When I was a kid, Star Wars was one of my essential gateways into fiction, into visual storytelling, into film, and into music. I grew up so immersed in the Star Wars universe that I might have spent more time there in my imagination than I did living in the real world!
At age seven, I designed and built LEGO versions of dozens of vehicles, spanning my entire basement floor. I also constructed a Millennium Falcon out of paper plates and VHS cassette boxes (resulting in a model that has survived over thirty years in the closet at my mom’s house). At eight, I stitched together brown strips of fabric and scrap metal to create a Tusken Raider halloween costume. I also hand-wrote my own novelizations of each film, meticulously describing every edit and line of dialog, filling three spiral notebooks, hundreds of pages pressed with of thousands of scribbled lines. At nine, I made a word-search of alien words and names from the books and films that covered twenty pages of graph paper taped together. At ten, I transcribed for piano nearly every cue John Williams wrote for the entire saga, memorizing hours-long piano performances of the scores. I carried this passion with me into my young adulthood, where I waited in line for hours outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, with my newfound college friends, to have our minds collectively blown by The Phantom Menace on the big screen.
So, I was delighted when offered the opportunity to take my life-long musical and narrative obsession, and channel it into a contribution to the official Star Wars universe. Composing original score for Star Wars: Tales From The Galaxy’s Edge was a dream come true!
Created by ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment studio, Tales From The Galaxy’s Edge is a virtual reality experience available now on Oculus Quest. In it, gamers assume the identity of a droid technician who ends up pursued by pirates of the Guavian Death Gang on the desert planet Batuu. The VR experience combines open exploration with shooter gameplay mechanics, and also incorporates elements of the Disneyland and Disneyworld Galaxy’s Edge theme park attractions. I scored the primary adventure that runs through the game, while the cantina portions were supported with catchy alien music from Danny Piccione, and the Temple of Darkness standalone chapter was scored to moody perfection by Joseph Trapanese.
As I set out to compose, my musical goal was to create a soundtrack that feels like it might have actually originated from the planet Batuu itself. I worked with a small ensemble of some of my favorite musicians. They brought in an eclectic array of textures, including various acoustic guitars, ethnic woodwinds such as fujara and pan flutes, unusual stringed instruments such as the tanbur and viola da gamba, as well as Renaissance German Hümmelchen bagpipes, Japanese shamisen, and Middle Eastern percussion such as frame drums and dumbek. I also incorporated synthesizers and manipulated samples to create an alien aesthetic. These combined colors formed something jangly, exotic, and weird.
Of course, Batuu is part of the broader Star Wars universe, so I also incorporated many symphonic techniques and colors used by John Williams throughout the saga. My hope is that this decision subtly roots the player’s experience in the broader mythology of the franchise. I feel strongly that an orchestral score needs to be performed by a live orchestra to provide scope and emotional intensity. Thankfully, ILMxLAB was supportive, providing a budget to record live orchestra to help augment the emotional impact of this game.
Though the instruments are unusual, my philosophical approach to the score was not. I wrote distinct character themes and wove them into the music in exactly the way Williams did with his epic scores. On the surface, Tales may not sound like a traditional Star Wars score, but the influence is undeniably there. My hope is that my score will help players wandering the wilderness of Batuu feel like they’ve uncovered an unexplored pocket of the Star Wars universe.
The most memorable theme is for Guavian Death Gang cell leader Tara Rashin. Early on in the game’s development, I saw concept art for Tara, and I knew immediately she would be an inspiring character to compose for. Tara is a ruthless marauder with her own goals and intentions. To represent this, I wrote her a theme that is menacing and overtly evil.
I emphasized aggressive percussion and female vocals, with the voices in the lower alto register adding a particularly powerful aggression. These distinct colors gave her an operatic theme that I hope resonates with players as they encounter and evade this imposing antagonist.
I would like to thank everyone at ILMxLAB for inviting me on this journey, especially game director Jose Perez III, with whom I had collaborated on Dark Void about a decade ago. A hearty congrats and thanks goes out to audio supervisor Kevin Bolen, who has been an incredibly intuitive creative partner in this, facilitating the implementation of all my crazy ideas into something that fans can actually experience in VR. I also want to thank everyone on my team at Sparks & Shadows for stepping up to the plate during a pandemic and making this happen, especially Etienne Monsaingeon who contributed killer additional music, Ryan Sanchez for mixing, and Sarah Kovacs at Kraft Engel Management for bringing everyone together. I would like to also thank the many musicians who performed on this score, and who worked patiently with me and my team to create music in the challenging conditions brought about by the pandemic. I am grateful and fortunate to work with all of you.
When I was a kid, endlessly immersing myself in the Star Wars universe, I always imagined that one day I might somehow be able to contribute to it, to hear my music in an official Star Wars story. Scoring Star Wars: Tales From The Galaxy’s Edge fulfills that dream. Moreover, I get to hear my music in a Star Wars property while strapping a VR headset to my eyes and disappearing into the world itself! I hope fans have as much as fun, as they are transported to new adventures in this galaxy far, far away.