Star Wars: A New Hope - In Concert on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at the Hollywood Bowl. (Dustin Downing)
There are few adjectives more overused than iconic, but when discussing the John Williams score to Star Wars, the description is inevitable. From its first moments, the score does not simply play. It declares itself. Try to imagine watching the George Lucas classic without the Williams score. It would not only be a much different thing, but likely a far worse one. The score, perhaps the greatest ever composed for a Hollywood film, is integral to the movie. It enhances everything that is great about the film and obscures its flaws.
At the Hollywood Bowl in preparation for the fortieth anniversary of John Williams performing at the Hollywood Bowl for first time, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by David Newman, performs the score of Star Wars while the movie plays on screen. It is an inverse of the test of imagining Star Wars without the Williams score. Having an orchestra perform the score, with the audience in full view of every musician as they strike each note, gives Star Wars fans a full appreciation of just how integral the score is during the pieces of the score from the main title theme to the music during the throne room sequence.
There are critics with the facility to review the technical skill of conductor David Newman and the musicians, both individual and collective, who perform the score. Those critics should not be reviewing a Hollywood Bowl performance such as this, because the technical craft of the musicians, which do seem great to the untutored, are not relevant here. The point of the Hollywood Bowl performance of Star Wars (as well as The Empire Strikes Back, which the L.A. Philharmonic will also perform under Newman’s direction) is the communal experience. This is obviously not a Philharmonic performance that people watch with the same manner that they do a traditional orchestra performance. The presence of lightsabers and Wookiee-related paraphernalia is proof of that.
The performance is meant to bring together people who can identify just where George Lucas added unnecessary CGI characters during his special edition, and who will sigh when Greedo shoots first. As such, the Bowl provides photo opportunities with R2-D2 and C3-PO. The applicable comparison for an event such as this isn’t a typical Philharmonic performance, it is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with costumes and people very nearly interacting with the movie as it plays on the screen. Expect to hear audience members who will recite every line as the actors deliver them, because they have watched it dozens of times over the past four decades and know the screenplay better than George Lucas at this point.
Although it would take a more knowledgeable critic of orchestral music to judge the performance of David Newman, his very presence adds to the proceedings. Newman is an accomplished film composer himself, as is his brother Thomas (who composed the score to The Shawshank Redemption, among others), his cousin Randy (a songwriter for numerous Pixar films), and his father Alfred can make a legitimate claim to have helped invent film scoring, having composed such classic scores as Wuthering Heights and All About Eve. The event feels as if it brings film history together, from the classic scores of Hollywood’s Golden Age to what Williams innovated as he helped usher in the era of the Hollywood Blockbuster.
For most who attend this event, watching Star Wars at the Hollywood Bowl offers the opportunity to experience a movie beloved by each audience member – the chance that someone sees Star Wars for the first time at this event seems exceedingly low – with a focus on one of the most iconic aspects of the movie that changed Hollywood. Watching the film and hearing the John Williams score, as conducted by a member of the industry’s few legendary families feels like a tour of Hollywood history.