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Star Wars fans will be thrilled; non-fans will be amazed.
I fall into the latter camp. I saw the first film in 1977, on the day it came out, and enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve caught most of the other films, but remain underwhelmed. I just didn’t get it.
Friday night at ARCO Arena, I got it. “Star Wars in Concert,” a multimedia spectacular that aims to extend the life of the Star Wars franchise into live performance, delivered a dazzling spectacle that beautifully summarized the entire Star Wars saga for those of us who didn’t connect with the epic on film.
The show will be reprised this afternoon at 3 p.m. at ARCO.
The hook of the show is John WIlliams’ grandiose music for all six Star Wars films, and it was well-served by an 86-piece symphony orchestra and choir, spread out on the biggest stage this reviewer has ever seen at ARCO. Conducted by Dirk Brossé, the enormous ensemble tackled Williams’ music and synched it perfectly with the huge projections of newly-edited scenes from the six live-action movies in the franchise.
Williams’ music - memorable to this reviewer only for Star Wars’ oft-heard theme piece - gained new life in this expansive concert hall, and was well-served by the production’s technical crew, which delivered theatre-quality surround sound that was neither too loud nor subject to the inadequacies of a basketball arena. French horns, violins and vocalists all sounded clear and clean in the notoriously echo-prone arena.
With good sound and excellent players, the music revealed itself in a sequence of thematic segments built around different ideas, plotlines and characters from the films, whether detailing the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of his evil dark side, Darth Vader, or celebrating the high-speed chases and races of various space vehicles, or whimsically offering the comic relief of the droids R2-D2 and his pal, C-3PO.
The British actor who played C-3PO, Anthony Daniels, served as the evening’s host and narrator, his voice still redolent of the fussy droid character 32 years after he debuted in the first movie, a much younger actor of 31. Though he traded his gold droid costume for a black tux, Daniels’ charm and presence, as well as his familiar voice, made for a wonderful connection to the movies.
And it is the movies, not Williams’ music or Daniel’s stage presence, that are the draw. Friday night’s show, despite the huge orchestra and stage, featured no live actors cavorting as Ewoks or Wookies or Storm Troopers. Instead, the production was built around a very big, very clear video screen that organizers say is one of the largest ever built. On it, scenes from the six Star Wars films were re-edited to tell the epic story from the beginning to the end, instead of the broken-up, convoluted sequence in which the films were released theatrically.
Seeing the whole story laid out in order gave this reviewer a new perspective on the story, illuminated the characters and underlined the mythical arcs that have long been touted by Star Wars fans. This is indeed an epic story, with Biblical dimensions. Yes, I get it. Hardcore fans may find it lacking, but for a non-believer, the show was a revelation.
Given all that, it was surprising that the crowd for Friday’s show was so small. With the upper deck almost entirely empty and even the main level less than half-full, the crowd at the arena on Friday couldn’t have been more than 6,000 people. Some attributed it to the cost of tickets, though they weren’t extraordinary ($32.50-72.50) given the size and sophistication of the production. When the economy hits even Star Wars this hard, you know it’s bad.