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You can't really make a Star Wars project without the indelible sounds of John Williams. It's like trying to enjoy a warm slice of apple pie without a big scoop of vanilla ice cream slowly melting over the top crust. The two things are (and always will be) inextricably linked until the end of time. Whenever it hopes to dip into the classic motifs of the galaxy far, far away, Lucasfilm seeks the sacred blessing of the maestro who laid the sonic groundwork almost 50 years ago.
The studio's Obi-Wan Kenobi limited series on Disney+ was no exception.
"When I first came on board, we didn't know if we had permission to use any of the legacy character themes from John," Kenobi composer, Natalie Holt, tells SYFY WIRE. "And then, after a month of working on the show, John came on board. He watched it through and agreed to write the theme and then for his themes to be used in Episode 6, so it's kind of handing over to A New Hope territory."
The beloved and instantly recognizable cues heard in the finale ("Princess Leia's Theme"; "Binary Sunset"; and "The Imperial March") were adapted for the score by longtime Williams collaborator, Bill Ross. "I felt like we had enough people entrenched in the legacy of Star Wars to keep us on the right track," Holt explains. "Because of the history, everyone’s just so protective of John's wishes. Everyone wants him to be happy about what's going on. So John watched the show and he identified the areas [in which] he wanted his themes used ... That's the power of Star Wars and the power of John Williams. John's got this huge history of scoring the [franchise], so it’s kind of his prerogative."
This sentiment was whole-heartedly shared by Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and series director Deborah Chow, both of whom served as executive producers on the small screen project. "[They] had this trajectory for the show as well, wanting it all to be leading to Episode 6," Holt says. In terms of the main theme, Williams had a mere two weeks to crack it before he was set to start scoring Indiana Jones 5, which may very well be the last movie of his career before the man takes a well-deserved retirement.
"I got a piano sketch about a week in, which was just thrilling to receive a piano sketch from John Williams. It's so beautiful and perfect for Obi and just having that direct contact with him [was a dream come true]," adds Holt, who grew up in the 1980s. "He's pretty much scored all my favorite childhood movies. It was amazing to receive that and then he invited me on to the scoring session. So I got to see him conduct the theme [on Zoom]. It was his 90th birthday. I was there [and] I think Ewan McGregor was watching as well."
Before Williams signed on, the composer had already been working on a theme of her own, though it didn't end up in the trash compactor. "I did use my Obi theme ... for when Obi and Leia hold hands in Episode 4," she reveals. With the approval of the master, Holt now had to find the musical middle (or should we say "high"?) ground between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. "Because we’re in the territory with Leia and Luke and Vader, we've got all these characters that are so precious to people. It’s just making sure that we were being respectful of the old, bringing in the new." All told, the scoring process took about three months, between December 2021 and late March/early April 2022.
"[I wanted to] be respectful and hopefully integrate with John and bring a little bit of a new flavor for some of the newer characters [like] the Inquisitors, Reva, Tala and the Force refugees," she says. "There were those kinds of spaces where I brought some synths and unusual instruments into the picture. I also have the same orchestra as John, so it was wanting to keep in that orchestral palette as well ... I didn't really get any feedback from John. I think he wanted to just be respectful of what I was doing."
Holt is one of a handful of composers who have been lucky enough to play in the Star Wars sandbox beyond Mr. Williams. The exclusive composer club also includes: Michael Giacchino (Rogue One), John Powell (Solo), Kevin Liner (The Clone Wars), and Ludwig Göransson (The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett).
"I was lucky enough to meet John Powell when I was in LA and we chatted and kind of swapped notes," Holt recalls. "It was really reassuring to talk to him. He was just kind of saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, when you land, a Star Wars job, you feel like a deer in the headlights for a moment.’ Just like, 'Oh, my gosh! What is this?! I can't believe this has happened to me!’ So it was nice that even John Powell felt that."
All six episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now streaming on Disney+. The show's soundtrack is available to purchase and/or stream online.
Looking for more sci-fi goodness? The entire run of SYFY’s Battlestar Galactica is streaming now on Peacock, along with the second season of Resident Alien, which returns to SYFY this fall with new episodes.