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Why Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Director Didn’t Want to Use Darth Vader’s Theme Song

Obi-Wan Kenobi Darth Vader music
By Jennifer McDonough

Lucasfilm's newest Star Wars streaming series for Disney+ recently finished its six-episode run. Obi-Wan Kenobi saw the return of fan-favorite actor Ewan McGregor to the role that put him on the map. In the show, the legendary Jedi Master is pulled away from his vigil on Tatooine where he watches over young Luke Skywalker. It's during this adventure that he rescues a ten-year-old Princess Leia, rediscovers his connection to the Force, and perhaps most notably, has a pitched rematch with his greatest enemy, Darth Vader.

Is there any piece of Star Wars music more iconic than "The Imperial March"? Granted, composer extraordinaire John Williams has created dozens of extremely memorable songs for the Star Wars franchise. But the theme for the fearsome Darth Vader is undeniably a standout.

However, while watching Obi-Wan Kenobi, it's not difficult to notice that the series has a serious lack of famous Star Wars musical tracks and cues. And now, it seems an explanation for this omission has been provided.

Composer Natalie Holt Explains the Lack of Imperial March

Dath Vader, Kenobi, Mustafar
Star Wars

In an interview with ScreenrantObi-Wan Kenobi series composer Natalie Holt revealed that it was actually director Deborah Chow's decision not to rely on the classic John Williams-composed Star Wars themes until Vader's last scene of the series on Mustafar:

When I started up on this project, we weren't sure that we were going to be allowed to use the John Williams themes. Deborah [Chow] was saying to me, "I think we need to score the show as if we're not going to be able to use them." She was like, "I don't want to find out that we can't, so let's make it work without. Let's do our own thing." And she was saying, "Actually, if we were going to use the Vader theme, I don't think we should use it until episode six, because he's still half Anakin, half Vader at this point. When his mask cracks open at the end, and he says 'You didn't kill Anakin Skywalker. I did,' you realize now he's Vader, now he's earned his 'Imperial March'." Now when you hear it, it's so powerful. Deborah didn't want that theme playing every time you see Darth Vader, she wanted to explore his journey to get there.

Indeed, there was a desire not to lean too heavily on the original songs and instead be much more nuanced about adding them in ways that connected to and enhanced the story. As such, Vader's accompanying score reflects the character's "super angry" state.

And I did use the rhythm from "The Imperial March" underneath the sound design. I had a hunting horn, and slowed-down double bass, the low end of the orchestra playing this really gnarly, angry theme with these war sticks and stuff. Deborah wanted to have really visceral sense, when he's walking down the street kind of killing people, she's like "We've never really seen this side of Vader. He's in his prime. He's super angry, he's just full of rage." And actually, the Vader that we kind of see in A New Hope and onwards is much more measured, and we never see him lose control, or randomly kill people in such an evil way. He's more thoughtful and centered. So, yeah. That was a very deliberate decision. 

Holt also revealed that The Maestro himself, John Williams, gave the series his blessing after a screening.

John Williams watched the whole show, and he granted permission for his themes to be used in episode six and in certain places, and where the Yoda theme would go, and then that set the tentpoles for me. Like, "Okay, we can't use the themes until this point, so we need to be leading to them."

The Kenobi composer also discussed working alongside Bill Ross, a longtime associate of Williams, for what she described as "the handover episode:"

Yeah, for sure. I had Bill Ross as well, who is John Williams' longtime collaborator. Episode six was the handover episode, so that was Bill Ross, John Williams... that episode was a collaboration of the three of us. It was very much overseen by everyone there, just kind of making sure that it was hitting the right points. And with something like that, it's like John and Bill Ross have got over 40 years of Star Wars experience, so they know what Star Wars is and should be.

Finally, Holt remarked that "striking the right balance" was a crucial part of the process:

And for my job, it was just like "I just want to make sure that I'm walking the right line and striking the right balance between the old and the new, and doing what Deborah Chow is asking me to do, and what Kathleen is asking me to do," and yeah. Striking the right balance was definitely one of the challenges of the job. And I don't think you're ever going to please everyone, unless John Williams had come and scored the whole show. But he's 90, and I don't think that was in the cards. So we tried to do the best we could and be as respectful as possible to the original.

That Trademark Star Wars Sound

While it was John Williams who actually composed Obi-Wan's main theme for the show, Natalie Holt did an extremely commendable job on the series, especially considering that she wasn't trying to emulate Williams' work while still touching on that signature Star Wars vibe.

Of course, many of the famous Star Wars songs still made it into Kenobi for Part Six, the show's finale episode. "Princess Leia's Theme", "The Imperial March", and others were very present during the episode to great effect.

Rumors continue to swirl over a potential second season for the streaming show. While it was initially thought to be a limited series, Lucasfilm has said it's open to doing more based on fan reactions. If the series is renewed for another run, would more recognizable music make the cut? 

All six episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now streaming exclusively on Disney+.


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