Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thinking outside the Fox: A speculation over how The Force Awakens will open without the Fox fanfare (accompanied by my older brother's doodles in the 1978 Star Wars Storybook from when he was six)

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres in just two weeks, it will be the first live-action Star Wars film to open without composer Alfred Newman's majestic 20th Century Fox fanfare, due to Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm and the transfer of the role of distributor of the Star Wars films from Fox to Disney. The last Star Wars film that played in theaters actually didn't open with the Fox fanfare either: 2008's CG-animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a prelude to the CG-animated TV show of the same name, was distributed by Warner Bros. instead of Fox.

Yet some Star Wars fans are still experiencing separation anxiety in regards to Newman's fanfare, a familiar staple of previous live-action Star Wars installments, even after learning to live without it when they saw the Clone Wars film.

If a Star Wars fanboy you know or tolerate is saying something along the lines of "It just ain't Star Wars without the Fox logo music," it's time to get him to rip that Band-Aid off. It's time to tell him to get over the absence of the Fox fanfare and grow up, fuzzball. To borrow the words of Jacob Hall over at ScreenCrush, are we really going to get sentimental and worked up about a movie studio's theme music being removed from a film franchise the studio no longer owns? "We shouldn't," said Hall. "That would be silly. But we are!"

Well, I'm not. There are other things I'm much more concerned about than the disappearance of a corporation's fanfare. Those things include the original score music within the new film, provided once again by the beloved John Williams (meanwhile, Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film's new cantina music?: that's what I call a coup), and the ways the George Lucas-less Force Awakens will handle the much-needed return of the kind of character who was missing for too long from the Star Wars films and whose absence was the biggest reason why I despise the Lucas-directed prequel trilogy. That would be the character who takes a gander at all the mysticism and craziness surrounding him and says, "Yeah, this is bullshit. But I'll just go along with it. For now." In other words: Han Solo.

My older brother was a calligraphy nerd in grade school, and his 1978 copy of The Star Wars Storybook, which I unearthed from our parents' garage a couple of years ago, was clearly the beginning of that.

The prequels badly needed a foil to gruffly react to "hokey religions and ancient weapons." In the classic trilogy, Han--the reluctant hero who will be played once again in The Force Awakens by similarly reluctant Star Wars star Harrison Ford, who once famously grumbled to Lucas that "You can write this shit, but you can't say it"--served that purpose entertainingly, and to a certain extent, so did Princess Leia, whose barbs were directed at walking carpets and nerf herders rather than hokey religions and ancient weapons.

Without a character like Han (and occasionally, Leia) to break up the monotony of the ultra-solemn Jedi characters (the prequels clearly intended Ewan McGregor's slightly cranky version of Obi-Wan to be the new Han figure, but it just wasn't the same), the similarly solemn politician characters and the mostly dour Sith characters, as well as supply to the proceedings a certain dose of grown-up comedic energy (as opposed to the brand of humor that was written for six-year-olds like Jar Jar's puerile and Fetchit-y bits of comic relief during The Phantom Menace), the Star Wars films unfortunately turned into a stuffy BBC costume drama in space. Or as Screen Junkies announcer Jon Bailey astutely summed up Attack of the Clones during the Honest Trailer for that prequel, "People sitting and talking, standing and talking, walking and talking, one person standing and talking while another is sitting and talking, people standing and talking, then taking a seat for more talking."

Back to things that aren't as lethargic. Look, I agree that Newman's rousing 1954 arrangement of his own 1933 Fox fanfare--an extended update that was designed to herald Fox's CinemaScope logo for films shot in the CinemaScope widescreen format Fox introduced in the '50s to compete with square-shaped TV--is a great little piece of music. It's so great it inspired Williams to write the Star Wars opening title theme in the same key. In fact, the studio suits so enjoyed hearing again the 1954 version at the start of a Fox film when Star Wars brought it back to accompany the "A Lucasfilm Limited Production" card--by the way, the demise of the CinemaScope label caused the studio to revert to the shorter 1933 fanfare for most of the '70s, while the studio's Planet of the Apes franchise opted to completely ditch studio artist Emil Kosa Jr.'s animated Fox logo--that the 1954 version became the permanent arrangement of the fanfare after Star Wars. (That move by Fox resulted in two of my favorite takes on the 1954 fanfare: musician Bennie Wallace's Dixieland funk version at the start of White Men Can't Jump and Ralph Wiggum's rendition of the last few notes of the 1954 fanfare at the start of The Simpsons Movie.) But it's time to move on, man. Star Wars is not going to fall apart without that 1954 fanfare (and if you really can't let go of that fanfare, bring your phone or mp3 player along with you to the theater like they suggested over at the A.V. Club, put on your earbuds and cue up either the fanfare or "20th Century Foxney" when The Force Awakens begins). However, I'm curious about how The Force Awakens will open without it.

When Disney reissued the previous six live-action Star Wars films on digital platforms earlier this year and replaced the Fox fanfare with Lucasfilm's fanfare on five of those films (but with no Disney castle logo, much like how movies produced by Marvel Studios, another arm of Disney, never open with the Disney logo), that Lucasfilm fanfare wasn't favorably received. "The new score will now accompany all Star Wars films going forward, with the only exception being the original film, which 20th Century Fox still hold [sic] distribution rights for," wrote Kwame Opam about the Lucasfilm fanfare over at The Verge. Opam is kind of incorrect. The Lucasfilm fanfare isn't a newly written piece. It's merely some Skywalker Ranch grunt's Pro Tools re-edit of the last few notes of Williams' end title music from The Empire Strikes Back.

Illustration by six-year-old Jonas Aquino

Illustration by Aquino

Illustration by Aquino

Many fanboys assume The Force Awakens will open with the same fanfare that's been tacked on to The Empire Strikes Back and the four subsequent Star Wars films for their digital releases. I have a feeling The Force Awakens won't use that chopped-up fanfare. I think the new film should open with complete silence before the classic Williams theme kicks in--it's more powerful that way and it's preferable over some old Williams fanfare from 1980 or even a new Williams fanfare--and I think it will.

Disney's Force Awakens marketing campaign has been effective at building suspense and excitement and not giving too much of the film away. I have a feeling the film itself will continue in that vein by opting for silence right before the return of the classic Williams theme. But whatever Disney, Lucasfilm and Bad Robot decide to do at the start of The Force Awakens, like my older brother cornily scrawled in pencil about the Rebels inside the Death Star when he was six, the Force will be with them.

And whatever they do will be far better than "People sitting and talking, standing and talking, walking and talking, one person standing and talking while another is sitting and talking, people standing and talking, then taking a seat for more talking."

The music of Star Wars is part of "AFOS Prime" and "Hall H" on AFOS. Star Wars is represented in both those blocks by the Empire Strikes Back score cues "The Battle of Hoth" and "The Rebel Fleet/End Title," which was, as mentioned earlier, later compressed and re-edited into the Lucasfilm fanfare at the start of the digital releases of the Star Wars films.

No comments:

Post a Comment