John Baby John: The Future of Star Wars Music
Updated: Apr 5
42 years, 9 films, 20 hours of music, a large catalog of themes & leitmotifs, and awards galore, it's safe to say that John Williams has left one hell of a legacy behind with Star Wars. Described by many filmmakers as a dream to work with, it's not an exaggeration to say Williams' music is a key component to Star Wars' success.
From Princess Leia's Theme to The Imperial March, to Duel of the Fates to Rey's Theme, nearly every note of music Williams has written for the Saga immediately enters legend status. You'll most likely struggle to find a piece of film music (or music in general) that is as instantly recognizable or as iconic as the main Star Wars theme. No matter one's thought on a specific film, it's mostly agreed upon that Williams always brings his A game. However, as great as somethings are, all great things must come to an end.
“Forty years ago, if you said to me, ‘Here’s a project, John, and I want you to write 25 hours of music,’ I would have dropped my pencil case and said, ‘It’s impossible. No one can do that,’”
A month after the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams confirmed that the then untitled Episode IX would be his last rodeo with Star Wars. Before wrapping up the main Skywalker Saga, Williams composed the main themes for Solo and the Galaxy's Edge theme park. Finally, after high anticipation, he sang his swan song with The Rise of Skywalker. Earning his 52nd Oscar nomination with The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams capped off a 42 year long legacy with mad style.
We as a fandom and as a species owe so much to John Williams. He has supplied us with music that we will hum and remember long after the credits have rolled. Music scholars will analyze his music until the end of time, music fans will be humming and wave conducting to their hearts content, and aspiring composers will be inspired by his music in more ways than one. It's a musical legacy very few have, but now that Williams' time with Star Wars is over (for real this time) one question remains; "Who will carry that legacy going forward?"
To think of candidates for "The Next John Williams", you have to look at composers who have Star Wars experience. A name that often comes up is Kevin Kiner. Kiner has had a very prolific career on the small screen, with Star Trek Enterprise, Jane The Virgin, and Titans being amongst his most popular works. However, Kiner's biggest claim to fame is his work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars (both the film and subsequent series) and Star Wars Rebels. For The Clone Wars, Kiner crafted his own sound that matches the episode, location, and character. He could flip from a romantic and sweeping theme for Ahsoka Tano to a Bollywood inspired dance beat for Hondo Onaka on a whim. For Rebels, Kiner embraced the Williams sound full-stop, emulating his style and referencing old themes a lot more than he did with The Clone Wars. While Kiner seems like a good fit on paper, he has only scored 16 films in his career, most of which aren't well known or were well received. However, if those rumors of a Rebels sequel series are true, Kiner may not be done with Star Wars just yet.
Video game music has grown a lot in the past decade, with high profile composers such as Hans Zimmer putting their toes in the video game pool. Gordy Haab has been making a name for himself in the video game scene, ever since he became the composer Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, Haab has lent his talents to multiple Star Wars video games such as The Old Republic, Kinect Star Wars, Battlefront I & II, and recently Jedi: Fallen Order. It doesn't hurt that Haab has been described as "John Williams' heir apparent" while his score for Battlefront has been described as "The best game score Williams never wrote". Winning multiple awards for his Star Wars work, Gordy Haab also seems like a great choice to take on a film. While I wouldn't be against his involvement on a film, I think Haab is better suited for gaming and seems to be doing a damn good job defining Star Wars music in that department.
While Kevin Kiner and Gordy Haab have been providing the animation and gaming side of Star Wars with great music, Ludwig Göransson has been doing the same with television. His work on The Mandalorian has been praised by critics and fans alike, with the main theme for the series currently sitting at 2 million views on YouTube. While some have criticized Göransson for straying away from Williams' sound and themes, many have praised him for going in a more unique direction. Ludwig has also won multiple awards, including two Grammys for producing the Childish Gambino hit, This Is America, as well as an Academy Award for composing the score for the critically acclaimed Marvel film, Black Panther. Göransson has also gained acclaim for his work on the TV series Community and the 2015 film Creed. As of this moment, Ludwig is set to compose the score for Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated film, Tenet, and if all goes well, he'll most likely return for the second season of The Mandalorian. While Göransson scoring a Star Wars feature doesn't seem like a far fetched idea, he may have his hands full for awhile.
After the departure of D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, it was revealed that their movies planned to tell the story of the origins of the Jedi Order. Weiss & Benioff's biggest claim to fame is obviously HBO's Game of Thrones, and if this story is still kicking in the walls of Lucasfilm, Ramin Djawadi seems like a wonderful choice. Aside from his award winning work on Game of Thrones, Djawadi is known for his loud and epic scores for Iron Man, Pacific Rim, Warcraft, and The Great Wall. Djawadi is also known for scoring another critically HBO series, Westworld. If Lucasfilm were ever to revive this "Jedi Origin" story or even adapt Knights of the Old Republic for Disney+, Ramin Djawadi has proven himself to being the best choice for such a story. While his style may be considered by some to be "Too modern" by some, I don't think that will be a problem if Lucasfilm wants the music of Star Wars to go into a different direction.
When Gareth Edwards was hired to direct Rogue One, many assumed that Alexandre Desplat would score the film. It wasn't until early 2016 where Desplat confirmed he would. However, due to scheduling conflicts with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Desplat dropped out of the project and was replaced by Michael Giacchino. Despite this, Desplat has made a name for himself as one of the most, if not the most, versatile composer in the industry. Winning two Oscars for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water, Desplat can go from style to style without losing his personal stamp. He is also no stranger to carrying out John Williams' musical legacy, as he scored Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2. While his future with Star Wars seems unlikely at the moment, if there was ever someone who could deliver a score that can mix his own and Williams' sensibilities to a tee, Desplat is your guy.
At this moment in time, the status of Rian Johnson's previously announced Star Wars trilogy is unknown, but he still talks to Lucasfilm from time to time. Whether or not Rian comes back for a whole trilogy or just one movie, his cousin and go-to composer, Nathan Johnson might get his shot to score a Star Wars movie. His 4 scores with Rian are among his best, all of which sound different. The atmospheric sounds of Brick, the quirkiness of The Brothers Bloom, the ambiance of Looper, and the energy of Knives Out are unmatched. All 4 films have music that gives them an extra kick. With Knives Out, Nathan Johnson channels his inner John Williams with the tracks "The Dumbest Car Chase of All-Time". While Johnson does smaller, more low key projects, Star Wars may be a good fit for him and might provide him an opportunity to create something massive and grand in scale.
If you asked me who can or should carry out the Star Wars musical legacies, there's two people in particular I think would make perfect candidates. The first of which is Michael Giacchino.
Since 2001, Giacchino has worked with some of the biggest directors in Hollywood such J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. He made a name for himself scoring Alias and Lost, as well as scoring multiple blockbuster films including The Incredibles and Up, the latter of which won him just about every award under the sun, including the Oscar. Michael is also the only composer in history to score a Star Trek and a Star Wars movie, however he currently has more rides on the Enterprise than he does on the Millennium Falcon. Whether it be his versatility, his energy, or his amazing pun track titles, Giacchino seems tailor made to replace Williams. With Jurassic World and its sequel Fallen Kingdom under his belt, he's no stranger to taking over for John Williams. The only thing that may prevent him from returning as a regular composer would be his schedule. Giacchino often finds himself scoring at least 4 movies a year, which is a lot for just one composer. He currently only has one project confirmed, Matt Reeves' The Batman. While his slate for 2022 seems clear for now, it wouldn't be surprising if he was called for another high profile project. However, if Taika Waititi does end up directing a Star Wars film, I wouldn't rule out Giacchino. During D23 in 2019, Giacchino made tweet that have hinted at his return to the franchise. Whether it's for a film or the Cassian Andor series remains to be seen. If it's anything like his score for Rogue One, it will probably be fantastic.
Another great contender for a new composer is John Powell, who is a legend in his own right. Powell has lent his talents to many franchises such as How To Train Your Dragon, Ice Age, and the Jason Bourne series. While a large chunk of Powell's filmography consist of animated films, he has also scored many live action movies, including Face/Off, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Jumper. He has been recognized for many of his scores, including 14 ASCAP awards, his most recent win being for Solo. Powell's score for Solo has been incredibly popular with fans, with many considering it the best aspect of the film. In addition to John Williams' incredible Han Solo theme, Powell perfectly blended Star Wars themes of old with new themes for Qi'ra, L3-37, Tobias Beckett, and Enfys Nest. As of this moment in time, Powell has no future projects in the pipeline. After finishing How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, it's unknown as to whether or not Powell will be interested in returning to another franchise, especially one that has been musically defined by someone else. Then again, after having such a wonderful experience on Solo, it might be hard for him to say no if he was asked.
If we're being honest with ourselves, we won't know who will be composing the next Star Wars movie until at least 2022. As of writing this, we still have no idea who will be directing the movie either. If the rumors of the new movie being the first of many set during the era of the High Republic are true, it should give the future composer many opportunities to have fun with the material. It could be Giacchino, it could be Powell, it could be a composer who has never worked on a Star Wars movie before. Regardless of ho it ends up being, I hope we all can welcome them with open arms.
The main thing I hope to see (or hear) from the new composer is for them to leave their own mark on the franchise in more ways than one. You don't want someone to stray away from Williams' legacy, but don't don't want a copy cat either. Williams has defined the music of Star Wars for more than 40 years, with his themes and influence seeping into nearly every single Star Wars project under the sun. Starting in 2021, a new era of the franchise will begin and whoever ends up writing the music will be beginning a musical legacy all their own. No matter who it ends up being, hopefully they'll bless our ears the second after we see those 10 immortal words; "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....".