Some Highlights from “The Music of Rogue One” Panel at SWCO17 (aka the panel that blew my mind)
So since I can’t find any filmed version of the “Music of Rogue One” panel with David W. Collins I’ll post some of the highlights here. I’m a music theory nerd myself but I was surrounded by people who have never paid attention to music analysis and were still moved to tears so I encourage everyone to check this out (and watch the panel please if it’s ever made available.)
- the Panel began with Collins discussing the legacy of John Williams and the Star Wars main theme specifically. He discussed how it was originally meant to be Luke Skywalker’s theme, and how that interpretation can still hold true considering Star Wars is the Skywalker Saga
- The coolest thing pointed out re the main theme is that it’s musical construction mirrors the structure of the Hero’s Journey, the monomyth structure that all of Star Wars revolves around. It rises suddenly with the call to adventure, then builds with the journey, drops during the abyss, is reborn with another musical rise, then returns to the beginning. Collins emphasized that Williams is without a doubt a musical genius and that Michael Giacchino had a big challenge in making a score that lived up to William’s legacy while standing on it’s own. This was a challenge he more than met, as this panel made clear.
- Now moving on to Rogue One, Collin’s discussed the title theme “Hope.” This theme is clearly heard over the title of the film, during Jyn’s big speech to the Rebellion, and throughout the film.
- Collins pointed out that, like the main Star Wars theme, “Hope” echos the structure of the film itself. There are heroic major key moments in the theme, but it ends in a melancholy way that almost sounds unfinished. It represents the sacrifice at the center of the film. This is a story of incredible heroism that merely paves the way for others to finish the journey.
- Collins moved on to discuss the musical themes for each character in Rogue One, with a lot of focus on Jyn’s theme. Jyn’s theme is the most frequently heard piece along with “Hope” in the film. In fact, we hear it three times in the film’s prologue alone.
- The fascinating thing Collins pointed out is Giacchino’s use of Dies Irae throughout the score. Dies Irae, or Day of Wrath, is the medieval hym describing the end of the world. It is sung during funeral masses and musically is quoted widely to represent death
- EVERY CHARACTER THEME IN ROGUE ONE IS STRUCTURED AROUND DIES IRAE. Jyn, Chirrut, Baze, even Krennic, ALL OF THEM
- Giacchino was signaling from the beginning that this is a story about death. He wrote the sacrifice of these characters right into their themes.
- A notable use of Dies Irae beyond character themes is it’s repetition as Cassian and Jyn begin to climb the tower in the archive during the climax. The first two notes of Dies Irae are repeated as they do so. When Krennic walks down the hallway with his Death Troopers, all three notes play (death literally chasing them). And when Jyn almost drops, than catches the data tapes, Dies Irae is replaced by “Hope”
- Jyn’s theme in particular is a melancholy theme centered on Dies Irae, but with a lovely, lullaby like feeling. It tells you from the beginning that Jyn’s is a story of hope and inspiration but also death and sacrifice.
- An interesting use of Jyn’s theme and “Hope” together is during Jyn’s speech to the Rebellion. First we here “Hope” swell as Jyn speaks to the Rebels. Then when her speech is shot down, the theme drops, replaced by Jyn’s theme. This represents that it is Jyn herself who inspires the sacrifice that will eventually bring on the Hope. Jyn is the hope.
- Another mind blowing moment was a musical parallel that Collins pointed out with the character of Bodhi Rook. In the scene where he recalls his mission, repeating “I’m the pilot, I brought the message,” listen for the flutes. That exact same flute theme plays in A New Hope when Luke discovers Leia’s message hidden in R2. By doing this, Giacchino is directly mapping the journey of “the message.” Bodhi receives the message of the Death Star and how it can be destroyed from Galen, he brings it to Jyn, who with Rogue One, transmit the message, which ends up in the hands of Leia, then to R2, then to Luke, who must return it to the Rebellion. Those flutes represent the origin of the message with Bodhi through to A New Hope.
- This panel was full of mind blowing moments, but the most mind blowing moment by far was another musical connection to A New Hope. After we had become very familiar with Jyn’s theme over the course of the panel, Collin’s played a scene from A New Hope for us. It was the moment when Obi-Wan asks Luke to come with him to Alderaan and Luke resists. When Obi-Wan says he’s getting too old for this sort of thing, Jyn’s theme plays clearly under Luke’s hesitation. In the original context, a hint of Dies Irae was WIlliam’s way of foreshadowing Obi-Wan’s death, but after Giacchino used that musical queue to build Jyn’s theme, it suddenly has deeper meaning. It’s Jyn’s sacrifice calling to Luke, compelling him to be the hope she fought for. And it is connecting Obi-Wan’s eventual sacrifice with that of Jyn and her comrades.
- Collins also highlighted how Giacchino’s score for the final moments of the film, from Jyn’s confrontation with Krennic through the arrival of Vader and the death of Jyn and Cassian, is unconventional and incredibly effective. Jyn’s confrontation with Krennic is silent, no music, unexpected for such a key moment. Only when Cassian appears does the music return. And throughout the final sequence, as we witness horrifying destruction, death. the arrival of the Death Star and Vader’s Star Destroyer, the score stays distant, gentle, melancholy. It does not highlight the horror. It steps back and mourns over it, like the eyes of history or the Force itself, honoring the sacrifice.
- So yeah Giacchino’s score for Rogue One is brilliant, Williams’ music for Star Wars is brilliant, this panel was brilliant, and I can never get enough of analyzing Star Wars scores.