For nearly four decades now the music that John Williams has created for Star Wars has become as instantly recognizable as Darth Vader’s breathing or the heart stopping light saber duels between Jedi Knight and Sith Lord. These scores serve as the heartbeat to the films and go beyond setting the mood whenever a firefight breaks out on the streets of Mos Eisley or in the skies above the icy war torn battlefields of Hoth. With Disney now owning Lucasfilm the long term strategy plan being put into motion is to release both saga and anthology/stand alone films from here until eternity. With John now in his mid-80s his focus will remain on the new saga trilogy that began with The Force Awakens last December. As for the anthology films that have just now begun rushing down through the flood gates the young film makers and composers who helm these projects will have the daunting task of creating something that can go off and explore the vast reaches of that galaxy far, far away all the while retaining that emotional depth viewers felt when Luke Skywalker stood and looked out upon the twin suns of Tatooine as they sank down beyond the horizon.
Michael Giacchino is certainly no stranger when it comes trying to emulate John Williams. His first major scoring session was composing original music for the Playstation and Sega Saturn video game adaptation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As fate would have it Giacchino found himself transitioning into the long dormant film franchise with Jurassic World (which would go on to become the second highest grossing film of 2015 right behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, no less). Originally Giacchino wasn’t the first choice to be the composer on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Alexandre Desplat (who collaborated with director Gareth Edwards on Godzilla) had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict. Michael entered the fold with only four and a half weeks to write and record a full score. Under any circumstances even the most seasoned composer would crack under such extreme pressure however Giacchino melds a majority of Williams’ classic Star Wars motifs with material that fits into Edwards’ vision of an anthology film that brings a gritty realism to the wars fought between the empire and the rebellion. I’ve read feedback where many feel that this soundtrack would be more in line with any other science fiction film currently on the market and upon giving it my first listen I didn’t quite like what I was hearing as one track in particular, The Imperial Suite, teeters on being generic and leaves a lot to be desired considering John’s Imperial March is widely considered one of the most popular musical themes of the latter 20th century. Regardless of being under the gun (or more fittingly the blaster rifle) Michael Giacchino was able to come into his own during the final half of the score with five of the last six tracks where I’d recommend everyone put their focus if you’re willing to hit repeat and allow something that’s a little left of center to truly take form. Personally I think it blends rather well with the classic themes we all know and love and if you’re wishing that there were more of those cues featured in Rogue One all the previous soundtracks are still readily available in various formats so you can mix seminal with contemporary and still win out.
When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney back in 2012 many breathed a sigh of relief. Even though Lucas was the creator of the immensely popular space opera the reaction his prequel trilogy received was mixed to say the least. A majority of criticism stemmed from the over reliance on green screen and digital effects rather focusing on the grand story telling aspect that made the original films a beloved sci-fi series. Plus the wooden acting and clunky dialogue certainly didn’t help either.
George ultimately decided to give Star Wars back to the fans and let the next generation of young film makers reignite that spark of excitement in all of us who enjoy time and time again traveling to that galaxy far, far away. While Episode VII: The Force Awakens went back to many of the techniques the classic trilogy employed I felt like it stepped into the same foot prints of A New Hope without taking the risk of deviating from a set path and didn’t challenge itself to be different. The other reason I didn’t get behind The Force Awakens as others is we’ve had six movies devoted to the Skywalker lineage the time is right to go explore other avenues of the force.
What gets me excited now that Disney owns the property is the decision that in between the main saga films fans are going to get spin offs that will focus on side characters or various other elements in a limitless universe. The first stand alone, Rogue One, is set to be released in theaters in less then a month and will tell the story of how the rebels were able to get their hands on the Death Star plans. My initial thoughts were for the most part skeptical towards the idea until it was announced that Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) had signed on to direct. While a select few were lukewarm to Edwards’ interpretation of the king of the monsters there is no denying that the man has a keen eye for delivering breathtaking visuals as well as a grand sense of scale. You couldn’t ask for a better choice to direct a stand alone film as every trailer for Rogue One captures the style of the original trilogy in stunning perfection. Having that sheer scope mixed with classic Stormtroopers is enough for me to buy a ticket opening night but if there was any other reason to get on board its the big screen return of the iconic Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader.
Nowadays one can’t simply be a Star Wars fan without checking out the official tie-in novel. Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel serves as a prequel to the prequel (if that makes any sense) and from the 14 chapters I’ve made my way through thus far its a fascinating/involving read well worth looking into before heading out to the theater on December 16th. I might delve into the novel a bit more on here once I’ve finished it and we’ve all had time to dissect Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as the new year approaches. You can pick up your copy of Catalyst by clicking on the book artwork below.
Synopsis: The aftermath of the Oxygen Destroyer brings forth Destoroyah, a beast intent on killing Godzilla, who is on the verge of a nuclear meltdown.
Starting today and running for the next week in a limited North American theatrical engagement is the 29th Godzilla film in the long standing franchise (not including the two Hollywood versions) and the first Japanese Godzilla in 12 years. It’s with Shin Godzilla (which loosely translates as True Godzillla or God Godzilla and was at one point going to be released in the rest of the world as Godzilla Resurgence) where Toho has done something with a major property that very few movie studios could even dream of by licensing Godzilla’s likeness out to Hollywood to help build a multi-million dollar blockbuster franchise all the while having the creative freedom to continue forward with their own Godzilla productions that happen in completely independent universes. The beauty of having six decades worth of Godzilla is we’ve reached a point where if a person isn’t happy with how one incarnation of the King of the Monsters was handled they can move both backwards and forwards exploring how creature designs and the overall tones shifted with the ever changing times. I can’t think of any better time to be a Godzilla fan and with the constantly evolving manner that Toho is taking to keep their property as culturally relevant as when he first set foot out of Tokyo bay.
At first glance the designs of Shin Godzilla and Godzilla ’95 don’t share a lot of similarities in common that is unless you count how both are radical departures from what kaiju fans define as the quintessential Godzilla look. When Godzilla 95 first stomps into frame he’s a lot more bulkier and covered in glowing sores. The previews for Shin Godzilla have shown footage of the King glowing in an eerily similar fashion and considering I haven’t had the opportunity to see the finished product yet I can only assume that his glowing is a side effect of how he absorbs radiation. Focusing on Godzilla vs. Destoroyah it had always been the so called black sheep of the series where I didn’t want to view it in its entirety until it got a proper Blu-Ray transfer with the Japanese language track. Oddly enough the first time I watched it was last Halloween and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Released during the coveted Heisei era Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was the first Godzilla film to incorporate the bleaker messages and imagery of the 1954 original since The Return of Godzilla a full decade prior. References to the Oxygen Destroyer and having a plot point where there is a scientist following a similar path as Dr. Serizawa is where Godzilla vs. Destoroyah takes the series’ mythology into some bold new areas. Toho was also at their creative peak with their special effects work going beyond standardize miniatures and men in rubber suits. In my opinion this is where Suitmation crossed over from being an art form and reached a pinnacle of storytelling in the kaiju genre that since then hasn’t been reached. This is one of those rare accomplishments where in the year since my initial viewing I can sit here with goosebumps as I write this trying to imagine how in the hell the special effects crew were able to film this masterpiece without being driven to insanity. It’s one of those phenomenons that was designed to close out the Japanese film series for a while by passing the baton off to Hollywood. Unfortunately we all know how the first attempt at an American Godzilla went and it would take 16 years to course correct that mistake. I do find it somewhat ironic that back when Godzilla In Name Only was released in 1998 Toho was forced to end their sabbatical less then a year after Hollywood got the entire concept wrong. Now here we sit a couple years after Godzilla roared back on to the silver screen and Toho once again decided to end their sabbatical, not because of any negative feedback no instead this was to reaffirm that the king of the monsters could return in multiple forms bigger, badder, and more bad ass than ever. Once more – Welcome back king! Please stay around for as long as you see fit.
Final Grade: A+
*** Before closing out this year’s Godzilla entry I wanted to share an article that SciFiJapan did last year about the American Godzilla that unfortunately wasn’t. Some of you might be familiar with a few images of a Godzilla design the late great Stan Winston worked on. This was for that American Godzilla which would have been directed by Jan De Bont (Speed and Twister) and initially had Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt attatched to be in the lead roles. Check out the detailed article here — Godzilla Unmade: The Story of Jan De Bont’s Unproduced Tri-Star Film
Hell is when the VCR starts eating your VHS collection & spitting the remains back out at you…