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

Conducted by Benjamin Northey, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra took to the stage at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC)’s Plenary Theatre for three consecutive shows (Thursday the 7th of November, Friday the 8th of November, which I attended, and Saturday the 9th of November) to perform John Williams’ iconic score for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. After kicking off the Star Wars concert series back in 2017 with Force Awakens, and having seen every concert since, I was elated to witness the final film of the original trilogy in this unique format.

Just in case you have been living under a rock, the MSO concert series is where the orchestra perform a musical score live as the film is played on the big screen. It is an experience that brings a whole new meaning to a film and showcases the wonderfully incredible work by some of the industry’s most iconic composers, in this case, John Williams.

After the destruction of the Death Star in first film, the Galactic Empire are back on the rise. In an effort to crush the Rebel Alliance and under the direction of Emperor Palpatine, the Imperial Forces are constructing a second Death Star. After discovering this new threat, the Rebel Fleet seek to launch a counter offensive to destroy the Death Star before its completion. Starring Mark Hamill as Jedi Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa and Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Return of the Jedi is arguably the best film of the franchise. Luke Skywalker has certainly come a long way from the whiney little brat in the first film to the now powerfully confident Jedi Knight. And in an effort to save his father from evil, Skywalker seeks out Darth Vader to bring him back to the light side of the Force.

One of the things that I love about these iconic film scores is the use of leitmotifs or character themes. This is when the composer assigns a piece of music to a particular character or group and is played in many ways to portray mood emotion. For example, the “Imperial Death March” known as “Darth Vader’s Theme” is present whenever Darth Vader is on screen. This is extremely important to a film’s score and even more important to a film series, allowing the composer to reference or ‘throwback’ to a previous film. Being able to witness these scores live brings the music to the foreground and makes these themes more obvious.

Benjamin Northey kicks the MSO right into action with the Fox Fanfare and the opening title scroll, instantly receiving a rousing applause from the eager crowd. Having seen the film more times than I care to admit, it is easy to turn my gaze to the orchestra and watch in awe as Northey commands them from start to finish. Performance wise, Return of the Jedi is not one for the faint-hearted. The first half of the film is quite slow and has many breaks between songs allowing the orchestra to catch a break. The second half is not so easy with over an hour of back to back performances with little time in-between as each scene ferociously smashes into each other. As Northey himself said during the pre-show talk “If you ever want to see true fear, just look into the orchestra as they play through the second half”, and oh boy, he wasn’t wrong!

As incredibly exciting as these live performances are, I highly recommend you arrive early to attend the pre-show talk. I have learnt so much about film scores and how they impact on a films performance thanks to these talks. Hosted by self-confessed film and music nerds, MSO’s Senior Manager of Special Projects, Andrew Pogson and Dr. Dan Golding from The Art of the Score podcast along with that evening’s conductor, the pre-show talk gives a wonderful insight into the, pardon the pun, art of a film’s score. Without these talks, I would never have known about leitmotifs or recurring themes.

I am extremely lucky to have been able to witness all three of the original Star Wars films with a live score. This would not have been possible without the tirelessly hard work of everyone at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Work that I am eternally grateful for. Whilst the Star Wars series (for now) is over, I still highly recommend that you check out the rest of their Film Concert Series performances. With Home Alone in Concert this coming December and James Bond’s Skyfall in April, to name a couple, there is plenty on offer for you to experience.

For more information on upcoming MSO ‘At the Movies’ performances please head to their website here:

Also, don’t forget to check out The Art of the Score on your favorite podcast service. For more information, check out the link here.

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