Thursday, February 22, 2018

Composing Greatness: #4. Oscars 2018 Edition - "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

Scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Welcome to a very special edition of Composing Greatness. In this limited series, I will be looking at the five scores nominated for this year's Best Original Score category. To avoid favoritism, the list will be done in alphabetical order of composers and feature the same guidelines as the original series. This is meant to explore the music behind the great films of 2017, and provide insight into what makes each of them special and whether or not they deserved to be nominated at all. Join me all week as I listen to the  music, leave some thoughts, and hopefully sway you to check out these wonderful, wonderful scores.

*Note: This entry is being written in conjunction with both the Oscars 2018 Edition series and the ongoing John Williams series. It will be republished when this entry comes up for the latter category with updated information.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score

Other Nominees:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carter Burwell)
-The Shape of Water (Alexandre Desplat)
-Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood)
-Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer)

Additional Information
This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 51
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Main Title and Escape"
2. "Ahch-To Island"
3. "Revisiting Snoke"
4. "The Supremacy"
5. "Fun with Finn and Rose"
6. "Old Friends"
7. "The Rebellion is Reborn"
8. "Lesson One"
9. "Canto Bright"
10. "Who Are You?"
11. "The Fathiers"
12. "The Cave"
13. "The Sacred Jedi Texts"
14. "A New Alliance"
15. "Chrome Dome"
16. "The Battle of Crait"
17. "The Spark"
18. "The Last Jedi"
19. "Peace and Purpose"
20. "Finale"

Note: Listen to here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Main Title and Escape"

Maybe I am just in a good mood, but I think that this may be the best opening to a Star Wars score by John Williams. There's of course the main theme that everyone knows and hasn't changed one note in over 40 years. However, what follows is an interesting mix of intensity that is a whole lot of fun. It immediately drops the listener into a sense of action and chaos, making them wonder what's in store. For a score that's full of memorable and active melodies, this is a great way to kick things off. Even as the films have been rebooted by Disney, Williams manages to bring that certain panache along with him that finds a way to be grandiose and epic while still being emotional and heartfelt. This isn't entirely something new, but it's Williams doing what Williams does best, which is making music that moves the audience in just the right ways.

Interesting Standout:
"Fun with Finn and Rose"

This isn't the first time that a Star Wars score has taken a detour from the grandiose adventure or melodrama, but it feels especially jarring on this score that's always in motion, throwing emotions to the raptors and longing for something grander. In its place is a score that's actually a bit nuanced and captures an intimate and quiet moment that is actually nice. While there's ominous moments scattered throughout, this is one that also reflects John Williams' strengths melodically. It's beautiful and simple, capturing a side to this franchise that feels overlooked. While "Canto Bight" could've easily fit into this category for adding steel drums to the Star Wars universe, I think it's more interesting that there's a moment of peace amid everything that happens over these 20 tracks.

Best Moment:
"The Supremacy"

Seeing as I haven't covered The Force Awakens at the time of this initial publication, I am unsure what is a recurring motif from that score. However, I do enjoy that John Williams manages to continue to do something downright incredible. He manages to build the score, capturing motifs and layered instrumentation into one collage of music. A lot of this material may be old hat by now, but it's also a lot of fun, and it comes early and often on this score. For fans of Star Wars, this is more evidence that it'll be sad when these movies run forever because John Williams won't, and there won't be anyone to replace him. One may think so, but if Michael Giacchino couldn't then who can?

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

There is the old adage that I continue to believe. If the music uses recurring motifs that have been established before this composition, then it should disqualify the score (see: There Would Be Blood, The Godfather). That isn't to say that this is a bad piece of music. In fact, this may be further evidence that John Williams' scores are a good textbook of how to use motifs and themes throughout an entire score. I think it topped out in The Empire Strikes Back, but that doesn't mean that the new music choices aren't interesting. One could only hope however that the favoritism factor stops influencing who gets nominated and not. Much like any further Star Wars score, I ask that any franchise film like the James Bond series be stricken from further qualification, or even possibly winning this field. 

Up Next: Hans Zimmer - Dunkirk (2017) for Best Original Score

Rank the Nominees

1. Alexandre Desplat - The Shape of Water
2. Jonny Greenwood - Phantom Thread
3. John Williams - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
4. Carter Burwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Jaws (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
10. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
11. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
12. "Main Title and Escape" - Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
13. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
14. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
15. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
16. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
17. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
18. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
19. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
20. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
21. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
22. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
23. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
24. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
25. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
26. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
27. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
28. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
29. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
30. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
31. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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