sure you that you should label yourself as human.
This is bold. This is beyond bold. John Williams, in all of his glory, just doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would take things to this level. Powell has taken one of the most beloved pieces of modern music, given it a wonderful, fresh twist, and evolved it to a point that many listeners might need to pick their jaws up from the floor.
To start, the first thing we hear is the old-school "Imperial Power" motif (featured prominently in A New Hope and adapted to be a full march in Rogue One), then we get an accurate rendition of some classic Falcon-flavored action music from Empire, heard at around :30 into "Attacking A Star Destroyer." Powell quickly changes gears into a multi-layered sequence featuring seemingly endlessly-creative interpretations of the Solo motif with some healthy uses of the "Rebel Fanfare," each of which have their own distinctions.
At 1:34, Powell takes an aggressive approach to the closing moments of the opening titles from A New Hope and then swiftly shifts into his own version of the famous "Tie Fighter Attack" cue, this time featuring intense percussion and sharper horn hits. While I enjoyed Williams' beefier employment of this theme in VIII, it almost makes me wish that he didn't so that Powell's more appropriate use here could have had an even more surprising effect.
The track is called "Reminiscence Therapy," so we're not done with old themes just yet... which I'm very happy about. At 2:33 Powell deftly transitions from his revamped "Tie Fighter Attack" into a rendition of my favorite Star Wars piece, "The Asteroid Field." This particular take isn't too bold, but there are some added flairs. The idea is quickly shelved for an epic use of the Star Wars Main Theme and "Rebel Fanfare" to accompany Han and Chewie's first time at the controls of the Falcon, and then Powell brings us one last burst of the "Asteroid Field" with a truly deep, resonant and powerful rendition of the piece that's all his own.
And then we get to the next glorious variation of the Solo main theme at 4:13. My God.
Powell, who seems like he's pulled out all the stops at this point, continues to surprise us with 4:45's unique Star Wars main theme, another "Asteroid Field" reference, sneaky "Rebel Fanfares" and then... calmness.
....... but because things don't feel complete without this use of the "Rebel Fanfare," give "Into The Maw" a listen to fully grasp the awesome orchestrations and variations that Powell's been constantly showing off for the entire score with incredible success. Specifically 3:48 for a godly and bold take on the main Star Wars theme mixed with the new Solo motif capped off by the syncopated "Rebel Fanfares" that serve as the grand finale.