I have a dark secret to reveal. I am of the First Order.
Last year I was the first to order a 2019 subscription with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Darkness fell over Hogwarts, I saw the Empire defeated in Return of the Jedi and a new Empire reborn in The Force Awakens.
Now that I’ve heard the three original Star Wars movies in live concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, how does the first of the reawakened movies fare?
As the conductor Nicholas Buc said in his introduction, with the release of The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams’ contributions to the Star Wars universe will have spanned 42 years (the answer to life, the universe and everything). Though the movies retain some common musical themes across that time, Williams’ style has also evolved.
For me, I guess his nineteen-eighties period is the one I identify most with, but it also means that his newer compositions have a freshness about them.
We start with the familiar with the famous Star Wars opening theme, taking us back to that galaxy far, far away. Then we are transported to a new world, Jakku, along with some new Stormtroopers.
The flashes of older themes, the Rebel Fanfare escaping in the Millenium Falcon, Han Solo and the Princess and most of all, The Force Theme, each evoke memories and feelings that Star Wars transcends mere movies to have become part of the fabric of life.
But there is plenty of new music representing new characters, planets and the evolution of the two sides. Rey’s theme, is simply beautiful, its components finding many forms throughout the movie. Kylo Ren’s music is very effective performed live, despite its simplicity.
Where the music shines most of all is in the action sequences, with the TIE fighter escape and the March of the Resistance especially thrilling and well suited to the concert hall. It was difficult to watch the action on the screen with all the motion in the orchestra itself.
The music is often allowed to shine in the movie and not be overshadowed by dialogue and special effects. The orchestra was spot on tonight. It was astonishing to see how many elements of the orchestra were performing at any one time, but that is John Williams for you. I kept hearing new elements to each piece, different instruments shining through.
Unlike the original trilogy, no complete edition of the score has ever been released, with some pieces on the soundtrack concert arrangements. Even the final credits differs, from lacking Princess Leia’s theme to the concluding bars. That gave another sense of freshness to tonight’s performance and meant that I wasn’t comparing it to the recordings.
I came out of the Sydney Opera House’s concert hall entirely satisfied with the SSO’s performance of The Force Awakens. That should conclude my attendance at this year’s SSO’s performances, though I’ve got one more booking for Return of the Jedi with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in a couple of months.
I have definitely felt an awakening in the Force and I can’t wait to hear the Last Jedi and the Rise of Skywalker in future! Pity the SSO isn’t offering subscription packages for next year.
If you want to get an appreciation of the music in the Force Awakens and other movies I really recommend the Art of the Score podcast, featuring tonight’s conductor Nicholas Buc, along with Andrew Pogson of the MSO and Dr Dan Golding, a lecturer and composer himself. Not only do they explain each score in a highly accessible manner, there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way!