Gordy Haab enjoys the gig of a lifetime. Perhaps several lifetimes. Extending the hallowed Star Wars music canon, beloved the world over, is both a tremendous responsibility and awesome privilege. For this, his second SW iteration, he’s composed another 150 minutes of music, recorded by a 100+ member London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios by engineer, Steve McLaughlin. Not to mention the 80-strong London Voices Choir. All at 96K/24 bit, mixed and mastered by LA-based engineer, Steve Kaplan.
From a creative point of view, SWBF II provided new and interesting creative challenges, as the maestro explains: “Many new characters were introduced via the single-player campaign gifting me the opportunity to compose multiple new character themes and numerous variations, treating them much the same way John Williams treats his own themes in the films. (Actually, scoring the single-player campaign was akin to scoring narrative film).”
Haab feels that for such a theme to be memorable and effective, it must be interesting, yet simple - and it has to stand up to numerous appearances. By way of example, he cites Darth Vader’s ‘imperial march’ theme – ‘a relatively simple melody with a unique character’ which plays some 40 times throughout The Empire Strikes Back, not to mention subsequent films. He and Audio Lead Olivier Asselin knew they would need many variations of Iden’s theme scattered throughout the game in order for it to take hold as an ‘earworm’ and knowing it would have multiple iterations, Haab created a versatile melody adaptable to numerous different styles and situations to fit diverse emotional directions and yet do so in a way that felt musically natural.
Haab: “Composing the theme for Iden Versio was a unique challenge – she’s very important to the game. Olivier wanted something musically dark, powerful, and dynamic that would also become instantly recognizable - a memorable, sing-able tune. Of course, original SW film composer John Williams excels at doing this, so the bar for a solid character theme is set sky high. He makes it seem easy, but believe me, it’s not. Certainly not for me (and possibly not for him either!).
“That said, I’m very happy with the interplay of Iden’s theme with her father, Garrick’s theme. They have such a dynamic relationship, which lent itself well to highly dramatic and emotional music. I don’t believe I’ve seen this pointed out anywhere yet, so perhaps it’s an unknown fact – but, by design, Garrick’s theme is actually a negative image of Iden’s theme. Both use the exact same rhythm and harmonic pitch set. But where Iden’s theme reaches upwards, ascending to a heroic peak (much like her character), Garrick’s descends and lands on a static, grounded pitch, to indicate a stern character very set in his ways.”
The mere mention of John Williams provides a reminder of just what a big deal the Star Wars music legacy really is. So what’s it feel like to work on a near-sacred franchise and how does Haab deal with the inevitable and vociferous fan feedback? Haab: “Working on Star Wars is both amazing and overwhelming. I'm a huge Star Wars fan myself and so to have the opportunity to be a part of my favorite film franchise, is just...unbelievable - but it's also scary because, as a huge fan, I'm very aware of just how many of us are out there - and how picky we are about our beloved Star Wars.
"I absolutely encourage feedback from other fans both of the game and just Star Wars in general. I’m always eager to engage in discussion about what they think of my music. It’s a very daunting task to compose for a franchise loved by so many - to be honest, it’s always looming heavy overhead - but I’ve found that the fans have been very receptive of my musical contributions to the Star Wars universe and actually I enjoy discussing even the criticisms because it’s how I learn and get better…”
John Broomhall is a composer and game audio specialist creating & directing music, sound & dialogue.