Star Wars – A Musical Journey – Review

It was George Lucas who once said that Star Wars could be viewed as a silent movie, without the need for sound effects.  But it’s telling that he couldn’t envisage the trilogies without the music, and tonight the grand themes of John Williams were showcased in the most spectacular manner imaginable.

The enormous O2 Arena in London – officially the world’s most popular and successful music venue – played host to the opening night of a Star Wars spectacular that’s set to travel the globe.

For British Star Wars fandom this was a huge night and with the UK Garrison and Rebel Legion out in force it was set to be a magical evening.  But even the most optimistic of viewers couldn’t have quite grasped just how special it would turn out to be. Join Mark Newbold from Lightsabre and James Burns from Jedi News as they review this very special event Star Wars – A Musical Journey

Mark: “It’s a fair drive down from Lightsabre Towers in Lichfield to the O2 Arena in Greenwich, about 2 hours 40 according to my trusty TomTom, but I managed to get to the show about around 6.30pm.  As the photos show, the weather was less than complimentary, more like Kamino weather than Tatooine, but I didn’t care.  Tonight was the opening night of Star Wars: A Musical Journey, and a sky full of typically British weather wasn’t going to dampen that.”

James: “For us it’s about an hour’s drive from North London down to Greenwich.  I’d already done it once this week when I was lucky enough to watch the rehearsals on Wednesday so I knew where we were going, although we too relied on TomTom to ensure we navigated the field of speed safety cameras on the approach to the Blackwall Tunnel.”

 

Mark: “Never having been to the O2, and only having seen it flying into London from above or from a distance at Celebration Europe a couple of years back, I was really taken by the scale of the building.  It’s taken a lot of flak over the years – the phrase ‘white elephant’ springs to mind – but the manner in which the venue has turned around from being widely derided into becoming this planet’s premiere music venue is certainly to be applauded.”

James: “I agree, things have really turned around for this venue and it was probably the best choice for this type of event.  My only complaint was the lack of signposts for parking when you arrive at the venue.  I’m glad I was there earlier in the week as it made it easier to navigate on this return trip.  I still think there’s a lot more to be made of the area around the arena – only one side has been developed with a Cinema, the Body Works exhibit and a plethora of restaurants.”

James: “We’d got there quite a bit earlier on as we wanted to avoid any traffic as there were issues with the Jubilee line.  We’d decided to make an afternoon of it and we took a picnic.  We also had to photograph the remainder of the exhibition which accompanies the show and will companion the Musical on its World Tour.  It was here that we also caught up with the Curator of the exhibit and former Lucasfilm employee David Iskra.  The children really loved the exhibit and enjoyed getting up close and personal with Vader, Chewbacca, 3PO and the Ewoks especially.  We then made our way to the VIP lounge where we caught up with our dear friend Jeremy Bulloch and his wife Maureen and we spoke about many things including their 10th grandchild that was born in early February.”

Mark: “I managed to get James on the phone, grabbed my ticket from the guest list and wandered into the VIP lounge where after catching up with James and his lovely family he introduced me to David Cox of The Outside Organisation, who were in charge of media and publicity for the event.  David was rushed off his feet but took a minute to say hi, which was much appreciated.  We chatted for a few minutes, and then it was 7.15pm and time to go into the auditorium for the show.”

 

Mark: “In front of the stage was a huge drape, hiding the stage from our view, and as the auditorium filled there was an audible buzz of excitement. After watching Jeremy Bulloch and wife walk through the crowd to their seat I got chatting to the guy next to me who turned out to be David Sinclair, music critic for The Times.  During the show we swapped notes and it was a pleasant opportunity to be able to put my Star Wars knowledge to good use.”

James: “We sat practically opposite Mark on the other side of the stage.  We had a great view of the whole auditorium and we watched in excitement as it started to fill up.  Every few moments there were sounds of lightsabres being ignited and fighters flying overhead helping to build tension before the start”

Mark: “OK – show time.  The lights dropped and the THX intro boomed out, followed by the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare, played live.  Then on the screen, the world’s largest, the words ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’ appeared and the crowd went wild as the curtain shifted to reveal the 80-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Dirk Brossè, blasting into the Main Title from A New Hope.”  Accompanying the music on the screen were images from all six movies, light bathing the orchestra as the cameras gave us a panoramic view of the Royal Philharmonic at work.  The intro ended with the closing notes of Return of the Jedi, indicating that the music we would hear tonight would be concert pieces and not exact replicas of the film orchestration.”

James: “I’d seen the opening at Elstree and I knew what to expect.  The curtain reveal is like a huge mouth opening up to reveal the stage, orchestra and screen.  I watched my children’s faces as they looked on in awe as the show started and they both sat on the edge of the seat completely captivated about what was literally unfolding around them.  As the last note played Anthony Daniels was introduced to the audience.”

Anthony Daniels arrives on stage, looking as dapper as ever.  No cue cards, no autocue, just a radio mike and 20,00 fans to please. Anthony launches into a dramatic narration introducing us to the story of Star Wars, starting right at the beginning with Duel of the Fates.  The stage suddenly opens up to reveal huge side screens packed with action from the movies and scenes from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

The third piece focuses on Anakin, with Padme Meets Anakin which focuses on our young hero right through The Phantom Menace and up to the death of Qui-Gon on Naboo.

The next piece gives Anthony Daniels a great opportunity to describe to great effect the genius and sheer brilliance of a certain golden protocol droid to the point where he seems to go off script, much to the comic dismay of conductor Brossè who gives him a withering look and Anthony reverts to the plot.  This is a classic moment which really sets the warm tone for the night.  To accompany the images, focussing on Droids throughout the saga, the Royal Philharmonic plays The Moisture Farm from A New Hope, with images taken from not only all six films but also all versions – the macrobinoculars still have their numbering in english and not aurebesh.  Again this piece is a concert piece, reworking the length and ending with a great shot of the Rockwart from Return of the Jedi eating his evening snack and belching happily, much to the delight of the younger members of the audience.

Next Anthony introduces Anakins’ skills as a pilot, which focuses on the legendary Boonta Eve Classic Pod Race from The Phantom Menace.  The orchestra booms out The Flag Parade, and it really began to set in that there’s nothing quite like hearing an 80-piece orchestra going at it full tilt.  Again this is a concert piece, with some very unfamiliar pieces in here although we’ve been assured by Lucasfilm that all the music we’re hearing is part of the films and no new music has been created for the Musical, although some of it has never been released on CD before.  [We hope that once the tour comes to an end we’ll be able to buy a CD and DVD of the show].

Next up Anthony introduces the tragic love story of Anakin and Padme with Across the Stars, accompanied by gorgeous images from the prequels and highlighting the tragedy of Anakin’s downfall and the ruination of their love ending with their ill fated secret wedding at the end of Attack of the Clones.

Battle of the Heroes bombastically detailed the next segment as we watched Anakin and Obi-Wan go at it in Revenge of the Sith, interspersed with sepia images from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones to illustrate just how far young Anakin has fallen, from The Chosen One to the man who would eventually bring down the Republic.

Finally before the intermission Anthony brings our rapt attention to the evil Empire.  The Republic has been eaten from within and turned into the Empire, and the familiar chug of The Imperial March runs alongside some very inventive use of production images and artwork mixed with classic trilogy scenes.

With the intermission over, we’re launched back into the galaxy far, far away with music taken from the fight between Luke and Vader at the climax of The Empire Strikes Back.  To the delight of the audience, a laser show began, blasting green laser light into the O2 Arena in time to the music.  The orchestration of this show is dazzling – as images appear on the screen the music cues nail them every time.  Fantastic work all round.

Anthony Daniels returns and mentions a legendary starship piloted by a certain cocky smuggler – Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon – it’s at this point that Anthony opens his jacket to reveal a golden waistcoat and impersonates C-3PO declaring… “The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3720 to 1”.  The crowd roar and applaud their approval as we corkscrew our stock lights into The Asteroid Field from The Empire Strikes Back, with classic images of Obi-Wan tackling the Geonosis asteroid belt, the Death Star run from Return of the Jedi and shots from the Pod Race thrown in for good measure.  The thrill of the chase is evident in all of Lucas’ films, and that’s displayed brilliantly here.

The next segment shines a light on Princess Leia with the concert piece Princess Leia’s Theme, beautifully played and phrased.  Images from A New Hope, Empire and Jedi accompany the piece alongside production art and illustrations.  A gorgeous piece of music choreographed perfectly by the beautiful images.

Anthony turns our attention from Leia to her twin brother Luke – the hero of the second trilogy – as we are treated to one of the classic themes from A New Hope, Binary Sunset.  A dreamer’s theme, showing Luke’s frustration and eagerness to see what’s beyond the horizon we are suddenly treated to a rendition of the Cantina Band music, with still images and film from both A New Hope and Jabba’s Palace of Return of the Jedi mixed in.  This really gets the crowd up and moving and was a great moment.  The three saxophonists from the orchestra stand for this segment.

With a smile at the corner of his lips Anthony introduces the next segment, focusing on Yoda.  At this the crowd breaks into loud applause and cheers as Yoda’s Theme plays out to images of the diminutive Jedi Master training Luke on Dagobah, alongside gorgeous artwork of Yoda by Ralph McQuarrie, Marie Severin and Tsuneo Sanda amongst others.

The Empire is the focus of the next piece with the triumphant music from the climax of Return of the Jedi as the second Death Star is destroyed and the first is attacked in A New Hope.  The Battle of Hoth is seen as we realise the awesome might of the Galactic Empire.

Anthony returns to remind us of the saga’s two twins – ‘our only hope’ and ‘another’ – Luke and Leia.  The concert piece Luke and Leia runs with images of brother and sister from the three films and highlights the close relationship between the two long-lost siblings.

Forest Battle is the music on show in the next segment as the Battle of Endor rages on and above the forest moon.  A concert piece included on the original releases of the soundtrack, this is interspersed with images of the Battle of Naboo and the Gungans fighting back, a very similar battle both thematically and structurally from The Phantom Menace.

Light of the Force from Return of the Jedi plays alongside images of Vader’s death on the second Death Star, and we are thrown back to scenes of Anakin from The Phantom Menace and shown again his downfall from Chosen One to redeemed Jedi Master.  A very touching piece, the images were excellently chosen.

For the last time tonight, Anthony Daniels addresses the crowd ending with ‘May the Force be with you, always‘.  The Throne Room and End Titles from A New Hope roars out alongside images of Vaders defeat of Palpatine and the galaxy celebrating.  Another clever concert piece, this drops into The Birth of the Twins, their naming and Padme’s Destiny, the closing music from Revenge of the Sith before bowing out with poster images of all six films, the score’s recording dates and images of George Lucas and John Williams together. The crowd react with a 20,000 strong standing ovation that lasted several minutes. The orchestra and conductor then took their bows alongside Anthony, and a very satisfied crowd began to filter out of the arena.

Mark: “The show’s an absolute triumph.  It reminded me of just why I love Star Wars so much.  It’s not only a part of the fabric of my life and something I inhabit every day through the website, but it ignites my imagination like nothing else does and it has done that since 1977.
George Lucas wanted to be here for the show but couldn’t as he is busy in pre-production of Red Tails, and the maestro John Williams is booked up years in advance, but believe me when I say that while John and George might not have been here (even though Paul and Ringo could have attended) the Force was certainly present tonight.

If it comes to a city near you, get a ticket.  If you’ve got something arranged, cancel it.  As a Star Wars fan you do NOT want to miss this!”

James: “I’ve seen the show about three times and each time it just gets better and better.  The thrill of sitting on the George Lucas Stage at Elstree and watching this for the first time was so special but seeing the final, finely tuned production (no pun intended) with 20,000 other people, with such an amazing atmosphere blew me away.  There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe how amazing this experience is.  When I asked my children (aged 7 and 9) their thoughts, they said it was better than any of the films – you can’t really get a better endorsement than that.

For me this was really something very special and it captures the essence of what made Star Wars such a phenomenon in 1977.  Over thirty years later it’s still pulling the crowds and a new generation of children can experience Star Wars in a way that’s enlightening and simply spectacular.  I whole heartedly agree with Mark, this is a show that no Star Wars fan can really afford to miss.

Before we left the O2, I was fortunate to catch up with Howard Roffman, president of Lucas Licensing, and who we’d previously spoken to a couple of weeks ago.  I thanked him for a fabulous night and he was relieved the first night was over, for him and everybody involved at Lucasfilm and Another Planet, it had taken a long time to get the show to opening night but from the audiences reaction and the broad smile on his face it had most  definitely been worth it.”

Mark Newbold is the Webmaster and Editor of Lightsabre and James Burns is the co-founder/co-owner of Jedi News.

Star Wars – A Musical Journey Review: Copyright 2009 Jedi News, Lightsabre.  No part of this interview can be reproduced without prior written consent from Jedi News and/or Lightsabre.

James is an active member of the Star Wars collecting community, and is the Brand Director for Jedi News. James is also the host of the Star Wars Collectors Cast, and co-host of RADIO 1138 on the Jedi News Network.