It's arguably the most enduring story of the 20th century and the biggest global phenomena since Christianity. The "Star Wars" film franchise has grossed $4.2 billion worldwide, and the merchandising has more than quadrupled that figure to $17.5 billion. The series has been the biggest boys; toy brand for years, and thanks to last year's animated prequel, spawned the season's best-selling Halloween costume.
"Star Wars" is an enduring cultural touchstone that's enthralled kids and adults for more than 30 years, and is still going strong, as evidenced by 2008's "Clone Wars" movie, accompanied by the Cartoon Network series, which was the highest-rated show for boys on all television last year. It began its second season a few weeks ago.
The force has returned through another vehicle showcasing the vibrancy of the epic's universe: "Star Wars: In Concert," a two-hour symphony-backed filmic journey that enters Oklahoma City's orbit for a 7:30 p.m. show next Wednesday. The concert features a full symphony, a 60-person choir, narration by C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels, an enormous movie screen and a traveling museum of props and paraphernalia.
"The editors from George Lucas' team did an amazing job of condensing what is 12 to 14 hours of film into under two hours. It's not necessarily telling the whole story from beginning to end, but there is an arc of story line and you definitely get a sense of all the characters," conductor Mark Watters said. "You don't have to be that dedicated to being a fan of 'Star Wars' to enjoy this. It's just a really exciting evening of wonderful music with great filmic images accompanying it."
Watters leads the orchestra through the original score John Williams composed for the movies, reworked by Williams for the national concert tour. It's a little like a live series recap, which Watters leads while glancing occasionally at a video monitor that keeps him and the symphony in time. With its left-to-right markers keyed to the on-screen action, leading the concert is a little like playing "Guitar Hero," only more intense, since Watters is conducting almost 90 musicians.
"It's crucial that the timing of the performance match (the action on-screen) because as you can imagine, it's quite loud and bombastic, and suddenly gets soft. Obi-Wan says a line, and then suddenly it gets loud again. So it would be terrible if we were off, and in some of these places, it's literally within half a second that we have to hit these places," Watters said.
The idea for the show first came from the record label that handles the "Star Wars" franchise, but as Lucasfilm was in the midst of putting out the 2005 movie, "Revenge of the Sith," there was too much on its plate to undertake it at that time. The idea stirred to life again three years ago, and much of the show came together over the last year, propelled in large part by Williams' enthusiasm for the concept. Besides the music, the tour brings with it a traveling museum highlighting various movie props, such as Darth Vader's costume, and Jedi lightsabers.
Watters thinks the franchise has helped fuel interest in classical and orchestral music, thanks to Williams' Oscar-winning score. The night before this interview, Watters watched as Williams led an orchestra through a sold-out show at Los Angeles' famed Hollywood Bowl amphitheater, where 19,000 people cheered him on, demanding encore after encore.
"I've been composing for 20 some odd years, and I can sing more John Williams melodies than I can of my own. His melodies just resonate with you," Watters said, attempting to explain Williams' popularity. "He just has an uncanny ability to be able to put into musical harmonies and textures what a great writer will put into words. He can do it in such a way you can feel the drama, you can feel the propulsion of the story."
For Howard Roffman, a former U.S. Court of Appeals law clerk and lawyer who's headed the licensing and marketing wing of Lucasfilm for more than two decades, it's about "Star Wars"' self-perpetuating, cross-generational appeal.
"It's a very renewable franchise, because the parents who grew up with it really love introducing their children to it. And the children today have lots of different entry points," he said. "Today, you may enter through the toys, the video games. You might enter through the 'Clone Wars.' It's a much different 'Star Wars' experience, but obviously it all revolves around the same fantasy."
Roffman suggested plans are ongoing for a live-action TV series, though that's still in the early planning stages, and said that rumors of 3-D adaptations are nothing more than talk. But, like The Beatles, it's safe to assume "Star Wars" will remain a force in our galaxy for a long time to come.
Star Wars: In Concert takes place 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the Ford Center, 100 W. Reno. "Chris Parker