John Williams 2.0 aka Michael Giacchino

Rogue One a “Star Wars Story” marked many firsts for the 39-year franchise, most notably a score not written by the acclaimed film composer John Williams.  Michael Giacchino, a seasoned film score composers with credits ranging from Up, The Incredibles, and Lost, took the reins of film score composer for this Star Wars film non-saga film and delivers.  Giacchino successfully incorporates his own musical prowess to reinvigorate and jumpstart the new sound of Star Wars while still giving respectable nods to the genius of his predecessor Williams.

Lets not forget that this is not Giacchino’s first time incorporating fresh music to an already beloved canon of cues, as he is a veteran of injecting new life to an established franchise.  Giacchino was the composer for long-time collaborator J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek franchise.  In this 2009 film Giacchino provided the wonder of the original Star Trek score while providing a modern sound and presence in the Twenty First Century.  Rogue One isn’t even Giacchino’s first time following a John William’s scored franchise.  Giacchino received rave reviews for his score in Jurassic World in the summer of 2015. Rogue One’s score fuses that dichotomy of classic Star Wars Williams symphonic score with a fresh contemporary sound accompanying that very same blend director Gareth Edwards creates in this film. 

WARNING there are mild spoilers ahead so if you haven’t watched the movie do not read!

Similarities Between the Two Composers

The opening sequence to the movie, without the title crawl (“I find your lack of title crawl disturbing”), sets up not only the film, but also the music for Giacchino as well.  The title crawl is so strongly associated with the “Main Theme” to Star Wars that its use before the film begins would not only fail to separate itself from the saga film, but create a looming musical shadow over Giacchnio’s music that only John Williams could produce.  Instead, the movie and music jumps immediately into the action with a jolting and powerful entrance.  The scene opens up to the planet where the young protagonist Jyn Erso and her parents Galen and Lyra are living in hiding.  The music implies the impeding conflict that is about to ensue in this opening scene by slowly creating a motif that sounds eerily familiar to cues Williams has written in previous films.  The fanfaric march not only insinuates that evil is coming but does so that is uniquely original to the film and the audience.  The march-like motif that drives this cue is incredibly similar to Williams’ “March of the Resistance” from the Force Awakens. 

Take a listen to the two cues below:

“He’s Here For Us”, Rogue One


“March of the Resistance”, The Force Awakens


Giacchino’s Unique Take

What differentiates between the two composers, in these musical instances, is how they choose to employ their motifs within their compositions.  Williams chooses to flesh out a fully developed melodic phrase using the melody to drive the pacing of the cue by creating a theme “a” in the brass and a contrasting and softer theme “b” performed by the strings: classic march style form.  Williams’ composition focuses heavily on the importance of melodic phrasing as it dictates its impact onto the film. 

Giacchino, on the other hand, fragments his motifs throughout the cues sparingly, which allows the underlying accompaniment features, such as the strings textural ostinatos and the swelling long tones, provided by the brass and more subtly the choir, to dictate the pacing and direction of the film.  Although they utilize similar motivic material in their respective music, Giacchino’s differentiating orchestrational patterns allows him to inject his originality while simultaneously maintaining the energy expected for every Star Wars film. 

Rebellions Are Built on Hope

Giacchino’s compositional stamp on this movie’s score is Jyn Erso’s main theme. Take a listen below:

“Jyn Erso and Hope Suite”

The music accompanies Jyn at different points in the film as she struggles with the tragedies that plague her life.  The “Jyn Erso” leitmotif is successful in creating a beautiful “longing sound” similar to John Williams’ cues like “Leia’s Theme” and “Across the Stars” from Episode II, while also characterizing the despair, yet willfulness of Jyn’s character.  The melody’s contour allows the sense of longing and despair characterizing Jyn’s troubled past, while the orchestrations and textures produced by the full orchestra creates the classic “John Williams” softness that characterizes the previously mentioned cues.  This juxtaposition of despair and hope tie very well into the central themes of Rogue One as well as Jyn’s, albeit limited, character development allowing Giacchino to add a new element to the array of musical cues created for the Star Wars franchise.

Overall Giacchino does a great job under the circumstances he was under.  Giacchino found the perfect balance of introducing new life into the canon of Star Wars cues while never totally deviating from its original sound, something I’m sure fans and critics would take very poorly had he ignored the past movies.  The logistical circumstances were also not in the Rogue One composer’s favor, as TIME magazine reports that he took on the challenge of writing the score following the backing out of Alexander Desplat last minute, giving Giacchino only 4 weeks to write the score.  Lets be honest though, Star Wars music will forever be a child of John Williams and composers who follow him in future installments can only hope to reach a similar success that Giacchino has attained with Rogue One.  The Jurassic World composer has maximized his potential in a limited space crowded by his 50-time Academy Award nominated predecessor.