Kinect Star Wars Soundtrack, Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster, 2012
It’s curious to see how little joy music fans could derive from the soundtracks for so many Star Wars games. Often, they were ultimately compilations and adaptations of John Williams’ immortal scores – in which case, it felt like you might as well just get the real deal and buy the movie score album. Of course, there’s also a fair number of Star Wars games that came with an original score. But from Clint Bajakian’s Dark Forces to Jeremy Soule’s Knights of the Old Republic, Frank Klepacki’s Empire at War and Mark Griskey’s The Force Unleashed titles – while they all did a competent job at replicating Williams’ signature franchise sound, the music often suffered from a significant lack of substance and felt underdeveloped.
Enter Kinect Star Wars, probably the last game one would expect to generate a decent soundtrack, given its thoroughly negative critical reception. But score collectors willing to look past the game’s deficiencies would find an orchestral score that managed the seemingly impossible. It features orchestral writing of a quality that matches Williams’ classic Star Wars film scores.
The masterminds behind this small miracle were young composers Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster. With credits on various TV shows, short films and direct-to-video titles, Haab and Newmaster had already worked together on Star Wars: The Old Republic (as part of a larger team of composers). While The Old Republic generated one of the better original Star Wars game scores, its quality was still sketchy.
In contrast, the Kinect Star Wars soundtrack is consistently excellent and a significant step up from The Old Republic. In fact, the biggest compliment one can make the Kinect Star Wars soundtrack is that if this music appeared one day out of the blue and was presented as another hour of previously unreleased Star Wars material by John Williams, no one would bat an eye lid – it’s that good. Haab and Newmaster do an outstanding job at recreating Wiliams’ musical mannerisms and exceedingly dense orchestral writing. At the same time, they are cautious not to overuse Williams’ established themes (a mistake the Force Unleashed scores made). Overt thematic references occur only sparsely and are never deployed to carry the music on their own.
Outside of these references, Haab and Newmaster come up with a downright scary amount of musical ideas of their own. There’s even more going on here than on an already packed-to-the-rafters score like Michael Giacchino’s Secret Weapons Over Normandy. Keep in mind that the Kinect Star Wars soundtrack almost entirely consists of sometimes blazingly fast action material. It’s one of the most technically demanding game scores ever written and the London Symphony Orchestra acquit themselves flawlessly.
It’s a one hour non-stop thrill ride that rarely changes velocity. This makes the fact that Haab and Newmaster manage to keep the music fresh and consistently exciting positively astounding. Their handling of orchestral counterpoint and of the ensemble’s different sections is exemplary. What’s more, each composition is a perfectly shaped, fully-fledged show piece for the orchestra. The bombardment of action music never feels like a collection of ostinati and staccato rhythms, or alternatively like a sequence of rousing moments that fail to develop any sense of direction – issues that plague so much other action game music writing.
Instead, the Kinect Star Wars soundtrack is a marvel of orchestral adrenaline that still manages to pace its furious energy. As one would expect, the excitement never abates on those compositions written for the game’s racing component. Still, these pieces know when to take the foot off the pedal briefly before revving up again to overtake even immensely accomplished orchestral blitzes like Total Annihilation. Finally, the racing cues help the Kinect Star Wars soundtrack to go out with a jaw-droppingly intense finale. Closing track “Sebulba and the Boonta Eve Classic” cements this score as one of the gold standards of orchestral writing in game music.
Constant frenzy doesn’t stifle the music’s storytelling ambitions either, which are most prominent on the albums’ first eight compositions. Take “Mak Pra and the Resistance Fighters”. It builds its lumbering opening march by adding counter rhythms and fanfares until the intensity becomes almost unbearable. And then all this drops away and out of nowhere, an a capella choir enters with almost religious solemnity. Elsewhere, Haab and Newmaster provide sufficient outbursts of romantic heroism in their brass writing to make this music not just thrilling, but truly rousing.
However, the highlight of the Kinect Star Wars soundtrack are its three Rancor Rampage compositions. These accompany a game mode where players control an out of control Rancor. Here, the composers get to innovate and add a new musical facet to the Star Wars universe. By turbo-charging their already frenetic action sound with carnivalesque energy and madcap circus music rhythms, “Jabba’s Runway Rancor” and “Rejection Rampage” actually turn out to be Kinect Star Wars soundtrack’s most intense cues, nearly threatening to spin out of control at any breathless, electrifying moment. It’s the virtuoso climax of a masterful creation that is a work for the ages.
- 01 - Trandoshan Assault on Kashyyyk Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 2:31
- 02 - Take to the Speeders Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:35
- 03 - Approaching Providence Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:24
- 04 - Rescuing the Padawans Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:25
- 05 - Mavra Versus the Magna Guards Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:49
- 06 - Mak Pra and the Resistance Fighters Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 4:19
- 07 - Control Ship Skirmish Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:40
- 08 - The Battle over Felucia Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:42
- 09 - Jabba's Runaway Rancor Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:00
- 10 - Rejection Rampage Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:20
- 11 - Mos Espa Madness Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:04
- 12 - A Challenger Appears Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 4:26
- 13 - The Outer Rim Regionals Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 4:23
- 14 - Boles Roor and the Cloud City Circuit Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 4:18
- 15 - Clegg's Swan Song Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 3:32
- 16 - Sebulba and the Boonta Eve Classic Gordy Haab / Kyle Newmaster 4:18
Terry F says
The Star Wars game scores are underrated gems. Klepacki’s Empire at War, Haab’s Battlefront II, and the Haab/Barton Jedi Fallen Order soundtracks are also excellent — the latter especially as it allowed Haab and Barton to dive into a deeper level of leitmotivically driven storytelling than the Battlefront games allowed for.
Simon Elchlepp says
Thanks for your thoughtful response Terry and I look forward to digging a bit deeper into original Star Wars game scores (as in: those that don’t just reuse John Williams’ music). I’ve been enjoying Haab’s other Star Wars scores, but probably still enjoy Kinect Star Wars the most – I feel that’s where he wrote his most coherent and most consistently exciting action pieces (and writing great action music sometimes seems to be the biggest challenge for game music composers). I agree though that his later Star Wars scores allowed him to do more thematic work.