Tuesday, 2 July 2013





Reviewed by Scott Weller

Pity any composer who has the weighty responsibility of taking over the music duties on a STAR WARS film- John Williams is the man, so it was with a mixture of sadness and curiosity when I heard that a newcomer, to me anyway, named Kevin Kiner, was taking on the series new animated movie and TV series of THE CLONE WARS. So, does Kiner succeed in creating a rich new musical tapestry as worthy as any of the work pioneered by Williams on his six films?

Well, yes and no....

In the same way that DISNEY and PIXAR are using more upbeat modern sounding music, George Lucas, Dave Filoni and his team have obviously decided to go along a similar path for THE CLONE WARS. You have to commend Kiner for his bravery for thinking out of the box-this is one of George Lucas’s primary considerations for his projects and working for LUCASFILM, so his selection as composer is probably gratifying in the STAR WARS creators eyes. In some ways, though, I feel it’s a great shame that Williams was not available to work on the movie, especially as he was busy on his under-rated score for INDY IV at the time. I would’ve been fascinated to have heard his own take on the animated STAR WARS and just what differences/additions he may have decided to bring to it...

Whereas Williams music for the Saga had an organic feel to it in it’s composition, this first Animated movie has the instincts that Kiner is super enthused to work on the project, trying to capture the feel of Williams but obviously bringing his own take to the material, though there are times when I felt that the new composer was throwing everything but the kitchen sink into it stylistically. LUCASFILM, if they had wanted to save money, could probably have gotten away with re-using sections of Williams six film score for the Animated series/film if they wanted to-the trailer for THE CLONE WARS TV series shown at CELEBRATION IV used the REVENGE OF THE SITH music with the visuals really well- so brave kudos to them on such a chancy move in going the whole hog and getting a fresh take on the music for this new medium..

STAR WARS meets Jerry Bruckheimer would probably be the best way to describe the new score for the saga by Kiner, whose work actually does includes numerous episodes of the Bruckheimer produced series CSI: MIAMI. The modern sound of CSI: MIAMIwhich he had composed many episodes for does come to the fore and it surprisingly works well at times with the visuals. I would be interested in knowing if the modern sound he brought to that series may have been one of the reasons why he was hired-perhaps to help branch the series out to a new younger audiences, which LUCASFILM wants to see the film in order to help the STAR WARS series survive. Not only is the kind of music from CSI: MIAMI prevalent but there’s a also a little bit of THE ROCK and BLACK HAWK DOWN there in places, which the Producers of THE CLONE WARS obviously feel is the right way to go especially in the Clone Trooper battle sequences, to give it that typical STAR WARS fantasy feel, with a tinge of a more modern human familiarity to it…

There’s even a little mixture of homage to Gustav Holst’s THE PLANETS SUITE in there, with a bit of Michael Bay and Han Zimmer type military moments (check out Track 8-ANAKIN VS DOOKU which very much has the Michael Bay sound within it). And don’t forget to throw in a bit of Alan Silvestri and Danny Elfman, too, for good measure, with some inspiration from Errol Flynn’s THE SEA HAWK (in an attempt to capture the style of adventure that John Williams himself did as inspiration in using the iconic film as a template for the first STAR WARS movie). And these days there also has to be the obligatory GLADIATOR style mysterious lady singing in unusual atmospheric moments/ scenes of crisis…with modern film scores these days, it looks like she’s got a job for life doing all her warbling!

THE CLONE WARS is a solid, high octane score from Kiner, but it does not feel as naturally organic as something Williams would have composed, though its works very well enough on screen with the actual movie, where the heightened music has to work in aiding the visual drama a lot more than a live action film. There’s also some nice homage moments to John Williams by Kiner (Track Two: Admiral Yularen pays a little bit of homage to Williams Arrival at Bespin but in a more militarized form, whilst Track 6: Sneaking Under The Shield has a little bit that sounds like part of the scene from EPISODE ONE where Qui-Gon Jinn tells Padme that he can’t fight a war for her. Track 20: Ziro Surrounded sounds a bit like Jango Fett’s fight with Ben on Kamino, with a little bit of the Tatooine pod race where Anakin loses control of his racer).

The battle music, though, especially Track 3: Battle of Christophosis, is extremely well done (with the noteworthy City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra giving it their very best-and more so!!), fusing a new style of synthesizer/modern sounds with the kind of romanticized orchestra/heavy choir that we like to hear in STAR WARS. There are some excellent other non action tracks that work well, and sound like STAR WARS, but there are also others that fans may consider don’t work or clash with our instincts for how we view the music for the saga. Though short and sweet, the opening and closing re-mix of the main STAR WARS theme, I thought, was nicely re-worked for the animated version (but, on first viewing, the lack of the opening crawl was something I missed a great deal. It was like a little piece of STAR WARS’s movie heart was missing!).

Of the films new modern sound, Kiner’s use of the rock guitar surprised me at times, especially with its dramatic use in Track 5: Obi-Wan To The Rescue, but after a couple of listens I’d gotten used to it, pretty much like I had with the rest of the score.

Apart from a mighty section of music for Anakin, one bugbear for me is that there are no real other hum able new themes, and sadly very little of John Williams music is used at all, not even to briefly highlight our favourite characters-there’s not even Ben’s or the familiar and pleasing FORCE themes, which I found a bit a surprising by their absence, just the re-worked upbeat opening title and a portion of the Skywalker theme -obviously the musician wants to put his own stamp on the Animated Universe and that’s understandable, though his recent quote that there aren’t any real new character themes in the Prequel Trilogy to use is a bit guff! I expected more nods to the Live Action saga, especially from Director Dave Filoni, whose love for the Saga is more than obvious, but it just doesn’t happen...

Introducing Ahsoka Tano.

Of Kiner’s own newly created character themes, Ahsoka’s was interesting but so slight it didn’t really make an impact on me -at least not yet- and I didn’t really didn’t detect much else theme-wise that was instantly recognizable through the film. This use of new themes, and the return of old ones, may change, will be interesting to hear fused, once i
the composer’s full taking of the TV series reins begin this October.

Additionally, I wasn’t quite sure if Ziro the Hutt’s nightclub band sounded right for STAR WARS-perhaps too 1940’s Glen Miller style for me-whilst the steel drum Cantina Band music for the Bith Band from the original STAR WARS, which utilized a modern-ish street drum and clarinet sound, worked so well, Kiner’s attempt here just fell flat, ultimately working better on screen with the animation than separately..

In the end, how much you feel you enjoy the new music for STAR WARS depends greatly on your own point of view, but I personally enjoyed listening to Kiner’s work a lot more after a few times and it’s grown on me as a modern action adventure score, rather than as a STAR WARS score.

Away from the actual music on the disc, of which there is a good chunk of score on it- at nearly seventy minutes and worth its price (which I’m sure you’ll be able to get even cheaper on the inter net stores) - the overall package is another nice one from SONY CLASSICAL: as before, the brochure inside opens out to reveal a gallery of lovely images from the film/TV episodes, and a nice colourful poster. But sadly there is no written introduction to the music by the composer-it would have been nice to hear his take on the music and how he got involved with it, and why he made the choices he did stylistically. It may also have been nice to have had some DVD contents on the disc-perhaps putting the trailers on, or a short behind the scenes, would have been a nice touch... 

Though not the essential purchase I’d expected, THE CLONE WARS soundtrack is nonetheless growing on me as I’ve listened to it, and is likely to be played more frequently from now on, if not as often, as John Williams STAR WARS work. It also acts as as a fine continuance to the efforts previously laid down by the likes of Joel McNeely for SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE.

AFICIONADO RATING: Kiner's first score for the STAR WARS universe is an interesting one, and opens a new chapter for the use of modern blockbuster sounding music within the saga. Nothing can take away or replace John Williams stunning work for the film series, but Kiner's compositions bode well for this altogether different animated medium, especially for television. 7 out of 10.

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