Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Star Wars – Return of the Jedi in Concert – Live Review

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has returned for the final instalment of their film concert series of the original Star Wars trilogy. After attending both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, I was excited to see and hear Return of the Jedi, with its score by the legendary John Williams, the film directed by Richard Marqand with screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Performing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall and conducted by Nicholas Buc, the packed concert hall was in for a real treat.

Upon entering Hamer Hall, the iconic lighting hanging from the ceiling, looking like lightsabers, was split into two colours with one half illuminated in blue and the other in red. The light and dark side theme continued as I glanced down at the orchestra, with giant Rebel and Imperial banners framing either side of the stage. The stage itself was also illuminated in the same blue and red hues.

Before long, the concert was ready to begin, and Nicholas Buc stepped onto the stage. Introducing the evening’s performance, Buc describes Return of the Jedi as the true final film of the franchise, and I couldn’t have agreed more. Buc went on to discuss how John Williams’ score for Return of the Jedi is the longest of the three original films, joking that it was the “Best value Star Wars concert you will see, more MSO per-minute than any other films”.

Buc also shared that what he loves the most about John Williams’ writing is Williams’ use of themes and how he creates new themes for new characters. In Return of the Jedi, one character gets a bit of special treatment – Princess Leia. Having written two themes for her character in A New Hope, ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’, and ‘The Empire Strikes Back: Leia and Han’s Theme’, it is in Return of the Jedi that she gets another one, but this time for the pairing of Luke and Leia. Buc explains how well Williams weaves these three themes into the score and encourages us to listen out for them throughout the film.

Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia respectively. Han has been frozen in carbonite and is on display at Jabba’s Palace, as Leia and Chewie seek to rescue him. And Luke after facing Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, continues his journey to become a Jedi Knight. All the while, the Rebel Forces amass an offensive stance against the Empire after they discover plans for a new Death Star.

John Williams is easily one of, if not the best, composer of our time. And as Nicholas Buc mentioned, his themes play a pivotal part in the plot of the films he works on. But it wasn’t until Buc introduced each of Leia’s themes did I ever think they could also be a low-key spoiler. For instance, the music during arrival of a Bounty Hunter at Jabba’s palace seeking to claim the bounty on Chewie. If you pay very close attention to the music during this scene, a small part of Leia’s theme plays when the new bounty hunter character arrives on the screen. Of course, shortly after the arrival of this new character, we discover it is indeed Princess Leia. I had never made that connection before, and it is why I adore these film concerts so much, I always learn something new.

The best thing about these MSO film concerts is how the music is the centre of attention and the film is almost secondary in the background. And right from the start, the orchestra was giving me goosebumps as the 20th Century Fox Fanfare played. A theme synonymous with any Star Wars film. Much like the iconic synopsis crawl that introduces every film. Only this time, those iconic lights on the Hamer Hall ceiling also played a part. Illuminating the concert hall in bright yellow, that faded as the text crawled across the screen.

During the final act, I could see why Buc exclaimed at the beginning of the event that this was the best value for money film concert to attend. When developing a musical score, it would be recorded over several sessions and then cut together for the film, but when played live – there is no escape! The orchestra was non-stop for almost an entire hour. With barely any breaks in the music from the moment the film arrives to the scenes on Endor to the victory at the very end, the score is like a marathon, and I have no idea how the orchestra kept up. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are more than just musicians though, they are athletes, and it was an absolute delight to watch them perform this epic score live while in their element.

There are a few other little treats you need to be on the lookout for and there is one during the concert that Nicholas Buc does himself that will fill your heart with glee, when Buc too wields his own lightsaber.

If you want a keepsake and memento of attending the concert, the Social Exposure team have a fantastic video booth where you can battle your plus one to dual, resulting in a brilliant video you can share on social media to your friends and family. Or you can simply film your best lightsaber skills solo. This booth is located on the bottom level between Doors 1 and 2. The other activity option is to snap a photo with the 501st Legion, located outside of Door 5 on Level 5, the cosplay group are accurately dressed as Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Tie-Fighter Pilots, and Imperial Officers.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra film concerts are more than just music, they’re a nourishing experience that I am so thankful for attending. I will always relish the opportunity to hear a film score live, and to experience this with the film being played alongside the orchestra live is supremely special. With only a couple more performances left, there isn’t much time for you to head to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall to witness this epic concert.

There are only four sessions left of the Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. These shows are on Saturday and Sunday the 20th and 21st of April at 1pm, Tuesday and Wednesday the 23rd and 24th of April at 7:30pm. There are also three performances in June on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 6th. 7th and 8th of June at 7.30pm. So, grab your lightsabers and don’t miss out as this event may never happen again.
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