Exactly how Michael Giacchino will assist John Williams on Star Wars: Episode VII if the rumors are true!

Mark Seyb, music director of Now, This is Podcasting! decided to explain exactly what today’s Michael Giacchino rumor probably means, if anything. Seyb knows his Star Wars music. I’ve seen John Williams conduct his music at the Hollywood Bowl with Seyb numerous times, each time Seyb was filled with encyclopedic knowledge of Williams.  It turns out he also knows a lot about Giacchino. Convenient, right? I hope you find his piece below as enlightening as I did!

Exactly how Michael Giacchino will assist John Williams on Star Wars: Episode VII if the rumors are true!

By Mark Seyb

John Williams is a musical god.  No other film composer has given us so many memorable scores. Jaws, Superman, Indiana Jones, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and let us not forget the granddaddy of them all, Star Wars. Williams composed many themes for the Star Wars saga and these themes are not just known to Star Wars fans or movie fans, but people all over the world. Star Wars fans were so excited to learn that John Williams would be composing the score for Star Wars: Episode VII and rightfully so.  Getting a chance to hear The Maestro create more music for the beloved saga at least one more time is fantastic news.

A rumor sprung up recently that Michael Giacchino “is working alongside the legendary composer on STAR WARS: EPISODE VII.”   Now if you’re not sure who Michael Giacchino is, he wrote the scores for Incredibles, UP, John Carter, Lost, Mission Impossible, Star Trek and many more. His music can next be heard in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this summer and he was just announced as the composer for the next Jurassic Park film. He will be adapting some of Williams themes as well as writing his own original music for the movie.  Giacchino wrote music for two Jurassic Park video games in the early years of his career so this will almost be a return home for him. Giacchino has also worked with Williams in the past when he adapted Williams’ Star Wars themes for the recent overhaul of Disney’s Star Tours II at Disney Parks.

So what exactly does all of this mean? Is it true? Does it even matter? Well, you may be shocked to discover that every composer can get a little help from time to time, even John Williams. A composer’s tasks are varied.  Obviously they compose the music.  They might compose it on a piano or on some of the more modern computer equipment. Then there is the orchestration of the music which is essentially turning the demo into music for the orchestra. And finally there is the actual conducting of the orchestra for the recording sessions.  John Williams can and often does all three of these.

For a wonderful example of what goes into the making of a classic movie score, please watch this documentary about the making of the music for The Empire Strikes Back:

While John Williams can do all three, he doesn’t always.  The Maestro does not like to read a script.  He likes to see the film in as close to a finished form as possible before he composes. Often times, the amount of time for Williams to compose and record is then shorter than he would like, however, he will often employ an orchestrator to help him out. Williams has used Alexander Courage (composer of the classic Star Trek TV Theme) as well as Herbert Spencer and Angela Morley to help him orchestrate when time is of the essence. This practice is fairly normal in the film industry.

Composers can even use a ghost writer of sorts and this is where things get a little controversial. Supposedly, Williams was asked to change the music for the Sail Barge Assault and for the Super Structure Chase from Return of the Jedi. The original version of the Sail Barge Assault can be heard on the Sony release of the Return of the Jedi soundtrack. The request was that he use more of the themes from Star Wars: Episode VI A New Hope. He was pressed for time and other commitments, so the “rumor” is that Fred Steiner, perhaps for only the Super Structure Chase cue, created that piece from adapting existing Williams cues and themes. Now, there is no record on paper of this, but composer John Morgan was assisting Steiner at the time and saw that he was working on cues for Return of the Jedi and this is the cue that Morgan believed Steiner was working on.

As you can see, even well established composers like Williams may need some help from time to time. Giacchino does as well. He composes the music but he has Tim Simonec orchestrate and conduct the sessions. Sometimes, the orchestrator will even be responsible for the End Credits which is almost a greatest hits piece of music from the film. Simonec often does this by taking the themes Giacchino has written and adapting them as a musical piece, much like Steiner did for Williams in that one controversial cue from Return of the Jedi.

What does this mean? Well if the rumor is true, it is unlikely that Giacchino is helping Williams out by orchestrating or conducting as he doesn’t really do that with his own music. It is my opinion that Giacchino would most likely be “apprenticing” himself to Williams. In essence, he would be learning the Star Wars ropes so to speak. Star Wars will go on for a long time and with the various spin-offs, it will only be a matter of time before Giacchino is asked to step in. If he does, he will be ready to create the best Star Wars inspired score imaginable having studied at the feet of The Maestro himself.

But again, my conclusions are all predicated on a rumor and I am only offering one well-informed logical scenario.

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