Andor Composer Nicholas Britell Was Interested In 'Upending' John Williams’ Iconic Star Wars Theme

"Star Wars Celebration" is off and running in London, giving "Star Wars" fans some exciting reveals, including a goosebump-inducing moment featuring Grand Admiral Thrawn in the "Ahsoka" trailer that could tease a legendary storyline from Timothy Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" trilogy. 

Lucasfilm's Studio Showcase with major movie announcements was a large success, followed up by a panel focusing on the making of the first season of "Andor," complete with Tony Gilroy, Diego Luna and composer Nicholas Britell in attendance. "Andor" introduced a grittier, more adult version of the galaxy and, as such, the music had to reflect the seedy intrigue and more tragic aspects of the series. Britell, who also composes the music for "Succession," spoke about the need to expand upon the existing iconic themes to better serve characters that are a little more nuanced. The composer explained:

"The first conversations were really amazing in the sense of the freedom and openness to explore new sound worlds potentially. How can we be really specific to this story and these characters? What is it about this that feels a certain way?"

From the opening crawl of "A New Hope," the music of John Williams starts off at the ultimate crescendo that immediately sets the tone for an epic space adventure. For Britell and Gilroy to get the music just right in "Andor," they wound up starting at the end of the story and worked backwards from there. Instead of using Williams' brilliant blueprint and a sweeping orchestra, Britell started with the real world music that was actually on screen being played by the actual inhabitants living under the thumb of the Empire. 

Beginning At The End

In the past, "Star Wars" has used on-camera, or diegetic music, in celebratory fashion, showing Ewoks beating their drums at the end of "Return of the Jedi" or a triumphant Gungan parade during the finale of "The Phantom Menace." In "Andor," one of the best examples of diegetic music was at the funeral of Cassian's mother that serves as both a fitting tribute and a call to arms. At the panel for season 1, Britell talked about using that scene to crack the code for the entire score: 

"And the literal starting point was actually the on camera music because that had to be filmed and we had to figure that out before we did anything. So, the actual first piece I remember writing was the funeral band ... From that moment, I think we felt like we had a sense of how things might feel."

Starting from a darker place like Marva's funeral allowed "Andor" to find its footing and gave Britell a real sense of how to compose the rest of the score: 

"I think the really exciting thing was creating an architecture for saying to ourselves, 'Oh, if this is how we can feel in episode 12, how can we then map it back to episode one?' So there's this constant thread through the whole thing. For me, with 'Andor,' I think with everyone here, there was this constant sense of how everything connects and how everything ties together. As a composer, I think that was really inspiring for me."

'The Elephant In The Room'

As a composer stepping into the "Star Wars" universe, it has to be incredibly daunting to pave your own way within the same musical realm as the original trilogy. Tony Gilroy chimed in about moving slightly away from the compositions that have become such a part of our cinematic language: 

"The elephant in the room is John Williams. There's this huge, gigantic brilliant vocabulary that's already, this grammar that's already been described. And we're going to upend that, and boy oh boy, we better have a good answer for what we're doing."

The music in "Andor" had to walk a tough line by trying to do something different while still staying true to what's come before. "Our music really needs to be... it can never be cynical, it always has to be legit, and it has to feel like it belongs in 'Star Wars,'" said Gilroy. Scoring the entire series became much more laborious than Gilroy and Britell could have possibly imagined. In fact, all of season 1 contains "about seven and a half hours of music," according to the musician. "So it felt like we were making movie after movie after movie, actually." 

Everything seemed to click into place during that episode 12 funeral scene, with Britell revealing that the "Andor" theme was "initially written for the funeral" and then repurposed. He also referenced the moment when Cassian finds out his mother has passed away and how delicately they waited to bring in the score. "We didn't have the music come in right away. We actually wanted him to feel so alone the music isn't even present, and you're just hearing the wind kind of go by." 

Gilroy reiterated again that season 2 will go directly into the beginning of "Rogue One" just before the first footage was revealed to close out the panel, and we can't wait to hear the music they come up with next.

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