The Last Jedi

This week’s pick for trailer music analysis was clear: Disney and Lucasfilm have officially started the hype train for the second entry of Star Wars’ sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi.


A clever shot reveals what looks like a starry space scene set to slow glissando strings, intentionally deceiving the audience before revealing that they are in fact on land. We find Rey on all fours, out of breath, in synch with an orchestral hit at 0:20. The first scene is not unlike how we find rogue Stormtrooper Finn out in the desert in the first trailer for The Force Awakens. The title card for Lucasfilm gently enters and exits at 0:18 as Rey’s theme begins with its soft dyads and mallet percussion. The force theme quickly follows at 0:23, and we finally get to hear Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker once more – a voice off camera simply stating, “breathe.”

This trailer, with music entirely arranged and produced by Frederick Lloyd of Pusher music, focuses on the relationship between Luke and Rey, emphasized musically through the use of Rey’s theme and the Force theme (also known as Binary Sunset), typically most associated with Luke. The two themes are carefully arranged such that one can hear and recognize both in counterpoint. We know that the main musical material is certainly the work of John Williams, but it is unclear whether others have had a hand in the arrangements.

At 0:48 Luke asks, “what do you see?” Rey’s theme comes to the forefront and a montage of scenes updating the audience on what’s generally happening post-Episode VII is accompanied by various sound clips from the past: At 0:46 we hear Leia saying “help me, Obi-Wan”; at 0:51, Darth Vader breathes; at 0:53 Ben Kenobi says “seduced by the dark side”; at 0:59, Yoda says “surrounds us, binds us.”

At 0:52 we hear Kylo Ren’s theme, a harmonic minor melody of unclear tonality that introduces uncertainty. Are we to associate the presence of this theme as a response to Luke’s question? Or, are we to see it as merely an acknowledgement that Kylo Ren is still out there in the world?

At 0:59 the upper register of the strings breaks through with a major chord that, in the context of the immediately preceding minor key, suggests the Lydian mode, sounding bright in both harmony and register. Rey finally responds at 1:04, saying “a balance.”

At 1:13 Luke responds, “it’s so much bigger.” The force theme comes back with a vigorous rhythm backing it as well as an augmented melody, coupled with similarly expansive shots depicting space and land battles, alongside the title card for the release window (“this Christmas”). Insistent brass and leaping arpeggiated strings further intensify the action as we see glimpses of the other main characters of this generation of Star Wars, Poe (running with BB-8) and Finn (still in stasis, healing from the events of Episode VII).

At 1:30 Luke’s voice enters again, saying “I only know one truth,” and the music responds in anticipation, holding on to a prolonged cadential chord, falling out at 1:37 and never actually resolving. In pitch black and without music, Luke says “it’s time for the Jedi to end.”

The music then blares forth again at 1:42 as the main title card zooms into focus and the force theme makes one more appearance in augmented form, and once again ends on the dominant chords, refusing to musically resolve.

There is one last, speculative bit: as the title card for the date fades to black at the end, one does hear choir of low voices, sounding a familiar theme associated with this trilogy’s main villain, Snoke. Is this a coincidence?

Clearly, the two themes we now associate with Luke and Rey aid in the audience’s understanding of their brief dialogue, as well as assist in asking the questions the viewer would want answered by the film itself: is Luke fully with the light side of the force? Who is “the last Jedi?” What is meant by “a balance” in the force?

We will just have to wait to learn – and hear – much more as this trailer campaign continues over the course of 2017.

 — Curtis Perry