The composer tells StarWars.com about creating the sounds of Han Solo’s youth and working alongside John Williams, the father of Star Wars scores.
Filling the shoes of Star Wars maestro John Williams is an impossible task, one that any composer would consider a daunting prospect, but when you have the master on hand to offer his unswerving ability in crafting an all-new Star Wars score for Solo: A Star Wars Story, you grab the Bantha by the horns and prepare for the ride of your life!!
Enter composer John Powell.
With Williams on board to compose the main theme, he produced an incredible template which Powell could arrange and enhance to produce a standout score that really resonated with the fans. His breathtaking soundtrack was one of the many talking points from Ron Howard’s superb standalone adventure and delivered many mesmerising tracks that will fill our mp3 players for an eternity.
But what did it take to produce such an iconic score?
Kristin Baver writing over at StarWars.com has delivered an absorbing chat with the composer, looking at his collaboration with John Williams, his influences and the symphonic decisions he made to bring this masterpiece of a score together.
John Powell on Solo:
While Powell was the lead composer for the score, early on he learned that Williams would be contributing a piece, “The Adventures of Han.” Working alongside the man who created the unique sound of the original trilogies and has composed the score of every Star Wars saga film was daunting in itself.
“A mixture of humbling and frightening. He’s annoyingly human,” Powell says with a laugh, “but he’s slightly super-humanly talented. He was very kind. It was like getting your Master’s, going back to college and, you know, realizing there was so much stuff I didn’t know….There’s a level of hero worship that you have to get over.”
Williams made the work look effortless, Powell says, a testament to his legendary status. “I mean his compositional abilities…they have a level of mastery that just doesn’t exist really anymore,” Powell says. “I’d have to start looking at people who come from the 19th century to find the same kind of level. I grew up loving Brahms and Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, and when I look at his compositional abilities, it’s closer to that than anybody else I’ve ever met before.”
Early on in the scoring process, the pair collaborated with the film’s director, editors, and producers to incorporate Williams’ new theme into the score. “He invited me over to his house and at the piano, he played me a theme with two parts; a hero tune being the A section plus a searching B section. I loved them both, obviously,” Powell says. “And then when he felt confident that everyone was happy, we gave him a bit of time and he took that theme and he came up with some more complete versions for the orchestra.” Williams’ contributions of about half a dozen short pieces for the film helped set the tone and create the foundation for the overall score. “Once John had written his stuff, it all made a lot more sense and I really felt like we’d figured out the puzzle,” Powell says. “The searching theme, which I ended up using in the opening titles, was just a one and a half or two-minute suite that he did. So with all of this done, I programmed all of this material into the sequencer, because that’s how I write and we not only used that where it worked but I also took the themes and I developed them in different ways for other sections that he hadn’t scored….They’re woven in and out of the fabric of the whole score.”
Powell borrowed other elements of Williams’ earlier work in key moments and scenes, harking back to the original title theme as a nod to Han’s destiny, in moments where it was clear his choices in Solo were leading him on the path to that fateful trip to Tatooine.
And although Solo is a dynamic part of the greater Star Wars universe, “the film is different. It’s very different from the other Star Wars,” Powell says. “It doesn’t have the Force in it. It’s not so much about the Rebellion, albeit there’s a proto-Rebellion kind of starting up, so it was a question of just finding, you know, a way to integrate the material that the film needed.” As the Falcon artfully dodges carbonbergs in the Kessel Run, Powell dropped in scoring from another daring escape from the Empire through an asteroid field. “It was based on the visuals in it all,” Powell says. “The way the Falcon’s flying through the carbonbergs in this film, it really did remind me of how they’d been moving in the asteroid field scene in Empire Strikes Back.”
We can only hope John Powell will return to the galaxy far, far away some day. His incredible score for Solo: A Star Wars Story is a testament to what a collaboration between nostalgia and contemporary can produce and with Williams on hand to offer his guidance, the sky is truly the limit for the future of Star Wars composing.
Thank you, John Powell, for a truly wonderful score. The force is strong with you.
Catch Kristin’s full interview with John Powell here:
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!