‘Star Wars Rebels’: Composer Kevin Kiner channels John Williams for new series
Character sheet for Kanan, the "cowboy Jedi." (Lucasfilm)Link
Computer graphic model of Kanan's head. (Lucasfilm)Link
Computer rendering of Kanan, the "cowboy Jedi," as he will appear in "Star Wars Rebels." (Lucasfilm)Link
Kanan, hero of the new "Star Wars Rebels" series, encounters the villainous Inquisitor. (Lucasfilm)Link
When “Star Wars Rebels” debuts this fall, fans will hear some very familiar sounds. Yes, the ever-present “Star Wars” fanfare will be there, but for the first time in a “Star Wars” TV series, the beloved John Williams themes featured throughout the original trilogy will be back — in slightly different form.
“I’m using a lot more of John’s themes, but more importantly I’m using the little motifs he had,” says Kevin Kiner, the man picked to score the new series. Fans are already familiar with his work as the longtime composer of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” but for “Rebels” he’s digging back into the Lucasfilm audio vaults, using bits of music that will instantly conjure images of Han, Luke, the Death Star and more.
“I never used John’s music before on ‘Clone Wars’ under specific instructions from George [Lucas],” says Kiner, whose participation in the series was announced at “Rebels’” Wondercon panel Saturday in Anaheim. “He wanted ‘Clone Wars’ to break new ground. In fact we had to beg him a few times to use John’s themes.”
The music of “Rebels” will be a mixture of the Williams themes fans know and love, and Kiner’s original work. Though it’s something Kiner has never tried before now, he says the melding of styles has become nearly seamless.
“I could play any part of the score of the first two ['Star Wars'] films in my sleep at any time of the day,” Kiner says. “I don’t want to be a mini-me John Williams, but this project needs to sound like ‘A New Hope,’ I need to have that in my bloodstream.” And the merging has had some pleasant surprises for Kiner. “There was an incident where I thought I was using one of John’s melodies, but I couldn’t place where it was from. But everyone tells me, no, it’s my melody. It really sounds like John.” The music in question is the theme for Ezra, the Force-sensitive human character in the new series.
Kiner, whose nearly 30-year composing career includes such credits as the AMC drama “Hell on Wheels,” the original “Leprechaun” film and the “Star” trifecta of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Stargate SG-1,” will use a smaller ensemble for the “Rebels” score than Williams had for the films, but at 30 musicians, it’s still larger than many all-electronic scores on TV today. “I’m using a similar size orchestra to what John used on ‘Lost in Space’,” he says.
“Star Wars Rebels” is set about five years before the beginning of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” and follows the adventures of a group of heroes desperately trying to combat the all-consuming might of the Empire, the fascistic government arisen from the ashes of the Old Republic in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”
The series, overseen by supervising director and executive producer Dave Filoni, whose work on “The Clone Wars” has made him well known in “Star Wars” fan circles, will premiere on the Disney Channel in the fall before it shifts to Disney XD for the rest of the episodes.
Filoni has said the look and feel of the series will recall the original trilogy of films, hewing to more action-oriented stories and a lighter, more fast-paced feel.
Williams’ music has long been an integral part of the “Star Wars” series, and Kiner plans to return the music to the classic feel, which he describes as being reminiscent of Korngold. But Kiner says he’s influenced by a whole different roster of composers, including Stravinsky, Ravel, Tchaikovsky and even Led Zeppelin. But though he’s a self-professed rock guy, even he would feel intimidated by the idea of composing something like the Mos Eisley Cantina music from “A New Hope.”
“It was such a great call,” he says. “It’s a great challenge, but it would take awhile to come figure out something new.”
But for anyone worried that “Rebels” will be nothing but a nostalgia trip, the classic sound (and story) of the new series will only last so long. As Kiner describes it, the music will become very experimental at the end of the first season and into the second season, if it gets renewed.
He says this isn’t just his personal taste, there’s a very real story reason why the music will go that way. But don’t expect any details yet. He’ll only laugh.
“It’s going to be really cool,” he says.
– Patrick Kevin Day | @patrickkevinday
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