The Last Jedi is currently in its third weekend and several Star Wars fans are going to see the movie multiple times, trying to pick up on things that they may have missed the first time around. There's been a lot of speculation about everything in the divisive movie, but not really a whole lot has been said about John Williams' score. Some eagle-eared listeners have realized that the music takes a darker tone when Kylo Ren is on the screen that proceeds to get darker and more sinister as the movie progresses, mirroring Kylo Ren's journey.
Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi shows a struggle in Kylo Ren and viewers see the Light and the Dark, but ultimately, the Dark Side takes over, which is evident on the screen. One thing that's not always so evident, is the music playing while Adam Driver's Kylo Ren is slowly going through his transformation from bad to worse. As it turns out, Kylo's lack of certainty in himself was reflected in John Williams' score, according to Frank Lehman, an assistant professor of music at Tufts University. Lehman is a musicologist, which often means studying more classical music, but he's been fascinated by Williams' Star Wars music for a long time.
In an interview with Elite Daily, Frank Lehman spoke at length about each of the musical leitmotifs (themes that accompany one specific person, situation, or idea in a composition) that Kylo Ren has in The Last Jedi. In the beginning of the movie, Lehman points out that the first theme has some "over the top villainy," which he believes shows the character overcompensating for something. The second theme is less confident and "more hesitant," especially when he's talking to Rey. Each of the themes begins to morph and change, following Kylo's journey of finding his true self.
The third Kylo Ren theme is a "menacing, chromatic string line" (a bunch of notes that are really close to each other in a row) that serves as Kylo's "musical calling card." The notes are close to Darth Vader's theme, but not quite there yet, much like Kylo Ren. Kylo desperately wants to be like his grandfather and by the end of the movie, he's taken great strides to become as evil as he can be. The chromatic notes are growing with tension, which leads Frank Lehman to believe that we're going to see a very dark Kylo Ren in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars 9.
There are clues all over the Star Wars franchise that tie into the music that John Williams expertly scores. One can tell that Rian Johnson and Williams worked together very closely to end up with the powerful score that ends up in The Last Jedi. It's powerful, it's playful, it's hesitant, it's everything that all of the characters are up on the screen a more. The Last Jedi holds more secrets that demand multiple viewings, so pay attention to the music next time. You can read more about Frank Lehman's study of the Kylo Ren motifs via Elite Daily.
For a film that seems to be all about discarding the past and letting go of nostalgia, boy is it infatuated with the Force Theme. Wonder how much is Williams's doing, and how much is Johnson's (or temp-tracker).— frankly, man (@fmlehman) December 17, 2017
One of the cool things about TLJ's score is that some previously purely incidental motifs (by my strict definition) are promoted to true leitmotif status. Examples: Rey's chimes, Snoke, Kylo Ren's menacing bass line, March of Resistance bridge, and best of all 'Here They Come'— frankly, man (@fmlehman) December 17, 2017