Updated: Sep 8, 2019
Before I even saw Rogue One opening night, friends of mine were already telling me that the score by Michael Giacchino was disappointing. Having come from the perspective of composing my own score to a Star Wars fan film (Way to the Rebellion, directed by Wesley Chan, which coincidentally deals with the empire mining Kyber crystals for the Death Star), I know how difficult it is to write in John Williams’ style and create memorable themes. I wanted to give Giacchino a chance, so I reserved my judgements till after seeing the movie twice and giving the soundtrack a couple good listens.
My first viewing I didn’t catch much of the new themes, and it did feel like there was a lack of memorable themes beyond the original John Williams themes. Of course Williams is the master at creating memorable themes, and no other composer comes close to his talent. Just look at all the other franchises where he’s left his mark: Jurassic Park, Superman, Harry Potter. No other composer can come close to writing anything as hummable and iconic as his themes. Plus having lived with the Star Wars themes for all these decades, I didn’t expect to be completely blown away by a Star Wars score on first listen by any other composer besides Williams.
After spending a little more time soaking up Rogue One, I have come across 4 prominent new themes that Giacchino gives us, plus a wealth of Star Wars themes that really ties the movie together with Episodes 4 and 5. Which makes sense given that the film takes place days before the events of A New Hope. We hear hints of 2 Death Star/Empire themes, Imperial March, the Force theme, Rebel Fanfare, and I believe I even heard a woodwind statement of the main Star Wars theme at one point. I actually like how Giacchino mashed up Vader’s Imperial March from Empire Strikes Back with the Death Star Theme from A New Hope.
A lot of the action pieces have the general energy and orchestrational style of John Williams. They also do the much needed job of scoring the scenes and giving the audience the larger than life excitement, while maintaining the sound of Star Wars. This is no easy task, especially when you consider how many notes Giacchino had to write in a mere 4 ½ weeks. The track Rogue One, where the rebels prepare to lift off towards Scariff, is a minor-ish type of march that John Williams loves to write, similar to March of the Resistance (used in a similar fashion of preparing for battle in Force Awakens), or the Trade Federation March (from Phantom Menace).
Jyn Erso's Theme:
Of the new themes, Jyn Erso’s theme is the most prominently featured throughout the film, particularly in these tracks on the soundtrack: Jedha Arrival, Rebellions Are Built on Hope, and Jyn Erso & Hope Suite. It’s a versatile minor theme that Giacchino applies to somber, thrilling, and uplifting moments of the film.
I’ve transcribed and notated the themes for those of you who can read music. What really blew my mind, were the similarities in certain notes of Jyn’s theme to a theme I wrote for Way to the Rebellion entitled Join the Rebellion. I love how they’re kind of connected in a way. I remember being inspired by the Resistance March from Force Awakens, where I took the 3rd, 4th and 5th notes as the starting point of my new theme.
Hear my Join the Rebellion theme (starting at 1:44).
The Hope Theme we first hear over the title logo (A Long Ride Ahead). It’s a heroic fanfare that uses the same open 5th as the main Star Wars theme, but with the 3rd thru 5th notes reversed. So instead of 1, 5, 4, 3, 2, it’s 1, 5, 2, 3, 4. You can also hear the theme played on solo Cello in the latter half of Jyn Erso & Hope Suite, and about midway through Rebellions Are Built on Hope.
Giacchino also gives us his own Imperial theme, a dark and energetic march heard in When Has Become Now and The Imperial suite. This is a fun and boisterous bad guy theme, and is a nice complement to the existing Imperial and Darth Vader themes.
Guardians of the Whills:
Guardians of the Whills, is a mystical theme for the religious order on Jedha that Chirrut Îmwe, Donnie Yen’s character, is a part of. It’s heard prominently in the aptly named Guardians of the Whills Suite. Because the Guardians oversee one of the original Jedi temples where Kyber crystals are found, I suspect this theme was based on the notes of the Force theme, but jumbled up in a different order and rhythm.
Rogue One does have it’s moments of themes, but I think that they’re harder to notice given how different, louder and faster paced modern movies have become. It's not John Williams, but I think this is an incredible effort from Michael Giacchino. Give it another listen and see if you can notice where the themes happen in the movie!