With “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” debuting Friday on Disney+, English composer Natalie Holt becomes the first woman to score a live-action “Star Wars” project, on the heels of her success with Marvel’s “Loki.”
She spent four months on the project, including two months in Los Angeles recording with many of the same musicians who recorded John Williams’ new theme for the series, as revealed by Variety in mid-February.
“It’s been such a fine balance, all the way along, finding the right level of ‘Star Wars’ homage, because we’ve got heritage characters,” she says, referring to Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) and others, “and adding in new elements as well,” she says.
“These heritage characters have big themes that everybody expects to hear when they get on screen. But we’re also doing something new for them. [The story takes place] just before ‘A New Hope’ so we’re leading to that place.”
Holt began before Williams contributed his new theme. Her first meeting on “Obi-Wan” actually occurred before the debut of her much-talked-about “Loki” score a year ago. Then, in late December, as post-production ramped up, Holt got together for two days with director Deborah Chow and “we musically explored what she wanted.”
In episode 1, Holt explains, “Obi’s in the desert, he’s given up everything, he’s lost, he’s alone. I tried some single instruments but it just didn’t feel right. Suddenly John was on board, and his involvement unlocked the use of those heritage themes.”
Williams, of course, scored all nine “Star Wars” films, winning an Oscar for the 1977 original and earning nominations for five of the sequels including the last three, “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker” in 2015-2019. He also wrote the theme for one of the recent standalone films, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” in 2018.
For “Obi-Wan,” he did more than just write a theme, Holt discloses. “He did a suite, including the main theme, which is used in the titles, and different versions of it. So we have this ‘Obi-Wan’ suite that we used within the show as appropriate. For me,” she adds, “it was almost paralyzing, I’m such a big fan of John Williams.”
She describes Williams’ theme as “contemplative, soulful, quite lonely and slightly angst-y, but there’s a sort of hope, which is exactly what Deborah had instructed.” Holt wrote her own Obi-Wan theme, before it was clear that Williams would be contributing, “and weirdly, it’s very similar to his,” she says.
“My job was basically bringing in some new elements, a slightly fresh approach. I’ve given some characters origin themes. Just storytelling, drawing from John and the tradition while adding something new,” Holt says. New music was also required for the Inquisitors, characters originally invented for the animated “Star Wars” series.
Seventy-five L.A. musicians played the music for the six-part series, although Holt reports that she “had a couple of percussion sessions” in London while also recording famed cellist Caroline Dale and Swedish folk musician Ale Möller, whose “huge ancient hunting horn had such a powerful sound” that she couldn’t resist incorporating it too.
Canadian classical violinist James Ehnes flew in for the L.A. sessions. Holt, a violinist herself, played “some of the more atmospheric, folky stuff,” along with some viola solos, “and sang a bit as well, so I am on the soundtrack,” she admits. Also, keeping it all in the “Star Wars” family, she mixed all the “Obi-Wan” music at the studio of “Mandalorian” composer Ludwig Göransson.
Holt has always been a “Star Wars” fan. “My dad and I watched the movies when I was 5,” she says. “I rewatched them on VHS, and had a massive crush on Luke Skywalker,” she laughs. “I think ‘E.T.’ was the first time I noticed a film score as a child. He soundtracked my life, basically, with ‘Raiders [of the Lost Ark]’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Schindler’s List.’”
She still has not met or spoken with the 90-year-old maestro. Williams did autograph the Obi-Wan sheet music for her, however. “I’m going to frame it,” she says.
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