Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Dun dun dun, dun da dun, dun da dun...."

Tonight Karli and I are off to see Star Wars IV: A New Hope at the Orpheum Theatre, with the music provided live by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The first film in the Star Wars series is famous for its epic storyline and its innovative special effects, but it's equally renowned for its music. John Williams' brilliant Oscar-winning score defines the Star Wars universe: the opening fanfare, the majestic main theme, the threatening Imperial motif, Princess Leia's evocative melody, the tense, driving background music of the final battle - it's impossible to imagine the movie without its distinctive musical accompaniment.

As I've said before, A New Hope holds a special place in my heart, and I'm looking forward to experiencing it in a unique fashion this evening - even if it probably isn't going to be the original cut, I've never liked the additional special effects that Lucas retrofitted into the film. I'm also a bit curious about how they're going to handle the music performed by Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes* in the Mos Eisley cantina scenes, but then, I'm not sure how it was performed originally.

Normally I'm a quite conservative dresser for things like this, but for tonight I've decided that it's acceptable to wear a Star Wars t-shirt with jeans - and a blazer, of course, I haven't completely lost my mind.

The VSO has sent out a cautionary e-mail warning attendees that a large turnout is expected, and that people should arrive well in advance to be certain that they are seated in time for the opening credits. When Karli and I reach the venue, it's obvious that the warnings were somewhat premature - although it is busy, we're inside the theatre immediately, where it's equally obvious that this isn't the usual symphony crowd.


My decision to go with a Star Wars t-shirt puts me right in the median for dress code: most of the crowd is wearing similar gear, with three standouts wearing full Star Wars-themed suits and one or two guests in Jedi robes. (There's also one fellow in a tuxedo - clearly not everyone is willing to compromise their standards just because it's Luke Skywalker night.)

"Look, sir, droids!"
The Orpheum has also brought in some more extreme fans dressed in costumes from the movie: there are photo ops with Darth Vader; Imperial Stormtroopers, officers and fighter pilots; a lone Sandperson; and Boba Fett - who isn't in this movie, but let's not be picky.**

After a few pictures, we make our way to our seats. The lights dim, the conductor raises his baton, and the film begins.

It's surprisingly fun - the difference between recorded soundtrack and live performance is astonishing. There's a bit of a struggle between dialogue and music, they're obviously not able to balance the audio in the same fashion that a sound mixer could, but the conductor does an excellent job of modulating the orchestra to suit the action, and they've cleverly compensated by added subtitles to the film.

Sometimes the orchestra's performance blends seamless into the experience, and at other times I find myself thinking, "Wait, is there actually music for that scene?" Given that there are sections of the film where the entire orchestra falls quiet and simply watches the movie with the rest of us, presumably they're matching the original soundtrack. The complexity of the music is also more obvious: there are sections where I notice an overt bit of oboe or a hint of harp that I didn't realize was there.

In the fullness of time, the Death Star explodes, the Rebellion celebrates its heroes, and the movie ends. Unlike the situation for most movies, the entire audience remains for the credits, after which we give the orchestra a standing ovation.

Overall, I'm extremely pleased and satisfied by the experience, it was certainly an enjoyable way to re-experience the film. My only disappointment is that no one in the orchestra attempted to match the cantina band, that was one of the sections where they fell silent.

And I still think Chewbacca should get a medal at the end.
- Sid

* Hey, trivia fans:  the Cantina Band is made up of members of the Star Wars production team, most notably makeup artists Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, and special effects technican Phil Tippett.

** Actually, he is, for about two seconds - I had forgotten that as part of his changes to the film, Lucas had added in Han's confrontation with Jabba the Hutt, wherein Boba Fett makes a brief appearance. (See previous comments regarding my opinion of the reworked version of the film.)

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