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The Force Unleashed by Mark Griskey

The Force Unleashed

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The Force Unleashed (Promo Soundtrack) by Mark Griskey

The Force Unleashed
Composed by Mark Griskey
Promo Release (2008)

Rating: 9/10

* This promo is not available for purchase

11 Full tracks from The Force Unleashed  

Music used by permission from LucasArts


Start to finish, THE FORCE UNLEASHED is the most entertaining Star Wars score since RETURN OF THE JEDI.

A New Era of The Force
Review by Christopher Coleman

Composer Mark Griskey

"JOHN WILLIAMS, who is a living legend, is the one who defined that sound. So there is a big expectation there. The music needs to live up to his level. It can't get too far away from what he has established."
Mark Griskey

Read the full interview with Mark Griskey

(Spoiler Alert! There is material here that some may consider minor spoilers.)

Music has long been a crucial element of the mega-franchise that is STAR WARS. Composer John Williams' work for the 1977 original film set many youngsters on a their path to become film score composers...and many others to becoming film score fanatics. The Star Wars galaxy has grown over the last three decades to include books, comics, television and video games. While most of the best selling games made good use of the hours of original score written for the films, a couple of games of the 90s dared to break away from the musical-canon; the most famous of which is Joel McNeely's score for SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE. In later years, two of the most successful Star Wars video games featured original scores which incorporated excerpts from Williams' work. Bioware's RPG STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC and Obsidian's STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS were hugely popular, award winning games that have become some of LucasArts top sellers.

In terms of action-games (first person or third person shooters), the Star Wars game franchise has been in a bit of a lull since the early 2000s. Although there was much ado in 2005 with the release of climactic STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH, itself a disappointment of sorts, its tie-in video game was received even more coolly by the gaming world. While things may have seemed to have gone quiet since then, the minds at LucasArts have been hard at work on a game that has been positioned to not only revitalize world of Star Wars gaming, but to push console gaming into new realms of A.I. and real-world physics.  That game is THE FORCE UNLEASHED, which has been in development for years - testing the patience of even the most ardent fans. Now, this game has been in development for so long with good reason. Aside from the technical breakthroughs pioneered specifically for this game, another major factor lies in the development of the game's story.  Game director, Haden Blackwell and his team of writers carefully crafted an original story that eventually garnered GEORGE LUCAS' approval for canonization!  No easy feat.  THE FORCE UNLEASHED is set between Episodes 3 and 4 and is centered around a secret apprentice of the Sith Lord, Darth Vader. This new apprentice, Starkiller, is tasked with helping to complete "The Great Jedi Purge." Starkiller takes use of the Force to never-before-seen levels and in so doing provides great opportunities for gamers to be visually stunned as they proceed through the game on their Xbox 360, Playstation 2, 3, PSP, Nintendo Wii or DS.

Of course, as with any good STAR WARS episode, whether film, television show or game, the associated music has to go beyond "good." Expectations are for the spectacular. As a one-time LucasArts staff member, MARK GRISKEY already had KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS, under his belt as well as contributions to games like: EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, STAR WARS: RACERS REVENGE, and STAR WARS: OBI-WAN.  Even with such vital experience, THE FORCE UNLEASHED had to remain an incredible pressure in living up to the John Williams musical legacy. For LucasArts latest effort, expectations have again risen to the level of "spectacular" and famed gaming company would probably not have it any other way. The final game score includes extensive use of John Williams' expansive library of music from the six films and so GRISKEY's score had the unenviable position of being set right along some of the most recognizable film music of all time.  

An important distinction must be made between the in-game music experience and the score as released on this promo. First, to battle listener-fatigue, LucasArts music-surpervisor, JESEE HARLIN (himself a composer), employed LucasArts' and ILM's own proprietary engine to "perform" Griskey's score during game play.  During the recording sessions, certain elements ( like brass or strings) were recorded in isolation.  LucasArts' software was designed to combine these individual musical elements according to the pace, plot, and environment of the game at any given moment.  The end result would deliver a unique, musical, experience for the player. Next, the promo release, compiled and edited by HARLIN, seeks to introduce the main themes and ambient cues MARK GRISKEY created to tell this new story and help define the new characters and environments the plot unfolds in.  Additionally, his music was to help bridge the significant stylistic-gap between the two Star Wars trilogies.  The cues released were taken directly from the recording sessions at Skywalker Sound (an ironic-first for a LucasArts game) and, for some tracks, combined into a single extended track (2, 7, 8, 10).

Start to finish, THE FORCE UNLEASHED, even represented by this abridged promotional release, is the most entertaining Star Wars score since RETURN OF THE JEDI. While the prequel scores had their moments and are inarguably technically complex, overall, they failed to capture the same magic as the original trilogy scores.  If there was a goal of stylistically setting the prequel trilogy apart via its music, Lucas may have pushed Williams a little too far (that and Williams' own style had greatly evolved since the 80s).  Because of this, there is far less musical connection between the two trilogies as there could have been.  It's high praise to say this, but in this regard, MARK GRISKEY's score is much more successful.   MARK GRISKEY mentions in our interview that the music for THE FORCE UNLEASHED is to do just that - bridge the gap between the two trilogies' styles of music. This he accomplishes brilliantly by blending his own voice with sparring but well-timed employment of established Williams motifs.   Upon further, careful, listening, we hear the composer occasionally tease of identifiable, musical elements and techniques inspired by Williams' early works. Thankfully, these ingredients blend together to provide a new and sonically pleasurable experience within the canonized world of Star Wars.

This new game (and franchise?) has been given a brand new and bold musical theme.  The first official appearance of the theme came with the launching of the official game website.  The theme was employed in the actual site design. This piece was originally penned by JESSE HARLIN and adapted by MARK GRISKEY. Track 1, "The Force Unleashed" features a bold brass-laden statement that could very well become the musical moniker for this potential sub-franchise. This theme also represents the new apprentice, Starkiller, but only sparring use of it is made.  The main title, while distinctive and entertaining in its own right, noticeably stands out from the remainder of the score in terms of style - in this track in particular; however, the theme does reoccur in "The Sarlacc Unleashed" (6). With familiar repeating strings and percussion as a foundation, track 6 adds a clear nod to "Duel of the Fates" from EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE.  This results in a more successful blending the title theme into the familiar star-wars-vibe. 

In KOTOR II: THE SITH LORDS, composer Mark Griskey clearly showed his ability to craft themes and motifs that could be easily embraced and accepted as "canonized score." He continues that streak here in THE FORCE UNLEASHED. Track 2, "General Kota and the Control Room Duel" provides us with strong and commanding theme filled with forceful, heavy brass.  The conclusion of the track finds the theme building into a strong dramatic piece, reminiscent of the dark lord and his evil empire.  That same uniquely Star-wars-feel is carried on in track 7, "Maris and the Bull Rancor" (7). For Starkiller's love interest, Juno Eclipse, we hear a wonderful romantic theme, which remains consistent with some of John Williams' best work for Star Wars - "Princess Leia's Theme" and "Luke and Leia." "Juno Eclipse/Finale" (10) is built on simple melody initially played, like it's two predecessors, on the flute. The piece builds with additional woodwinds and strings and finally reaches a very familiar crescendo - one that would lead directly into the brass fanfare that traditionally begins the end credits sequence of a Star Wars film.

On this promo, Griskey judiciously employs a handful of motifs from John Williams' vast library.  We hear three easily identifiable motifs:  The Force Theme, Darth Vader/The Imperial March, and the Rebel Alliance theme.  Full statements of each are rare.  Rather than knock the listener over the head with these motifs, Griskey makes brief statements or, at times, only teases segments of them.  In track 2, "General Kota and the Control Room Duel" we hear the strongest use of "the force theme."  "PROXY and the Skyhook" (9), after introducing Proxy's darkly humorous theme, delivers a welcome return of the Rebel Alliance theme.  In fact, by the conclusion of the track, it wouldn't be all that surprising to find oneself blurting outloud, "I can't shake him!" or "Cut the chatter Red 2."   The villainous Darth Vader motif is given its fullest performance in "Drexl's Raiders" (4).  Half-way through the track, Vader's quotation serves as a turning point as the tempo quickens and the dramatic intensity increases substantially; the music transitions into an action piece, featuring strong prequelesque percussion.  Interestingly it shares much in common with the Chase through Coruscant sequence from ATTACK OF THE CLONES.  In "Redemption" (9), we hear a full mix of styles from the original trilogy, prequel trilogy, and Mark Griskey's unique musical voice.  Interspersed with engaging action, we are teased, with the portions of the three well-known motifs.  Track 9 might be the best example of the delicate balance MARK GRISKEY has managed here.  The closer you examine the music offered on this promo the more references and connections you'll find with the existing Star Wars musical world.

It is a delight to say that THE FORCE UNLEASHED brings me much closer to the original passion I had for the music of Star Wars, when I was a youngster. Afterall, back then, there were no videos to download or rent or buy. The only way to experience the magic of the film repeatedly was via its soundtrack. That's in part what made John Williams' music so special. The listener could relive the movie without any visual stimulus. The music of the prequel trilogy was far less successful at that, but now MARK GRISKEY's score helps to return some of the passion that leaked out of the Star Wars franchise's hyperdrive. With Mr. Lucas continuing to take the franchise in new directions in STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, it is a consolation to have Mark Griskey, along with Jesse Harlin, providing the type of music so many have loved as a part of the Star Wars universe.  With reports of a potential sequel to THE FORCE UNLEASHED and another installment for THE KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC, let us hope that LucasArts is clever enough to maintain MARK GRISKEY's involvement in keeping this important aspect of the world of Star Wars alive and fresh.

One final note - Unfortunately, for fans it is unlikely that this score will see any sort of official release - although there is no doubt of this score's worthiness.  In all likelihood, with a larger sampling of the music available, Mark Griskey's score would garner a 10/10 rating.  This promotional CD doesn't quite reach 30 minutes in duration, but it is long enough to declare the quality of this original score.

Rating: 9/10




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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 The Force Unleashed (Jesse Harlin) 1:20  ****
2 General Kota and the Control Room Duel 3:44  *****
3 Infiltrating the Junk Temple 2:55  ****
4 Drexl's Raiders 2:52  *****
5 Approaching Felucia 3:28  *****
6 The Sarlacc Unleashed 3:20  *****
7 Maris and the Bull Rancor 2:11  *****
8 Proxy and the Skyhook 2:37  ****
9 Redemption 2:19  *****
10 Juno Eclipse/ Finale 1:12  *****
11 Bonus Track: Ton'yy Rho's Uglehop (Jesse Harlin) 1:14  **
  Total Running Time (approx) 27 minutes  




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