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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Force in Focus: Star Wars in Concert

Thanks to a birthday present from my wife's aunt last year, my wife and I recently attended "Star Wars in Concert", an event in which the Minnesota Orchestra plays the complete score to Star Wars while the film unfolds above it on a big screen. As both a huge Star Wars and film score fan, this was a supremely fun & unique experience ("concert films" are somewhat in vogue these days; the Minnesota Orchestra alone has done or will be doing similar performances of everything from Jurassic Park to Prisoner of Azkaban to Star Trek Into Darkness; when my wife and I were discussing what performances would be fun to see in this setting, I basically settled on "most anything"). Here's a few observations and reactions I had during the performance.

We got to our seats about five minutes before the performance started, and it was tons of fun hearing the different musicians warming up by playing little snippets of the score. So we'd randomly hear a bassoon doing Jabba's theme, then a trumpet doing the Throne Room finale, a french horn playing Luke's theme, etc. It was like a little "Star Wars Themes Greatest Hits" to start the whole thing off.

For those of us who grew up listening to the Star Wars soundtracks, the 20th Century Fox Fanfare is as integral to the opening of the score as the main title theme, and while I'm accepting of the fact that the new films come sans fanfare (since, you know, Fox is no longer distributing the films), it was nevertheless appreciated that not only did the fanfare appear before the film, but that the orchestra performed it as well.

In terms of things the orchestra didn't perform, I was initially surprised when it didn't play the Cantina Band song when Luke & Ben came into the cantina, but my wife pointed out during intermission that they likely didn't play it because it was diegetic, in the same way they wouldn't have played if, say, Han had put a Beatles song on the Falcon's radio while blasting off from Tatooine.

Speaking of intermission, the performance did have one; the movie faded to black as the Falcon was pulled aboard the Death Star by its tractor beam.

Whatever provision George Lucas put into the sale of LucasFilm to Disney regarding the sanctity of the Special Editions as the definitive version of the films apparently extends to things like this, as the version of the film played was definitely the Special Edition (specifically, I believe, the Blu-ray version, as it had the slightly sped up Han/Greedo shoot out), which means we had to watch that stupid Jabba scene (bonus though, was hearing his Return of the Jedi theme live as a result) since it got included in that scene). What was interesting though is that LucasFilm clearly had to alter the film for use in the concert, since the score track had been cut from the film (since the orchestra was now providing it). But all the other sounds, the dialogue, the sound effects, etc., remained. As a result, we could periodically hear things we'd never heard before (mostly during the scenes where there was no music, and thus, the orchestra wasn't playing).

None of it was terribly notable; no whispered directions or out-of-character dialogue or anything like that, mostly just background noises, like footsteps or the swishing of robes, or the sound of Luke's breathing as he ran to his landspeeder upon realizing the Empire was going after his aunt & uncle, incidental sounds that had been picked up during filming but never removed because the music track would cover them up. But it still added a new dimension to the experience, making it slightly different than all the other times we'd seen the movie, even beyond the addition of the live orchestra.


  1. We went to this as well and I agree it was amazing! The best compliment that I can give the orchestra is that there were multiple times I got so engrossed in watching the movie that I forgot there was a live orchestra playing. They did a great job!

    I noticed the lack of playing during the Cantina scene also but figured it was just to hard of a piece to play live and probably had some electronic tinkering as well that couldn't be duplicatd live. Your reason is probably more likely though.

    I was particularly impressed with the Tusken Raider music and not just because I love me some Tusken Raiders. It has a lot of percussion and some non traditional stuff going on and they did a great job with it.

    I'm kind of bummed that I missed out on the Harry Potter one they did a few months back but I am going to have to keep an eye on their schedule to see what other movies they are doing. I saw the Star Trek is coming up but I'm not sure I am to wild about seeing that one. I did win two orchestra tickets during the pre-concert trivia though and need to use them on something. :)

  2. Sounds like fun! I saw one of these for FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING maybe about eight years ago, and I really enjoyed it -- though I think I'd like STAR WARS a lot more.

    I did go see "Star Wars in Concert" probably a decade or so back, but it wasn't a "live score" thing like this; rather it was a tour that played all of John Williams' concert suites from the various soundtrack albums while clips from the movies and special lighting effects played out above them. It was cool, too.


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