On Saturday, my mum’s cousin and I made a trip to Birmingham Symphony Hall to see Return of the Jedi in Concert. It’s been an event we have been looking forward to for what feels like forever, having seen both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back in Concert and having this one delayed a year due to COVID.
All 3 of these events have been using the same group, the Novello Orchestra, so if you’ve been considering going to watch them but not sure if it’s the thing for you, read on and see if this helps make up your mind.
First off, the venue. The first 2 we saw were at Arena Birmingham (formerly known as the National Indoor Arena), but for this one we moved over to Birmingham Symphony Hall, and while there was nothing wrong at Arena Birmingham, I certainly felt that the seats at Symphony Hall were more comfortable. We were relatively near the front, but the setup is well done, to ensure that you can still see as much of the screen as possible. I was right on the aisle so had a perfect view, someone more central near the front though may have had the conductor somewhat blocking their view, similarly someone in the very front rows may have had the very bottom of the screen obscured by the orchestra. My position was actually very interesting though as it allowed me to see parts of the conductor’s set-up, which included a screen with the movie on that included lines going across the screen to help get the timing spot on—if you have ever seen behind the scenes footage of dialogue being re-recorded in a booth, you have likely seen something similar.
As for the movie itself, I can’t say for certain but I assume that they use the most recent version of the movies, as you would find on Disney +. There was certainly nothing that stood out for me as different to the movie that I am used to seeing. But yes that does mean you will find yourself watching the infamous “Jedi Rocks”—which I don’t actually mind outside the fact of how much the CGI stands out among the puppets and costumes through the whole first act of this movie—and John Williams’ “Victory Celebration” rather than “Yub Nub”, complete with Hayden Christensen cameo. However this was probably my first time seeing the movie on the big screen and as such I found myself still noticing new things, such as the snake-like creature hanging behind Threepio during the scene where Jabba sentences Han, Luke and Chewie to death by the Sarlacc.
But of course, the whole point of going to see this in concert is the music. I was chatting to someone after the movie who said that at the intermission, he realised that he was just focusing on the movie as normal rather than the orchestra, but made a more concerted effort in the second half and ended up really enjoying himself. And that is something important to remember. The Novello Orchestra do a fantastic job, and with a live orchestra, you will be able to clearly hear parts of the score that are usually lower in volume and overpowered by the dialogue and sound effects, which reveals some fun moments you may never have heard before, like just how playful the score can get as the Ewoks have success during the Battle of Endor. But what it can also do is actually overpower the dialogue and sound effects at times, especially in moments like the battles where the score it at its grandest. Similarly some moments that include a choral line, such as the climax of Luke and Vader’s duel loses a small amount of impact as we do not have a live choir to go with the orchestra. However on balance, we then get moments like the crescendos of “The Imperial March” and the Emperor’s Theme where you can almost feel the music all around you, there were moments where I had serious chills.
So would I recommend seeing Star Wars in Concert with the Novello Orchestra? 100% It’s a wonderful experience for a Star Wars fan, especially if you have a love of the score like I do. I wouldn’t recommend it for a first time viewer due to some dialogue being overpowered, but it is a fantastic way to view the film, as Ben Kenobi would say, “from a certain point of view”.
Thanks for reading. May the Force be with you…