Sounds of Cinema

Southern Minnesota's Local Source for Film Music, Reviews, and New Release Information


Star Wars in Concert

Aired on December 13, 2009 (Episode 267)

Those of you who are Star Wars fans might be aware that right now there is a Star Wars music tour crisscrossing the United States. The program includes a full choir and orchestra playing underneath a gigantic screen of high definition montages of the films. The show is hosted by Anthony Daniels, who played C3-PO in all six films, and he narrates the overall story of the Star Wars series in between musical pieces.

Last weekend, I was able to attend the concert in Chicago and I was very impressed. The program was held at the United Center in downtown Chicago. My older brother, Andy Wardinski, who has co-hosted this show with me a few times, was there as well.

Before the show there were displays of Star Wars props and costumes and flat screen monitors showing how various digital effects were accomplished in the prequel trilogy. There were also actors walking around dressed up as Star Wars characters like Boba Fett and Darth Vader and there was even an R2D2 rolling around the halls.  Naturally, there were also plenty of vendors selling memorabilia and t-shirts.

One particular display that was of interest to me was John Williams actual scoring sheets for The Phantom Menace, including the composer’s own handwritten notes in the margins. More than anything else I saw that day, that particular display struck me, as a critic, as a fan of the Star Wars films, and as an aficionado of film music. This was a genuine artifact of cinema history and of our cultural history.

The show itself was a mixture of a classical recital, a film screening, and a rock concert and it really was a mix of the best of those three elements. Anyone who has been to screenings of this kind of film may have encountered applause or other expressions of audience interaction at the theater. At the concert, fans were able to enjoy the mixture of sounds and images of cinema and have that enhanced by smoke, laser lights, and other forms of stage craft, and all the while be vocal in their appreciation.

While watching the performance it occurred to me that this kind show could very well be the future for musical performances, particularly for classical music. Major mainstream musical acts long ago adopted cinema and performance art as a part of their stage shows and now being a musician at that level is not merely about music, but about an entire package, and it may be that it will no longer be enough for musicians at any level to subsist on their musical talents alone. In this case, the melding of the music and images of Star Wars made for a spectacular concert and it made me wonder what could be done with something like Richard Wagner’s operas.

The concert also made me wonder about the future of cinema. With Youtube and other websites featuring content or characters grabbed from preexisting material and then turned around into fan-made music videos, parodies, or other media artifacts, it puts the future of feature-length films and traditional linear narratives in doubt. An event like this concert may very well be the latest landmark on the road to a larger change in media, a postmodern condition where everything has already been created and all subsequent creations are made of recycled pieces.

In reference to the film Fanboys, one observation I would like to share was the size and diversity of the crowd at the concert.  Fans of science fiction and fantasy are generally characterized as being twenty-something, antisocial white males with no prospects of ever losing their virginity. But what I noticed at this concert was a great deal of variety in the ages and cultural backgrounds of the people at the event and I spotted about as many women as men. The cross-gender appeal of Star Wars and science fiction and fantasy as a whole hasn’t been very well appreciated and it has only recently been picked up by the media in relation to the Twilight series. This dismissive attitude toward the fan base of science fiction and fantasy is often done to diminish the importance of these films by ascribing their popularity to a small, disrespectable segment of society. This is a mistake partly because it just isn’t true but also because it ignores the power and prevalence that these stories have for the culture. 

And that demonstrates very nicely why I do this show and why I think film criticism is important. Star Wars and films like it are as much a part of our culture as apple pie. The characters are as archetypal and as well known as Davy Crockett or Paul Bunyan, the stories are as familiar as George Washington and the Cherry Tree or Little Red Riding Hood, expressions like “May the Force be with you,” are as much a part of the popular vernacular as “Remember the Alamo” or “God bless America,” and the music is as much a part of our cultural soundtrack as Elvis Presley or Bruce Springsteen. Whether we feel that the influence of Star Wars and similar films is good or bad, it is important for us to recognize what influence they do have and how that influence shapes us.

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