Kevin Kiner reflects on Rebels score, adding to Star Wars’ musical legacy

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Composer talks about his family’s contributions in Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray features

Kevin Kiner wanted to follow in John Williams’ footsteps long before he got the assignment to play in the music universe he created for Lucasfilm’s animated series.

(Spoilers follow for Star Wars Rebels’ fourth and final season.)

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Star Wars Rebels Season 4 Blu-rayIn “The Rebel Symphony,” one of the special features on the Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray. Kiner reflects on his work adapting the iconic motifs of one of Hollywood’s most legendary composers for a new “”generation. (Lucasfilm provided a copy of this material for review.)

It all began when he picked up original Star Wars sheet music in the late 1970s.

“It was my goal to write like this, to sound like this,” Kiner said in the documentary.

That insight served him well when it was time to craft the sound of Star Wars Rebels, an animated series set in the days leaving up to the events of 1977’s original Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. Kiner shares similar musical sensibilities with Williams, and that allowed him to slip right into the universe again.

“She’s just an animated character, but to me she’s real.”

“I don’t know that he’s really gotten the credit that he really deserves for expanding the musical catalog of the Star Wars franchise,” said director Dave Filoni in the feature documentary. “He understands the characters that we’ve created together you know just as well as I do.”

Those new characters include Ahsoka Tano, a Jedi Padawan introduced in The Clone Wars as Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice. She became a fan favorite and went on to play a prominent role in Rebels.

Ahsoka is special to the shows’ composer, too.

“She’s just an animated character, but to me she’s real,” Kiner said. “People told me over and over that everyone cries when she decides not to be a Jedi (in Clone Wars).”

Kiner talks about how he enhanced the emotional scene (from “The Wrong Jedi”) with a bass recorder: “The loneliness of it, combined with what is just happened on screen, just made for a really poignant moment.”

It’s a moment he echoed in Rebels’ Season 2 finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” where an older Ahsoka finally, literally faces the fact that her lost master has become the monstrous Sith Lord, Darth Vader — a scene that gets revisited in, and becomes a key part of, Season 4.

“So I actually stole the snippet, goofed around with the pitch on the echo to make it sound a little more surreal so that is the moment where links back to Anakin, so as soon as she realizes it’s Anakin her theme comes in, played by the bass recorder.”

Ahsoka’s “airy” theme, as Kiner describes it, was difficult to mesh with Vader’s military march when the time came, but if you’ve seen the scene, you know he was up to the challenge.

A Far, Far Away family affair

Kevin Kiner didn’t have to face the challenge of Star Wars Rebels alone: he had his sons, Dean and Sean, to help. They collaborated closely for the last three seasons; Sean, for instance, contributed memorable themes for Mandalorian artist-saboteur Sabine Wren and Imperial genius Grand Admiral Thrawn.

When the past-haunted Sabine takes up her people’s Darksaber relic to unite them, she must undergo combat training with her Jedi friends. Sean Kiner used a driving cello theme, inspired by scores from movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, to forge the emotional theme of her trials.

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Sean Kiner called Thrawn a fan-favorite character who is one of his own favorites, “an evil genius that’s unmatched.” He used an organ — an unusual instrument for Star Wars — to craft a theme that’s subtle and measured, like the man it represents.

“I’m amazed when they write themes that are as good as or better than mine,” said Kevin Kiner.

For the planet Lothal’s mysterious wolves, Kiner looked to anime for inspiration, giving their sound an “intimate vibe” that’s “not a Star Wars kind of thing.”

When Kanan sacrifices his life near the end of Season 4, the music really tells the story. As Kiner explains in the Blu-ray feature, drums stand in for the fuel depot’s deafening explosions, with choral “flames” and a score that replaces Hera Syndulla’s unheard scream as her beloved goes to his death and pushes her to safety.

Sean Kiner’s Sabine theme factored into the Rebels finale’s emotional epilogue, in which the young woman, who became the Lothal’s guardian, meets up with Ahsoka and the two apparently head off in search of Ezra, who was last seen hyper-jumping to regions unknown with Thrawn’s forces.

Kevin Kiner said he considered weaving Ahsoka’s theme in here again, but ultimately all felt that the epilogue called for Star Wars’ iconic Force/Jedi theme, by Williams, instead.

It is, as they say, the Force that binds the galaxy together …

Find out about more Rebels Season 4 bonus features here.

More about Star Wars Rebels Season 4:

Star Wars Celebration Orlando 2017

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