Sunday, June 3, 2018

Quick Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Music composed and adapted by John Powell
Music conducted by Gavin Greenaway
Additional music and arrangements by Batu Sener, Anthony Willis, Paul Mounsey
Music orchestrated by John Ashton Thomas, Geoff Lawson, Tommy Laurence, Andrew Kinney, Randy Kerber, Rick Giovinazzo, Gavin Greenaway
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios

Han Solo Theme and original Star Wars music by John Williams
Adventures of Han conducted by John Williams
Adventures of Han recorded at Newman Scoring Stage
Album running time: 77 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

A mere few months since the last episode, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we return to the Star Wars universe with this Han Solo prequel adventure.  Just like 2016's Rogue One, this has the A Star Wars Story anthology moniker.

A new theme for young Han Solo was composed by John Williams.  Several ideas by Williams became the track The Adventures of Han, which Powell incorporated heavily into his score once he was hired.  Powell also came up with a shortlist of new themes to use: a love theme for Han and Qi'ra, theme for Chewbacca, the gang theme, Enfys Nest's theme, and a theme for Lando's L3 droid.  Powell also incorporates several bits of past Star Wars material, mainly the Rebel fanfare and main title theme.     

The Adventures of Han is a combination of two ideas by Williams (Powell has referred to them as hero and searching themes for Han).  Stylistically and melodically it is similar to his work on The Force Awakens (I can't help adding the rest of Poe's theme onto this new one).  This arrangement has charging strings, and brilliant brass and woodwind flourishes.  I'm glad Han finally gets a semi-swashbuckling theme by Williams.  As the movie itself premiered, Williams conducted the cue live in Boston, and most likely live concerts in the future.  I can understand if people only want to hear the new theme by Williams, but those that continue listening to Powell's work will be rewarded.

As much of the opening of the film is introducing us to young Han, Williams' themes play a large part.  Meet Han incorporates the searching theme in an action setting over percussion and brass fanfares.  Corellia Chase fits the hero and searching theme into this big action cue.  This is a really fun swashbuckling cue - a type that Powell has been able to conjure for his previous films.  A flash of the Star Wars main title at the end reminds us what universe we're in.  Powell tends to use it as a "things to come/destiny" motif.  

Spaceport builds more upon the Williams material, with a little more suspense and menace as Han and Qi'ra aim for the exit.  In the most dramatic moment near the end of the cue, we're introduced to their love theme - interesting that it's first in such an arrangement.  Flying With Chewie underscores the beginning of Han's new life with Beckett's gang, whose theme appears in some quick trumpet bursts.  Han's theme takes off with some fantastic orchestration with the next section underscoring the forming of friendship between Chewie and Han.

Train Heist begins with a subdued opening before several roaring repetitions of the gang's theme, with some fun nods to the Imperial motif from A New Hope, and some heroic statements of Han's theme.  Marauders Arrive gives Powell a chance to branch out from typical Star Wars sound.  The exotic-sounding choir lends itself to Enfys Nest's group of Marauders as we follow them through the story.  Bits of Han's theme and the gang's theme jump into the action scoring, some of which is purposely frantic.

Chicken in the Pot is the sole source music as we're introduced to the luxurous rooms of the gangsters.  The song is a bit alluring and mixes music styles nicely.  Is This Seat Taken? changes styles to more light and exotic with really interesting instrumentation.  It includes some subdued flute renditions of Han's theme, Chewie's theme and Rebel fanfare, underscoring Han and Lando's sabacc card game.  L3 & Millennium Falcon introduces Lando's droid L3 with her own bouncy march theme.  Here Powell really stretches the score's textures.  As Han boards the Falcon, the chorus enters with bits of the Rebel fanfare and Star Wars main title.  Enfys Nest's theme appears again at the end.  

Lando's Closet gives the biggest statement of the love theme, and it's written like an old Hollywood romance theme.  Mine Mission contains a steady military march with a fugue-like feature.  Think a cross between 'March of the Resistance' and Chicken Run.  Various character leitmotifs fly in and out, but L3's theme plays a prominent role in this cue.  Break Out continues the same style with a few more allusions to Han's theme, an ultra heroic Chewie's theme and later the main title fanfare and Rebel fanfare combined with Han's themes.  The track ends with a sorrowful rendition of L3's theme.

The Good Guy expands on the love theme, but certainly less romantic than before and also includes some strong Enfys Nest choir.  Reminiscence Therapy is perhaps the standout track with Powell throwing themes from across the Star Wars films into the large action sequence.  All the original Williams themes are interestingly patched into Powell's writing - we hear the Death Star motif, main title, Rebel fanfare, 'Here They Come' and 'The Asteroid Field'.  Those themes intermingled with Powell's themes (and the new Han theme) fuel the large action cue.  Into the Maw continues the action with the roaring brass and percussion giving motion to the cue.  We hear a return of L3's theme, and the gang's theme among the orchestral gymnastics.  We build to the Star Wars main title as it mixes with the Rebel fanfare and Han's theme as our heroes escape in the Falcon.

Savareen Stand-Off adds some more interesting percussion and electronic textures to Enfys Nest's material.  Throat singing accompany the theme on flute as it underscores the Maurader leader's true intentions.  Good Thing You Were Listening incorporates dramatic renditions of the gang theme.  Dissonance returns in Testing Allegiance, and as our main characters clash we hear bits of themes in various arrangements.  We hear a nice moment of Han's theme with the percussion from the Mauraders.  The love theme appears one last time with a full piano solo.  The cue ends with a statement of the Crimson Dawn motif (the 3 notes that often accompany Dryden Vos).  The exotic sound of Dice and Roll signifies Han and Lando rematching their sabacc game.  One last large statement of the Rebel fanfare and Han's theme ends the album.  (Note: the end credits aren't on the album so it may seem a bit abrupt).

As you can tell from the album or my semi-breakdown, Powell naturally continued the leitmotif process that has become a Star Wars staple.  Compared to Rogue One with music by Michael Giacchino, Powell has the advantage of utilizing a new theme by Williams.  Perhaps that would be a challenge, but Powell has succeed in that manner.  The usage of older themes seem fresh in their arrangements and instrumentation.  The spotting of heroic moments are great, both for new fans or the die-hards.  FYI: Two little references to Williams themes don't appear on the album.  The layers of full orchestral material is thrilling as well as the new thematic material.  The orchestra styles are also expanding the landscape - from throat singing, tropical vibes to the percussion that Powell loves to use. 

There seems to be a bunch of missing music from the album, but it's a great example of what was made for the film.  It seemed pretty quiet in the film mix, so the album really is a good representation.  Whether you find the film divisive, this score really shines.  Bringing his all to a non-animated film, John Powell proved himself with this score to Solo.  I can only hope this brings him some more work in the franchise.