Star Wars: The Clone Wars – music by Kevin Kiner

Having reviewed the music from nearly the entire prequel trilogy “sight unseen” (i.e. without seeing the movie first), I thought I could get away with it again here, with the soundtrack to the CG-animated movie The Clone Wars. It may turn out that this wasn’t a good idea, because the soundtrack is as much a departure from everything that has gone before it as the film itself.

What sets The Clone Wars apart from the prequel and original trilogies is that it was done entirely in the computer. One could argue that no camera ever rolled on large chunks of Episode II and Episode III as well, but with Clone Wars there’s not even a pretense of photorealism – the characters are now seen in a stylized, animé-inspired light, and the only actors involved are voice actors. It would seem that the entirely-computer-generated scenes of the prequel trilogy were just a stepping stone.

The music marks a significant departure from the rest of the saga as well. For one of the very few times in the Star Wars franchise’s history, it has been decided to go with a composer other than John Williams, although of course the new maestro may make use of Williams’ themes from time to time. In this case, the new musical voice of Star Wars is provided by Kevin Kiner, who has scored several films and TV shows on his own (such as the Leprechaun movies and Stargate SG-1), and served a vital role in the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise when the show’s budget cuts forced its composers to fall back on synths and samples instead of real orchestral instruments; Kiner teamed up with longtime Trek composer Dennis McCarthy and fleshed out McCarthy’s music into synth-orchestral life. The best example of this available on record may be on McCarthy’s privately-released Star Trek: Borg soundtrack, whose last three tracks are explosive, memorable stuff that you’d swear was performed by a huge ensemble. Kiner is, in fact, that good.

But from the first moments of music on the Clone Wars soundtrack, it’s clear that the musical vocabulary of Star Wars is changing along with the visual vocabulary. The music is a complete departure from the traditional opening of a Star Wars film, and though Williams’ immortal theme tune is quoted, it’s quoted in an unfamiliar context. For those of us who are rushing toward (or past) the age of 40 like the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel Run, it could be seen as a sign that this isn’t our Star Wars anymore – this is Star Wars for our kids.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the early track “Obi-Wan To The Rescue”, which breaks right out of the romantic-orchestral mode into a staccato barrage of electric guitar. To be fair, screaming guitars could be heard woven into the orchestral textures of Episode II‘s wild chase through the “streets” of Coruscant, but here, it’s front and center, and instead of being an exotic flavoring, it’s rock ‘n’ roll. Similarly, tracks such as “Ziro’s Nightclub Band” and “Seedy City Swing” don’t attempt to view earthly music through a somewhat alien prism (a la Williams’ “Cantina Band” cues) – they’re on-the-nose earthly music with no pretensions of being anything but. Given that this installment of the franchise – and it subsequent TV incarnation, which will also be scored by Kiner – seems to be aimed at a younger audience, I’m not saying that these more traditional, not-so-otherworldly treatments are bad. They server their purpose as a kind musical shorthand for the action they accompany.

And yet, with cues like “Destroying The Shield”, you’d swear Williams was at the conductor’s podium – Kiner’s original pieces, for the most part, do not sound out of place next to the rest of the saga. This is partly why I listened to the soundtrack before seeing the movie: I wanted to see if the music would work just fine if there were real actors on the screen in costume. It’s not like this is John Williams meets Carl Stalling. There’s nothing I can think of that stands out as “cartoon music.” Slightly cliched bits of source music? Sure. Maybe all of a couple of minutes’ worth. This is why we have “next track” buttons.

Those expecting wholesale use of Williams’ themes all over the place, however, may be surprised – Kiner develops his own themes across the board, and while there are occasionally hints of the musical signatures originated by Williams, you don’t get big, obvious quotations of the original Star Wars themes until the very end, when some really neat variations on “The Imperial March” and the Ben Kenobi/Force theme roll out. By this time, you’ve grown so accustomed to not hearing a lot of the Williams material that their appearance comes as a shock, which is a neat effect.

Fans of Star Wars music will probably square off along a love/hate battle line to which no skirmish between clones and battle droids can compare when it comes to this album. With its orchestral-plus-occasional-rock-and-techno-beats style, this is post-Matrix Star Wars music. Oddly enough, fans who have already had their palates cleansed in advance by some of the better Star Wars game music of the past 10 years, from Force Commander’s rockin’ remixes to Empire At War’s stew of original material and Williams quotations, will be primed for this approach; those who have stuck to nothing but the original six film scores may be shocked.

4 out of 4The story of Star Wars, and its music, are under new management (though with George Lucas standing over everyone’s shoulder, clearly with the approval of the old guard), making new Star Wars stories for a new audience. And going by this first installment, there really isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that. It’s cracking good adventure movie music with a few nods back to some old favorites. Star Wars was such a boon to my generation when we were in our single digits – it single-handedly got me fascinated with the visual medium, orchestral music, and the concept of space as a whole, all of which have stayed with me my entire life. So even if this is the sound of Star Wars for our kids…that’s cool. They should be so lucky to have that same kind of inspiration.

Order this CD

  1. A Galaxy Divided (1:13)
  2. Admiral Yularen (0:56)
  3. Battle Of Christophsis (3:19)
  4. Meet Ahsoka (2:44)
  5. Obi-Wan To The Rescue (1:24)
  6. Sneaking Under The Shield (4:24)
  7. Jabba’s Palace (0:46)
  8. Anakin Vs. Dooku (2:18)
  9. Landing On Teth (1:43)
  10. Destroying The Shield (3:08)
  11. B’omarr Monastery (3:10)
  12. Battle Strategy (3:07)
  13. The Shield (1:36)
  14. Battle Of Teth (2:45)
  15. Jedi Don’t Run! (1:22)
  16. Obi-Wan’s Negotiation (2:07)
  17. The Jedi Council (2:04)
  18. Ahsoka (3:39)
  19. Jabba’s Chamber Dance (0:42)
  20. Ziro Surrounded (2:20)
  21. Scaling The Cliff (0:46)
  22. Ziro’s Nightclub Band (0:53)
  23. Seedy City Swing (0:34)
  24. Escape From The Monastery (3:12)
  25. Infiltrating Ziro’s Lair (2:21)
  26. Courtyard Fight (2:41)
  27. Dunes Of Tatooine (2:00)
  28. Rough Landing (3:03)
  29. Padme Imprisoned (0:50)
  30. Dooku Speaks With Jabba (1:28)
  31. Fight To The End (3:59)
  32. End Credits (0:51)

Released by: Sony Classical
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 67:23

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