I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope at Hilbert Circle Theatre this weekend.
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra played the score by John Williams, conducted by an enthusiastic Jack Everly, who had something of the manner and appearance of Brexiteer Boris Johnson.
Star Wars, for you movie buffs, was the first motion picture to debut in Dolby Stereo, but Dolby ain’t got nuthin’ on full orchestra accompaniment. My 14-year-old daughter Naomi joined me for the movie. And while we've both seen the film before, neither of us had experienced Star Wars quite like this.
That is to say, this was the first time either of us had seen a movie stripped of its soundtrack, so a live orchestra could play along, frame by frame.
Star Wars was actually the first motion picture that I ever saw in a theater, and it had a profound influence on me, as it did on many others. My parents, well aware of my Star Wars fixation, gave me the John Williams soundtrack for my 11th birthday.
And John Williams’ rich, romantic score—with Strauss’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra/2001 a Space Odyssey soundtrack on side two—helped cement my love for classical music.
As far as I could tell the ISO performed flawlessly.
My one gripe is this: during the beloved cantina scene—where onscreen you see a bug-eyed alien clarinet quartet playing—the orchestra members put their instruments down while the Williams score played in the motion picture soundtrack.
If the ISO could have had a clarinet quartet come to the fore and perform, dressed like bug-eyed aliens maybe even, I’m sure the audience would have gone as wild as a wookie in an intergalactic donut shop.
But the only times the audience went truly wild was at the beginning of intermission, when the Death Star exploded, and at the end where the credits were rolling and the ISO’s playing seemed somehow more emphatic.
In 1977, when the movie was first released, there was one crucial audience payoff. This was was when Han Solo flew the Millennium Falcon to the Death Star to save Luke’s ass at the last possible moment. When director George Lucas saw the first audiences go crazy at this scene, he knew he had had a mega-blockbuster on his hands.
But there probably wasn’t one single audience member who hadn’t seen A New Hope before. Accordingly, Han Solo's surprise rescue, lacking the element of surprise, didn’t get any applause.
I wasn’t expecting any surprises here. Instead it was a nostalgia trip for me, I admit, seeing the computer consoles in the film looking about as dated as a Pong video game. It was also a trip seeing some of the clunkier special effects on the big screen.
But above all, it was good to see Luke and Han and Leia et al, and I appreciated their solid performances that gave the movie its heart. I was especially cognizant of Carrie Fisher’s recent death, and the passage of time.
Of course, you can only be surprised by the the first Star Wars movie once, and it’s all downhill from there. (I suppose the corollary is, as a director, you can only make an Episode IV once.)
It’s likely that many in the audience had already seen Star Wars: A New Hope many times. It’s also likely they’ll keep coming back for more.
In 2013, Variety published an article Score One for Movie Maestros: Audiences Grow for Film-Music concerts probing whether the reasons for the recent huge growth of this hybrid genre had anything to do with nostalgia, but drew no conclusions.
It did conclude, however, that such performances were giving composers like Williams their due at long last.
This is a composer, after all, who has scored so many memorable movies including Superman, Schindler’s List, the Harry Potter films, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, and Home Alone among many others that have enriched American film music.
My daughter, for her part, seemed less fixated on the score or the film than on the performance, and she was thinking of one animated performer in particular.
“I liked watching the conductor,” she said.