Sunday, July 22, 2018

Composing Greatness: #47. John Williams - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (2015)

Scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)*winner
-Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman)
-Carol (Carter Burwell)
-Sicario (Johan Johannsson)

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: 49
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Main Title and The Attack on the Jakku Village"
2. "The Scavenger"
3. "I Can Fly Anything"
4. "Rey Meets BB-8"
5. "Follow Me"
6. "Rey's Theme"
7. "The Falcon"
8. "The Girl with the Staff"
9. "The Rathtars!"
10. "Finn's Confession"
11. "Maz's Counsel"
12. "The Starkiller"
13. "Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle"
14. "The Abduction"
15. "Han and Leia"
16. "March of the Resistance"
17. "Snoke"
18."On the Inside"
19. "Torn Apart"
20. "The Ways of the Force"
21. "Scherzo for X-Wings"
22. "Farewell and The Trip"
23. "The Jedi Steps and 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 The Attack of the Jakku Village"

By this point, John Williams has composed seven Star Wars scores, and it's almost old hat to even comment on the first half of the theme. It's iconic and has been for over 40 years now. However, the second half does suggest that this long awaited sequel is going to be far more mature and atmospheric than what has been heard in the past. There isn't a lot of emphasis on action beats, and instead have notes that recall speculation and wonder, as if the world is now a place to think about as opposed to explore. It's not the best combination that Williams has produced in these Star Wars scores (The Empire Strikes Back tops that list), but it definitely establishes an effective new sound for a new generation in the franchise. If anything else, The Force Awakens is a bit exciting for what it does differently than its predecessors, even if the motifs still pop up from time to time.

Interesting Standout:

On this particular cut of the soundtrack, there's not too much focus on the goofier elements. Instead, there is this track that sounds like a doomed choir from the depths of hell. It's eerie and captures the danger that will lie ahead for the characters. It may be one of the less melodic new tracks that John Williams produced here, but it's also very ominous in a way that captures proof of how much further this franchise can go musically. This track doesn't need to have fancy melodies with strings and horns to be effective, and it may be one of Williams' most effective tricks that he's done in the 21st century, even if there's arguably been better work from him otherwise.

Best Moment:
"Rey's Theme"

Again, it's interesting how quiet the new Star Wars score is, if just because of how much the franchise is known for being bombastic. It has plenty of those moments, but they feel few and far between here, finding an introspective track for the new protagonist that will carry us through the foreseeable future of this franchise. It's got a bit of a jaunty string section to it, but it's buried in a quiet and peaceful spectrum that it makes it more beautiful. There's plenty to like here, and it helps that this soundtrack has fallen in love with minimalist technique for bigger effect. Rey is definitely a character who's different from what we know, and this is a pretty good way of making her memorable through music.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

As I keep harping on, I don't believe that scores that recycle from previous works deserve nominations. This is another example, and it's hard not to notice where those moments are. With that said, this is a pretty triumphant way for John Williams and the Star Wars franchise to return to the world. Williams doesn't so much rehash what is known, but finds a way to explore the sonic landscape in a way that's both bombastic in a new way, while also finding quieter moments that pop with life and personality. This is evidence that he is charismatic, as he manages to find new places to play in a franchise that he's written six previous scores for and make it sound just as fresh and new. Few composers could still feel that vital after so many decades and motifs. With that said, it isn't the last time that we hear from Star Wars. In the final entry of the John Williams series of Composing Greatness, we explore the most recent - and quite possibly best - score that he's done for this franchise yet.

Up Next: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) for Best Original Score

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" - 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'" - Superman (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. "Prologue" - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
10. "Sayuri's Theme" - Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
11. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
12. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
13. "Cybertronics" - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
14. "Munich, 1972" - Munich (2005)
15. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
16. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
17. "The Adventures of Tintin" - The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
18. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
19. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
20. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
21. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
22. "Catch Me If You Can" - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
23. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
24. "The People's House" - Lincoln (2012)
25. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
26. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
27. "Lumos!" - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)
28. "Main Title and The Attack of the Jakku Village" - Star Wars: The  Force Awakens (2015)
29. "Dartmoor 1912" - War Horse (2011)
30. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
31. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
32. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
33. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
34. "The Patriot" - The Patriot (2000)
35. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
36. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
37. "One Small Fact" - The Book Thief (2013)
38. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
39. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
40. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
41. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
42. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
43. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
44. "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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