On February 21, it all ends. A battle for the stars that began in 2002 and continued its tour of duty across multiple forms of media, prepares for one last stand as the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars arrives on Disney+. Years of storylines, character development and the most energetic battle sequences ever committed to television all collide one final time as the bridge between film trilogies draws to a close.
A grand and epic saga that stands shoulder to shoulder with the silver screen source material not just because of how the final product was visually shaped, but also orchestrated to build on the audio legacy of everything that came before it while also paving the way to create something unique and equally memorable.
You can thank Kevin Kiner as the mastermind behind the animated sound of Star Wars, as the maestro’s ear for adapting John Williams’ original score and putting his own spin on it has been nothing short of astounding. From the second you hear the familiar introduction of Star Wars punctuated with a heavy drumming sound to more intimate moments that give life to the characters seen on screen and instances of audio that draw the curtain on characters fated to never see the Empire fall, Kiner’s work (alongside his son Sean Kiner over the last couple of years) has defined Star Wars for more than a decade.
With Star Wars: The Clone Wars coming to an end, we had some questions for the composer about his score before Order 66 was executed. And he had some answers!
You’ve had a storied career so far in music across a wide variety of films, television and video games, but Star Wars is the first thing that people think of when they hear your name mentioned. Is there anything from non-Star Wars work that has influenced how you create the soundtrack for Clone Wars?
First of all thanks for saying I’ve had a storied career. I’ve always just put my head down and composed for what was in front of me. Now that I look back though there was a definite path that things took, and I believe my enthusiasm for John William’s scores and my studying of those scores as well as the scores he studied led me down that path. We build on the shoulders of giants!
As far as a new direction from non-Star Wars projects I would have to say working on Doom Patrol and Titans for Warner Brothers has really infused my writing with a fun and fresh electronic vibe. You will find more of that crossing over into the Clone Wars season seven tracks, and I’m really happy with how that has fit into the new music.
When you look at Star Wars, from Clone Wars to Rebels, what’s the type of sound that you’re looking to bring to the project that you feel best says that this is a Star Wars soundtrack?
I think there is a classicism and orchestral pallet that started with John Williams’ scores and I have explored that in great detail over the last 12 years or so. The trick now is to keep things fresh and move forward without losing the scope and richness of that sound. That’s a taller task than you might imagine, and I challenge myself every morning to keep things current and interesting.
Lately, as I said, a lot of the new elements are electronic. Being good at electronic music is just as challenging, in a different way, as being good with orchestral music, and the work and preparation it takes to be well versed in that milieu really energizes me and helps me not get stale.
Do you have any one character that you enjoy composing music for the most? I always liked Darth Maul’s Clone War theme in particular.
Sorry to use this cliché, but I have three children and truly could not name a favourite. The same goes for my Star Wars themes. Ahsoka’s theme is what many people mention first, and I am also quite fond of Ahsoka’s Victorious Themes. These first appear in the 2008 Clone Wars soundtrack on “General Loatsome/Ahsoka” – about 12 seconds in and then at 1:16. As you said I really loved composing for Darth Maul, and his theme got fully fleshed out in Rebels.
Ezra’s theme in Rebels is another one of my favourites as well as Satine’s theme in Clone Wars, which is really a love theme for Satine and Obi Wan.
How do you tackle the challenge of composing a sense of finality for The Clone Wars, wrapping up years of work with one last collection of tracks?
So I’m a baseball fan and I’ll use an analogy here. If you try really hard to hit a home run, you probably won’t. I approach any monumental moment such as what you just mentioned with the philosophy that I’m just going to let it flow – make contact, if you will, don’t squeeze the bat too hard. And I find that the results are much better and more true to the source material if I don’t get too freaked out about what a big deal this is.
If I’m composing music for a really great and important moment the best thing that can happen is that my music will be a mirror to what is happening on the screen and in the audience’s mind. Great source material begets great music!
What’s your creative process like at this point with Dave Filoni? Are you largely left to your own devices, or do you function as a lean and mean tag team in finding the sound for episodes and key scenes?
Over the last 12 years or so there have been a number of producers and creative people who have watched Dave and I work, and almost every one of them comments on the kind of short hand that Dave and I speak to each other in. It’s one of the coolest aspects of my career that we connected and seem to enjoy this creative link.
Dave has stayed every bit as much involved in the music from day one until the final mix of season seven. I think it really helps that I usually know what he is looking for as soon as I watch a scene with him. But he will surprise me sometimes with a direction I would never have thought of. Dave has a very deep knowledge of the characters in his shows, and he will explain some extremely esoteric, yet crucial motivations to me that really blow me away at times. He and I work very closely on the score and the music is way better for it!
Speaking of music made for one important moment in particular: Rebels had an absolute edge of your seat track with the final duel between Obi Wan and Darth Maul, that closed the curtain on that storyline. Will Clone Wars have any particular slice of music that you can’t wait for the fans to hear, that frames a key moment in season seven?
First of all, I’m so pleased that you pointed out the Obi Wan – Darth Maul cue. That was composed by my son Sean who has become a key contributor to the Star Wars music I have done in the last five years. Both of my sons currently co-write with me, and I think it keeps the music really fresh and modern. To answer your question regarding any piece of music that I can’t wait for the fans to hear the answer is YES! And not just one! But you know I can’t tell you what moments they play in. Although I can say that they will be worth the journey, and the journey itself will be marvelous!
In Rebels you brought some fantastic exotic sounds and instruments to the mix, with Thrawn’s theme, in particular, being a highlight. For your return to The Clone Wars, have you brought any new instruments with you to craft the score?
Again it’s so cool that you bring up Thrawn’s theme. It was Sean Kiner who composed and performed that theme. Also, the idea for using a pipe organ was Dave Filoni’s. Season seven of Clone Wars moves forward in more of an orchestral/synth hybrid type of sound, more so than any of my previous Star Wars music. As I said earlier, Doom Patrol was a great project to get us going in that direction.
With Jon Williams being the audio architect for Star Wars, what’s your approach for building on his work and adding your own flavour to the mix? I’d imagine that it must be the tightest and most delicate line to balance on.
You are right about it being a delicate balance. Probably the best way I’ve found of handling that balance is to be myself when I compose. I have always had such great respect for John’s work, and indeed have analyzed and studied his scores for the better part of thirty years. I believe that the fruits of that study are infused in who I am as a composer, so I never try to imitate John Williams. I pay homage to his themes and pallet, but I do so with my own voice.
How does it feel to have the rare sci-fi grand slam honour of having worked on three of the biggest Star franchises of all time: Stargate, Star Trek and Star Wars?
Well, it’s very kind of you to bring that up, otherwise if I did it would feel like bragging. Haha. I’m seriously so honored to have worked on those projects. I’ve always loved science fiction, and space adventures in particular, and have probably read all of the classics many times over. It’s quite a dream come true for a kid who used to sit in his room jamming to Led Zeppelin with his amp cranked up all day long. I don’t know how it worked out, but I am truly blessed.
Lastly, the one thing that has always stuck out the most for me about Clone Wars is that wonderfully heavy drum beat intro on top of Jon William’s original score that kicked off every episode, that makes it stand out so much. Is there an interesting story behind how you added your own audio stamp to an instantly recognisable piece of music?
Well, the story starts out with the fact that I didn’t want to do it! I told George Lucas the day he asked me to come up with a new version of the Star Wars theme “you know, John did this properly the first time”. And that was how I felt. It’s one of the most iconic and beloved pieces of film music, or for that matter MUSIC music in history. Why mess with that?
Needless to say George wanted something new, so I went back to my studio and stopped sleeping for a few weeks. We (myself, George,Dave) always knew that big percussion was part of the solution, but every time I’d put a beat to that melody it would start to sound like the old disco version that came out in the late 70s or early 80s. So now I’m up to about version one hundred and something when it occurred to me that there is something slightly irregular in the phrasing of the melody.
Without getting too technical, I’ll just say that I leaned into that irregular phrase and changed the time signature from 4/4 (or 2/2, as John writes it) into 5/4. And instantly the disco was gone! I think that one was the 99% perspiration that Einstein was talking about.
Last Updated: February 20, 2020