One of the most curious aspects of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series is the lack of familiar musical themes and cues, given that the story is all about instantly familiar Star Wars characters. It’s made even more curious by the fact that the show and its marketing leaned in heavily to the nostalgia of the prequel and original trilogies, yet the music felt noticeably distant from it.
Composer Natalie Holt recently joined Epicleff Media to talk about the score, and she explained her thinking behind it.
“They are legendary,” she said of John Williams’s themes. “So where the series is set is before A New Hope and after, you know, [the prequels], so it’s kind of leading to that place. So we were being quite careful that we weren’t, we kind of got to the place of where those themes are in their genesis by the end of the series. But at the beginning it kind of, again, we’re seeding. Like the thing we were talking about with Loki where you’re seeding big ideas that are leading you to episode six, and this was the same thing except those ideas were leading to John Williams.”
In other words, her reason for not using familiar themes is because this story is supposed to lead us up to the characters we meet in A New Hope. But while I understand that thematically, it’s also true that John Williams didn’t just do the music for the original trilogy but for the prequel trilogy as well. And guess what themes are extremely and obviously present in the final minutes of Revenge of the Sith, intended to lead us toward A New Hope? The Force theme transitions into a rendition of the Imperial March during the final glimpse of Darth Vader. Leia’s theme is heard while we see baby Leia held by Bail and Breha Organa. And the Force theme swells as we see Obi-Wan Kenobi giving Luke Skywalker to Owen and Beru Lars. Because of that, I’m not buying the fact that those themes can’t be used in this series since it’s not A New Hope yet. I’m convinced that this series is a staple part of the Skywalker saga, and when watching it chronologically you’ll now go from hearing those themes, to not hearing them, to hearing them again. So I’m not persuaded by her reasoning.
Of course any new project does need a new score, new themes, and new motifs. It has to have them! And, for example, I think that John Williams’s new theme for Obi-Wan Kenobi – which is used all throughout the series – is absolutely fantastic. It’s similar enough yet brand new. I love it. So it’s important that Holt created a new score, and for the most part it works fine. But it’s stunning, really, that Ludwig Göransson’s score for The Mandalorian – which deals with almost all new characters – actually includes more familiar Star Wars motifs (even though still very rare) than Natalie Holt’s score for Obi-Wan Kenobi – which deals with very familiar characters.
I’m not meaning to pile on Holt, who is a good composer and whose score for the series is solid. And composers are essential aspects of the storytelling, so their decisions are purposeful in aiding what the story is intended to be. Yet hearing her reason for those decisions leaves me more confused. It’s not that this series needed to be filled with music we’ve already heard, but making use of some motifs like the Force theme, or Vader’s theme (either the Imperial March or the A New Hope version), or Leia’s theme, would have been helpful.
Because right or wrong, it feels like the one major area of this series that isn’t leaning heavily into the nostalgia and feel of the Skywalker saga is the musical score that helped make the saga so brilliant in the first place.