How do you take something that is so legendary, so iconic, and so beloved by millions worldwide, and try to build upon it? How can you write music for a movie that already has an established musical universe behind it, and have that be Star Wars and John Williams? Well, that’s exactly what Michael Giacchino had to figure out when he was abruptly handed Rogue One after Alexandre Desplat had to drop out.
In my opinion, this has to be one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult things to do as a film composer. Trying to fill the shoes of someone else is never easy, but it’s even less easy when the person you’re trying to fill in for is John Williams and the playing field is Star Wars. That being said, I think that Giacchino did as good a job as any given the circumstances (he had just over 4 weeks) and expectations that came with the project.
It has long been said in reviews of other scores by Giacchino that he has to ability to emulate Williams very well, and in Rogue One you see his best achievement of that, definitely more so than in Jurassic World. A lot of the background elements resemble the style of Williams and the score as a whole has a feel more akin to The Force Awakens than A New Hope, despite the chronological location of the storyline.
That being said, the thing I enjoyed the most about Giacchino’s score was his theme for Krennic. While radically different from the Imperial March, it’s still forbidding and sinister in the same way, and fits the modern aesthetic of the movie as well.
However, there were some things that stuck out to me as being “one of these things is not like the other” in the sonic universe of Star Wars and just film music in general. One of them is the big synth drone on Jehda. I just feel that it’s totally out of place there and that there are more interesting ways Giacchino could have scored those scenes. Just think of the desert cue from A New Hope, which, as the name states, also features a desert planet, because if there’s one thing Star Wars movies love, it’s desert planets.
The second is the entrances of some of the music. Most notably to me the first time I saw the film was in the scene where Saw Gerrera’s rebels attack the tank in Jehda city. Rather than coming in with the sound effects right as the first grenade explodes, or some sort of quick tension-building just before, the music just starts a few seconds after the fighting beings. The problem here in my opinion is that the entrance stands out too much; the transition form no music to music is too abrupt. It’s like all of a sudden “now we have music!”.
All that aside, there is plenty to like here. Giacchino’s done a great job in many cases of orchestrating and creating textures very reminiscent of the original trilogy scores. Additionally, while there were some places where I would have liked Giacchino to reference some of the classic Williams themes, I thought that the places where he did put them were very appropriate and well done (especially the slow Imperial March during Krennic’s visit).
Not related to Giacchino at all, I was very disappointed like many at the lack of a title crawl. Say what you will marketing department about “differentiation” or whatever other crap you want to pull out of you-know-where. Certain things are an absolute must in a Star Wars movie, and the crawl is unquestionably one of them. I mean, you kept the “In a galaxy far far away” line, why not the crawl? Not only does it provide the audience some context to follow the story (and I found the beginning of Rogue One a tad bit confusing with all the planet-hopping going on) and it provides a great starting point for the music; you can go pretty much anywhere from the unsettling texture as the crawl fades to the space background.
Giacchino has some great stuff in here, and I think he may have sold himself short by underutilizing it. Either way, while he may not be John Williams, he certainly deserves a nod for not only producing a great score, but for accepting the daunting task in the first place.