Los Angeles Embraces The Force With The Empire Strikes Back In Concert David Newman and The Los Angeles Philharmonic Takes Los Angeles To The Stars With A Masterful Performance
LOS ANGELES, CA- As a Star Wars nerd and a music lover, I can’t imagine a more blissful evening than watching The Empire Strikes Back in concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Armed with my lightsaber and the best rebel hair I could manage, I joined legions of kindred spirits in watching the film while listening to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s spot-on performance of John Williams’ music under the precise direction of conductor David Newman.
Star Wars fans flocked to the event in costume. Jedi crossed paths with Sith lords, babies dressed in Yoda outfits arrived in backpacks toted by Lukes, and lightsabers were everywhere. It was a hot evening — certainly uncomfortable for the people in fighter pilot jumpsuits and Chewbacca outfits — but no one seemed deterred. There was also Star Wars fashion at every turn, from graphic tees to lightsaber skirts and a particularly rad pair of TIE fighter earrings.
The atmosphere was gleeful throughout the evening. Blurred Culture had the opportunity to discuss the concert in advance with conductor Newman, and his description of the fans was exactly what we encountered: boisterous, joyful, and festive. People admired each other’s outfits, posed for pictures, and generally seemed thrilled to be there.
As the movie began, the audience loudly cheered the arrival of each beloved character. Hooting and hollering met particularly famous lines, and a universal “eeeew” greeted the brief Luke-Leia kiss. In a universally agreed-upon-yet-unspoken choreography, countless lightsabers waved in unison whenever “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” played and each time Vader appeared on screen. The Bowl also added a light-hearted touch the audience loved, playing the lightsaber sound effect as they turned on the crossed “don’t fly over our venue” lights after the intermission.
And the music. Oh, the music. I can’t overstate how absolutely perfect the Philharmonic was — not even a beat off their marks the entire evening. Certainly this is a masterful group of musicians, but the precision required to accompany a film with this much iconic music in perfect synchronization is extraordinary.
We could see conductor Newman’s screen was marked with vertical lines that traveled to the left, presumably indicating time cues and measures. He leapt acrobatically, juggling attention between score, screen, and musicians in semi-darkness. It was clearly exhausting, and he pulled it off brilliantly. My companions and I only wished there’d been another screen showing the stage so we could watch them in more detail.
Newman had explained that part of the joy of the experience was the opportunity to “hear a great orchestra play [the soundtrack] live — and probably hear more music than you even did in the film because the films are a kind of dance between music, sound effects, and dialog.” Indeed, the live performance underscored how integral John Williams’ music is to these films — almost its own character. Hearing the Philharmonic gave a deep richness to the score, and it was striking to see how infrequently the musicians had the opportunity to pause.
I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back countless times, but the live orchestration provided an urgency that made it feel like the first viewing all over again. It left me holding my breath and clinging to each moment, even losing my companions at the end because I was so enveloped in the experience that I didn’t realize they were going to try to beat the crowd to the exit.
It’s rare that I would say this about any performance, but I loved this show. Loved it. Desperately and blissfully. If the Philharmonic schedules another Star Wars performance next year, I’ll be there. After all, how often can you break out the lightsaber?