Friday, February 21, 2020

Kevin Kiner Reflects On 'The Clone Wars' Legacy Ahead Of The New Season

By: Dominic Jones

With the long awaited return of Star Wars: The Clone Wars finally here, fans everywhere are getting excited for the final twelve episodes.  The new season, which will be released weekly on Disney+, marks a reunion of sorts for fans who loved the series during its initial six season run getting to go back to the characters and stories that were left unfinished when the show unexpectedly went off the air in 2013.

But it’s not just fans who are relishing the return to this exciting era of Star Wars, production on the seventh season brought back many of the original crew to finish the story they began. Among them is composer Kevin Kiner, who scored all 121 episodes of the original run as well as the theatrical film that kicked off the series in August 2008.

“I think all of us were bummed out that we didn’t get to finish the show the way it needed to be finished,” Kiner says about returning to the series. “But it actually worked out better that we had five years in between.  All of things happened where technology moved forward and music changed a little bit, and I think [the new season] is the best season of Clone Wars and it’s also pretty much what we all wanted Clone Wars to be all along.”

Given his importance to the series, Kiner had a seat on stage, alongside the series’ stars producers, for the moment when the world learned that The Clone Wars was returning during the 10th anniversary panel at San Diego Comic Con in 2018.  Seeing the audience go crazy as the new trailer debuted was a special moment for the composer, who remembered it fondly, saying, “It’s pretty hard to describe. I’m not really a celebrity, I don’t get to have many those moments, so I just soaked it in.”

But the road to that moment in 2018, and really to this new season in 2020, was a long and winding one.  For Kiner, his Star Wars journey began with a phone call from his agent telling him about an audition for the series. Kiner impressed in his audition, obviously, but the composer thinks one of his previous jobs might have given him an edge.

“George Lucas was a fan of the music I’d done on CSI: Miami,” Kiner says. “He wanted to move the music of Star Wars forward, he wanted to experiment. He always likes to experiment.”

One of the earliest challenges Lucas put forward to Kiner was to create a new arrangement of John Williams’ iconic Star Wars main theme, something the composer initially resisted.

“I argued with George that I shouldn’t do that.  I told him ‘you know John did this properly the first time.’ And he did. He did the greatest opening a movie’s ever had. So what are you going to do? You can’t outslug Babe Ruth, it’s impossible. I told him, there was no need--’just use it’, but he didn’t want to do that. Obviously I wanted to keep the gig I had just worked so hard to get, so I had to go home and try to figure out a new arrangement for it. In a way it was scary, but it was also a great challenge.”

When it came time to share the new arrangement with Lucas, it was the approval of another Clone Wars and Lucasfilm veteran that assured him that he’d succeeded.  Sound editor (and General Grievous voice actor) Matt Wood was the first member of the Clone Wars crew to hear the new arrangement while the two were waiting for Lucas to arrive for a sound mixing session.

“He turned around to me, and I could picture his face right now, and he goes ‘this is really good!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh man, thank you!’” recalls Kiner with a laugh. “Just getting that feedback from Matt, because he really knows what he’s doing and he’s heard it all, that was really gratifying.”

One of the challenges new composer’s face when joining the Star Wars franchise is creating new themes, given the legendary status of many of the film’s musical moments. For fans of The Clone Wars, Kiner’s theme for the character Ahsoka Tano has earned its place in the pantheon of great Star Wars music. The theme can be found throughout the series as Ahsoka goes through her many trials, from her earliest moments with her master Anakin Skywalker to the heartbreaking moments of the season five finale.

The importance of getting that the music right for the character in the early days of the series was not lost on Kiner. “I knew Ahsoka’s [theme] was going to come back,” he recalls. “I try, in big moments like that, I try to just let it flow.  The character is so rich and, even back then in the first episodes, she just spoke to me.  None of us can describe where music comes from and how that melody came into my head, but I think it just came naturally, in kind of a flowing way.  It’s a melody I’m really proud of.”

Perhaps the theme’s most famous appearance came towards the end of The Clone Wars’ original run, when Ahsoka made the fateful decision to walk away from the Jedi Order. It’s a scene that has become iconic for fans and creators alike, highlighting the series’ visual and storytelling chops--in a non-action scene to boot!

“My job is to support what’s on the screen and if there’s something really great on the screen, invariable the music cranks up a notch in quality as well,” Kiner says about the scene. “I think Ahsoka leaves has to be one of my favourite scenes I’ve ever scored in my life.”

Throughout its run, The Clone Wars was constantly pushing the boundaries when it came to the scope of its storytelling, telling stories across several multi-episode arcs that would introduce new worlds and characters to the galaxy.  This presented Kiner with an opportunity to expand the musical language of Star Wars like nothing before, something he delighted in.

“If you look at what I’ve composed for it’s really eclectic.  What I’m really proud of in my career, I feel like I have a lot of range.  I do projects from Narcos to Doom Patrol to Star Wars to Jane the Virgin. I mean, those right there are four incredibly different styles. I really love to push the envelope. I love to do different things. And George Lucas is the one guy that hates to do stuff that’s been done before, so he’s always pushing for something new.”

With Lucas’ encouragement, Kiner sought to bring new genres and styles of music to episodes of the series.  This meant drawing inspiration from all of the world, including finding a Bulgarian women’s choir for an episode set on the planet Rodia. Bringing in musicians familiar with the style helped inform Kiner as he was composing the music.

“One of the things you do as a composer is you rely on your performers to inform you about the authenticity of what you’re doing.  Whether that’s a violin player, a trumpet player or a Bulgarian singer,” he says about the process. “I’m calling my guys all the time, asking ‘this seems really hard, can you guys do that?’ It was the same with the women’s choir.”

For many, Star Wars is a family experience, something that can be shared between generations. This is true for the Kiner family as well.  Starting with his work on Star Wars Rebels, Kiner has been involving his two sons, who are also composers, in the scoring process.

“They served both to take some of the load of me, because I’ve been doing this for 35 years or more, and also just as an infusion of fresh ideas,” he says of his son’s involvement. “They grew up with different music than I did, and it turns out they’re both incredibly talented. My eldest son wrote Thrawn’s theme, which is a huge fan favourite from Rebels, and it’s really gratifying to see that fans are digging it to and I’m not just being a proud dad.”

The influence of all members of “Team Kiner”, as Kevin puts it, along with the infusion of a more electronic element (inspired by their work on DC’s Doom Patrol) are some of the new sounds fans can expect in the upcoming season of Clone Wars

But it’s not as if the series is forgetting its roots when it comes to music, Kiner also revealed that he revisited some motifs from the Clone Wars movie in the new season.  “On the 2008 soundtrack, there’s a track called General Lothsome/Ahsoka and about 12 seconds in there’s a different Ahsoka theme and at about 1:16 into that piece of music there’s what I call ‘Ahsoka’s victorious theme,’” says Kiner. “I went back and rediscovered those, and I used them in season seven more than I used them in previous seasons of Clone Wars.”

The music of season seven, as with everything, feels as though it’s a return to what The Clone Wars did best. Innovating and expanding the Star Wars universe with fresh, exciting ideas, while also paying tribute to what’s come before.  What more could we ask for in this gift of a final season. 

Check out more Kevin's work on his website

The seventh season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiered on Disney+on February 21st with the episode "The Bad Batch".  New episodes will be released weekly.

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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