Wednesday 17 March 2010

Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars: In Concert

Hollywood composer John Williams' award-winning compositions for George Lucas' Star Wars saga are timeless. And a live concert is the perfect forum to experience them anew.

Guest post by Matt Charlton

March 10th 2010 seemed to come around awfully quickly. I remember when my wife, Sue, bought the tickets (or rather I bought the tickets, Sue decided that they were going to be my Christmas present) that the date seemed far, far away…

The idea of seeing a full live orchestra, playing the iconic music that I’d grown up with, was enthralling.

I was looking forward to the concert until I’d seen a few comments on the web and read a review, which prepared me for the worst. I realise that this may have instilled me with some preconceptions and had the possibility of me viewing the event in a less than favourable light, but I’m glad I had them – I felt happier about going in expecting a poor show and being pleasantly surprised. Knowing there were going to be one or two issues, lessened the impact.

We got pretty decent seats – when I say decent seats, what I actually mean is that the seats were terrible and made the detention cell from Star Wars look super comfortable in comparison. The seats were positioned very well though; We were in the front block closest to the stage, 4th row back in seats 13 and 14. Ultimately, not a bad view, especially since the two people sitting in the 3rd row, directly in front of us, didn’t turn up. Got a nice view of the stage, the orchestra, and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) as he moved from one end of the stage to the other.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), the force behind Star Wars: A Musical Journey, was spellbinding, and authentically brought John Williams' acclaimed compositions to life. The musical performance was everything one would hope to expect. Indeed, at times it was impossible to ignore the goosebumps and hairs on the back of your neck standing up. There were two large camera cranes that were set up to provide video footage of the orchestra, and conductor, as they played. Although the cranes obstructed the stage, it was engaging to watch the legendary RPO playing. The rest of the time, the giant HD screen displayed montages of footage from all six Star Wars films.

The lights dimmed, the THX logo theme pumped through the speakers, and then the RPO started to play the 20th Century Fox Fanfare. This took me back to the summer of 1999 when the lights dimmed in the cinema for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The orchestra burst into life with the celebrated Star Wars main theme.

Following the theme, something broke, there was a pause and an announcement went out that we were taking a break for a brief technical reset. It interrupted the flow of the show but everyone maintained their composure. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) wasn’t on stage by this point. He arrived pointing out the "disturbance in the force" (ho ho).

Unfortunately the Star Wars video montages caused me a lot of problems as they were oftentimes used out of context! Events started with Anakin on Tatooine (The Phantom Menace) and ended with the final battle on the moon of Endor (Return of the Jedi). Problem is, it looked as though the person who'd edited the video montages had never seen Star Wars. Ever. We had clips from The Phantom Menace depicting Anakin Skywalker as a 9 year old boy juxtaposed with footage from Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi Starfighter arriving at Geonosis taken from Attack of the Clones. Just because Geonosis has a similar colour palette to Tatooine, it doesn’t give artistic license to mix the continuity up. This would be sufficient to irk the most observant Star Wars fans. However, the majority of casual fans should be too engrossed to notice such a travesty. My wife said she loved it. She’s only seen the films a couple of times and doesn’t know what happens (in which film) to the point of knowing a video segment is out of place in the saga's chronology.

This happened all the way through the concert with footage from the prequels being mixed in with the Original Trilogy (OT). The biggest problem for me was that you had these iconic John Williams scores, from my childhood, that were soiled with images of Jar Jar Binks and other prequel failures. I don’t mean that – I’m not a prequel hater, I like the movies and I can watch them. I see them as two separate sets of films from two different eras with a story arc that stretches across all six movies. I can forgive most of Lucas’ meddling with the OT (Except Han not shooting first) but for someone to put together footage from movies to show alongside an orchestra playing it was, in parts, risible. The only parts that worked were the character montages – Leia’s video footage in particular worked okay, despite jumping from Star Wars to Return of the Jedi and back to The Empire Strikes Back!

I’m being overly critical, but I feel at £65 + £6.50 booking fee I have the right.

One highlight, prior to crash landing into a swamp on Dagobah so to speak, is the sequence where Obi-Wan hands Luke his father’s lightsaber. We see a flashback to Anakin fighting in the Geonosian Arena, with a green lightsaber. The spare lightsaber he’d been thrown by another Jedi since his own lightsaber had been broken in the droid factory. That was sloppy. There were plenty of occasions in Revenge of the Sith where Anakin uses the blue saber that they could have used. Speaking of which I realised at that exact moment that the lightsaber Obi-Wan does give to Luke is the same one that was used by Anakin to cut down the Younglings. Creepy.

The sound mixer(s) tampered with dialogue continuity too – when Vader and Luke are facing off in the throne room, Luke on the platform, they inserted “It’s too late for me, Son”, which is from the shuttle station on Endor shortly before their return to the Death Star. More meddling...

At times I closed my eyes and just listened, other times I watched the orchestra and ignored the giant screen. I’d go and see the RPO, again. I take my hat off to the orchestra for doing a sterling job, the art direction/whoever was responsible for the footage needs to go back to the drawing board or at least watch the films.

Anthony Daniels narrated with aplomb. He got a big round of applause for a couple of C-3PO quotes – the biggest being for "The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field…" (I wanted to shout out “Never tell me the odds!").

Merchandising – they were selling programmes for £20 and small light up lightsaber keyrings for £12. They had a small stall selling t-shirts for £20 and hoodies for £45. Unfortunately, they were all transcribed with the legend “Star Wars in concert” rather than just Star Wars. This was a little bit of brand snobbery on my part, but the t-shirts might as well have said “Star Wars tribute movies!” on them. Having 'in concert’ on the shirt made it a copy of a Star Wars t-shirt.

If you get the chance, go and see the RPO playing the Star Wars music live. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan who knows every edit: close your eyes and listen. There’s nothing quite like hearing those pieces of music live.

Matt Charlton has joined the Rebellion against the Empire and is switching from PC to Mac.

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  1. I saw the concert last year and you're right about the video footage that accompanied the music. I guess it's expected to see it in tandem with the live orchestra.

    It would have been far better to have C-3PO to tell the Star Wars story in the same style he used in Return of the Jedi, abridged with the key anthems from each film.

    Having said that, and as you summarised at the end, there's nothing like hearing a live orchestra performing the music of Star Wars. In fact, I had goosebumps :)

    1. I regret not seeing Star Wars: A Musical Journey at the O2 in 2009! My mistake...

  2. Excellent post. I loved your comment "(I wanted to shout out “Never tell me the odds!")." You should have, well, maybe not. But it seems like a good idea!


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