A man passing behind me utters the most convincing Chewbacca impression I've ever heard. Normally, this would be a cause for concern but not tonight, for I was at an event drawing people of all types and personalities. It's hard to gauge the impact the Star Wars franchise has had on people of all ages until one attends an event such as this. Ages ranged from 7 to 70: male and female, husbands and wives, children and parents. It's a huge collage covering the entire human spectrum.
So something in the films clearly struck the collective chord, starting all those years ago. And I was here to witness the possible cause: the operatic, soaring magnificence of composer John Williams' scores for all six films, encompassing innumerable themes and spanning almost 30 years. Indeed, as the lights dimmed over the LG and the rapt fans of all ages took to their seats in hushed fashion, it struck me as not being remiss to suggest that Williams is the real auteur behind the two trilogies. What other pieces of classical film music (besides possibly Morricone) could unite so large and yet disparate a group of people as this? Under the direction of Belgian conductor Dirk Brossé, the full force of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and backing choir was about to remind moviegoers of the power and thematic integrity Williams is famous for. Steve Cohen's Who-esque lighting certainly did its job at this stage and throughout in transporting us to a sci-fi galaxy far, far away...
And bang, the chanting choir (singing in Sanskrit) and racing string section launch us into one of Williams' most impressive pieces, Duel of the Fates, a breathlessly exciting track full of potent fury. Interestingly, the organisers deemed that the music be shown in chronological order from Episode One to Six, so that as the films move forward in time, we move back in years; the fact that Williams' music maintained its power across the concert even when played out of order is a testament to his firm grasp of melody, leitmotif and sweeping blend of romantic action, all sure factors in securing the movies in the mind of the audience. With the crowd’s attention piqued, it was time for a little downtime, courtesy of the first appearance of Anthony Daniels aka C3PO, whose enjoyably fruity delivery called to mind everyone's favourite moaning, gold robot. Introducing each piece of music in turn, Daniels' rich narration lent a further dramatic narrative arc to proceedings, as did the gigantic cinema-screen in the back playing carefully selected clips related to the music. They could be forgiven for allowing Hayden Christensen's oak furniture-charisma for slipping through on occasion.
Fortunately, Williams' music is strong enough to resist all such challenges. What is interesting is the development of the composer's musical style as witnessed in reverse, moving from stand-alone set-pieces in the more recent films (The Pod-Race; the darkly choral Battle of the Heroes) to more intricate, character-led themes in the original trilogy. Hence while newer films may be full of more fire and brimstone, the delicate solo violin work in Leia's Theme and the unexpected appearance of the jazzy Cantina Band were instantly more memorable.
And with the original trilogy of course come the greatest themes of all, testing the Royal Philharmonic to the end of their ranges both in terms of delicacy (Yoda) and full throttle action (the fiendishly intricate string/woodwind work of Asteroid Field). As the series and concert neared its end, not even the emergence of the infamously light-hearted Ewok Battle music could compromise Williams' compositional skill, especially in the face of the masterpieces The Imperial March and The Throne Room/End Title, both of which capped off the evening by sending the crowd's spirits soaring into the night and beyond. And as I glanced around the audience, witnessing all the lightsaber imitation glow sticks punctuating the darkness, I realised one thing: with Star Wars, John Williams not only captured lightning in the bottle; he captured the whole galaxy too.
For more information about the "Star Wars in Concert" shows with videos and pictures plus future tour dates, see the official tour website at www.StarWarsInConcert.com.