I am a lifelong film score/soundtrack buff. I grew up on the original Star Wars soundtracks, along with many others, and John Williams remains one of my all-time favorite composers. I was astonished with the energy he infused into the new trilogy with the score for "The Force Awakens", and nearly wore out my CD of that soundtrack last winter.
I was horrified when I found out that Williams would not be doing "Rogue One". After all, he created the symphonic sound, the driving heart, of the entire Star Wars universe. I was stunned that they had chosen Alexandre Desplat in his place, as I had believed they would go directly for Michael Giacchino - especially with Giacchino's close connections to J. J. Abrams. When I heard that Desplat's score for Rogue One had been rejected and Giacchino was being brought in with only weeks to go to release, I was nervous... this sort of last-minute replacement has, at times, created a masterpiece (think of James Newton-Howard's 2005 score for King Kong, done on a very similar short timetable after the original score was rejected). But still... how good would it be...?
I've watched Giacchino's progress in the film music industry with a mix of horror and exuberance and admiration. His themes are second-to-none; his work on Jurassic World and John Carter of Mars was fantastic. But his action music often just strays into rhythmic, clashing sounds - nothing melodic, no tune you can hum to like Williams; just an exploding circus sound. And don't get me started on how he uses a chorus... it sounds like warbling chickens. (Oh, and the Klingon chants for Star Trek Into Darkness? Appalling -- rhythmically grunting apes!) and yet, who else really could mimic the Williams style for a Star Wars movie better than Giacchino, despite his sometimes deficient action music and use of a chorus?
Because of a snowstorm here in the northeastern U.S., I was unable to get to the midnight showing, as I had hoped. But I received the score on release date, Friday, and instantly tore it open, eager to see what new music had been added to the Star Wars universe.
I have to say that I'm impressed with the score. Giacchino nicely used some of John Williams' style and orchestration in order to tie his work in to Williams'. I was mystified by the lack of an opening title track like all previous Star Wars CDs, but I found out what that was all about when I did get to see the movie last night.
There is, however, one GLARING error on this release, and it is UNFORGIVABLE: there is no "finale and end credits" track, for when the ending credits begin to roll included on the CD. That was included on ALL previous Star Wars CDs, as they were in each film. This film DID contain that "finale and..." music! But for some inexplicable reason, Giacchino dumped tradition in favor of three closing suites - and most of that music was contained in the closing credits! He would have been far better off following tradition and including the "finale and end credits" the way it's been done before. Without it, the CD feels incomplete and somehow "not Star Wars". Very disappointing, and the reason this got four stars instead of five.
PS - One thing that left me laughing out loud was that they didn't let him do his usual pun-filled titles for each track. However, Giacchino cleverly inserted alternate track titles filled with the usual puns in the liner notes to the CD. Very funny.
That being said, overall the score is very, very good. Giacchino did a fantastic job in the time allotted, and with the exception of the "finale and..." piece being missing, this is an excellent entry into the Star Wars musical universe.