After launching at London's O2 arena in April, a live stage treatment of the Star Wars series, Star Wars: A Musical Journey, will make its way to the U.S. But organizers say they're steering clear of a straight forward musical theater treatment or "R2-D2 rolling across the stage," and are instead preparing a recontextualization of the iconic film franchise featuring an enormous LED screen, classic films scenes and, of course, John Williams' landmark score.
First announced in late 2008, Star Wars: A Musical Journey debuts April 10 in London, where 17,000 will be the first to sample the bombastic production. Williams is personally rearranging the neo-romantic space opera's leitmotifs like "The Imperial March" and the "Star Wars (Main Theme)" for performance live by the 86-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. The symphony will perform in front of a 100-foot LED screen displaying a LucasFilm re-edit of all six movies into one 90-minute narrative that syncs to the beat of Williams' new work.
The idea for Journey came during the scoring phase of post-production on Revenge of the Sith according to Howard Roffman, president of Lucas Licensing and a 29-year veteran of the company. "We were really looking for something that would be big and spectacular and reach as many people as possible and still deliver a really fantastic experience," he says.
Williams — the man behind iconic scores for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and more — was ecstatic to work in a new context according to tour partner Gregg Perloff whose Berkeley-based Another Planet Entertainment is producing the event.
"This is the first time that LucasFilm has authorized this kind of presentation, so that's a big deal," Perloff said. "When we showed [Williams] our plans he was looking at the technical aspects of it and saying to his manager and agent, 'God, we should do this every night.' Because no one's ever done it. He was so into it. He understands that certain music plays a certain way to a film and that it plays slightly different live — and so he's making sure that every piece is perfect for the live experience."
An exclusive preview for Rolling Stone gave an indication of the production's hair-raising potency, from the thundering drums of the "20th Century Fox Theme" to the Wagnerian "Star Wars (Main Theme)."
"This'll be the biggest, baddest sounding orchestra that anybody's ever heard," said Spencer Churchill, tour producer for Another Planet. All that power comes with a hefty back end — Churchill said A Musical Journey is bigger than 90 to 95 percent of all rock tours because of the stage, the LED screen, and all the vintage Star Wars costumes that will be displayed within several thousand square-feet of "front of the house" space each night. Churchill can't detail specific artifacts from the exhibition but said, "It will be a lot of stuff. A few of them have never been seen before."
"Let's put it this way," says Perloff, "We could sell tickets just for the exhibit and people will feel like they've got their money's worth."
"There's not one thing that can tell you what's under this roof while it's all happening," said Churchill, and that is part of the problem of the project. Star Wars has the most demanding fans in history, and some reacted derisively to news of A Musical Journey. The producers feel the pressure to satisfy them as well as a general audience.
"It's a different way of looking at the familiar," says Perloff. "It requires a great deal of thought as to, 'How do you make the live experience of this meet what the films are?' We can't have a third-rate production. We have so much respect for the films and John Williams' music that we want to elevate the audience to a certain standard.
"We're not going to fall victim to cheap gags, which you certainly could do in this case."
"You do have to walk that fine line," says Churchill. "Certainly you want it to be entertaining without it being kitschy and I think we are doing that completely. It's not a bunch of shtick. It's not R2-D2 going across the stage — that's what it's not going to be."
Tickets will range from $35 to $75, with more show dates throughout Europe and America to be announced.