April 19, 2023

What's Old is New: A Score For the Next Generation [UPDATED]

What's Old is New: A Score For the Next Generation [UPDATED]

Final Frontier Nostalgia Meets Next Generation Melodies

I never expected Star Trek Picard season three to hit me as hard as it did in all the right places. And yet here I am writing the review of the show's score on the eve of its series finale, debating if it's one of my favorite television seasons...ever.

Of course, without an epic score to go with it, Picard's final season would not have hit as hard as it did, and that's exactly what Stephen Barton and Frederik Wiedmann have given us with their music for season three. It's a return to a more theatrical approach of scoring television, but more than that, a return to music that screams Star Trek. I feel that this has been lacking in the franchise until very recently.

A score, whether for film or television, needs to tell a story just as much as the pictures that we, as an audience, see on screen. Nami Melumad's scores for both Strange New Worlds and Star Trek Prodigy are great examples of accomplishing this. And luckily for Picard season three, Barton and Wiedmann have followed that trend, knocking it out of the holographic ballpark.

Early on in the season premiere, "The Next Generation," it was evident that Star Trek: First Contact would heavily influence Picard's final run. And, of course, as we learn in episode 309, "Vox," that's for a very good reason. But it's not just First Contact that Stephen Barton (Barton was responsible for the scoring in eight episodes of Picard) borrowed from.

So much of this score is a beautiful tribute to James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and Dennis McCarthy, and the album's third track, "Hello, Beautiful," is an excellent example of that. Barton masterfully mixes in the flutes and horns that made films like Wrath of Khan and The Search For Spock so epic while also throwing in those beautiful strings that Jerry Goldsmith first gave in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The U.S.S. Titan Leaves Earth Spacedock in "The Next Generation"

And those tributes continue in "Leaving Spacedock," or the Titan's theme as it has also been called. "Leaving Spacedock" takes all those iconic instruments from Trek's past: horns, woodwinds, heavy strings, and turns them into something unequivocally tribute yet absolutely original. The theme for the Titan has quickly become one of my favorite Trek motifs, and it has been impossible not to hum it daily. Just ask my wife. 

Tracks like "Klingon's Never Disappoint" finally bring back Goldsmith's Klingon theme established in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and it's the perfect accompaniment for Worf and his warrior ways, even if his new favorite beverage is chamomile tea.

Don't get me started on the Fleet Museum on Athan Prime. "Legacies" does the full lineup of TOS, DS9, and Voyager as we see all those lovely ships that we grew up with one last time, all while giving Seven her own powerful and original piece of music. I'm a sucker for strings; I played viola in middle school, and even though I didn't stick with it, I absolutely adore hearing them. Seven talking about her rebirth aboard Voyager and how proud she was of that ship's journey accompanied by this track is one of the highlights of season three. 

Seven of Nine Reflects on her time aboard Voyager in "The Bounty"

And it's not all nostalgia, just for nostalgia's sake. Each sampling of a familiar motif and its placement is expertly planned out and placed; at least, it certainly seems that way. And when Barton and Wiedmann aren't carefully using those themes and motifs that reawaken our inner 90s kid, they've come up with some brilliant pieces of music. 

Tracks like "Dominion," expertly crafted by Frederik Weidmann, certainly also know how to hit us hard. The track, a seven-minute masterclass on how to match the tone of what's on the screen, hits that perfect melancholy with a mix of piano and strings that, for a brief few minutes, makes us think twice about Vadic's motives. That is until the slow build-up into the piece's crescendo and Vadic's eventual escape and takeover of theTitan. "Dominion" may just be the best track on the entire album.

Finally, picking a track to discuss for the final two episodes was an impossibly tough choice, but I keep returning to "Legacy and Future." After surviving everything, stepping onto the Enterprise-D bridge one last time before shutting her down, and hearing Dennis McCarthy's theme from Star Trek Generations broke me in all the right places. It just felt like the perfect piece of music to say farewell to the Enterprise one last time. 

It's just a shame even now, Will Riker never got a chance at that chair...*

Ultimately, the score for Picard's final season might go down as my favorite of the franchise, in television or film. It hit every single note I wanted to hear on a soundtrack celebrating The Next Generation one more time. And I can't wait to listen to it all over again when it releases on vinyl next month. If you haven't seen this set yet, you should really check it out.

The vinyl release of the Picard season three score is absolutely gorgeous. Drops in May

Picard's series finale airs tonight at midnight PT on Paramount+, with Stephen Barton and Frederik Wiedmann's score releasing alongside it sometime tomorrow morning. 

*This article was updated with one more talking point about a track from today's series finale of Star Trek Picard.