‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ Composer Natalie Holt Talks Approach to the Score and Building on John Williams’ New Theme

The Obi-Wan Kenobi news just keeps on coming. Yesterday, fans received the second trailer for the upcoming Disney Plus series plus the announcement that new merchandise for the show will be revealed every week, starting May 25th, through Obi-Wan Wednesdays. Now, the series’ main composer, Natalie Holt, has spoken about her experience working on the highly-anticipated project.


For decades, Star Wars’ musical landscape exclusively consisted of John Williams’ legendary compositions. Since Disney began producing Star Wars movies and TV series, however, we’ve seen new composers put their spin on the galaxy far, far away, beginning with Michael Giacchino for Rogue One and John Powell for Solo. The newer live-action TV series have featured the work of composers like Joseph Shirley and Emmy-winner Ludwig Göransson. Now Natalie Holt, who also composed the score for last year’s Disney Plus series Loki and the upcoming Batgirl film, joins their ranks, while also becoming the franchise’s first female composer.


The Hollywood Reporter recently interviewed Holt on all things Obi-Wan Kenobi. They discussed everything from how she settled on her musical interpretation of the Star Wars universe to what it was like working on a project that John Williams has contributed to (Williams has written the main theme for Obi-Wan Kenobi).



Holt began by discussing how her time on Obi-Wan Kenobi compared with her work on Loki:


Loki required a certain lightness of touch, shall we say? It was more comedic in places and was also just a wacky journey through time and space. I was using lots of different palettes of color in that that weren’t appropriate for [Obi-Wan Kenobi] because it is more of a serious tone. For me as a violinist and as someone who’s a lover of big orchestral sounds, it was just a chance to pay homage to John Williams. It’s kind of a collaboration with the history of Star Wars and his new theme, and then also bringing a bit of modernity to it. There are some new elements in there. I guess it was my take on orchestral and emotional. I really got some lovely violin solos in there from James Ehnes. It was pushing the forces of what I’ve been allowed to work with before because of the scale of the drama, as well.


As we previously mentioned, Holt isn’t the first new composer to work on a Star Wars project since the beginning of the Disney era. She took a moment to elaborate on how her experience with the franchise was similar to those of her fellow artists, in particular John Powell.


I probably had a more similar journey to John Powell or Michael Giacchino in the world of my Star Wars experience, because it was steeped in the historical heritage characters. Whereas, Ludwig [Göransson] had a kind of new landscape to work with, so he was able to carve out a bit more. He managed to set his own musical tone with what he was doing [in The Mandalorian] just a bit more away from the cannon. Powell had a theme written by John Williams, who wrote a theme for the Han Solo movie as well. I got to meet him actually at the SCL Awards and it was just great to have a bit of camaraderie. He said you get a Star Wars job and it’s this thing that you’ve grown up with as a kid — and John Williams is John Williams — so it’s overwhelming and it takes you a hot minute to just get your head around it. (Laughs.) [Obi-Wan Kenobi director] Deborah Chow as well said this about just finding the tone and the balance of the Star Wars that we’ve known and then doing something fresh and a bit more your own identity within it.


Many artists who’ve had the pleasure of working on Star Wars often talk about how hard it can initially be to find their own unique creative voice when they’re taking on such a vast and beloved universe, and it seems Holt was no exception:


“The most difficult thing was finding my access point. What was my take on Star Wars? Because it is getting my head around it; feeling a bit frozen with the enormity of it…”

“…I would say it was like episode four, where I felt like, “Oh, it’s just flowing now.” I was getting it and it was just flowing out, and Deborah was like, “Yep, great!” and hardly any notes back. Before that, she was like you’ve gone too old-fashioned or no, this isn’t for us. Luckily Deborah was very clear on what wasn’t appropriate in this area. When you’re jumping on a project, it’s really important to have someone leading in that way and she was great. Kathleen [Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm] as well. Everyone sort of has this overview that you don’t have because you’re like a rabbit in the headlights working on the show. And they’ve kind of gone through that. Deborah said everyone has this moment where they’re like, “Oh, I’m working on Star Wars!” The writers — like all departments. It takes everyone a minute to get used to the idea of it and then find their way.”



Holt also explained how much John Williams contributed to the series during the brief time period his busy schedule allowed him to work on the project:


We didn’t collaborate, but I did get to use his theme. He didn’t have very long and it was quite last minute whether he’d have time or not. But he really wanted to write that theme because he was the one character that he didn’t write the theme for in the original movie. So I think he had this feeling that he wanted to complete the challenge. I think he had two weeks and he came on board and wrote the Obi theme and a suite, which is the main title, and then a few variations of how the Obi theme can work. That was what he had time to give the project, and it was just a gift. It’s so perfect and in a way, once I had that Obi theme, it set the tentpoles up for the project.


Holt continued by elaborating somewhat on the characters and locations she had to write music for, plus some of the “unusual” instruments and elements she used in the series’ soundtrack:


“…you have your hero theme and then you branch out from that. Obviously, John Williams has written the Obi theme, but I did start off trying to write one, to be honest. I was writing from Deborah’s instructions and it was interesting. She was like, “He’s in the desert. He’s lost, he’s been alone.” It’s like anything for his theme would just be small, crumbling, fragmented and thin. Then it would grow as he goes on this journey. That was kind of interesting seeing the place that I arrived at, just for the world and his environment. Obviously, there are lots of different characters in the show, and I did also write music themes for planets. In addition, there is a Stormtroopers theme.”

“There are definitely some synth elements because I do like combining. It’s not always straight-up orchestral, just sometimes it is. I had John Williams’ orchestra, basically — the same orchestra that he used and the same lineup. What he’s done is just within the orchestra and using orchestral colors. So I did a bit of that, but I also used more unusual instruments. I found this Swedish folk flutist. He’s got this collection of 250 different flutes and horns. He had this hunting horn, which I recorded and then pitch-shifted it down. There are definitely some other unusual elements in the score as well. I just love to experiment with things and be inspired by a sound and then develop something else.”



Holt concluded by discussing both the difficulties of scoring the series and how television as a whole has shed its reputation as being a lesser medium compared to film in recent years:


“I wish I’d had more time, but you know, we all say that. (Laughs.) It’s that part where you get to run-off and record some things and play around a bit. Loki had the pandemic happen in the middle of it, so I think we had like an extra four months or something because it was lockdown. And things just took longer in that period of time. Now everyone’s kind of getting back up to speed again. I miss the luxurious extra month to create. But now everyone and everything’s in person, which is also amazing. I got to go over to L.A. and be in the same room as Deborah and record with the orchestra there in the room. That was so special to have that live experience with this project.”

“I guess there would have been more time maybe if Obi had been a film? I don’t actually know. But the resources are certainly there. The orchestral recordings, percussion recordings — it’s all live. I didn’t have to compromise on not being able to record live. The volume — it’s a lot more hours than it would be in a film. More ground is covered, I think, in TV. We’re in a really interesting time with the content we consume. We have all this extra time and some people would rather get into a series now. You feel like you can immerse yourself more fully in it, and get more detailed story points. Hopefully, the stories are rich enough to support that as well. I feel like we’re in a really amazing sort of explosion of great TV. People used to look down I think on TV. John Williams is now providing the theme for a TV show. (Laughs.) I think we’re all in good company.”


The Obi-Wan Kenobi series certainly seems to be in good company if the incredible trailers and the excellent cast and crew are any indication. Based on Holt’s answers in this interview, it seems like she brought a unique perspective to Star Wars’ musical legacy. Director Deborah Chow also appears to have had a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve with the series. Obi-Wan’s long-awaited solo adventure will arrive in just over three weeks, and it looks like it will give the iconic character the send-off he deserves.


Source: The Hollywood Reporter


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Eric has been a fan of Star Wars ever since the age of five (or so) when his parents sat him down in front of a TV with pizza and a Sprite and showed him the original trilogy. He keeps trying to convince more fans to read the amazing 1980s Star Wars newspaper comics by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson. When he's not reading, watching or playing Star Wars media, he's often enjoying other great fantasy and science fiction sagas or playing roleplaying games with his friends.

Eric Lentz

Eric has been a fan of Star Wars ever since the age of five (or so) when his parents sat him down in front of a TV with pizza and a Sprite and showed him the original trilogy. He keeps trying to convince more fans to read the amazing 1980s Star Wars newspaper comics by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson. When he's not reading, watching or playing Star Wars media, he's often enjoying other great fantasy and science fiction sagas or playing roleplaying games with his friends.