The Empire Strikes Back at The Hollywood Bowl

Last night I took my oldest to see the LA Philharmonic perform the entire soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back.

The Empire Strikes Back at The Hollywood Bowl

This was a dream come true.

As a child, I listened to this soundtrack over and over and over again. I marched to the Imperial March and pretended to conduct the orchestra on my 33 1/3 LP. The latter was carried out with an actual baton–a gift from my father soon after I showed enthusiasm and interest in conducting–

–after my first night at the Hollywood Bowl watching John Williams do the same.

Apparently, I stood up on my chair and waved my hands in time with the music.

Advertisements for “The Maestro at the Movies” later this month state that the show is to be a 40th Anniversary Celebration–which means I’ve been going to the Bowl to see John Williams, on or close to my birthday, for 40 years now…

That’s insane to me that so much time has passed.

20th Century Fox Fanfare

In the beginning, Williams would stack the performance with Star Wars tracks. There weren’t neon lightsabers waving in the audience back then, but there was great appreciation and adulation.

Some years, he would skip it all together, leaving many–including this avid fan–a bit disappointed with the track selection from his more current work. On those nights, he appeased us with an encore or two of The Raiders March, or if we’re lucky–The Imperial March–but he always fulfilled his part of the bargain by playing the original Star Wars theme.

Last night was the real deal. The entire soundtrack, from beginning to end, played in time with the actual movie. David Newman, not John Williams, was the conductor and he did a phenomenal job.

In the beginning, I bounced back and forth between film and orchestra. Soaking in the entire experience and having difficulty reconciling reality with my childhood dreams.

Because this was both.

Towards the middle, I started to lose track that there was an actual orchestra playing right before my eyes. The soundtrack is so good and so subtle that when it picks up after an extended amount of silence, you almost forget that there is music being played. It’s as much a part of the film as the sound effects and cinematography.

But it was towards the end, that I lost all sense of myself.

From my seat, I could see the video screen atop Newman’s podium. In addition to the film, the monitor displayed a slow moving line that tracked rhythm from left to right. A pulsating white circle flashed on and off in the middle of the screen, perfectly noting each beat.

And I couldn’t look away.

Like I said, dream come true.

Towards the end, I became transfixed by this sight to the exclusion of the actual film. Of course, I’ve seen Empire a couple of times, so I know I didn’t miss anything. But I simply couldn’t look away. Watching that piece of music performed–from Han and Leila’s kiss in the freezing chamber through the End Credits was mesmerizing.

And once again, I found myself imagining what it would be like to wave that baton and to bring about such beautiful music.

The AT-AT Walkers

To me, this soundtrack (and film) is perfection. The Hoth Battle and The Asteroid Chase. Yoda’s Theme as he lifts the X-Wing. And that last piece of music alternating between Boba Fett’s escape and Luke and Darth’s confrontation. No piece of music brings a brighter smile to my face, and last night I never smiled brighter.

The crowd was into it. Waving neon lightsabers in time with the music and cheering with each introduction of a beloved character. The former showcased the talent of the Philharmonic musicians.

As my son, who is currently studying to be a film and game composer, explained to me–trying to keep time by focusing on the conductor’s baton while at the same time NOT playing to the hundreds and hundreds of neon batons swaying off-beat and out of rhythm is quite a spectacular feat. They don’t have screens in front of them: only sheet music and the conductor.

I was fortunate to have an expert with me to point these things out.

And I think that’s probably the greatest part about this entire experience. That my father can pass a love for classical music onto me, that is then passed on to my son. Forty years of music appreciation spanning three generations.

Alex and Me at The Hollywood Bowl

James R. Hull @jhull