John Powell and John Williams inject youthful orchestral energy into the intergalactic spaghetti western heist that is Solo: A Star Wars Story.
There’s no denying the important legacy of Star Wars soundtracks. For over forty years, John Williams’s scores have sonically captivated the imaginations of children and adults alike. No other composer’s aural universe arguably comes as close to illustrating characters, settings and emotion as well as his does. But Solo: A Star Wars Story – the second spin off film in as many years for the ever-expanding franchise – marks a refreshing change in the conductor’s baton.
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios with nothing less than a large-scale orchestra, John Powell has crafted a new score that underpins the high-octane adventure of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), his Wookie sidekick Chewbacca and other Empire outcasts. Original composer John Williams still stamps his musical mark on the film though, composing an invigorating new theme for the eponymous character.
Overall the score is fast-paced compared to other films in the franchise. John Williams’s opening piece ‘The Adventures of Han’ sets the tone with its busy string playing and boisterous brass that bounces and echoes around the soundstage. First heard in the trombones, Solo’s theme weaves itself into many other musical moments, showing Powell’s compositional prowess.
Both ‘Train Heist’ and ‘Marauders Arrive’ continue the youthful tone of the underscore. Building from quiet strings, the former erupts into a swashbuckling orchestral riot of pounding drums, flurries of strings and woodwind, and self-righteous brass. It’s not too dissimilar in spirit from Elmer Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven score, but much more intense and dramatic.
Powell isn’t afraid to incorporate something new to the Star Wars sonic universe either, adding hints of Arabic instrumentation in ‘Is This Seat Taken’ and a lively choir in ‘Marauders Arrive’. As we noted in our review of The Last Jedi soundtrack, Star Wars has a history of creating weird and wonderful intergalactic pop songs. This tradition is continued in the Solo: A Star Wars Story soundtrack, with John Powell crafting the most bizarre-sounding piece yet. Accompanying a hilarious on-screen performance, the song sounds very much like Alien RnB combined with ultra-contemporary jazz.
Obviously it wouldn’t really be a Star Wars film without all of the musical themes that evoke the spirit of the originals – and Powell acknowledges this. In ‘L3 & Millennium Falcon’ listeners are treated to a simply stunning rendition of the classic themes, while ‘Reminiscence Therapy’ sounds like something that was written for The Empire Strikes Back. It’s truly rousing material, and Solo’s new theme effortlessly fits into the latter piece as if it were written decades ago.
Solo: A Star Wars Story may be the most expensive film the Star Wars universe has birthed so far, but there is simply no denying the impact a wholesome orchestral score provides, even in the age of advanced CGI technologies. And despite the movie’s underperformance at the box office, composer John Powell has earned his stripes and should continue John Williams’s sonic legacy for the next few films at least.
– Alex Weston
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