I started an analysis for shits and gigs, and to distract me from perpetual existential crisis. Here's the first half:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi OST Review / Musical Analysis
Mixing / Mastering
What initially stands out for me is the mixing and mastering of the album, which hits you straight away upon listening to 01 Main Titles and Escape.
The entire album is heavily limited, mixed meticulously, and makes use of modern mastering techniques such as multi-band compression. There’s no doubt that this is the loudest original Star Wars album release to date. Aesthetically, the techniques used create an epic, large, punchy sound, with bass rolls and strikes that caused my ADAM A8X monitors to boom beautifully, and the trumpet highs of the fanfares and action pieces to almost pierce the ears, were they not being hugged by a warm, analogue-sounding bus compression. The percussion hits are particularly explosive when they occur! Sometimes the limiting gets a bit too close to brick-walling for my personal liking, with sections sounding as if they’re fighting for headroom.
01 Main Titles and Escape
The track of course starts with the iconic Star Wars / Luke’s Theme fanfare. The performance is very similar to the TFA performance, if not identical. What does sound different is how punchy it is. The main titles segue into a homage to the mysterious piccolo solo that featured in the same way in ESB. This is my favourite of the main title segues, so it was a pleasure to hear it played here with such articulacy.
The track quickly enters an urgent-sounding, militaristic section, with a pounding, rhythmic bass pedal, and fast fanfaric brass/winds, reminiscent of RoTS / BoTH material to my ears. The track is frenzied, with shifting textures constantly as the story develops.
Kylo Ren’s Theme makes its first appearance with a bang at 1:57, orchestrated identically to how we’ve heard it in TFA. I’ve noticed that Williams seems to give the ‘B section’ of Kylo Ren’s Theme a bit more room to breathe in this score – I’m referring here to the ominous rising bass phrase – it’s a bit more fleshed-out and developed throughout the score.
The cue continues in various (likely edited) directions, before a triumphant rendition of the Rebel Fanfare erupts at 2:40. Other theme appearances are a lively and triumphant Poe’s Theme at 3:01, March of The Resistance at 3:17, an allusion The TFA ‘Falcon’/Chase theme at 4:20, orchestrated wonderfully, Battle of the Heroes at 6:15, and others (I think there may be a new Luke on the Island Theme that occurs at around 4:03).
Overall, the orchestration is absolutely stellar. Reminiscent of the end-reel action cues for TPM. Rich, detailed, colourful, and innovative. Shout-out to the Superman-esque bass ostinato! Very exciting track. The feel is dominant, urgent, frenzied and triumphant, told in Williams’ usual story-telling drama style.
02 Ahch-To Island
This track begins with The Jedi Steps theme introduced in TFA. The cue alludes to a fragment of Battle of the Heroes in the bass at 0:57. This cue is incidental, with various swells and developments. The orchestration sometimes uses colours Williams’ seemed to have previously reserved only for Potter or more whimsical/magical films. The cue builds up to a full, wonderful rendition of Rey’s Theme at 2:42. Luke on the Island Theme re-occurs in what I believe to be a clearer rendition at 3:35. Parts of the cue are slightly coloured akin to the mid-reels of RoTS (e.g. Anakin’s Betrayal), in my opinion.
03 Revisiting Snoke
Ominous underscore. Williams has got them monks again doing their thang. Expect tremolo swells, and relatively subtle renditions of Kylo Ren’s Theme (both parts) as well as The Imperial March. Again, some innovative orchestration here. Epic & lively ending involving Kylo Ren’s Theme.
04 The Supremacy
Starts with sleuthing underscore that develops gradually. March of the Resistance appears 0:48, which gets developed with increasing urgency. The cue becomes more frenzied, as Williams’ famous action 2-4-3-5-1 (minor) ostinato gets used excitingly. Great string-work develops, which is really a development on the Kylo Ren chase music established in TFA, and reminiscent of other Williams action cues (e.g. The Moon Rising in A.I.). The craftsmanship in the string writing is striking (a bugger to play, though).
The cue takes a turn at 2:03, where we hear Princess Leia’s Theme played over ominous, dissonant harmonies. Shortly after, we hear another, more uncertain and intimate solo harp rendition of Princess Leia’s Theme before the orchestra continues to boldly develop the narrative, interspersed with references to the Force Theme.
The cue ends with a fragment of Rey’s Theme.
05 Fun with Finn and Rose
The track begins with the first appearance of a gentle rendition of a fragment of Rose’s Theme. It’s a simple melody, but quite memorable, with a Celtic, feminine aesthetic that I felt Rey’s Theme also had.
At 0:52 we get a light-hearted rendition of the B section of The March of the Resistance, which develops a bit and involves the A part too. Princess Leia’s Theme re-appears with clarity at 1:35.
Overall, mostly incidental underscore here. Shout out to the innovative, fresh ending – where did that come from, Johnny?
06 Old Friends
The cue begins with a subdued rendition of The Force Theme, which gets a full play-out before the tone develops into something more light-hearted and impressionistic, with Luke’s Theme peppered in. Princess Leia’s Theme again appears delightfully and magically at 1:12.
The second half of the cue is more sparse, with a fragment of Rey’s Theme, ominous sounding gestures leading to Kylo Ren’s Theme, and more whimsical Williams story telling. At 3:00 the new Luke on the Island Theme returns.
Again, there is some wonderful eerie orchestration and colours here. I think it’s great that Williams is still innovating.
07 The Rebellion is Reborn
The cue begins with a lovely and full rendition of Rose’s Theme – triumphant and broad, before developing into a fragment of Rey’s Theme. The Luke on the Island Theme returns, interspersed with Rose’s Theme.
The track has an exciting and optimistic feel. It ends with a fantastic, bold, optimistic outro using Rose’s Theme. I imagine pushes the narrative forward very well.
08 Lesson One
Starts light with fluttering strings and winds, before a gentle performance of Rey’s Theme. The cue develops in interesting directions, making use of The Force Theme.
The cue becomes very dramatic at around 1:28 with an ominous ostinato-like figure being played by the strings. The cue swells to a gigantic, cliffhanging end.
09 Canto Bight
Begins with a lovely fanfare with some interesting harmonic stuff going on.
Prepare yourself for the source music which references Aquarela do Brasil, but don’t let the steel drums put you off. This track actually turns into something very creative, funny and funky – reminiscent of Jazzy stuff from Tintin, CMIYC, and The Knight Bus.
I love the boogie-woogie bass synth - it's coloured so amusingly. Pretty hilarious.
10 Who Are You?
The track begins mysteriously, with a mention to Rey's Theme. The tone becomes more ominous. More underscoring involving sparse, eerie gestures. Great dissonant harmonies and colours are crafted by Williams. At 2:10 the energy suddenly increases, starting with a short rendition of the Rebel Fanfare and Luke's Theme.
11 The Fathiers
This is a fun action piece. I immediately pick up on a 'swashbuckling' feel here at the beginning, reminiscent to some of the Tin-Tin material. The cue is full of exciting gestures, horn rips, swirling violins, off-beat xylophone hits, healthy doses of Boom-Tzzz and rapid-fire trumpets. At 1:02 a fragment of Rose's Theme briefly appears. At 1:28 Rose's Theme appears again, but this time it really lifts magically and gets a chance to soar.
The track has a great energy - exciting, optimistic, almost whimsical in parts in a Potter-esque style. Williams effortlessly develops the narrative with his usual key changes and rhythmic variations. There's a lot going on here.
12 The Cave
Low harp-pedal and ominous gestures begin this dissonant cue, immediately creating an uneasy feel. The dissonances and timbres are slightly reminiscent of the Dagobah material from ESB, in my opinion. The cue continues for a while oscilating between moments of rising, orchestrationally-innovative gestures and eerie silences.
At 1:35 a flute solo emerges, non-vibrato, quite haunting - still and questioning. The cue proceeds with a kind of romantic string elegy with fragments of Rey's Theme, before arriving at a subdued ending.
13 The Sacred Jedi Texts
Begins with a plain rendition of The Force Theme, before transporting to a mysterious, questioning, swirling statement. Yoda's Theme appears briefly at 0:31, before a loud transitional fanfare. The Force Theme makes a loud, dramatic and desperate appearance 1:00, which I found to be very powerful.
We hear a lovely string elegy at 1:43. Another stock appearance of The Force Theme a bit later.
The cue ends with the concert arrangement of Yoda's Theme at 2:39.
... more to come