Balancing the need to bring a new but familiar sound to Star Wars while also playing in the footsteps of John Williams’ legendary music for the saga is a challenge for every composer who joins the franchise. Few have faced it as often as the Kiner family—composer and father Kevin, alongside his children Deana and Sean—whose work has come to define a new generation of Star Wars music across Clone Wars, Rebels, Bad Batch, and now Ahsoka. But even then, some moments will always find a way to present new challenges.
Such was the case this week for the Kiners when they had to score a brief, surprising moment for this week’s penultimate episode of Ahsoka: the return of Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Racing in—well, as fast as those goldenrod droid legs will carry him—to provide a message of clemency from an absent Senator Leia Organa to save Hera from the wrath of a New Republic disciplinary tribunal, 3PO’s brief moment in Ahsoka’s narrative is a touching link between the events of the franchise’s streaming TV universe and the wider Star Wars movie mythology. But it was also a moment where, as Ahsoka’s composers, the Kiners found themselves grappling with the idea of playing with the iconic motifs of John Williams.
“Honestly, not putting in any music [at first],” Deana Kiner—who, alongside her father and as the music group Kiner Music with her brother Sean, has helped score Star Wars Rebels, the seventh season of the Clone Wars, The Bad Batch, and now Ahsoka—said reflecting on the process of scoring Threepio’s arrival.
“Originally, that scene played completely dry until we realized it was playing too empty,” Sean added. “And then the music came very, very naturally because we had license to use those themes, [but] that’s just how it was spotted,” he continued, referring to the stage of the composing process where the footage is looked over to see how and where the composers’ scores will be most effectively placed.
“It’s a strong scene, but I think that was the fastest cue—in terms of writing—for the entire season,” Sean said, when the composers ultimately decided to spotlight Threepio with a moment that blends Ahsoka’s thematic work for the New Republic with elements of some of Williams’ most iconic pieces from the films, the main Star Wars fanfare and, of course, Leia’s incredibly touching theme. “That came out in under an hour, I believe. That’s way faster than anything we’ve ever written. But we were just channeling John a little bit, and it was just natural to follow in terms of leitmotif for this. When you see C-3PO, you just get those chills. ‘Oh man, there’s the guy I’ve been watching since I was a kid,’ you know? He’s talking about Leia, and Leia’s pulling a baller move saving Hera from these politicians. It all just felt very natural.”
“I personally have been working 17 years trying to refine what it means to sound like Star Wars without aping John Williams, without being Mini Me John Williams,” Kevin—who has been a part of Star Wars since scoring Clone Wars almost two decades ago—said of the push and pull between incorporating elements of Williams’ iconic music and charting his own sonic path in the galaxy far, far away. “And they [Deana and Sean] have been spending 10 years at the same time. And it’s really tough. It’s a super, super fine line because you want the feeling of… the very first cue on [Ahsoka’s] soundtrack starts out with this Japanese percussion, kind of woody percussion, but then it goes kind of similar to the Star Wars sound. With the New Republic [scores], I’m pretty proud of the fact most of the feedback I’ve received has been positive. So I think we’ve been successful in not just rehashing, or whatever you want to call it—we try to give it the Star Wars sound, the sound John Williams used.”
“Part of our approach is to build on what influenced John, so by basically building on our master’s master. Like, classical pieces he was referencing, pieces he would draw from, we would also look at those pieces,” Deana added. “We find that implementing those and utilizing them can be just as effective to make it feel more Star Wars.”
“A few times we surprised Dave [Filoni] by putting the Force theme in,” Kevin continued. “One time he changed it and said, ‘No, let’s do it in this other scene,’ but most of the time if we’re going to use a John Williams theme, Dave has the idea to use it. And out of five hours on the soundtrack, there’s probably a minute and a half of John Williams’ themes. But it speaks to how powerful those themes are, that you remember at the end of episode four [when Anakin appears], and all of a sudden part of the Imperial March kicks in. Oh boy, thumbs up!”
“We try to treat it like the strongest spice in our arsenal. We don’t want to put too much of it, because otherwise it will start to lose its potency. Very similar to cooking, really, where we know how impactful it will be if you just get a small taste of it and it hits you at just the right moment,” Deana reflected. “That’s how we try to approach it, using it as tastefully as we can.”
“The cooking reference is, we’ve been cooking with this stew for a long time. It’s kind of ingrained in the pot,” Kevin concluded. “So now it kind of comes naturally that when it’s time to sound like Star Wars, we sound like Star Wars. It’s our sound, and yet it harkens to what John was doing, as well.”
Stay tuned to io9 for more from our chat with the Kiners soon.
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