From the very day that the first Star Wars film was released to the world four decades ago, the saga has had an enormous impact on science fiction, cinema, and popular culture alike, particularly with its iconic Academy Award-winning musical score composed by John Williams.
The London Symphony Orchestra came to the Manchester Arena to debut their Star Wars: Film Concert Series, performing the groundbreaking orchestral score alongside an (enormous) screening of A New Hope, selected by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie score of all time.
In an unexpected twist of humour, the orchestra opened with the 20th Century Fox opening theme as the film began, provoking laughs all around the audience. But as the screen fell black, the laughs were cut short, the crowd immediately falling silent in anticipation of the iconic Star Wars theme. As soon as the spine-tingling roar of the opening theme blasted around the arena, the audience became captivated. Now the fun began.
The orchestra perfectly encapsulated the scale and enormity of the score as the opening text reel sank to reveal the enormity of space, the Empire’s giant cruiser haunting over Rebel Leader Princess Leia’s tiny spaceship above the distant worlds of a galaxy far (far) away. The musicians accompanied the film to the millisecond, a near-impossible feat achieved by a well-conducted, well-practiced orchestra.
Every section of this sensational 70-piece orchestra was given the chance to truly flaunt their capabilities throughout the length of the film with flawless dynamism, timing, and unwavering emotion, delivering a wide range of tone and feeling. A lone trumpet evolving into the swells of soaring strings as Luke, barred from his hopes of adventure, gazed longingly towards the twin Tatooine sunsets, is absolutely feel-it-in-your-chest exhilarating, a true high point of the experience.
In terms of production decisions however, there are certainly a few unforced errors. Somehow, the orchestra neglected to perform the iconic ‘Cantina Band’ songs, long-whistled by Star Wars fans since the galaxy began. The songs instead were heard pre-recorded through the film’s standard audio reel which, in all honesty, was a bit of a let down. Aside from being a favourite memory of many from the original film, these songs convey the strangeness of the Mos Eisley spaceport bar Luke finds himself in, adding confusion to the strange cross-section of alien creatures drinking, fighting, and laughing.
The orchestra could have had their true moment during the closing credits reel with the music building up into a wonderful crescendo — if only the musicians were illuminated by the stage lights. Regardless of this, the genius of John Williams was absolutely tangible throughout, escalating science fiction to an unceasing adventure and, crucially, evoking an enormous emotional spectrum.
I cannot think of another film which could grab you by the arms and shake you until you really, truly hear the far too often overlooked music of cinema more than A New Hope. Until they come out with The Empire Strikes Back, that is.