This month's issue of Vanity Fair Magazine featured a massive article about The Force Awakens, complete with a collection of amazing photos from the set of the film an a lengthy article by Bruce Handy. The article included interviews some of the big creative forces behind Episode VII, including director J.J. Abrams and producer, & Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy. Since the Magazine hit newsstands Vanity Fair has also been releasing online exclusive interviews Abrams, Kennedy and others. The most recent releases included Handy's chats with legendary composer John Williams, who discusses the process of scoring Episode VII so far, and Pablo Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm story group, who talks about his first Star Wars experience and how he came to work at Lucasfilm. You can read some Highlights from both interviews below:
Bruce Handy: Now that you’re scoring your seventh Star Wars movie, do you find that you approach the series differently in terms of your creative process compared with other films or series you’ve worked on?
John Williams: Very much so. It’s all a continuation of an initial set of ideas. It’s a bit like adding paragraphs to a letter that’s been going on for a number of years. Starting with a completely new film, a story that I don’t know, characters that I haven’t met, my whole approach to writing music is completely different—trying to find an identity, trying to find melodic identifications if that’s needed for the characters, and so on. Which I do here, but here it’s an extension of something that’s been really organic and continually growing. It’s a very, very different process. That’s really the best analogy I can come up with at the moment so I’ll repeat it: it’s like adding paragraphs to a letter rather than beginning the letter again.
BH: How has it been different working with J.J. Abrams compared to working with George Lucas?
JW: It’s actually very similar. My meetings with George had to do with spotting the film, selecting areas in which music would be played, and pretty much we agreed on all that. He always left me free to write the music. And J.J.’s done the same thing. We’ve had a few preliminary meetings, and I’ve played him some music at the piano, which he seemed to like very much. His latest instruction to me was, “Just do your thing.” Which is giving me a good sense of freedom, a good free swing at the ball. I don’t know how much you know of him, but he is a delightful person. Enormously bright. I’ve been very impressed with him in meetings with a great variety of people. His generalship is assured and warm and inviting and inclusive. If I can say it, he’s a fabulous young man who’s future is so brilliant and so promising. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s a young man to me. [Abrams is 48; Williams is 83.] He’s enormously impressive.
BH: In the new score, aside from the main Star Wars theme, are you going to be reviving any of the themes from the first trilogy which were associated with Luke, Leia, and Han?
JW: There are some scenes where we do make reference to earlier thematic pieces. We haven’t done it yet, but we’re planning to do it. It’s something that I think will seem very natural and right in the moments for which we’ve chosen to do these kinds of quotes. There aren’t many of them, but there are a few that I think are important and will seem very much a part of the fabric of the piece in a positive and constructive way.
Bruce Handy: Tell me about how your job developed.
Pablo Hidalgo: I’ve been here for 15 years now, and I started off ages ago working with marketing as part of the online group that was tasked to build up starwars.com as a destination for fans to find out what we were up to during the making of the prequels. And as part of the job requirement, it required all kinds of skills that you’d need as a writer, but also expertise to know about the Star Wars I.P. [intellectual property], to know about George Lucas’s own history, to know about Indiana Jones. As it happened, there just became more and more need for that specific expertise, so it just expanded beyond that. I became the kind of go-to guy for any sort of deep Star Wars mythology questions.
Now we’re at this new point in our history where we’re going to have a very production-focused future with [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy leading the way. And if we’re going to build onto this franchise, it’s important to know what’s happened in the past, to know what’s been established, to know what George’s intentions were and stuff like that. So I just got more and more roped into this process to the point where I’m now part of Kiri Hart’s story group. Among things that I do is I offer that kind of level of deep knowledge. I’m able to give my two cents when I see something that isn’t tracking, maybe pointing out that, well, you know, that spaceship doesn’t have that capacity or these two planets are closer than the script is suggesting that they are. That kind of deep universe history.
BH: Tell me about how you got caught up in Star Wars in the first place. I assume the first movie you saw was A New Hope.
BH: Was that a transformative experience for you? How old were you?
It came out when I was three, so I didn’t see it right out the gate, at least I don’t think so. I think I saw it during the re-release when it was paired up with The Empire Strikes Back. But the funny thing is, it came out when I was so young, and it was such an integral part of your childhood, that it’s really hard to distinguish when it was I first saw it because it was just a solid stream of Star Wars growing up. Like, even if you hadn’t seen it, it was part of the playground growing up. You had the toys. You had the storybooks. You had everything around you. So it was like, in a weird way, I don’t have this kind of lightning-bolt moment when Star Wars entered into my existence. It was just always there.
Also, I grew up in Winnipeg, Canada. And I have a feeling that this kind of mindset of just knowing all this stuff and studying just comes out of—you’ll find a lot of, for lack of a better word, obsessive hobbies coming out of any sort of setting that has winters that last six months. You’ll have people who build elaborate train sets or do a lot of detail-oriented hobbying, and so for me Star Wars just became this hobby. It was a thing that I would draw, a thing that I would do my own stories with, and when they came out with the role-playing game in the late 80s I would do that kind of stuff.
Be sure to head over to Vanity Fair's site to read the full interviews with John Williams(here) and Pablo Hidalgo(here)!
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