In a slight deviation from our regular look at the music of Star Trek, this week (as part of our Path to Picard series), we’re considering the music that various composers created to represent Jean-Luc and his time as Captain of the USS Enterprise.
Our Sound of Star Trek articles have previously noted that, unlike other franchises, there are no specific hero themes for Star Trek’s characters that can be heard across multiple productions.
Take Star Wars (after The Last Jedi, that’s probably some fans’ greatest wish!): we have prominent themes for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the latter’s familiar ‘Imperial March’ being deconstructed by John Williams for the prequels, and melodies that represent Yoda and the Force. Even the Emperor gets in on the act, with his brooding theme burrowing its way into all nine Saga movies.
Heck, Yoda’s theme was heard in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, too! Which then begs the question: if E.T’s kind were made part of Star Wars canon because of their appearance in the prequels which were set a longer, long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, how can Elliott be playing with Star Wars figures on Earth in the 20th century? And they say Trek‘s canonicity is screwed!
The MCU, as strong as it is in its continuity across 20+ movies, is a little hit and miss in finding a musical familiarity, only really using the Avengers theme by Alan Silvestri at moments of high excitement.
Ironically, for a franchise that is infamous for its erratic and stilted approach to expanded storytelling, the DCU found its mark when bringing its hero themes to the fore: Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as did Junkie XL’s absolutely fantastic Wonder Woman theme (that was subsequently given a full orchestral rendition in Diana’s solo outing). Justice League went even better: Danny Elfman brought back his own tremendous 1989 score for the Dark Knight and gave Junkie XL’s piece another lease of orchestral life but (and the fanboy in me nearly fell off the chair when I heard it) John Williams’ unmistakable theme from Superman: The Movie (heard in conjunction with Zimmer’s returning Man of Steel ) was the icing on the cake. Both motifs were on hand to represent the resurrection of the character from angst-driven saviour (Zimmer) into superhero (Williams).
Even 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, scored by Bear McCreary, gives the chance for Akira Ifukube’s classic melody for the titular Big Guy to be heard again: a tune that was first revealed in 1954 and has been heard on and off across some of the Japanese productions in the intervening years.
Now, whether you like any of the aforementioned movie franchises or not, one can’t deny that utilizing established themes and melodies for popular characters and situations binds everything together.
So why hasn’t this ever been the case for Star Trek?
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It can be argued, perhaps, that Alexander Courage’s fanfare and theme and Jerry Goldsmith’s main title for The Motion Picture fill that quota, but they’re in essence opening identifiers to episodes and movies and, by their very nature, occasionally interpolated into incidental scores. In the era of The Original Series, music composed by Courage and others such as Fred Steiner was used as ‘stock’, taken from Desilu’s music library and bolted onto to other episodes to signify specific events (Vina’s theme from The Cage represented any of Kirk’s ‘women of the week’, for example). This was purely a money-saving exercise but can be considered the genesis of leit motifs across various Star Trek dramatizations.
Courage’s fanfare became synonymous with the Enterprise herself because they used it more often than not whenever she appeared on screen. Discovery qualified this as the Enterprise‘s identifying music by using the same fanfare when she appeared in ‘Will You Take My Hand?’ and by using Courage’s full theme to close that episode with. That said, James Horner used a somewhat cute variation on the fanfare whenever the Grissom appeared in The Search for Spock. The Animated Series reused key cues across its 22 episode run, too, again utilizing stock music but which bordered on the repetitive.
But it’s notable characters who I’m thinking should have, by now, earned their own specific themes.
Spock was fortunate to have a style adopted to him that stemmed from ‘Amok Time,’ composed by Gerald Fried and which was merely hinted at by James Horner and Michael Giacchino, while Worf inherited Goldsmith’s ‘Klingon Battle’ from TMP.
Goldsmith, Horner and Giacchino, the only returning composers for the movies, used their own themes and compositions but nothing directly relating to anything much outside their scores apart from, of course, Courage’s work.
Kirk deserved his own theme, surely? And now that he’s coming back, so does Picard.
But it’s too late to retro-fit something for Stewart’s much-beloved captain, even though the trailer for Star Trek: Picard incorporated Goldsmith’s TMP theme for the logo reveal.
So that leaves us with cherry-picking Picard’s stories to find something, anything, that musically identifies him.
This is going to be a challenge.
Let’s start with ‘Encounter At Farpoint,’ Picard’s first appearance and with a soundtrack composed by Dennis McCarthy. This soundtrack will be the subject of a Sound of Star Trek article in the coming weeks so I won’t delve too deeply here. Suffice to say, there is the basis (and a missed opportunity?) to introduce a consistency right from the off.
McCarthy composed a bouncy original theme that was rejected in favor of the Courage/Goldsmith hybrid but it does become something of a recurring melody, dotted across a handful of episodes. It’s not specifically designed for any one person or any one dramatic event but it does lend itself to being about as close as a recurring theme for Picard that we can hope for. McCarthy hints at it in ‘All Good Things’ which tops and tails the series. Guaranteed, though, that they won’t even touch it for his standalone series. Which I think is a great shame.
The movies gave more thought to musical backgrounds, yet still there’s a sadly-lacking approach to Picard. McCarthy’s Generations gives us ‘Two Captains’ and ‘A Christmas Hug’ but, with a mournful few moments to underscore ‘Picard’s Message’, there is very little to stand out. The same with First Contact: Goldsmith finds new melodies to encompass the film as a whole and even though it’s a sequel of sorts to ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, it’s Data’s story in the end. ‘Stay With Me’ (no, not the one by 70s rock superstars The Faces) and ‘The Healing Process’ from Goldsmith’s Insurrection highlight scenes with Picard when he discovers the Ba’ku secret. Again, they underscore scenes rather than specifically indicating Picard as a character.
Nemesis was, for a long time, our coda to the adventures of the TNG crew. It told the (unexpected) story of Picard’s clone but it turned into Data’s story in the end (eh? I’m sure I’ve already written that). So, once more, Picard doesn’t have a recurring motif. And this is Goldsmith’s third TNG movie score!
See? Told you this was a challenge.
Finally we get to ‘The Inner Light’ (and I’m hoping one of my fellow Redshirts gets around to featuring this episode in a future Path to Picard article). If you are unaware of this episode (and shame on you as a Trek fan if you’re not!), I’ll wait here quietly until you’ve watched it… Okay, you back? Right…now you’ve seen it, you’ll know how lovely and heart-wrenching it is.
Jay Chattaway composed one of the, if not the, single most outstanding piece of music for the complete TNG run. It’s not given the full orchestral treatment on screen but GNP Crescendo featured it as such on one of their many TNG soundtrack releases. And what a version. Flute-based, as you’d expect from the storyline, it is romantic, timeless and brings a longing that no other instrument could convey. It gives a tender and fragile side to Picard, one I have a feeling we will soon be seeing more of.
If music as emotive as this accompanies Sir Patrick Stewart’s return to the role, then we’re in for one helluva ride.
Next time: Star Trek Nemesis by Jerry Goldsmith.