×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Solo’ Composer John Powell Reveals His Process for Tackling a ‘Star Wars’ Movie

At about the time that John Williams was conducting the world premiere of his “Adventures of Han” theme Wednesday night with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his “Solo: A Star Wars Story” collaborator John Powell was receiving a lifetime achievement award from ASCAP in Beverly Hills.

It was a bit of unplanned East Coast-West Coast synergy for the film, which opens Friday. Yet in another sense, it was also the Hollywood film-music business in microcosm: The iconic American composer unveiling his latest addition to the “Star Wars” canon that helped make him famous, as the British composer who scored “Solo” was being recognized as among the most respected of those currently working in the field.

Both are quiet, unassuming, and very hard-working composers, although of different generations and from very different backgrounds. “Solo,” the second standalone “Star Wars” movie after 2016’s “Rogue One,” had a complex production history – all the more reason to help assure its success by enlisting the original composer of all those well-known themes.

John Williams’ involvement was actually a huge factor in my wanting to take this gig,” Powell told Variety. “I have such respect – perhaps awe is a better term – for the musical history of this series that being able to have the film-scoring equivalent of Yoda be part of it was a massive incentive, and an obvious advantage that I could not let pass. The actual experience of being allowed to see into John’s process? I couldn’t imagine a greater gift.”

Powell was signed last summer and began writing some early themes after he finished the animated “Ferdinand” movie last fall. Williams’ involvement began in late December when, after finishing his scores for “The Post” and his eighth “Star Wars” film “The Last Jedi,” he tackled the theme for young Han Solo.

Williams actually wrote several short pieces, and the “Adventures of Han” theme that debuted in Boston (and which opens the soundtrack album) is a combination of two of them. Powell calls them the “Han hero theme” and “Han searching theme” and utilized them throughout his two-hour score for “Solo.”

“Once John had done his demos (recorded in Los Angeles in January), I started to work out where they would go. But there was a lot of other material that we needed as well,” Powell says.

Powell’s own music includes a romantic theme for Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke); a friendship theme for Han and Chewbacca; another for outlaw Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his gang; a choral piece for the Marauders who upset the gang’s plans; a theme for L3, droid companion to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover); and a few other minor motifs.

Augmenting the new Williams theme and the multiple Powell themes are various familiar bits from early “Star Wars” scores, including Williams’ “Rebel Fanfare,” associated with the Millennium Falcon; the original “Star Wars” theme, which Powell applied as a “destiny” theme for Han; and action music from both “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“I tried to keep in mind the DNA of how John writes, which is flow and polyphony and melody, and of course an incredibly interesting rhythmic use of the orchestra,” says Powell. He recalled visiting Williams and consulting with him via phone: “He was incredibly generous, and very trusting of me.”

Powell recorded the score with a 98-piece orchestra in March at London’s Abbey Road studios, but made a quick side detour to Sofia, Bulgaria, where he recorded a 36-voice Bulgarian women’s choir. He said they offered “an aggressive, exotic sound” for the Marauders of the story, “to feel like a different culture had arrived on the scene.”

He had fun penning a song, which he calls “Chicken in a Pot,” as background lounge music for a scene with Han, Qi’ra, and Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Powell wrote lyrics that were translated into Huttese, the strange language invented by sound designer Ben Burtt for the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

Director Ron Howard was “a dream director for a composer,” Powell says. “He is enthusiastic, he is clear, and he’s also very open and expressive about what each scene is about. Overall, he allowed me to experiment, and slowly we worked out what our style was and how the themes needed to behave.”

“It was a very enlightening and maturing experience,” Powell adds with a laugh. “This has taught me a lot about how elegantly John Williams writes. I really loved using his themes in different versions, because they’re so beautifully constructed. It was like doing my master’s degree.”

More Music

  • Taylor Swift "Christmas Tree Farm"

    Taylor Swift's 'Christmas Tree Farm' Video Is a VHS Wonderland

    Taylor Swift may have set a “Farm”-to-market land speed record with the release of “Christmas Tree Farm” Thursday night, just four days after the tune was written, and with much less time than that since it was lushly orchestrated for maximum holiday glee. The biggest revelation of the accompanying video — at least for anyone [...]

  • darlene love

    Darlene Love's Blue Christmas: Singer Says NBC Tree Lighting Organizers Are Ageist

    Darlene Love’s iconic Christmas song, “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” was performed Wednesday night on NBC’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” tree lighting special — but the woman who made it famous was iced out and she is furious about it. Love, 78, explained her frustrations on Facebook, calling out Brad Lachman Productions for excluding her [...]

  • Joycelyn Savage, Azriel Clary. Azriel Clary,

    Joycelyn Savage Denies Creating Patreon Account Exposing R. Kelly

    One of R. Kelly’s longtime girlfriends, Joycelyn Savage, has come forward publicly to refute claims that she’s turned on the R&B singer after an Instagram account claiming to be her suggested as much. In a video obtained by TMZ, Savage, first reading pre-written statements on her cell phone, strongly denies the assertion that she had [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill review

    Broadway Review: 'Jagged Little Pill'

    Nearly 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” hit the shelves of record stores, Alanis Morissette’s innovative 1995 album has arrived on Broadway under the muscular direction of Diane Paulus, who launched this galvanic production at the American Repertory Theater. The show’s supportive book by screenwriter Diablo Cody interprets Morissette’s musical idiom as a universal domestic [...]

  • Who album cover

    Album Review: The Who's 'Who'

    Not only did the death wish expressed 55 years ago in “My Generation” not come true, but the Who have now become the first major rock act of their generation to come up with a whole album that’s actually about getting old. And this from an outfit that pretty much entirely skipped its own middle age, [...]

  • Billie Eilish Makes Her Directorial Debut

    Billie Eilish Makes Her Directorial Debut With ‘Xanny’ Video (Watch)

    In a week with lots of other Billie Eilish things going on — including Variety’s two cover stories, her acoustic performance at Apple’s headquarters and, not least, reports of a multi-million-dollar documentary deal with Apple — a new video from the 17-year-old singer has also arrived. The clip — for the song “Xanny,” from her [...]

  • CMJ Music Marathon to Relaunch in

    CMJ Music Marathon to Relaunch in 2020

    CMJ Music Marathon, the New York-based music festival and conference ran from 1978 until 2016, is apparently relaunching next year. Details are scant, but a tweet from the company’s official account said that the festival is under “new management” — which means that its most-recent CEO, Adam Klein, who was ordered by a judge to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content