The Last Jedi

This past Monday, Lucasfilm and Disney kicked off the week by dropping the most revealing trailer yet for the much anticipated follow up in the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi. Already sitting at twenty-seven million views for the officially uploaded YouTube video alone, the trailer serves to propel the campaign into its final two-month stretch until release. As usual, the judicious use of music that blends series themes new and old factors heavily into this trailer’s appeal.

A fade in at the beginning syncs with a quick glissando of a harp, leading into a trademark shroud of mysterious string tones, generally shifting around a minor chord, to set the mood. A deep, gravelly voice-over offscreen addresses an unnamed person; however, as scenes of the First Order’s militia go by, it’s heavily implied to be part of a conversation between Snoke and Kylo Ren. Throughout this monologue, cavernous piano notes spell out a simple minor key melody. Yet, just as Snoke says there is “something truly special,” and Kylo picks up his lightsaber, we cut to Rey, who is the one to turn hers on, rather than Kylo. This is the primary question and conflict explored throughout the trailer — will Rey succumb to the dark side?

At 0:29 we get the Lucasfilm title card and some menacing, staccato low strings that sound suspiciously like the Imperial March — but it’s not. Triplets overlay atop this established beat as a dialogue between Rey and Luke (whom we hear for the first time since Return of the Jedi) ensues. Curiously, the cellos and basses occasionally dip down a fourth and up to the minor third before settling back into the pedal tone, strongly resembling, again, the melodic contour of the Imperial March. At 0:45, Rey’s swings of the lightsaber lock in step with the rhythm, first with two dotted quarters, and then in triplets. Even the bass hum of the lightsaber fits the key.

Shortly afterwards, at 0:48 a choir enters alongside a heroic brass line as we see a montage of the training Rey undergoes with Luke, who sternly warns Rey that he has “seen this raw strength only once before,” as the visuals appear to turn to the scene where Kylo and the Knights of Rea raid Luke’s fledgling Jedi Academy. 

At 1:05, roughly midway through, Kylo’s theme roars on brass as the strings settle on an insistent, pulsing ostinato outlining a minor chord. At 1:28 we get the release date card (“this Christmas”), and a few trademark space scenes, not least including cameos by Chewbacca and the newest addition to the cast, the "porg" — a puffin-like creature native to Ahch-To, the planet where Luke sequestered himself for so long. 

Finally, as a new monologue by Poe Dameron enters, we hear in the musical fray a hint at the classic Binary Suns/ Force theme. At 1:45 the choir returns in truly epic fashion, fairly reminiscent of O Fortuna and the like.  At 1:52 Kylo’s theme returns again with a vengeance; we can hear the complicated struggle amongst the characters, and especially in Rey, through the score; it is abundantly clear now as he finally appear on screen that the narrator at the beginning was in fact Snoke. He compels Rey to “fulfill your destiny”; we can see the intense struggle Rey and Snoke are in, echoing the conflict between Darth Vader and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, and yet it is a new situation all the same. At 2:11, Rey again asks for help — but this time, it is not Luke, but Kylo Ren listening, as a gentle piano plays the force theme, escalating quickly to a fanfare orchestral flourish at the end with the main title card and the release date of December 15th. 

If nothing else, the plot twists already present in this trailer promises to keep audioviewers guessing as the film approaches release. As usual for this campaign, the trailer's as-yet uncredited sound editors take a mix of themes composed by the venerable John Williams, old and new, and interweaves them in a way that sensibly matches the on-screen action. Most importantly, it musically retains the ambiguity and suspense presented by the drama on screen — who is good? Who will remain on the light side of the force? Stay tuned.

 - Curtis Perry