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

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade – music by John Williams

Indiana Jones And The Last CrusadeIn Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, John Williams composes the music for the last film in this famous series (or at least, we thought back then). In my review of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, I said that the album had an overall majestic feel. In this album, Williams decides to go for a more orchestral feel, with heavy usage of stringed instruments. It almost feels ambient in certain places, with very quiet sustained notes and light dynamics in the piece, like in “The Penitent Man Will Pass”.

The album starts with “Indy’s Very First Adventure”, a calm track that soon breaks into strings and flutes and then later on picks up in excitement and dynamics. “X Marks The Spot” builds up the usage of horns, but soon falls into the aforementioned ambience.

In “Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra”, John Williams shows off his classical chops. “Scherzo” is an Italian word for “joke”, and usually used as a term for a single movement in a larger symphony. Williams lives up to the title by giving the song a playful feel, with a return of the Indiana Jones theme throughout the song. Unfortunately, there seems to be no motorcycle included in the piece.

“Ah, Rats!!!” returns to Williams’ use of dissonance, using it to punctuate deep dark tones and create a sense of anxiety (most likely to Indiana Jones’ loathing of the aforementioned rodents). “The Keeper Of The Grail” starts with sustained notes and again, a sense of ambience, but soon breaks into a slow emotional piece. On the other hand, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” is an up-tempo track, brassy and dramatic.

3 out of 4Williams again upholds a fine standard for film music, and give The Last Crusade a worthy send-off. It will be interesting to hear what he has up his sleeve for Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, but one can almost be assured that it will fall neatly with the rest of the music from this series.

Order this CD

  1. Indy’s Very First Adventure (8:13)
  2. X Marks The Spot (3:11)
  3. Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra (3:52)
  4. Ah, Rats!!! (3:40)
  5. Escape From Venice (4:23)
  6. No Ticket (2:44)
  7. The Keeper Of The Grail (3:23)
  8. Keeping Up With The Joneses (3:36)
  9. Brother Of The Cruciform Sword (1:55)
  10. Belly Of The Steel Beast (5:28)
  11. The Canyon Of The Crescent Moon (4:16)
  12. The Penitent Man Will Pass (3:22)
  13. End Credits (Raiders March) (10:37)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 58:40

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom – music by John Williams

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of DoomJohn Williams. Steven Spielberg. Two great tastes that taste great together. Ever since Williams worked on Spielberg’s first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express, the two have been nearly inseparable. So, again they pair up for Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Spielberg’s 8th film (and Williams’ 47th).

This soundtrack album starts off, interestingly enough, with a Mandarin rendition of the famous Cole Porter song, “Anything Goes” sung by the Kate Capshaw, the female lead of the film. This is from an early part of the film where our hero sees her for the first time. Later on, in “Fast Streets Of Shanghai”, Williams employs Oriental influences (as the name suggests) and a dramatic flair that Williams is well known of. Bits of the Indiana Jones theme carry throughout the piece.

On the track “The Temple Of Doom”, chanting is used to give the song a dark, ominous feel as we come across the temple for the first time. “Bug Tunnel And Death Trap” has brief moments of dissonance, underlining the horror of the place. Melodies reach higher and higher, creating a sense of anxiety and confusion. On the other hand, the track “Slave Children’s Crusade” is loud and majestic, with booming cymbals and a strong string section serving as the anchor of the piece.

An interesting thing to note is that John Williams often employs leitmotif in his scores. That is to say, he composes and assigns themes to certain characters or ideas in the films. For example, in the Star Wars series, he composed separate themes for the characters Princess Leia, Yoda and Darth Vader as well as others (although it is Darth Vader’s theme that everyone usually thinks of). On this album, Williams downplays that aspect a bit. Even though the character Short Round has a theme, most of the music is incidental music and not specifically tied to a character. Even Indiana Jones’ own recognizable theme doesn’t make a full appearance until the finale. In my opinion, not having a “stand-out” piece detracts from the work as a whole.

3 out of 4The soundtrack carries a dramatic feel. One of the recognizable strengths of John Williams is that he very much as a unique styling in his music. You can listen to a piece by Williams and immediately sense that, even if you don’t know explicitly that it is Williams’ work, you know at least it’s meant for a film or a similar endeavor. Overall, a fine score that stands up well on its own apart from the movie.

Order this CD

  1. Anything Goes (2:51)
  2. Fast Streets Of Shanghai (3:44)
  3. Nocturnal Activities (6:01)
  4. Short Round’s Theme (2:32)
  5. Children In Chains (2:44)
  6. Slalom On Mt. Humol (2:26)
  7. The Temple Of Doom (3:00)
  8. Bug Tunnel And Death Trap (3:33)
  9. Slave Children’s Crusade (3:29)
  10. The Mine Car Chase (3:42)
  11. Finale And End Credits (6:27)

Released by: Polydor
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 40:29