Star Wars -The Force Unleashed II- Original Soundtrack
Star Wars -The Force Unleashed II- Original Soundtrack
October 31, 2010
When dealing with a venerable franchise such as Star Wars it is always difficult to tell when a composer is attempting to evoke emotions from familiar themes and when they simply can’t offer anything better than imitations of John William’s style of composition, circa 1979. On Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Mark Griskey does both, while creating a few genuinely moving and novel tracks along the way. When listening to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, one gains an understanding for why Mark Griskey left LucasArts in early 2005: there is only so much creativity one can exercise when composing in the Star Wars Universe.
The opener “Main Title and Test Chamber” is an extremely dramatic action track, with running staccato strings underneath of off-beat brass splats. It is nothing less than one would expect from a series veteran like Griskey as it conjures the confusion and betrayal that the player feels in the beginning of the game before slowing into a more ambient track.
Unfortunately, it’s during this track — when Griskey just begins to hit his stride — that the atmosphere is interrupted by the glaringly obviously and blaringly monotone DUN DUN DUN DA DUN DUN DA DUN DUNNNNN of the Imperial March. It’s arguably one of the best villain themes of all time and is positively franchise-defining in its familiarity, but it is also over 30 years old and approaches the listener with all the subtlety of a wounded bison.
Once the Star Wars milieu is firmly established, the soundtrack progresses to “Escape from Kamino”. This is evocative and exciting from the beginning, then as ominous and dreary as the planet Kamino itself towards the middle. “Escape from Kamino” transitions naturally, and nicely, to “Arrival on Cato Neimoida” which is driven by trombones and a handful of soaring flute glissandos which make it feel perfectly at home in John Williams paradigm to which Griskey is no stranger.
“The Hanging City” is a terrific standalone track with intricate string and brass progressions that gives the track a feeling of foreboding similar to what Bespin should have had during The Empire Strikes Back. It really highlights Griskey’s mastery of dynamics and showcases what an orchestral arrangement for a videogame soundtrack can do. “Aboard the Salvation” attempts to evoke the same foreboding, but sounds more like a highlight reel from Raiders of the Lost Ark than anything else (I swear I heard “The Basket Game” in here…) It is only more disappointing for its lack of originality when listened to after “The Hanging City” .
In terms of designated battle tracks, the official soundtrack for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II has two to offer. “Fighting the Gorog” is an instant classic with pounding, almost grating, urgency which builds in tension from the first 5 seconds and delivers an incredible standalone “boss fight” track. In short, it’s everything the album should have been: new, good and thematically related, but not in an obtrusive manner. “Assault on Kamino” promises to be a thrilling and new fighting piece devolves into another theme-and-variation reprise of The Imperial March, layered over generic brass and string themes which is very reminiscent of Griskey’s work on Knights of the Old Republic 2: Sith Lords. Good, but nothing new.
Although limited to nine tracks, the official soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is an impressive 50 minutes long. The cruel irony in this is that the longest track “Discovering Dagobah” is only played once over a cutscene in the game. This bears mentioning since while “Discovering Dagobah” is an eerie ambient piece with swelling strings and ethereal harp melodies, it feels shoehorned into the soundtrack, much as the Dagobah scene and Yoda’s five (total) lines feel forced into the gameplay. The final track, “The Reunion of Juno and Starkiller” is a moving theme very at home in the Star Wars universe without feeling the need to announce the fact and recalls several pre-existing themes from the movies while fully incorporating none.
Note that I don’t hate Star Wars! I own two Force FX light sabers (Mace Windu and Obi Wan, Ep. II) and a fairly respectable Han Solo (ep IV) costume. That said, I really think the time has come for the franchise to take a few tentative steps away from the familiar elements that made it successful 33 years ago. I think the gaming audience, especially, is ready for a Star Wars game without an obligatory Yoda cameo, and I am equally sure that video game music aficionados are ready for a Star Wars soundtrack with a new sound that speaks to contemporary fans and doesn’t feature the Imperial March. Sure, not including everyone’s favorite elements in terms of both story and soundtrack is a risk, but it is one that might pay off and in the process create something that, unlike the prequel trilogy, is both new and good.
The official soundtrack for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II will be loved by fans of the franchise, and there are enough innovations by Griskey to make it interesting to the less diehard fans as well. If it had appealed to less of the former while developing more of the latter, it would be an excellent soundtrack. Instead, it is reminiscent of a shameless name-dropper who you come across at a friend’s party: you don’t know them all that well, and you’re trying to be polite, but they take advantage of every idle pause in an otherwise enjoyable conversation to remind listeners of who it knows and how great it is by association.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Matt Diener. Last modified on August 1, 2012.