Views from the Sith
For the uninitiated, Star Wars is built upon the fight between good and evil. The Good can take many forms - galactic royalty, wise muppets, and a young, hot Harrison Ford. In The Force Awakens, the latest additions to the good side come in the form of a mysterious warrior named Finn, the desert-planet-dwelling Rey, ace X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron, and a goofy ball droid called BB-8. The Evil are pretty straightforward. Their lightsabers are red, they wear a ton of black, and sometimes murder children, which can be slightly overshadowed by how fire their helmets are. First Order Captain Phasma and the Jedi hunter, Kylo Ren, are of this ilk.
Surface-dwelling Star Wars fans are aware of at least a few bands from the original trilogy: the iconic Cantina Band or, more formally, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, or the Max Rebo band from their residency as the house band for Jabba’s Palace. But what do the inhabitants of the Star Wars universe do for fun when their options are more Nalan Cheel than “Netflix and chill”? The music scene seems limited, even if the Lirin Car’n and Sy Snootles beef is imminent and their version of Coachella rules, if you have the right spice plug.
While most Star Wars fans can admit composer John Williams did a pretty okay job with scoring all six films, and will likely continue that trend with The Force Awakens, these new characters warrant modern contextualization in the most universal language of all: mixtapes. One new mix will be published every week leading up to the release of the film and will be dedicated to one of five new characters. After all, every superhero needs their theme music.
Let Them Be Shocked By Gravity, Then The Ground
In the original teaser trailer from last November, Finn appears only after a disembodied voice mutters, “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” Given the stressed look on his face, it’s safe to say Finn has indeed felt it and, between the harsh Jakku terrain and implications of the statement made by this voice on high, he seems very small.
Nearly thirty years after Darth Vader dunks his mentor down a Death Star utility shaft, effectively saving the day and ensuring a victory for the Rebellion, there’s been a shift seismic enough to send Finn into a panic. Finn’s introduction alone displays the magnitude of his circumstances, which, while still unknown, likely predate him by centuries.
StarWars.com states that Finn is a “trained warrior desperate to escape his past, Finn is plunged into adventure as his conscience drives him down a heroic, but dangerous, path.” Many believe he’s escaping his life as a Stormtrooper against the will of his commander, which results in his TIE fighter spiraling toward Jakku.
Under this premise, Finn’s violent escape from the First Order is scored by “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” and after he’s vanished, “Putty Boy Strut” plays in the cantina where he’s trying to lay low while Stormtroopers patrol outside. “Bring The Noize” is his thesis against the First Order; “Rival Dealer” is the paranoid delirium he feels from being on the run
The mix selection for Finn is chaotic and has an underlying electronic-charge, but this isn’t due to the inherently technological lifestyle of casual and frequent space travel, nor is it because nature and machine live side-by-side. It’s because his entrance to the Star Wars universe is outlined by the in-step anonymity of a military presence inspired by clone armies. That, and Finn seems to sweat. A lot.
From the digital iciness of “Baptism” to the sacrificial implications of “Tarpeian Rock” - an execution site from Ancient Rome for sinners - Finn’s mix embodies a character in a fundamental transition. This mix possesses a human anxiety at odds with its surrounding industrialist expanse, all driving at the concept of necessary death, sacrifice, and retaliation.
Finn - “Let Them Be Shocked By Gravity, Then The Ground”
Played (in this order) on a silver iPod Shuffle
Made A Lane ‘Cause They Blocked Ours
Of the all the new Star Wars characters, Captain Phasma is the easily the most mysterious. The audience has yet to hear her voice, understand her motives, or even see her face. Aside from several sweeping shots of Phasma lording over a pristine Stormtrooper platoon and slinking through a passageway deep in the metallic guts of a starship, little is known of the high-ranking First Order leader. Until now. Bear with me.
StarWars.com describes her thusly: “Clad in distinctive metallic armor, Captain Phasma commands the First Order’s legions of troopers.” She’s a high-powered shot-caller surrounded by soldiers desperate to claim their territory, so there’s no question she’s bumping everything from DatPiff deep cuts to concussion grenade-level bangers in a chopped-up chrome Wraith - SKRRT- as her squad makes moves throughout the galaxy.
Phasma likely desires control and power through strategic combat so her playlist hews close to the spoils of war. The gold-flaked details of “Shabba” and “About The Money” are blatant, but “Fuck Up Some Commas” “and “O Let’s Do It” might as well refer to the path of destruction created by Phasma and her goons. Do not bother with prayer or reason, Phasma is always just moments away from standing on the grave of all that you love and hitting a wildly illustrious dab. Why does she have a shoulder cape if not to accentuate her dab?
The raw aggression on this playlist represents the grit it must take to become a leader in the First Order military. Whether Phasma’s draw to leadership is spurred by unseen circumstances, or her principles are less noble, she’s not to be trifled with. Phasma has yet to even speak, but her destructive power comes across crystal clear. The rejuvenation in Pusha T’s voice on “King Push” mixed with Nicki’s confidence on “Want Some More” creates a potential entryway into Phasma’s personality. The commanding officer that fights her way out of corners through sheer will, looks her destiny in the face and responds. Another one.
Ultimately, this mix is a summarization of Captain Phasma working through a fury tantrum: a rise to action, the resulting gristly deeds encouraged by greed, the comedown, and the reflection. Then it - SKRRT- repeats.
Captain Phasma - "Made A Lane ‘Cause They Blocked Ours"
Played on a chrome Beats by Dre Pill
Like A Monkey With A Miniature Cymbal
More often than not, Droids of BB-8’s stature aren’t aligned with the forces of evil. No self-respecting Sith Lord would be caught dead with an innocent robot sidekick, especially one bearing such likeness to a giant, excitable can of Sunkist.
Like the beloved R2-D2, BB has the capability of assisting in aerial combat by plugging itself into the co-pilot chamber of an X-Wing. According to StarWars.com, “BB-8 is the spherical, loyal Astromech Droid of the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron.” While Poe Dameron - whose mix is forthcoming - swiftly navigates his X-Wing through the debris of downed First Order starfighters and across a large-scale aerial battle - BB-8 curates this mix.
If we imagine the Star Wars cast as a microcosm of a standard concert crowd, BB-8 is the dude in the banana costume ten out of ten times. BB is a downright goof, which means it probably fucking loves The B-52’s, Hot Chip, and Beck. Weezer would be on here but it likely couldn’t decide on just one song and would wind up just requesting a Rivers pre-2009 megamix in its place. Instead, those three are represented with lyrics about the weight of time, mindless repetition, and the perilous journey of a woman through the wasteland. In this instance, that woman is Rey since BB is shown rolling alongside her before anyone else. The commonality between all three is how they’re earnestly accessible without compromise, just like a wiley Ball Droid.
The first few glimpses of BB-8 in motion depicted the spherical wonder heading full-speed away from danger and peeking around a corner, which gives the impression that BB is a laidback Droid accustomed to a lifestyle comfortably outside the high-powered scope of danger. The rest of the mix has an electronic pulse imbued with recognizably human qualities in the form of vocal samples, live instrumentation, and, in the case of The Books, a rich vignette of both.
For all the running and hiding BB-8 seems to do, its line of work is nightmarish and clashes directly with its innocent appearance. Therefore, in the small chance that BB is a sadistic automaton, it can set the mood with Slayer and feel remorse later. Or not. We have enough knowledge about these characters to create vague stencils but the beauty of not knowing allows us to fill those outlines however we see fit. Who’s to say BB-8’s flighty demeanor comes from its ability to flee havoc instead of creating it? Only time will tell.
BB-8 - “Like A Monkey With A Miniature Cymbal”
Transmitted through BB-8 itself
If BB-8 Don’t Trust You I’m Gon’ Shoot You
For the inherent anxiety, intense training, and general fanfare surrounding the life of an X-Wing pilot, their deaths have traditionally been unceremonious. Perhaps the downfall of one soldier creates less of an impact within the looming shadows of a revolution, but the original trilogy pays homage with little more than a close-up scream and a burst of sparks, choosing to focus primarily on the main characters and their losses.
The life of an X-Wing pilot is unforgiving and brutish, but most of all discreetly noble. Civilians might speculate about the playlist of an expert pilot like Poe Dameron and opine a supposed love for the darkness of metal or cold reality of gangster rap. They may be surprised to learn that Poe fucking loves pop.
The key here is brevity. Pop music is often deemed disposable or without meaning but, for pilots like Poe, it’s an escape from the grim reality of constantly living on the brink of battle. Make no mistake, Poe is still dropping TIE fighters like several ton flies but he’s hitting his best falsetto to “Can’t Feel My Face” in the process. “An ace pilot, Poe Dameron is a leader in the Resistance’s fight against the evil First Order. He soars into battle behind the controls of a modern X-wing fighter,” says StarWars.com. That’s all when and good, but did you know Poe has whipped and nae nae’d on ten different planets? Stunting isn’t a habit, it’s a way of coping with the mayhem.
There’s a very thin layer of danger hidden amidst the accessibility of these selections; the firing gun from “Lean On,” the stovetop covered with crack on “Trap Queen,” the general presence of Future. In fact, the Future and Drake dynamic plays to his relationship with BB-8, who’s perched near the cockpit as his co-pilot. As for “Hello,” well, Poe has been hurt before. He is, above all, a human being. With feelings.
If Captain Phasma contains the couture rage of this cast, Poe Dameron is the other side of the coin. He seeks sloppy resolution within uncertainty by freeing himself mentally. They say that in times of intense stress it helps to sing as loud as you can. Poe takes that to heart.
Poe Dameron - “If BB-8 Don’t Trust You I’m Gon’ Shoot You”
Played from the aux cord inside his X-Wing
So I Got Ditched Freezing, Alone With My Thoughts
Like any great Star Wars protagonist, Rey lives on a remote desert planet. In our very first glimpse of Rey she’s racing away from danger on a speeder vehicle festooned with scavenging paraphernalia, suggesting a rugged life of searching for value in the wasteland. Fan theories suggest Rey is part of Luke and Leia’s family tree, but it’s difficult to know much beyond the fact that she’s spent a significant amount of time on her own boiling in the heat of the Jakku sun(s?).
Star Wars.com says “Rey is a resilient survivor, a scavenger toughened by a lifetime of dealing with the cutthroats of the harsh desert world of Jakku” so it’s not surprising to find her freebasing the wreckage site of a massive starfighter in search of any valuables. The big shift in her storyline exists in what should be a simple job, plainly because she appears to encounter BB-8, a possible stowaway on the aircraft who survived the crash. Rey’s life then takes a turn.
Her mixtape encompasses two sides of the same coin: an excruciating desire to search for answers and the courage to find them. The expansive longing on “First Breath After Coma” and dead-end actualization of “Life Like Weeds” melt together to form the bizarre ennui of living a solitary life while knowing there are other options. The loneliness is magnified by “White Fire,” which demolishes hope in slow motion and “Ocean Bed,” Rey’s acceptance of her circumstances.
But then Rey meets BB-8 and “Callow” brings her back to real life. Then things speed up. From the spidery paranoia of “Thievery” to the disrupted calm of “Live Room,” Jakku is under siege and Rey is finally in the middle of her much-desired adventure. “Sunbather” encapsulates her rage and fear, working in tandem to finally reach the truth. In the Japanese trailer from November, Kylo Ren has his the molten blade of his lightsaber to her neck and, perhaps, The Force stirs within her.
Speedy Ortiz’s chummy “No Below” serves as a prediction for her epilogue. She’ll battle within the clutches of certain doom and survive. More importantly, she’ll finally get her answers.
Rey- “So I Got Ditched Freezing, Alone With My Thoughts”
Played in the half-busted tape deck in Rey’s speeder bike
This House and Me Are All Falling Apart
Kylo Ren is very obviously the villain of The Force Awakens. Whether his black-on-black-on-black garb or the seemingly unsafe hilt of his lightsaber gives it away, there’s an ancient evil within him and he wants everyone to know, so much so that he proudly displays - and speaks to - the crumpled helmet of his hero, Darth Vader. Somehow this is creepier than when someone bought John Lennon’s old teeth in an attempt to clone the late Beatle. At least that guy was transparent.
Such hero worship is ritualistic and shallow, but ultimately manifests itself in the student forcing itself to become the master. While it cannot be said for sure, Kylo Ren was not known to be with Darth Vader in his supposed last moments, so this quest to bring honor to Vader’s name seems misguided. This steadfast belief in idols of the past can be found in both the Dark Side and good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll.
Throughout this playlist, the classic rock spectrum is simultaneously covered and disguised as original work: “Girlfriend” and “Lonely Boy” mimic a scuzzy garage-rock aesthetic, “King of Spain” is overt Dylan worship, and “Woman” is hair metal after too many instagram filters. According to Star Wars.com, Kylo Ren is “a dark warrior strong with the Force, [who] commands First Order missions with a temper as fiery as his unconventional lightsaber.” However, his whole style comes from Sith Lord past; all-black uniform and hood, intimidating facemask, and a red lightsaber blade denoting how he’s a Bad Dude™. But it’s been thirty years since the events of Return of the Jedi, which is like taking something from the 80s and trying to make it current again with stylish updates and a few familiar faces to hide the fact that it’s still the same hokey religions and ancient weapons. (Editor’s Note: hint hint wink wink)
Under layers of proverbial warpaint and heavy posturing, the villain for The Force Awakens is a pasty dude with a belly full of fire, just hoping to keep the vibes alive. Granted, there are likely stronger motives driving this villain, but he wears his influences proudly like a costume of authenticity. However, it’s comforting to know that, regardless of reality, logic, and time there’s always going to be some horrible guy with a disappointing name promoting sermons of yesteryear and clinging to a past he never intimately knew.
Kylo Ren - “This House and Me Are All Falling Apart””
Played overhead throughout a First Order Starfighter