As any Star Wars fan will know, the music composed by John Williams for the original trilogy back in the 70s not only went against popular filmmaking at that time, but would endure beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Motifs such as the “Imperial March”, “Duel of the Fates” and the main title Star Wars are themes ingrained in pop culture in a way no other film composition has been able to do, save the theme from Jaws, another Williams composition.
In 2004 the soundtrack was voted into the National Recording Registry for lifetime preservation and in 2005, the American Film Institute or AFI, named the original soundtrack as the most memorable score in the history of U.S. film. Of course, no one knows this more than composer Kevin Kiner.
Kevin Kiner is an American composer who has been working in Film and Television since the late eighties. He’s been nominated for several Daytime Emmy Awards and has won several BMI awards for his work on CSI: Miami and Walker, Texas Ranger. He’s currently involved in several projects including Jane the Virgin but its his work on Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels is what brought us together to discuss all things Star Wars, George Lucas and meeting John Williams. Enjoy!
Hi Kevin thanks for doing this, I know you’re very busy.
Thanks so much, no problem.
First off, could I get your reaction about the recent announcement of the Star Wars live action TV show?
(laughs) I didn’t know there was a recent announcement; I have no knowledge of it.
I guess that answers my question about whether or not you’ve been asked to work on the show.
Yeah, no I have not.
One thing I like to ask composers is during the recording process do you prefer to spend your time in the booth or conducting?
I do some of my own conducting but mostly because of time limitations recording sessions go so much faster when I’m in the booth. When you’re conducting a lot of times you’ve got the click track in your ear and you’re concentrating on queuing people and so you’ll just miss little ideas or little mistakes. Mostly good ideas get missed.
Truth be told to be a good conductor you need to conduct all the time, like to be a good violinist you need to play violin all the time. Very few of us are good conductors; like John Williams is a fabulous conductor but he conducted a very long time with the Boston Pops. Most of the time I prefer to be in the booth.
Another thing I like to ask specifically is when you’re scoring a scene. We know music can add emotional weight to a scene but is it possible to detract from a scene?
Absolutely, and I am a big proponent of taking music out. Especially going way back to the Clone Wars feature film I flew up to Skywalker Ranch for the final mix of that show. Everyone was so surprised because I kept arguing to take music out because it was wall to wall. I really feel when music continues too long it loses its impact.
If you go back to Episode IV and Episode V, there is not wall to wall music. We thought there was but there’s not. There are a lot of scenes without music. And that’s when music can detract when it goes on and on and there are no breaths. Music has more impact when you have that breath.
There’s a lot scoring in Rebels, it feels like there’s more scoring in Rebels than Clone Wars?
It’s the other way around actually. It was conscious decision Dave Filoni and I made when we started Rebels.
Could you talk about the transition period when Disney bought LucasFilm and your boss went from being George Lucas to Dave Filoni. Differences in show running style and what they expected from you?
In truth, by the time George sold LucasFilm Dave was running Clone Wars, at least my side, a lot more actively than he had during the early years. George started us off but by the time Disney bought it, all my dealings were with Dave.
To make decisions like less score, that was more about Rebels and less about Dave having a certain style, he just wanted Rebels to be different. Actually we both went back and watched A New Hope just to see how much music there was and how much there wasn’t.
So the transition period was totally seamless. You would think Disney would have different input but they gave LucasFilm all the freedom in the world. When a giant corporation takes over people are always worried about what the new regime will want but we needn’t have any worries because Disney was really smart about it and saw that we knew what we were doing.
Have you finished scoring the current (last) season of Rebels?
I haven’t actually! I’m about to start writing the last two episodes which is actually a movie of the week. They’ll be put together as one, the last two episodes. It’s funny actually the last two minutes are missing from the very end, the copy I have so I still don’t know how it ends! Dave has to show me some time because I gotta write music for it so it’s driving me crazy.
I saw Dave at FanExpo in Toronto in September and he said at the time only himself and the three in house animators had seen the last five minutes or something.
That is very true; there are very high level producers who still haven’t seen it. It’s kinda nutty I’ve never been in that kind of a situation before.
In today’s day and age, you kind of have to have that kind of security to keep things under wraps.
Yeah I think so. But we’re going to do the last “movie of the week” in Prague. We’ve done a couple in Budapest but most of the time we’re recording in Prague.
Have you ever been asked to do any Star Wars films?
I have not. But for a while I was the only other guy besides John Williams to do a Star Wars film, Clone Wars was the only other film for a while.
What did you think of the decision in Rogue One to not exclusively use John Williams score?
There’s some John Williams in it, the Force theme and others. I thought it was a good score and a good decision.
Have you ever had an opportunity to meet John Williams and talk about what he thinks of your work?
I have met him several times but we’ve never really talked about what I do with his music though. I’ve met him at awards shows a few times and I don’t think I ever will talk about what I’m doing with his music. I have the ultimate respect for him. I have no idea if he’s even listened to what I do or anything.
It gives me the freedom in my brain to bend it any way I want to and I’m sure there are times I’ve done things he probably may not like just because he saw it a different way. The perfect example was when George (Lucas) asked me to re-orchestrate and re-arrange the Star Wars theme for Clone Wars and I argued against it so hard. I said to George, “you know John did this right the first time”.
I really didn’t think it needed to be done any differently. Having said that I’m really proud of what happened with it and how the Clone Wars turned out. You know, maybe John doesn’t like what I did with it I have no idea. His vision wasn’t to have giant drums playing all the way through it and for me to change the time signatures and things like that, you might not like that with your art work. I know it would bother me but I also wouldn’t want my soul crushed by him saying I hate what you did!
I thought a stand out this season for me was the music during Flight of the Defender when we first see the Loth-Wolf and he’s carrying Ezra and Sabine to safety. The score during that scene was really, really great. It was one of the moments where it alerted neurons in my brain that the score was really effective.
Yeah, thank you. Freddie (Prinze Jr.) even told me he really loved that one to. Another one Freddie really loved was when Sabine was learning to use the Darksaber (Trials of the Darksaber), the climax of that one he really loved.
Freddie is an amazing human being. Here’s been here to my studio and you know he starred in my first big studio film that I scored called Wing Commander. We go back that far.
He’s super grounded and so exciting to be around because he’s always bubbling with fun ideas and just a true creator.
When it comes to scoring the show, do you start with a Williams piece first and work from there or do you work backwards in a way. Like start with your own idea that you’d like to try and fit that into a Williams score?
Unless I’m specifically using one of John’s themes like the “Force” theme or the “Star Wars” theme or the “Imperial March” or whatever I don’t approach it ever starting with his music. I approach it in that I compose in the same style that John does, but I have quite a few themes in Rebels, and I have them in a bin because I forget what they are. I have to reeducate myself and play through those themes whether it’s “What is Sabine’s theme again?” or “yeah I forgot about the Inquisitor theme”, I always try to be thematic in that sense.
The reason it sounds like John Williams is because Star Wars is based on the diminished scale, but it’s all based on major chords and parallel chords, and these are devices I can use when writing. I’m always trying to find a different approach and I don’t ever try to take his stuff note for note unless it’s the Force theme or something.
One thing I like to ask folks who work for LucasFilm and Star Wars is whether or not this is a dream job for you or just a really good job? Were you a Star Wars fan?
Absolutely. First of all, like many other film composers I always wanted to be the next John Williams, since I started 35 years ago. When I attend panels and stuff I bring the Star Wars score I bought in 1979 and it’s all dog eared coming apart and stuff. If you open it up to any page you can see the ink where I’ve written my interpretation of what he was doing, the same way someone would mark up their bible or something.
So yeah, 30 some odd years I’ve been a crazy Star Wars fan and a crazy John Williams fan from day one so there can’t be a more dream gig for me for the last 11 years I’ve been doing this.
Well that’s a great place to end it. Thanks so much Kevin for doing this and good luck. And call Dave Filoni right away and ask about the TV show!
Right on, I talk to Dave a lot so I’ll ask him! Also, I just want to know how this season ends as well! Thanks!
There ya have it! The interview was actually quite a bit longer as we chatted about all sorts of things. He was very generous with this time and seems like a genuinely good person. Can’t wait to hear the rest of his score for this final season!
Till next time…MTFBWY.