Star Wars Headspace


Star Wars Headspace

Various Artists

[Hollywood Records and American Recordings, 2016]

by Jacob McAuliffe

I imagine that even for super fans of Star Wars, the electronic compilation album Star Wars Headspace is a jarring experience. Executive produced by Rick Rubin, Star Wars Headspace is a muddled attempt to create an electronic Star Wars tribute album.

The soundscape of Star Wars is iconic. Lightsabers, various spaceships, and aliens all have their own unique sounds, lovingly created by the legendary Ben Burtt. It’s hard to divorce the sounds of Star Wars from the imagery of the films. For example, a blaring alarm that opens “Cantina Boys” by Baauer (as well as two other tracks) immediately conjures the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where two Star Destroyers nearly crash into each other. What does that scene have to do with the music? Absolutely nothing.

Therefore, the album has an incredibly messy narrative. Because each sound effect carries its own meaning, it is hard to casually listen to Star Wars Headspace. I was quickly drawn out of certain tracks when I recognized an iconic sound. I thought of an unrelated scene from the movies and then forgot what the track was supposedly about.

Star Wars Headspace tries to do the rest of its narrative work by appropriating various quotes from the films. This is a largely hit-or-miss affair. In general, the more on-the-nose and literal the songs were, the less enjoyable they were. “Help Me!” by GTA repeats Princess Leia’s famous “help me Obi-wan” line ad-nauseum and quickly grows tiresome.

“R2 Knows” by Claude VonStroke is a conventional EDM track that epitomizes the album’s narrative problems. VonStroke jumps the shark into parody music territory and includes actual lyrics:

“Luke lost his hand, but a Jedi doesn’t need one. But R2 knows Luke is really Darth Vader’s son.”

Perhaps the joke is that the Star Wars prequels introduce narrative inconsistencies. Or, more likely, this is a song that just literally describes what happens in the movies. Unfortunately, VonStroke is no Weird Al Yankovic.

The creators of Star Wars Headspace could not secure the rights to remix John Williams’ songs, but this doesn’t stop them on a few occasions from referencing them. The most overt reference occurs in the previously mentioned “Help Me!” by GTA. Bass synths deliver the opening riffs of Vader’s theme song on repeat.

Rubin recreates a line from the Star Wars “Main Theme” with chiming synths to help end “NR-G7.” Additionally, Rubin’s remix of “Jabba Flow” from The Force Awakens opens with a sound that is somewhat similar to “Rey’s Theme” from the same film. It seems that no Star Wars musical project can be complete without referencing John Williams.

However, several producers on the album do manage to make innovative use of iconic sounds and merge them into new electronic soundscapes.

“Bounty Hunters” by Röyksopp changes the setting of Star Wars into an 8-bit action video game. Constant driving synths are juxtaposed with quotes from Greedo, the galaxy’s most ineffective bounty hunter. The song conjures images of a pixelated Han Solo facing off against a group of equally pixelated bounty hunters.

“Sunset Over Manaan” by ATTLAS paints a dreary picture of the war in Star Wars. Yells to retreat are obscured by laserfire and ambient synths.

“Star Tripper” by Breakbot draws upon neoclassical music influences as it opens and then transitions into a slow 80’s synth affair. What would Star Wars look like with the cinematic sensibility of 2011’s Drive?

These selections made me imagine Star Wars in a new way, and they succeeded both narratively and musically. Unfortunately, the album contains far too few of these moments.

Star Wars Headspace is available to stream on Spotify and SoundCloud. The album will be available in physical media March 18.