It's been ten years since we've had a Star Wars score from John Williams. Like that installment - 2005's Revenge of the Sith - The Force Awakens has been intentionally sculpted to recall moments from the previous trilogy, although Awakens leans more towards the first Star Wars, from 1977. That isn't to say it relies on previous themes as drastically as all of the prequels did, but rather a feel, a sense of swashbuckling fun desperately needed after six hours of boring trade disputes and performances and sequences with all the energy of BB-8 after his batteries have run out.
It's hard to take in so much so soon, especially watching the filn itself not long after hearing the score. An immediate standout is 'Rey's Theme', a wonderful and whimsical piece that reflects her innocence yet curiousity and acts as the backbone of the score, developing along the way. 'March of the Resistance' is a stately brass piece capturing the spirit of the Resistance fighter pilots, in a lovely old-fashioned mode, and Kylo Ren's five note descending motif is glorious, true villainous stuff and playing as as intentionally jagged as his unconventional lightsaber blade.
The callbacks are not as interspersed as you might think. The Rebel Fanfare pops up a few times, there are lovely moments for the Han and Leia love theme, as well as Leia's solo theme, and a wonderful interpolation of Luke's theme during the dynamite 'Scherzo For X-Wings'. And of course Ben's theme aka The Force theme, which is the most oft-used of the original leitmotifs and helps give the score - and film - something emotional to grasp on to.
The Force Awakens was only partially conducted by Williams - also waving the baton was composer William Ross (who shared orchestrations with the Maestro) and conductor Gustavo Dudamel, with the latter leading the orchestra for the main and end titles. And it sounds great, with the orchestration and the mix allowing for a wonderful new take on an old classic, with the end titles particularly having a lovely whimsical feel.
The Force Awakens would be a triumph whoever it came from, but it just happens to come from an eighty-three year-old John Williams. All we can hope is that eighty-five year old Johnny still has the same mojo. The score begins and ends with the same melody - firstly triumphant, lastly tentative, a fragment. But a sign of what may come next. Either way, I can't wait to hear it. -CB