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On the drizzly Sunday afternoon of Sept. 24, hundreds of people milled into Symphony Hall. Unlike many of the Boston Pops’s performances, there were space buns, leather jackets, and numerous graphic tees spottable within the audience. Excited chatter rumbled throughout the hall, void of rigid formality. When the overture began, the vibrations settled the audience into stillness.
Conducted by Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops’s “‘Star Wars’: The Story in Music” was a warm, nostalgic celebration of the beloved film sagas and the brilliant composer behind them, former Pops conductor John Williams. The performance carried the audience through the “Star Wars” trilogies, highlighting the iconic songs and musical themes that frame the films. To truly invoke the intergalactic setting, the Pops employed Jeremiah Kissel as a narrator. The Shakespearian actor contextualized songs that preceded major plot shifts with avid expressions, comical remarks, and overt gesticulations. In short, Kissel cleared any confusion, while adding to the light-hearted atmosphere himself.
Rather than following the films’ soundtracks by order of release, the Pops performed them chronologically. Initially, beginning with young Anakin on Tatooine, the home planet where he grew up, seemed like a disappointing surprise. However, even though “The Phantom Menace” lacked invigorating thematic elements, John Williams’s work certainly did not. In fact, the tragedy of Anakin resonated more in the orchestra than the prequel saga. The last song, “Enter Lord Vader,” balanced Anakin’s theme to Vader’s masterfully, giving the character more depth than the script does.
When “The New Hope,” soundtrack arrived, the orchestra shined a light of giddy nostalgia on the audience. The songs were not only beautiful, but familiar. In their familiarity, the epic conflicts, hopes, and storytelling in “Star Wars” were brought to life once more. During the tumultuous “Dark Side” songs, the lights above the orchestra turned red and dark. During ones of light — the songs of Luke, Leia, and Han — blue, pink, and purple would fill the theater. Even Yoda, an iconic but supporting character, got his green swamp song.
The selection of the songs in each film was also exquisite. Not only were the main, defining, heart-rending songs of the sagas chosen, but also the niche, whimsical ones too. For instance, the “Cantina Band” and “Jabba the Hutt” were full of life, adding thrills of excitement in between the longer, more dramatic songs. In contrast, “The Imperial March,” which serves as the leitmotif for Darth Vader and his dark forces, excited the audience with its tense, staccato rhythm.
Throughout the performance, certain instruments stood out, including the harp, tuba, and oboes. While the strings and percussion played wonderfully and elevated the others, these instruments mastered their solos and truly defined the songs. Ina Zdorovetchi, the Pops’s harpist for Sunday's performance, stunned all with her performance, bringing both elegance and depth to the works.
By the time the Pops finished the final saga, narrating Rey’s story in song, the performance seemed drawn out. Callbacks to the original score took up much of the new songs, giving the performance a somewhat anticlimactic finish. Moreover, the new saga’s music relied heavily on nostalgia, and by the time the audience reached it, most yearnings for the past had already been satisfied.
Rey’s theme, however, made up for this repetition. Her leitmotif is mysterious, beautiful, mellow, and bright. In it, Williams seems to ponder the mystic and innate nature of the Force, marveling at it through the curious, warm, and strong Rey. The score was even more impressive considering Williams wrote it in his eighties.
The end of the performance brought joy not only to the audience, but to the conductor, the narrator, and the performers themselves. The story of “Star Wars” was just as powerful in song as it was in film, and one left the performance reminded of all the reasons why the sagas were such a moving success. Although George Lucas created the films, John Williams and the Boston Pops equally told the Skywalkers’ story.
—Staff writer Claire S. Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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