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Photo Transcript from May 6, 1999

Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
Composer John Williams

In a soundtrack that contains nearly two hours of almost completely new music, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace soundtrack composer John Williams has created an aural odyssey to a galaxy far away. Join John Williams for a chat about the music of Episode I.

Lucasfilm: Hello and welcome to the first of our Star Wars chats,
brought to you by Lucasfilm and Talk City.
Star Wars has become the most popular film series in history
and the soundtrack albums have been a key part of that phenomenon.
Our special guest today is composer and conductor, John Williams.
Mr. Williams has composed the music and served as music director
for more than eighty films, including the music for the upcoming
"Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace."
And now, please welcome Mr. John Williams!

JohnWilliams: I'm very happy to say hello to everyone, and thank you for your interest!

AskLucasfilm: Queen-teri says: You've said that when working with George, the music starts at the beginning of the movie and pretty much plays through to the end of the credits. How does that affect your working style? Is it easier to have music a constant in the movie?

JohnWilliams: I think I would have to say that from a logistical point of view, it's more difficult to score a movie that has that volume of music. The fact that the music is playing almost all of the time requires some thought about changes in tempo or texture, or even in the keys of the music. So it flows along in a way that is not repetitive. So when we score this way with George Lucas, these are the considerations we take into account versus a normal motion picture.

AskLucasfilm: Darth-womprat says: What was the decision behind the abundance of chorus used in the Episode I score?

JohnWilliams: We didn't use that much chorus in the first three films, what we did use isn't very prominent. But I felt in this one, especially with the great sword fight at the end, the presence of a chorus might lend a ritualistic, quasi-religious quality to the scene so it wasn't just a swashbuckling accompaniment for the orchestra. To capture the magical, mystical force that a regular orchestra might not have been able to provide.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Erazimus says: How many musicians does it take to create the theme song?

JohnWilliams: The music is written by me, with pencil and paper, so it's me alone for that part of the creation. When the recording begins, we assemble the London Symphony Orchestra, which numbers about 90 players total. Not every number uses all the players, some scenes may use as few as 40. But we use other players for contrast, so we might have 40 playing, then two minutes later, add another 40 for that part of the score. The process starts, as I said, in a lonely room, and ends up with the full orchestra of 90 on the recording stage.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-GodPidgeon says: We've only seen chorus pieces in the two latest Star Wars films (Phantom Menace and ROTJ)...will we see a lot more of it in the coming films?

JohnWilliams: I wish I could answer that, but George Lucas hasn't confided in me what his plans are for the stories of the next two films. I hope so, personally, because I think it adds a theatrical and mystical quality to the proceedings. But it depends on what George writes as to whether we use chorus or not again.

AskLucasfilm: R2-copeland says: Is there a movie you wish you could have scored yourself? (Which doesn't necessarily mean you dislike the existing score.)

JohnWilliams: I would have loved to have scored "Laura" because I love the music. It's an example where the melody and theme really permeate the characters. I should also say that David Raksin did a superb job on the 1944 film. So many films would have been great subjects for music. I would have loved also writing for "The African Queen," and films of David Lean. Maurice Jarre produced wonderful scores for David Lean's films, and they are examples of sweepingly romantic and grandly lyrical films that lend to gestures that I particularly like.

AskLucasfilm: Darth-M says: What got you into scoring for films and what's more interesting to scoring or writing for orchestra alone?

JohnWilliams: I came to the film world as a pianist, and played in orchestras for other conductors. As a result of being a member of orchestras recording for films, I became interested in the process. I hadn't planned this when I was younger, but I took that opportunity very happily and quickly. I have to say that writing for film or the concert hall, both are enormously interesting. It would be difficult to say I prefer one to the other.
JohnWilliams: When one writes for film, the inspiration comes from the atmosphere of the film, the dialogue, the characters, that inspire music : It's not easier to do than concert music, but there is a lot of joy and pleasure composing for films because the films themselves can be inspirational. In the case of concert music, that's also joyful to do, by contrast, the composer is free of the constraints of film. You can make the length what you like. I find both very rewarding, and the pursuit of one provides nourishment to the other, and a balanced life, and the chance to do both makes me very, very grateful.

AskLucasfilm: Viceroy-jedi says: What are some of the new facets to the Episode I soundtrack, compared to the earlier movies? I heard the choral voices, are there other new or different parts, maybe instrumentation?

JohnWilliams: The instrumentation for "Phantom Menace" is very much the same as the orchestration for the first three films. The basic instrumentation is the standard symphony orchestra. That goes back to the earliest days of discussions with George Lucas as to what would be most appropriate for the Star Wars films. There are some differences, though. One is the chorus being more prominent, but in addition, I've used to a greater degree than earlier the sound enhancement of electronics and the use of a keyboard synthesizer to enhance the orchestral colors. In the 22 years that have elapsed since the first film, the technology of electronic music has developed tremendously. I used a synthesizer throughout the score; example: the woodwinds might be enhanced in the background by the synthesizer to make the sound richer or deeper. Another difference is the improvement in recorded sound, again due to advancements. While all the scores have basically been symphonic in their sound, there are some differences technically between this one and the earlier three films.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Saxman717 says: Mr. Williams, how did you go about creating Anakin's theme? What did you have in mind when you went about composing it?

JohnWilliams: Anakin, as we now know, will metamorphoses into Darth Vader. And I wanted some of the innocence of childhood, untarnished by life's experiences a simple tuneful, lyrically scene for a young boy who displayed noble characteristics. I also wanted to give a hint of what was to come, by threading slight suggestions of the Darth Vader Imperial March into the innocence of the theme, so a listener who listens carefully would get the subtle hint that some of the melody is made from the Imperial March. The notes were changed rhythmically, so they didn't sound exactly like the original. But it still reflects, and hints, at what this boy will face later on in life. It was something I thought of working over the melody, and it was the first time I ever got a chance to intertwine two themes like that. Now, going backwards into the past with Episode I, I had that opportunity to thread them together. And to give a hint of a reality that we are already familiar with.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Michael says: Mr. Williams, my question is: Is there a Biography available with pictures and your music experiences when you were younger? What is your advice for people who want to compose film music? Thank you for all the awesome music! You are the greatest!!

JohnWilliams: Very Nice! There is not a biography of me, I never thought my life was interesting enough. Apart from family pictures, there isn't much record of my early life. I can only counsel by saying that success in any of these fields takes a long time; it took a long time for me. The application of work gets us where to go, but the hard work has to be sustained at the most difficult times, and you have to try even harder. This kind of tenacity will get those of us who are not geniuses, but mere mortals, over the finish line.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-splat says: How do you feel about the MTV music video? Personally, I think MTV needs to air more quality music like that.

JohnWilliams: Well, I agree with airing more of it! (laughes) I'm glad it exists, and I agree that we would be better off with more of this. People would enjoy it so much more and pieces in the score would be enhanced by an MTV treatment and I think all musicians would welcome this.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Java says: There seems to be a different 'feel' to Episode 1 than in the trilogy. When you were composing the music for the movie, what kind of emotions did you want to produce different than in Empire or New Hope?

JohnWilliams: I think, for me, Episode I is even more mystical than the first three. Audiences should find the increased complexity in the mythological aspects of the story as we go deeper into the past, back to the antecedents of characters we know so well in the first three films. The atmosphere becomes more mysterious and mystical, and less military in character. The chorus use again lends to this. The quasi-religious feeling is more appropriate to the music, to the more serious aspects of the film Yet, the movie is quite humorous in places, it's fun, fast-moving, a spring in its step, it's youthful. The polarity of good and evil still remains, with the resonance of myth . Myth is what happens before history, or is the author of history, and it teaches us how to think and we all respond to a common mythology, to find similar stories in Chinese mythology, for example, and African mythology. And this common thread permeates the films, and creates a great resonance sub-consciously, and this one probes farther into this than the earlier three films.

AskLucasfilm: R2RW says: What advice would you give to aspiring composers?

JohnWilliams: On the technical side, the development of a sound, solid craft is the best advice anyone can be given. The study of the great canon of western music. A working familiarity with counterpoint of that should be part of every composer. Reading is enormously important, for inspiration and creation of music. There is more music to be found in poetry and in the quiet contemplation of nature, than in studying music itself. As to how to develop a career, one can now have a career in music education, or in film, or in community service, in vocal music, choral, all of these areas. All are rich areas, and are good ones. So a good solid basic education can lead you to a career that is joyful and enormously rewarding.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Gilbuzzy says: Do you think your music reflects your own personality and views on things?

JohnWilliams: That's a good question, and a difficult one. It requires a subjective response that might not be accurate. People who know me well might be able to answer it better. Whatever we write, in prose or poetry, there is some individual identity that goes with the work; it's inescapable. We're still at the core what we have always been. Everything we do reflects our character, background, training, and what we write manifests these things.

AskLucasfilm: Queen-PantherG says: During your work on the music I noticed you work at least sometimes with the movie itself playing in the background, 1) is this done merely to get the timing correct or does it also help define certain aspects of the piece itself? 2) Have you had the pleasure of meeting all the key members of the cast in person (I could also ask... have they had the pleasure of meeting you)

JohnWilliams: Second part first: the composer rarely meets the cast, because by the time the composer gets involved, the cast is dispersed to other jobs by then. So I rarely have the pleasure of meeting the actors, and I would enjoy meeting them if I could. As for the screenings, I work every day on the films, and I may want to look at a scene over and over again. The need for timing is a primary concern, as it may have to be two minutes thirty seconds, not two minutes thirty-two seconds. We also turn it off, though, to probe the more inner states of the thought we want behind the music.

AskLucasfilm: terris says: How long did it take you to write the music for Episode I?

JohnWilliams: I began working in early October 1998, and we recorded it in the first weeks of February 1999, so about 3-4 months. I worked six days or more a week. I wrote it all by hand, not using computers (I'm still anti-deluvian in that respect.) I needed all the time I could get, and it was a pretty good schedule. George had the outline finished in October, so it gave me plenty of time to write the score.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Andy says: In duel of the fates, what language is that?

JohnWilliams: That is Sanskrit. Simply, because I liked the way it sounded, in part, and in part, because it's an ancient language less well-known than Latin or Greek. It also has good vowel sounds, which produce good tone and timbre from the chorus, similar to modern Italian. Sanskrit, by the way, is the root language of India.

AskLucasfilm: jedimaster says: How often do you use "non-symphonic" instruments in your scores? Close Encounters springs to mind.

JohnWilliams: From time to time, as the picture requires, one might use an ethnic instrument, such as a Japanese shakuhachi, which is a good example of such an instrument. It almost is always dictated by the texture of the film itself. We have some reed flutes played in a couple scenes of "Phantom Menace," but most are played by standard instruments from the symphony orchestra.

AskLucasfilm: Jedi-Jorus says: How many times do you feel it is necessary to view the film (or any film) before you can score it?

JohnWilliams: I should see it as many times as I can, I think. What usually happens in the post-production process of a film like "Phantom Menace" the producer gives me a rough duplicate copy of the film and I can view it every day, the scenes I am working on, watching them dozens of times. I have seen "Phantom Menace" maybe 50 times then, and know it extremely well, and in this way, can feel I have got it reasonably right. JohnWilliams: I've just begun the score for "Angela's Ashes," which is Frank McCourt's great book come to film. It is directed by Alan Parker, and it is the first time he and I have worked together. He's done a beautiful job on the film, and I will record it most likely this summer, and film will be out in the fall of this year. Fans of the book, I think, will adore this film, and I know there are many.
Lucasfilm says: Mr. Williams... our time is growing short. Thank you so much for being with us today... is there something you would like to say before we close for today?
JohnWilliams: I will just say thank you to all of you who have asked the questions, and shown the interest, and I hope what we have talked about has contributed to your pleasure of this project. It's a great privilege to work with George Lucas all these years, and gave me wonderful opportunities to write music. I've had a lot of fun, and I get great pleasure going around the world, playing music from the movies, and people identify with them. It's gratifying.
I thank you, and hope we can do it again sometime.

Lucasfilm: Thank you for joining us.
A special Thank You to Mr. John Williams for chatting with us!
All of us wish you a fantastic evening and we look forward to seeing you soon!
Check out for other Star Wars related chats
Good Night!
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