This content is in partnership with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Get your tickets now - and see you there!
A long time ago (OK, just 2015) in a galaxy far, far away (aka movie theaters across the globe), nerds casual and crazed saw their dreams come true: "Star Wars," back on the big screen for the first time in a decade and delivering the first proper continuation to the original beloved saga. And while it's easy to forget amongst all the divisive messiness that came afterward, "The Force Awakens" ruled!
For a movie tasked with introducing new characters, reintroducing old icons and rekindling fans' love of a franchise that had just unleashed Jar Jar Binks and "I don't like sand," J.J. Abrams' reinvigoration of "Star Wars" was a big-screen blast. The new characters and performers were charming and compelling; seeing the old faces was a nostalgic treat felt in the deepest parts of the heart; and the sci-fi action had a whiz-bang energy that was sorely missing amongst all the trade embargo talk and mannequin-esque romance. As for Abrams' SECOND attempt at reinvigorating "Star Wars" ... we don't talk about it. But before that all came crashing down to Earth, "The Force Awakens" jumped "Star Wars" – and those childhood memories of watching the original movies and falling in love with film – back into blissful lightspeed.
Want to recapture that ecstatic, intergalactic feeling again? Let the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra play Han Solo and pilot you on a thrilling journey back to the big screen, performing alongside "The Force Awakens" for three special live screenings on May 12-14 at the gorgeous Bradley Symphony Center.
Before they take the stage and screen this weekend, though, I spent some time at the Bradley Symphony Center celebrating "Star Wars" Day (aka May the Fourth Be With You) and nerding out with MSO principal tuba player and fellow "Star Wars" fan Robyn Black to talk about the franchise, our favorite films and what it's like bringing some of the most iconic movie music to life. (The print interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
OnMilwaukee: Were you always a "Star Wars" fan? Or was it something came across after a while?
Robyn Black: It was kind of passed down through the family; everyone in my family loves "Star Wars" so I was exposed to it at a young age and always loved it.
What was the first one you saw?
I think the first one I ever saw was probably Episode IV, but I think the first one I ever saw in theaters was Episode III.
Do you have a favorite "Star Wars" movie?
I'd have to say – maybe controversially – that my favorite episode is III, "Revenge of the Sith." I know a lot of people like the original trilogy – and I do love the originals. But you can't argue with all of the awesome lightsaber battles in that movie, and the score is probably my favorite as well. And the end is just heart-wrenching while pulling together both the original and prequel trilogies.
It's the best of the prequel movies, but it's never been near the top of "Star Wars" for me.
They go to so many cool planets, and some of the most iconic lightsaber battles happen.
This is true; your argument is solid. The movie that came after was "The Force Awakens," which you'll be playing alongside next weekend. As a tuba player, what's the most exciting part of playing a "Star Wars" score?
John Williams writes incredibly well for brass. They're probably some of the most exciting film scores you get to play as a tuba player. Even just the main theme is really well-written for the tuba and all the brass instruments; it gives me a lot to practice because it's kind of difficult. There's so many iconic themes throughout all of his music that are really special to get to bring to life on the stage, and because I have such nostalgia for this series, it's really special to get to play that.
Do you get to watch any of the movie while you're playing, or do you have to be locked in on the music?
For a movie like "Star Wars," you do have to focus on the score. Also, I'm behind the screen so I can't actually see anything unfortunately.
I would argue "The Force Awakens" has gotten a bad rap because of what happened with the later movies, but the movie itself still rules. It's a really exciting, well-made movie that's constantly moving forward. That movie's paced like a heart attack with constant motion; as a musician, what's it like trying to keep up with that?
It's exciting, because there's this constant building of tension in terms of the score. There are all these new themes that are introduced for all of the new characters that we've grown to love; Rey's theme is particularly interesting. Also, I'd say my favorite soundtrack moment from that film is probably "Scherzo for X-Wings," which is when the Rebel forces come in to Starkiller Base.
What are the differences, for you as a musician, playing the original "Star Wars" and this new edition?
Mostly in terms of the themes for the individual characters that happened between the original trilogy and the prequels and the sequels. For example, in the original trilogy movies, you get to play a lot of Darth Vader's theme which is particularly fun as a tubist because it's so low brass driven. So there's a lot of variants in the different types of music you get to play between the different trilogies.
Do you have a particular favorite section or iconic moment of "The Force Awakens" to play along with?
Well, I'm always a sucker for whenever they bring out the big planet or star station that blows things up. I love the end of the movie when they have Starkiller Base and its huge red laser beam. And they absorb a sun to get all the power – how can you beat that?
What do you love most about "Star Wars" and the franchise?
If not just for nostalgia, there's an incredibly far-reaching story that is really well-planned throughout six to nine movies ...
Eight movies, maybe.
I would also say I just really love the world-building. George Lucas just introduces some really cool alien species and amazing locations, especially with all of the incredible CGI throughout all of the movies really helping to make that real. And of course John Williams' scoring also really contributes to that feeling of being in space. I feel like he does that particular vibe so while. And as a classical music nerd, I know that John Williams loves to quote from all these other classical composers so you can hear his influences all over the place.
What are some of those influences in "The Force Awakens" or in "Star Wars" in general?
For example, that Tatooine theme where they have the sparse strings going on as you see the two suns over the planet, that's kind of inspired by some of the harmonies you see Stravinsky do in "Rite of Spring." You can also hear a lot of influence in some of the battle music, which is very similar to the things we find in Holst's music – like "The Planets," which we're playing later this year. Particularly "Mars" feels so similar – of course it's space-themed so that ties in. We're even playing this Lutoslawski concerto for orchestra which has a few moments that feel very John Williams – although Lutoslawski came first. But you can see, with the more classical music you listen to, especially 20th century things, you tend to find his influences everywhere.
If I saw right, "Jaws" is coming to the MSO as well this summer. So John Williams' "Jaws" or John Williams' "Star Wars": Which is the better movie score?
That's a tough question. I think the problem is we're comparing one movie to nine movies in terms of scores – so I think I'd have to go with "Star Wars" because of that.
How dare you, with the "Jaws: The Revenge" erasure.
It's particularly sacrilegious because there's such a big tuba solo in "Jaws!"
The MSO's performance of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" will take place on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. as well as Sunday, May 14 at 2:30 p.m. For information and for tickets, do visit mso.org. Or do not. There is no try.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.