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CNN Live Today

Making the "Star Wars" Music; Interview with John Williams

Aired May 15, 2002 - 11:44   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know what plans they have for you, but I'll tell you what I want to talk about, finally, the clones arrive. "Star Wars: Episode II" opens tonight with midnight showings in select theaters.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Now if anybody's worried that the late hour may cause a fan or two to doze off during the movie,...


HARRIS: ... certainly the tremendous music is going to keep that from happening.

KAGAN: And we're going to talk to the man behind the music, John Williams, in just a moment. First, some background from our Kendis Gibson.


KENDIS GIBSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What would a "Star Wars" movie be without the fast paced score of John Williams? It just wouldn't be the same.

JOHN WILLIAMS, COMPOSER: Yes, David, don't play the higher F at 70. That shouldn't be there.

GIBSON: With that in mind, here was John Williams, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducting, working, plotting his fifth "Star Wars" soundtrack under the keen eyes and ears of George Lucas.

GEORGE LUCAS, FILMMAKER: "Star Wars" films are basically silent movies. And they're designed as silent movies, therefore the music carries a -- has a very large role in carrying the story, more than it would in a normal movie.

GIBSON: The process for Williams starts when he takes home an early copy of the film and spends up to three months drafting the score and then presents it to Lucas.

WILLIAMS: It being a collaborative process, I'm very used to this. And I will make the adjustments that night and come in the next day and rework whatever section that he may have had comments on. Do it again, one, two, three.

GIBSON: The "Attack of the Clones" soundtrack stands out from the others for one major reason.

WILLIAMS: Five films with this huge glossary of themes but we have no love theme. So now we have...

LUCAS: Now we've completed the book.


GIBSON: It is the first to have a love theme.

WILLIAMS: I think George had those things on his mind when he described to me the need for a love theme that was like the great love stories of the films of earlier times.


GIBSON: "Star Wars" fanatics can rest assure the remainder of the soundtrack is filled with the usual fast paced action sequence thunder. But for what's been a 25-year labor of love for two men, a love theme is perhaps well overdue.

Kendis Gibson, CNN, Atlanta.


KAGAN: And now a chance to meet the man behind the music, "Star Wars" maestro John Williams joining us from Los Angeles this morning.

Mr. Williams, good morning, a pleasure to have you with us.

WILLIAMS: Good morning. Thank you very much.

KAGAN: How fascinating to see how it all works behind the scenes, how you collaborate with George Lucas and to see you in London with the symphony there putting it together.

WILLIAMS: Well it's a -- it's a very wonderful collaboration, George and that marvelous orchestra that we've used from the very earliest days in "Star Wars." The London Symphony is part, really, of the "Star Wars" family, if you like, and it's been a privilege and a lot of fun over all these years to continue with this project.

KAGAN: How do you keep it fresh the fifth time around?

WILLIAMS: Well the fifth time is like the first time. It's like anything else we do creatively. We sit down with a blank piece of paper and we hope that we're going to have the inspiration and the energy and the good luck that we've had in the past. So I think every time is the same challenge all over again, and we rise to meet it in the best way we can and that's the thing that keeps us vitally interested in what we do.

KAGAN: Take us back to that first time when George Lucas comes to you with this "Star Wars" idea.

WILLIAMS: Well the first time was very interesting because we all looked at the film, George Lucas, our mutual friend Steven Spielberg and others, and we all thought, wow, this is a fantastic movie. It'll be great for children on Saturday afternoons, never realizing that this sort of -- this newly minted mythology, if you like, that George Lucas had created would find such a deep and continuing and long-lasting audience around the world. We hadn't a clue at this time that the Darth Vaders of the -- of the story were going to find a permanent place in the hearts of people who go to these films. So it's a surprise really.

KAGAN: Well...

WILLIAMS: A nice one.

KAGAN: ... it sounds like he gives a lot of credit to you and your music in making these classics.

WILLIAMS: Well, the music is -- it's very nice of him, really, and I give him -- happy to share all of the credit with him also. But what he says is really true, the "Star Wars" films are like silent movies or like cartoons and in that that the orchestra is always sort of pushing and advancing the tempo and the plot in the same way that you would do in a cartoon, for example.

KAGAN: And...

WILLIAMS: In this case, it's large scale. It's a full symphony orchestra going through all of its gestures accompanying the action.

KAGAN: And as we saw in the piece, this time around there was a love story to write, too. That must have been fun and add -- in adding that challenge.

WILLIAMS: Well it's a deviation from everything else we do in "Star Wars." It seems probably the last thing you would think of, but a love theme for a love story that has sort of cosmic reaches to it, if you like. It's a -- when we think about love stories, I think of you know Romeo and Juliet or Tristan Iseult (ph) or these kinds of things where the lovers are separated by rank or they're separated by religion or family or class or whatever, and that's the case here also.

KAGAN: Right, there's a forbidden side to this -- to this love story so that would need to be reflected...

WILLIAMS: That's...

KAGAN: ... that would be reflected in the music as well.

WILLIAMS: Exactly the point. That forbidden aspect that prevents the lovers from being completely together until they share love eternal, if you like, the idea of love beyond time. So it's a love theme, but it also has a tragic aspect to it also that extends it into time beyond death, if you like (ph) to say. KAGAN: So let me make a transition here for a moment, turn you from composer into a reviewer. Totally unbiased, have you seen the film and how is it?

WILLIAMS: Well this may strike you as strange, I haven't seen the completed film. The film that I work on is a kind of working version of it with working drawings and -- that are later replaced by animatics and very sophisticated post-production photography work. I haven't had the opportunity to sit in the theater and watch the film completely...

KAGAN: Really?

WILLIAMS: ... from beginning to end. Believe it or not, that's true. I hope one of these weekends I'll get an evening off and I can sneak into a neighborhood theater and actually sit in the back of the theater and enjoy it with the rest of the audience. I did...

KAGAN: Well you know it's just down the street at the Chinese Theater from where you are right now. Maybe there's some guys who will give you some cuts in line if you show up.

WILLIAMS: But that's completely true. The last version I saw of it was in London with the orchestra and it was not complete at that time.

KAGAN: Well again, thank you so much for giving us a fascinating look behind the music and how it's all put together.


KAGAN: It's a pleasure to have you with us.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for your interest in this, and it was a pleasure for me.

KAGAN: Good luck with the latest "Star Wars."

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

KAGAN: John Williams joining us from Los Angeles.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

KAGAN: And with that, I bet we have some music on hand. We'll go to a break.