Star Wars: The Last Jedi – music by John Williams

Star Wars: The Last JediStar Wars fandom may never be a cohesive whole again once the post-original-trilogy trilogy wraps up. The Force Awakens was knowingly derivative – on purpose, so we’re told in hindsight – to bring a new, younger audience into the familiar story beats of a Star Wars movie, while The Last Jedi‘s iconoclastic approach to the story’s remaining original trilogy characters seemed to split Star Wars fandom down the middle. The one unchanging constant in this whirlwind, however, has been John Williams, the architect of the orchestral Star Wars sound.

The soundtrack from The Last Jedi, appropriately for the middle chapter of a trilogy, leans heavily on themes already established. Themes for Rey, Kylo Ren/the First Order, and Poe/the Resistance are holdovers from The Force Awakens, with Rey’s theme given a great deal of development here. From the original trilogy, the Force theme (also frequently associated with Obi-Wan Kenobi) gets plenty of play here, as does a theme for another Jedi Master long past. The TIE Fighter battle theme is back as the Millennium Falcon shakes off its pursuers on Crait, with maybe two seconds of whimsy dropped in for Chewie’s new Porg sidekick. (Not heard on the album: the re-use of the Emperor’s theme for Snoke – perhaps a tacitly tuneful admission that the two were nearly interchangeable?) Luke and Leia’s reunion gets a somber, low-key treatment of their theme from Return Of The Jedi, tagged out by a short reference to Han and Leia’s love theme before Luke strides into battle against Kylo Ren.

Virtually the only truly new theme here is reserved for Finn’s winsome new partner, Rose (though that description should, perhaps, be the other way around). This leaves the movie’s major action setpieces for the majority of “new” material – percussive, raging battle music for Rey and Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards, Finn’s final fight with Phasma, and naturally Luke’s climcactic duel with Kylo Ren. “The Battle Of Crait” rolls out a low, threatening motif for the oncoming First Order forces, as well as a choral interlude for Finn’s futile attempt to sacrifice himself for the Rebel cause.

The introduction to Canto Bight has an opulent opening (hearkening back to some of the “Coruscant” music from the prequel trilogy, which then segues into a boisterous jazz tune that sounds like it’s played by the same ensemble as the original Star Wars‘ Cantina Band music. It’s not a callback to that specific tune, but very much a delightful callback to its style. “The Fathiers”, accompanying the scenes of Finn and Rose lowering Canto Bight’s property value with large, four-legged help, is a callback of another kind – it sounds like a theme from an Indiana Jones movie slipped into the Star Wars universe.

I can handle a soundtrack falling back on old favorites more gracefully than I can handle the entire script of a movie doing so, and – spoiler alert – John Williams gives Luke Skywalker and Leia a truly epic sendoff, the 5 out of 4former with a mythic choral treatment, and the latter with her theme from Star Wars arranged for piano during the end credit tribute to the late Carrie Fisher.

With J.J. Abrams back in the driver’s seat for Episode IX, the question isn’t whether John Williams’ final Star Wars outing is worthy of the franchise. The question now becomes whether or not the movie itself will be worthy of Williams’ grand finale.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title and Escape (7:26)
  2. Ahch-To Island (4:23)
  3. Revisiting Snoke (3:29)
  4. The Supremacy (4:01)
  5. Fun with Finn and Rose (2:34)
  6. Old Friends (4:29)
  7. The Rebellion is Reborn (4:00)
  8. Lesson One (2:10)
  9. Canto Bight (2:38)
  10. Who Are You? (3:04)
  11. The Fathiers (2:42)
  12. The Cave (3:00)
  13. The Sacred Jedi Texts (3:33)
  14. A New Alliance (3:13)
  15. Chrome Dome (2:03)
  16. The Battle of Crait (6:48)
  17. The Spark (3:36)
  18. The Last Jedi (3:04)
  19. Peace and Purpose (3:08)
  20. Finale (8:28)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: December 15, 2017
Total running time: 77:49

L’uomo Puma (The Pumaman) – music by Renato Serio

The PumamanKnown to the English-speaking world as the infamously cheesy, MST3K-mocked movie Puma Man, L’uomo Puma boasts a score that, heard in isolation, outclasses its accompanying movie in nearly every inportant way. Well, for the most part.

Let’s quantify the outclassing being done by the score here: this isn’t “the first Star Trek movie was okay, but Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking score made it even better” territory. Instead, the orchestral portions of L’uomo Puma‘s score class up the adventures of Tony (the hapless nerd who receives “the powers of a puma”) and Vadinho just enough to give the perhaps mistaken impression that money was spent on the movie as a whole (spoiler: it really wasn’t).

This long, long overdue CD release – this score’s first release on any format – was issued by Italy’s Beat Records in late 2017 in a ridiculously small pressing of 500 units, and to be quite honest, its track titles are opaque and unhelpful at best, managing to completely obscure where that track falls in the movie unless you’re a Puma Man scholar who has memorized the movie (a status which your reviewer is slightly embarrassed to admit he may be approaching).

There are three primary themes in the Puma Man score: a noble-but-mysterious theme for the alien visitors who conferred “the powers of a puma” upon a selected member of the human race, an ominously menacing theme for the machinations of the character played by Donald Pleasence (whose sole instruction from the movie’s director must have been “that’s nice, but can you do it more like Blofeld?”), and of course, the goofily late-’70s-supermarket-commercial-jingle feel of Puma Man’s theme.

The former two categories of music are where the most praise is deserved; they’re nicely composed, marvelously played, and well-engineered. The hollow echo treatment on the cellos lend them more menace than usual. Composer Renato Serio, known primarily to Italian audiences, wasn’t fooling around here; this music outclasses the movie it’s in easily.

If you’re even slightly enamoured of late ’70s scoring that tries to force an orchestra to play to a disco beat, then you’ll be a sucker for the Puma Man theme, a cheery recurring theme that seems oblivious to 3 out of 4the fact that its hero seems to have stumbled upon his superpowers and doesn’t really know how to use them. There’s something hilariously compelling about it – you’ll find yourself humming or whistling it for days afterward.

Earlier, the small pressing of 500 copies of L’uomo Puma was described as ridiculously small; maybe it is. Or maybe it’s just right, given how far underground this movie’s cult following must be. But for those who enjoy this slab of finest Italian-made cheese, it’s almost certain to earn a place of honor on the soundtrack shelf.

Order this CD

  1. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 1 (2:14)
  2. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 2 (2:13)
  3. Puma Man #1 (2:03)
  4. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 3 (2:38)
  5. Puma Man #2 (2:07)
  6. Puma Man #3 (3:13)
  7. Puma Man #4 (1:43)
  8. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 4 (2:04)
  9. Puma Man #5 (2:26)
  10. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 5 (2:36)
  11. Puma Man #6 (2:28)
  12. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 6 (2:07)
  13. Puma Man #7 (2:26)
  14. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 7 (2:40)
  15. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 8 (2:24)
  16. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 9 (1:42)
  17. Puma Man #8 (1:57)
  18. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 10 (2:15)
  19. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 11 (2:22)
  20. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 12 (2:14)
  21. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 13 (1:35)
  22. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 14 (2:03)
  23. Puma Man #9 (2:38)
  24. Puma Man #10 (1:49)
  25. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 15 (2:46)
  26. Puma Man #11 (2:13)
  27. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 16 (2:08)
  28. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 17 (2:38)
  29. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 18 (1:54)
  30. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 19 (2:04)
  31. Puma Man #12 (3:14)
  32. Puma Man #13 (2:45)

Released by: Beat Records
Release date: October 20, 2017
Total running time: 75:12

Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey

Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space OdysseyYou can probably be forgiven if the name of this movie – shown primarily in museums and other educational venues – doesn’t ring a bell. Animated in Taiwan to accompany an all-star voice cast that included the likes of William Shatner, Chris Pine, Mark Hamill, Samuel L. Jackson, Brent Spiner Robert Picardo, Hayden Christensen, Jason Alexander, James Earl Jones, future Star Trek: Discovery star Doug Jones, and rookie first-time actor Neil Armstrong, Quantum Quest incorporated real-time data from a number of NASA missions that were then ongoing: Cassini, the sun-watching SOHO, Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER, Mars Odyssey, and ESA’s Venus Express and Mars Express orbiters. I’m kind of sorry I missed this one, because the real-time, interactive nature of it precludes any kind of home video release (or at best would result in a home video release robbed of its most compelling features).

But there’s the soundtrack. Shawn K. Clement (composer on several early episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer) pulls out all the stops, with the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra delivering a score worthy of a sci-fi epic (complete with theremin performed by Clement himself). With a barrage of percussion and occasional ethnic flourishes, Quantum Quest‘s score shows a bit of Battlestar Galactica influence (but then, so does a lot of other post-2005 sci-fi scoring). But it’s a very different animal, leaning more heavily on traditional 19th century orchestral influences and using the other elements as flavoring rather than foregrounding them.

4 out of 4Given the subject matter and the talent involved, it’s a bummer to have missed Quantum Quest while it was still a current concern. (Even the spacecraft upon whose data the movie relied are not all there now: Cassini, Venus Express and MESSENGER have all ended their missions by crashing into their respective planets.) The soundtrack makes quite a souvenir of both the movie and that very busy era of interplanetary exploration.

Order this CD

  1. Cassini (0:47)
  2. Anti-Matter (1:34)
  3. Sun City The Game (3:11)
  4. Opportunity To Serve (0:45)
  5. Departure Station (1:45)
  6. The Core (1:11)
  7. The Battle (1:14)
  8. Ignorant Moronic Fools (1:05)
  9. The Void (1:39)
  10. Ghost Fight (0:44)
  11. Incoming (0:55)
  12. Fate Of Trillions (2:06)
  13. Dave In Space (1:05)
  14. Fear / The War Machine (3:25)
  15. Ring City (0:35)
  16. Are You Milton? (1:18)
  17. Destroy The Dave, Destroy The Light (1:54)
  18. Cassini Commander (0:44)
  19. Flipping Switches (1:25)
  20. Destroy Me (1:02)
  21. Operation Photon Extermination (3:17)
  22. The Message / Dave Delivers (4:18)
  23. Universe Of Possibilities (2:18)
  24. The Quest (remix) (5:23)
  25. The Message / Dave Delivers (demo) (4:11)
  26. The Message (remix) (6:32)

Released by: BSX Records
Release date: September 1, 2011
Total running time: 54:23

Beep – music by Leonard J. Paul

BeepThe soundtrack for a documentary about the evolution of sound in video games, Beep is very much an exercise in electronica, with a healthy dose of chiptune. That seems like an almost obvious way to go, right? Except there’s a bit more to it than that.

Many of the tracks on the Beep soundtrack album are ethereal and just a little bit hypnotic – repeating musical figures that sort of draw you into their sonic spiral. That’s no accident: these sequences were built on a foundation of procedurally-generated tunes. The repeating sequences were created at random by a program (given certain parameters), and then everything on top of that was the work of the film’s human composer. It’s an interesting way to have man and machine working together, and for the subject matter of Beep, it works. Even as a listening experience with none of the context of the movie, it’s very relaxing.

There are a few places where it gets a bit more active, though. There are two versions of “Half Steppin’/Freaky DNA”, a tune that sets up a funky groove, and there’s an ode to game music’s 4 out of 4less melodious early years in the form of “Dave’s Atari”, which gives you a really good idea of an Atari 2600’s actual range of notes and octaves. (And it’s still musical in its own way.) “Wood Bug” has a feel similar to “Dave’s Atari”, but with a more modern sound palette.

Beep may not be everyone’s cup of pleasantly arranged sine waves, but it’s mesmerizing and yet unmistakably pays tribute to the 8-bit sound of the early video gaming era. Those are two really strong selling points for a listener in the right frame of mind for something different.

Order this CD

  1. Beep Movie – Main Theme (1:17 )
  2. Banana Seat (5:28)
  3. Karin Originals (5:21)
  4. Orange Shag (3:31)
  5. Buckwheat Pancakes (4:03)
  6. Riverbank (4:10)
  7. Ankylosaurus Almonds (2:12)
  8. Rotary Dial (3:07)
  9. Dave’s Atari (1:58)
  10. Skipping Rocks (7:45)
  11. Half Steppin’ (Genesis Remix) – Freaky DNA (1:21)
  12. Help Steppin’ – Freaky DNA (3:07)
  13. Beep Logo (0:06)
  14. Magic Hour (4:20)
  15. Pluto (4:43)
  16. Galaxies (2:30)
  17. Googol (3:31)
  18. Crusin’ The Cosmos (4:50)
  19. Quadra Sunrise (3:54)
  20. Wood Bug (2:06)
  21. Backyard Flight (4:10)
  22. Beep Movie – Closing Theme (2:40)

Released by: Bandcamp
Release date: September 16, 2016
Total running time: 1:16:10

Twister – music by Mark Mancina

TwisterEvery once in a while, a soundtrack appears that you just kind of order on sight. This was one of those. I was no stranger to Mark Mancina’s propulsive, all-American-sounding score from the 1996 tornado disaster flick Twister, as I already had the original release of the score from that year, but the thought of a complete Twister score release was enough to lighten my wallet a bit…mainly for the love of a single piece of music omitted from the ’96 CD.

One of the film’s best sequences follows a somewhat introspective series of vignettes that nail home, none too subtly, the emotional stakes for the movie’s characters. After a hasty retreat from a decidedly southern meal, the ragtag storm chasers led by Bill Paxton’s character do a bit of ill-advised off-roading without being entirely sure where they’re going to wind up. The orchestral part of the soundtrack begins churning in a steady rhythm with the signature battery of cellos that anchor the entire score, eventually transitioning into “Humans Being”, the song Van Halen contributed to Twister‘s “songtrack” album. It’s quite possibly the best integration of score and tie-in song I’ve ever heard Hollywood pull off, and…it was missing from the original album.

That track, “Walk In The Woods”, tapers off rather than crashing into rock music territory (the Van Halen song can still be found on the readily available song CD), but it sold me on this whole remaster. Unlike some past reissues which doubled the amount of music available or blew our minds with alternates or unused takes, there are probably fewer than ten minutes of truly “new” music to be found on this reissue. But in conversing with fellow soundtrack afficionados, I found that “Walk In The Woods” was the tipping point for them picking this one up too.

4 out of 4The familiar tracks from the original album are renamed and shuffled around a bit from the original 1996 release, but it’s all there – with one exception. Missing from this new release is the snippet of movie dialogue (well, singing, really) in which a couple of the storm chasers sing a bit of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (particularly badly); if you’re a fan of that few seconds of silliness, you need to hang on to the 1996 release as well as this one.

Order this CD

  1. Wheatfield (film version) (1:25)
  2. The Hunt Begins (3:50)
  3. The Sky (1:03)
  4. Dorothy IV (film version) (1:57)
  5. The First Twister (0:49)
  6. In the Ditch / Where’s My Truck? (2:00)
  7. Waterspouts (2:49)
  8. Cow (5:42)
  9. Walk In The Woods (2:05)
  10. Bob’s Road (2:13)
  11. Hail No! (2:43)
  12. Futility (film version) (2:17)
  13. Drive-In Twister (2:57)
  14. Wakita (film version) (5:19)
  15. Sculptures (film version) (3:06)
  16. House Visit (4:47)
  17. The Big Suck (film version) (1:47)
  18. End Titles (2:25)
  19. Wheatfield (alternate) (1:28)
  20. Waterspouts (alternate) (2:50)
  21. The Big Suck (alternate) (1:14)
  22. End Title / Respect the Wind (9:20)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: January 20, 2017
Total running time: 64:07

Fight For Space – music by Ron Jones

Fight For SpaceRon Jones is an inspired choice to score a space documentary, even if you’ve never heard of him. Mention his name in a room full of diehard Star Trek: The Next Generation fans and you’ll probably get a conversation started: during that show’s first four years, he kicked over numerous restrictive rules put in place by the producers, who wanted the music to be “wallpaper”, and did his own thing…until the showrunners responded in kind by simply ceasing to engage his services any further.

But the producers of that particular series seem to be the only ones who don’t remember him fondly. The makers of computer games such as Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Command availed themselves of his services, as did the backers of last year’s 50th anniversary concert tour, commissioning him to write new music in a Trek vein, which was also recorded for the recent 50th anniversary soundtrack album.

It’s those recent compositions that his music from Fight For Space most closely resemble: noble, yearning, vaguely nautical. But there are other flavors that aren’t exactly Trekkish: quiter, piano-led tracks, even a couple of somewhat comical pieces. Then there are the real surprises, a full-on rock ‘n’ roll track titled “Chaos Never Stopped Us”, whole other tracks such as “The Greatest 4 out of 4Possibilities” and “The Letter That Killed Space” combine the sonic palettes of orchestra and rock band.

But it’s all recognizably Ron Jones – the sound that no sane showrunner ever would have jettisoned from the Star Trek franchise. Whether it’s for the 24th century, or the 21st century struggle of a chronically underfunded NASA to live up to its 20th century glories, that sound is a perfect fit. Those who have missed Jones’ odes to the final frontier will enjoy this one a lot.

Order this CD

  1. Space Calls Us (4:23)
  2. Cold War Fears (2:02)
  3. Moving a Nation (2:39)
  4. The Spin Offs (1:51)
  5. Earthrise (1:02)
  6. The Hope Killers (6:34)
  7. First Homes Off Earth (2:54)
  8. Messy Politics of Space (4:22)
  9. Rockets and Budgets to Nowhere (7:42)
  10. Chaos Never Stopped Us (5:34)
  11. The Letter That Killed Space (3:35)
  12. Why arn’t We There Yet? (4:41)
  13. Progress and Fear (2:16)
  14. The Greatest Possibilities (7:42)
  15. The Universe Awaits (6:44)
  16. First Sketches and Themes (3:45)

Released by: SkyMuse Records
Release date: March 29, 2017
Total running time: 1:07:46

Star Trek Beyond (Deluxe) – music by Michael Giacchino

Star Trek BeyondVarese Sarabande’s handling of the soundtracks from the modern Star Trek movies has made me wise up: I didn’t even bother with Michael Giacchino’s score from Star Trek Beyond until the 2-CD Deluxe Edition was released. I’m just not in a position to fall for the double dip every time.

Sadly, the irony is that, while Beyond got the current iteration of Star Trek back “on message”, preaching the virtues of peace and compassion over the values of a violent, twisted being out for revenge, Giacchino’s third visit to the Trek well seems to be his least inspired of the three movies he’s scored to date.

That’s somewhat understandable: the after-the-fact heaping of criticism on the second movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, had to have a palpable effect on those involved in making it. (Ironically, Giacchino’s score from Into Darkness was one of the very, very few things I could find to enjoy about that otherwise lamentably derivative entry in the franchise.) It could be that his creative energies were sapped by the time he went to work on Beyond.

There are highlights, though. The appearances of Starbase Yorktown, a marvel of alternative-23rd-century Starfleet construction that would dwarf a 24th century Borg cube, are graced with a gorgeous fanfare, featuring a long melody line of the kind that seems like it went out of style after John Williams re-educated everyone about uses of the leitmotif. There are some nice cues covering the series of vignettes following the surviving members of the Enterprise crew trying to simply survive on the surface of the planet over which their ship was brought down, though those tend toward brevity.

The action scenes involving Krall’s attack on the Enterprise are frenetic and noisy, probably with the idea that they’d be competing with frenetic and noisy sound effects for dominance in the movie’s audio mix. As a listening experience with no accompanying visuals, they’re a bit much – compare to Giacchino’s more gracefully Williams-esque action scenes from Rogue One for an exercise in contrast.

Though I know some uppity Star Trek fans may recoil against the thought of including a track that could be even remotely considered R&B on their precious soundtrack albums – one can still hear the howls of protest over “Ooby Dooby” and “Magic Carpet Ride” 20 years after Star Trek: First Contact – I’m a bit disappointed to find that, even with a second disc worth of material and more breathing room – Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer” single wasn’t included here. I know there’s licensing, label politics, and yes, that whole blow-up among fans about whether the singer had any business dipping her toe into the world of Star Trek, a pointless
2 out of 4kerfuffle that, let’s face it, exposed some shocking racism among fans of a franchise that rails against racism at every turn. The song still belonged here, and I was disappointed to see it omitted.

At the time of this writing, there’s still no solid word on whether or not there will be a fourth movie with this cast, or indeed a fourth movie with Giacchino at the podium. In that context, it’s a bit of a bummer that he may well be leaving the Star Trek franchise on the weakest note that he had yet provided for it.

Order this CD

    Disc 1

  1. Logo And Prosper (1:47)
  2. Trick Or Treaty (:45)
  3. We Come In Pieces (1:17)
  4. Thank Your Lucky Star Date (2:14)
  5. Night On The Yorktown (5:36)
  6. To Thine Own Death Be True (3:32)
  7. We Make A Good Team (:22)
  8. The Dance Of The Nebula (2:22)
  9. A Swarm Reception (2:30)
  10. Krall Hell Breaks Loose (3:04)
  11. The Evacuation Variations (2:47)
  12. Hitting The Saucer A Little Hard (6:10)
  13. Scotland’s Worst Cliffhanger (:23)
  14. A Hive And Kicking (3:30)
  15. Port Of Krall (:52)
  16. Jaylah Damage (2:50)
  17. No Enterprise For Guessing (:37)
  18. In Artifacts As In Life (1:51)
  19. She’s One Hell Of A Dish (1:26)
  20. Make No Escape About It (2:04)
  21. Eat My Thrusters (3:56)
  22. The Krall Of The Wild (2:10)
  23. Spock’s Vulcan Grip On Death (1:31)
  24. Captain On Ice (:42)

    Disc 2

  25. Franklin, My Dear (2:50)
  26. Transporting Good Time (3:43)
  27. Krall Work And No Play (:37)
  28. A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy (5:17)
  29. The Cost Of Abronath (2:35)
  30. MotorCycles Of Relief (3:18)
  31. Mocking Jaylah (3:27)
  32. Jaylah House Rock (3:18)
  33. Bright Lights Big Velocity (Part 1) (:57)
  34. Bright Lights Big Velocity (Part 2) (2:59)
  35. Spock Speaks Hive (3:10)
  36. Crash Decisions (3:16)
  37. Krall-y Krall-y Oxen Free (4:23)
  38. Shutdown Happens (4:35)
  39. The Root Of Krall Evil (1:31)
  40. Cater-Krall In Zero G (2:17)
  41. The Dreaded Rear Admiral (2:02)
  42. Par-tay For The Course (2:46)
  43. Space, The Final Frontier (2:42)
  44. Jaylah’s Theme (2:36)
  45. Yorktown Theme (4:32)
  46. Star Trek Main Theme* (3:44)
  47. Krall Things Being Equal (4:25)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: December 12, 2016
Disc one total running time: 54:42
Disc two total running time: 1:11:18