Star Wars brought to life by LA Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl Star Wars

There’s no lack of Star Wars memorabilia in my apartment. R2-D2 and BB-8 adorned Japanese lamps, water bottles, Legos, and figures make up just some of this stuff. Storm Trooper and Boba Fett wall art make up more of it. From the moment you set foot in the door the Force is definitely with you.

None of this stuff, however, is mine.

The hodgepodge belongs to a claque of roommates. All of them, though deeply disparate people from what I can tell in the couple of months I’ve known them, are one in their adoration of the films. Obviously, that’s not the most unusual thing in the world.

Me, on the other hand, I’ve always been the one left out of the tribe when it comes to the franchise. Whenever I’ve asked what is it that makes these movies special, I’m never satisfied with the answer. The part of this equation that’s not in question, however, is the impact of John Williams’ original score on this seriously unending phenomenon.

With that, I felt a bit like a cheat that I was the one who got to attend the symphonic incarnation of A New Hope at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday. All the real fans living around me had to work.

The Bowl played A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back — two showings each this past week.  It’s the first time Star Wars has been performed with a live score in Los Angeles. The LA Philharmonic conducted the performance with local conductor and composer David Newman leading the orchestra. Newman was conductor for Jaws a few weeks ago at this venue.

The Bowl’s pearlescent white, winged shell, foregrounded by the starry Hollywood backdrop, could’ve passed as a renovated addition to Luke Skywalker’s desert-home planet of Tatooine. Right alongside the igloos.

From where I was seated in the fifth terrace, Newman’s baton movements seemed almost Jedi-like. Within the dark sea of audience before him, all you could see was undulating technicolor light sabers of the nerds, waving back and forth each time a favorite character appeared for the first time.

A young boy sitting behind me kept making all the out-loud, head scratching observations you’d expect a kid his age makes during a live movie/performance: “I saw Darth Vader but he wasn’t on the screen. He was here…”  Concerning the crowd, I was expecting to see more people in costume, but everyone seemed pretty normal.

It may have been due to personal circumstances, but the emotional resonance of those scenes on Luke’s sandy Tatooine struck home.

The first of those: Luke and Uncle Owen’s droids-shopping excursion. Here, the two humans meet R2-D2 and C-3PO for the first time. R2 is carrying the secret rescue message for Obi Wan Kenobi from Princess Leia.

The humans examine the droids to see if they’re in fact still usable as farm hands or if they’re just damaged goods. It’s a not so chilling future view of automation.

Within the next few minutes of the movie comes the iconic and lonely shot of Luke staring out under the binary suns. Soon after that comes his discovery that his home and only known family have been completely incinerated by the Empire.

I remember finding that whole sequence boring as a kid, but now, maybe because of some family things I’m dealing with back home, it all seemed so apropos. It brought to mind the solitary journey I made out West just over a year ago. Williams’ accompanying leitmotif “The Force”, the melody of which abruptly drifts from a slow lament to something almost nationalist,  with the amplified orchestral power, surely contributed to the effect.

Just as it was for Jaws, it’s difficult to fathom a better place to see a favorite classic  brought to life, even if in reality it’s not one of your favorites. But the best part about these special movie events is that they lead up to the appearance of John Williams himself on August 21 for the 40th anniversary celebration of his Bowl debut.

I’m ready now to revisit Empire and Return of the Jedi on my own time. Surely, my roommates must have some copies floating around.

Words by Ezra Salkin
Photos courtesy of Dustin Downing