George Lucas has done a lot of things to milk the Star Wars franchise for all its worth. Some good, some bad, and some awesome. Now, I’m a big Star Wars, have been since 1977, though I’ve cooled on the franchise quite a bit over the years. What I haven’t cooled on though is John Williams’ score. The first two soundtracks fight it out for the top two places on my ‘best of science fiction soundtracks’ list. So when I ran across Star Wars In Concert I knew I had to go. I
managed to con asked for tickets to the concert as a birthday present. Since my parents are awesome, that’s exactly what I got. Maybe this trailer will help explain why I wanted to go.
This past Sunday, after two whole months of waiting, the boys and I were finally able to make our way to the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. We left at 4 to ensure we had plenty of time to get there before it started at 6. The only disturbance in the force for us was Son #3 decided not to go because a) Mommy wasn’t going and b) the bad guys might be there. Which probably turned out to be a good thing.
Upon arriving and finding a parking spot, we entered Toyota Center and realized we were on the complete opposite side of the stadium from our seats, of course! So we chose to go left and head to our seats. Now, along with the concert itself, there is a traveling exhibit of Star Wars props, costumes and other memorabilia from all six movies on display before the concert. Unknown to us, by turning left, we went right into the side of the stadium where the items were on display. This is where I realized that Toyota Center’s concourse is not wide enough for the literal crush of people who wanted to see the things on display. There was a lot of really coo stuff, from a case of the different weapon props, to life size figures wearing Star Wars costumes and even some concept art. It would have been really great to look at it at leisure, but there were so many people we decided to look as we could and try to get to our seats. Which took almost 30 minutes and I was glad that #3 decided to stay at home as keeping track of him in that crowd wouldn’t have been a lot of fun.
We finally managed to find our aisle, whose entrance was guarded by two desert outfitted Stormtroopers posing for pictures. There were a lot of characters scattered around for photo ops for the fans. Very nice. I’d like to mention here that there were many people in costume, some better than others. To the two ladies dressed up like Padme in her white, skin-tight outfit with exposed midriff (you know the one), all I can say is, “Excellent choice!” Although the one lady’s son is going to be very conflicted if he sees those pictures of his mom when hits 13. Anyway, after obtaining some cotton candy and popcorn we sat down to wait and read the official program. Here’s one of the bothersome aspects of night showed up. The program, while huge and very cool, was selling for $30. Yes, $30. Insane. Normally I wouldn’t shell out the dough for that, because I’m cheap, but it was a birthday present for me so I did it any way, but come one, I know they’re trying to make a buck but that’s highway robbery (which I paid, dammit. You win Lucas, you win.)
I’m feeling pretty good with 30 minutes to go, I have a drink and popcorn and huge program to read. Son #2 though is impatient for it to start. He keeps asking every 5 minutes how much time is left, like clockwork, every 5 minutes. It was uncanny. As you might imagine time did actually pass until about 10 minutes left to show time when announcer guy comes over the PA and asks everyone to take their seats because the show is about to begin. Applause greets this announcement and people start sitting down. 5 minutes later, he speaks again to even more applause. The excitement is palpable. We know the next time announcer guy speaks, the show will begin!
Another 5 minutes pass, announcer guy speaks again and people are trying to reach their seats before the lights go out (abruptly as announce guy warns). Where were you 10 minutes ago? Oh well, I’m sitting down and ready to go. Boom, off go the lights and the THX theme music starts up, the audience is listening indeed! Next up, the 20th Century Fox fanfare then BAM! off we go with the Star Wars theme music from the original movie. It looked something like this:
I have to agree with the guy in the video, I though “OMG!” too, as well as becoming a bit emotional as I was experiencing this with my kids, as it started and I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. That’s how incredible it was. The orchestra was spot on, they sounded awesome, the music perfectly loud and powerful without being overwhelming. Whoever designed the sound system did a bang up job as far as the music goes. One other bothersome aspect was that at times the music would overpower the spoken lines from the film clips, but that happened very rarely and didn’t sap the enjoyment at all as we’re there for the music.
After the intro, James Earl Jones, in his Darth Vader voice introduces the narrator for the evening, Anthony Daniels. I can’t think of a better person to be the narrator than Mr. Daniels. He clearly was enjoying himself even after countless times performing his lines. It probably helps to be in front of a packed house filled with fans who love you and the work you’ve done. The concert consists of film vignettes, created from clips of all six movies, that explored a certain theme or character, each introduced by Daniels. For instance, A Hero’s Rise as about young Anakin. There were sections on the Empire, Luke and Leia, Yoda and more, all set to music, specially arranged when needed, from the films. I can’t begin to adequately describe just how awesomely awesome this was. Williams’ music is just so powerful and moving, so inseparable from the films that I was carried away, again, by it. Watching the clips again, and arranged as they were, you realize just how epic a vision the prequels actually have, buried under the terrible dialog and wooden acting. Though not even the music can overcome the horridness of Anakin’s and Padme’s ‘love story’. Wisely, the producers only had Anakin speak once and it wasn’t the cringe inducing sand metaphor. Whew!
In case you’re wondering, here is the playlist [H/T to the Official Star Wars blog]:
Star Wars Main Title
Duel of the Fates
The Flag Parade
Across the Stars
Battle of the Heroes
The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)
The Asteroid Field (One of my personal favorites — Ed.)
Princess Leia’s Theme
Tales of a Jedi Knight
TIE Fighter Attack
Luke and Leia
The Forest Battle
Light of the Force
Throne Room/End titles
So, for the next 2 hours, including the 20 minute intermission, we sat spellbound, engulfed in this delicious wall of sound where time seems to disappear. Intermission came too soon, though it did allow us to test the limits of our bladder endurance while waiting in line. Comfortable again, we sat back down to enjoy the last half of the show, which is just as good as the first. I know #2 was getting in to the show since he was rocking (if that’s the right word) to the Imperial March and almost signing along to the finale music. Check out the finale:
(A quick aside: The videos do not do the music or the production justice. It’s almost awe inspiring how well this is put together. You simply must experience live, in person, to get the full effect.)
When it was over, there was an almost five minute standing ovation and three curtain calls. Scripted of course, but you should never leave until the lights come on. If you left early, you missed the orchestra perform the full Imperial March. You’d be right to think that piece is a great piece of music, but what you’ve heard is nothing compared to a full orchestra playing the hell out of it at the end of the evening. That was the perfect way to end this wonderful show, I can only imagine how much fun it must be to be a member of the orchestra and get a chance to play this music for legions of fans. Is it possible that one show could rekindle my interest in Star Wars? I’d say definitely.
With the music over the verdicts came in:
Son #1 – “I want to see it again!”
Son #2 – “That was cool.” – If it helps, he keeps wanting to look through the program guide, though I had to nix his idea of taking it to school.
Dad – “If you’re a Star Wars fan, this is worth every penny. I’d love to go again.”
(Note: This part was written on Monday, the day after we saw the concert. — Ed.) When I came home from work today I heard the strains from Duel of the Fates wafting down from upstairs. It almost brought a tear to my eye, and not just because they decided to watch The Phantom Menace. That’s how much of an impact it had on my sons.
Star Wars In Concert is still touring the country. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you go see it. I dare say it’s almost essential if you are a fan of the movies and especially the music. If you do go, know that I envy you experiencing this event for the first time.
Some technical notes: The screen is one big @$$ LED monster that looked spectacular even from across the arena from where we were sitting. Absolutely beautiful. The sound system was spectacular, no distortion, loud without being too loud and you could hear the full range of sound from the flutes way up high to the guy banging away on the tympani, the way music was meant to be heard. The orchestra was on this night, I only heard one, maybe two bobbled/out of tune notes. Sadly, the choir was only used during a few clips, but they sounded fantastic. There were two cameras on swivel cranes on either side of the stage. At points during the performance, the video clips would cut out and you’d get to see sweeping shots of the orchestra doing their thing. This is when I noticed the conductor had a flat panel in front of him displaying what was on the big screen. There was also a timing bar sweeping across from left to right to help him conduct in time to what was happening on screen.
(Note: For a few more pictures from the event, you can check out my photostream.)