…and beyond that, something truly special.
Youtube is gushing with reactions to the final trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but few are talking about the one thing that blasted its way into my brain: the score. While it’s likely the two-minutes-and-change of music were either compiled or composed by a third party and specifically for this trailer, it acts as not only a tribute to the genius work John Williams did on The Force Awakens, but as what I believe to be a tantalizingly tuned set of compositional clues.
Feel free to following along as I describe both what I heard and what I think it might mean:
[0:00] The trailer starts with the traditional harp glissando and expectant strings that many a Star Wars trailer has begun with. Next, an echoing piano theme enters in what sounds like F-minor. The first two notes are the typical opening major fifth of the Star Wars theme, which doubles as Luke’s theme, but by note three it’s all minor key and lost most of its resemblance. Things really get going after the swell of dissonant strings and voices and we get to…
[0:27] We are in the key of G-minor now and the composer is getting ready to layer two themes over each other. Listen to the bass line in the low strings and low woodwinds. It’s unmistakably a play on a very famous G-minor tune: the Imperial March. We are already off to a dark and ominous start as the bass line continues and the higher strings pick up the March’s three note refrain until we get to…
[0:45] This is honestly my favorite part of the whole trailer and if you blink, you’ll miss it. The bass line has been going dum — dum — dum — dum dum dah dum. Get that rhythm in your head. Now listen as Rey swings her lightsaber. Did you hear it? It’s the exact same rhythm. Rey is swinging in time to the Imperial March! Oh, and the lightsaber’s hum? It’s playing the same G as the bass line! This is probably a trick of the editing, but what a clever way to sneak in a hint that while Rey’s lightsaber might be blue, there is red in her future.
[0:47] Enter our second theme in the horns, also in its original key of G-minor. This is the theme we got at the end of The Force Awakens, in a track called “The Jedi Steps.” In The Force Awakens, this musical cue actually directly included the chords from The Imperial March (listen for it below starting at 1:46) and at the exact moment we pan over to Luke. Now the two melodies are being played simultaneously. Something bad is going on with Luke on that island, enough that his father’s theme has followed him all the way to the stony Jedi temple.
[1:04] Our third theme has entered, this time belonging to Kylo Ren. The strings are still reiterating the three note Imperial March tune while the brass blast out a variation of Kylo’s theme, with the entire melody shifted up by a fourth. In its normal incantation Kylo’s theme sounds confident and bellicose, but up a fourth it almost sounds anguished. Kylo’s pull to the light was obviously not cured by killing his father, and perhaps the proximity to his very force attuned mother will break him down further.
[1:26] Key change! We’ve moved up a fifth into the key of D-minor and onto theme number four. It’s Rey’s theme, but rather than light and adventurous, it’s heavy and fraught. An entire refrain is played out, with a vocal accompaniment by Chewie and a stowaway Porg (it’s so CUTE!!). The theme swells and finally…
[1:38] We get our one and only major chord resolution! Things are obviously dire for Rey, Finn, Poe and the Resistance, but in Rey’s theme we get the musical equivalent of a ray (hah) of light in the darkness, the sole note of hope in the entire trailer’s score.
[1:43] But that hope is not long lived. Rey’s theme is traditionally played in A-minor. D-minor is the key of her dark nemesis, and enter again the half-step fall of Kylo Ren’s theme played down a third by the brass over Rey’s theme in the strings.
I love that Kylo and Rey’s theme have finally met harmonically.
Here’s Kylo’s theme:
Here’s the first part of Rey’s theme in the same key:
When played in the same key they are practically the same melody, but in reverse. Kylo’s theme falls down from A to A. Rey’s theme climbs up from A to A. It works on so many levels: Kylo, the boy who started with everything and fell to the dark side; Rey the girl who had nothing and discovered the light side. You could easily play Rey’s theme up and play Kylo’s back down, a hint that perhaps the two are not only more alike than they care to admit, but that both force wielders have paths that could easily cross over to the other’s. The intentional similarity in Williams’ themes are hiding a warning: that villain, that rival, it could easily be you.
The obvious stick out is the G# in Kylo’s theme. It’s a dissonant half-step with an undeniably sinister sound, the mark of a deep scar on the boy once called Ben Solo. That half-step fall appears in another original trilogy character’s theme: The Emperor. Like I said, John William’s score for Episode 7 was a work of genius. It also appears in the Ewoks’ theme… but that’s a deep dive for another day. :)
Back to the trailer!
[1:50] Key change number three! As Snoke whisper-yells “Fulfill - Your - Destiny,” Rey’s theme is completely overcome by the two note fall of Kylo’s theme, this time played properly as A-G#. But it’s not Kylo’s D-minor anymore. The orchestra and wordless choir have jumped up a fifth to A-minor, making that half-note fall even more dissonant. But why A-minor?…
[2:02] Even when Kylo’s theme seems to be winning day, it’s the original key of Rey’s theme that moves in under it. What I love is that the trailer is full of dialog by both Luke and Snoke that could apply to either Rey or Kylo, and even the score seems to get them tangled up together. As Rey, potentially addressing Kylo, asks for help to find her place, we hear her theme again, softly in piano, now in its proper key.
[2:13] As Rey’s theme comes to a close, we continue on in the same key with what can only be described as the most ominous playing of the Force theme scored to date. We only hear the first half of the melody, and are denied the major chord resolution, stating the that with out a doubt, The Last Jedi is the dark middle chapter.
Other fun fact about the Force theme? It was the inspiration for Rey’s theme. Rey’s theme is a variation of the Force theme and they can actually be played perfectly over each other (as heard below). John Williams’ choice to link the two so strongly together points to the great power that Rey possesses, and maybe what Luke fears so much.
John Williams’ score for The Force Awakens is layered with complexity, and the composer for the trailer clearly understood all the hidden messages left by the Oscar winning legend in the previous film. The trailer doesn’t just replay those themes, but works them into a unique mesh that strongly suggests the following:
- Rey has a date with the darkside, and that darkness is present with Luke at the first Jedi temple
- Kylo and Rey’s fates are intertwined. Whether it’s another climactic showdown, or an unexpected alliance, these two characters are destined to not just cross paths again, but become vital to each other’s future. Will Kylo find his way back up to the light? Will Rey fall down to the dark side? Musically, the stage is set.
I can’t wait to see The Last Jedi, but more than that, I cannot wait to hear what new threads John Williams has woven into one of his most inspired melodic tapestries.