A bass recorder plays back and forth in perfect 5th’s between G and D. Just this sound alone is enough to invoke excitement for Star Wars and Disney+ fans alike. Those 2 notes are all it takes for someone to recognize the newly iconic theme for The Mandalorian. This Disney+ exclusive series has thrilled fans as the first ever live action Star Wars TV show and the music has in small part helped it become the most streamed show on any streaming platform as of 2020.
The score for the Mandalorian is becoming internationally recognized as one of the best TV scores of our generation. Composer Ludwig Göransson’s work on the series has received an Emmy for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series, and an OFTA (Online Film & Television Association) Television Award for Best Music in a Series. The show was also nominated for several other music awards. But why is this score so successful?
It would be meaningless to talk about the success of The Mandalorian’s successful musical influence without discussing the man who wrote it. Ludwig Göransson is a Swedish composer, conductor, and producer. He honed his craft as a graduate from the Stockholm Royal College of Music as well as the University of Southern California. In 2019, Göransson won multiple Grammys for his work with artist Childish Gambino. He also won a Grammy that same year for the Black Panther film score. Last year he received his first Emmy for the score to The Mandalorian. As one of the most sought-after composers of this decade, Göransson was also a pioneer in individual recording techniques for the movie Tenet at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. You can read more about this groundbreaking innovation in the film scoring industry here:
Settling the Score: How Film Composers are Handling a Global Pandemic
How do you write, record, and produce a film score during a gobal pandemic?
Being a multi-instrumentalist came in handy during the composing and producing of this unique score as he was able to record a lot of the parts himself. This was useful not only during the second season (which was recorded during the COVID-19 Pandemic) but also during the first season. Being able to perform and record his own music allows him full autonomy over the sound that he wants. In the case of The Mandalorian, Göransson played various recorder tracks as well as multiple guitar tracks, bass guitar, drums and the synthesizers. For the other musical aspects, he turned to his musically inclined friends he has gained from years in the business.
Ludwig Göransson is nothing if not dedicated to his craft. He is known in the industry as having unrivaled authenticity in his music. In his work on Creed, he went to an actual boxing gym so that he could record the natural soundscape and weave it into his scoring. For Black Panther, he took a month-long trip to Africa to work and live with Senegalese musician Baaba Maal. For this new “space western” set in the Star Wars universe, he wanted to give a new life to the world with music that is quite possibly the most well-known film score ever written. He had many “going the extra mile” moments on this project. One came in the form of recorders he ordered in the mail. After receiving them, he then went into the woods to spend time in nature with his newly found “organic instruments”. He did this meditative process to find the soundscape of a whole universe with a myriad of planets to explore.
A Melting Pot of Instruments
The Mandalorian takes place on multiple planets across a vast galaxy. Each of these planets have their own unique ecosystems, alien inhabitants, and political systems. This poses the challenge creating music that can be consistent across multiple episodes, while still encapsulating the individualistic feeling of that planet’s setting. To face this challenge, Göransson decided to use an equally individualistic approach to the instrumentation for the score. From rock elements like drums and electric guitar, to electronic synths, to the iconic bass recorder heard in the main theme, there certainly are many different sounds for your ear to latch onto. In an interview with Jon Burlingame on Disney’s For Scores podcast, the Swedish composer outlines a few choices he made instrumentally.
The first decision he made was to connect with his inner child to remember the impact the original Star Wars scores had on him. This inner child led him to recorders as an out of the box idea for composing. After ordering a set of 5 recorders (ranging from soprano to bass), he fell in love with the sounds they created and spent up to 7 hours a day practicing them and finding ideas for this original score. The bass recorder became the sound most often linked to the Mandalorian only after the rest of the theme had been written and Göransson decided to put in recorders as the intro. The second important decision that was made was to tie in the primal, emotionless aura of the main character to a drumbeat created on a drum set floor tom. This is meant to feel like a steady heartbeat for the unwavering nature of the bounty hunter.
Both of these previous decisions served as a separator between what we know from the original Star Wars scores and what the Mandalorian sound became. There were, however, instrumental elements meant to tie us back to that recognizable John Williams sound. For the more emotional or triumphant sections of the score, a 72-piece orchestra was used. The symphonic sound is clearly an homage to William’s scores and almost a “have to” in the world of Star Wars. An idea that may be less obvious in relation to the original Star Wars soundscape presents itself at the end of the theme for The Mandalorian. The use of a Fender Rhodes in lieu of a celeste is a way to recall a familiar “otherworldly” sound while still creating something new.
From character themes to transitional sounds, Ludwig Göransson was able to capture the importance of every minute detail within the universe of The Mandalorian. He even went so far as to record the boot spurs of the Mandalorian’s outfit on set and incorporate it into the score. His ability to compose and perform across multiple genres of music (sometimes all in the same scene) creates an exhilarating journey within the music that echoes the journey unfolding on the screen before the audience. Just like the episodes themselves, the score takes heartfelt nostalgia for Star Wars and twists it into something we as the audience didn’t know we needed. A new soundscape for every character and environment makes each part of this universe seem real and tangible. This is a seamless musical experience that floats underneath the scene, yet still comes to the forefront of our minds while watching.