The Symphony Strikes Back: NZSO brings Star Wars to life

Star Wars fans in Wellington can catch one of the franchise's best-loved films this weekend - with a big difference.

The Empire Strikes Back will be backed up with the full force of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

"It's as if the music's part of the story. It not only backstops the story, it becomes a storytelling component in and of itself," says NZSO timpanist Larry Reese.

Taking viewers to a galaxy far, far away, the NZSO will perform John Williams' iconic score live alongside a screening of the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back.

"The opportunity to have that synergy of this larger than life screen, and this hundred-piece symphony orchestra. it's an assault on the senses in the best possible way," says Reese.

Conductor Hamish McKeich has been putting it together with the help of a special copy of the film, that's had the score completely removed. It takes more than a Jedi mind trick to nail the timing.

"There's certain points where the music is directly lined up with the film, other parts it's a bit looser. But that is the great challenge of doing a film live," he says.

The score is one of many composed by Williams, including Jurassic Park, Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter.

"His music is everywhere. I can't imagine what it's like knowing your work output has touched billions of people!" says Reese.

Despite all of those, it's Star Wars that continues to resonate the most.

"The first Star Wars chord, it's 'the' Star Wars chord. When you hear it, it's like UH!" exclaims McKeich.

Last year the NZSO performed the original Star Wars film, A New Hope - this time around, they get to feel the force of one of the saga's most famous pieces, 'The Imperial March.'

The orchestra's practiced enough times to not get distracted by the film - including *that* twist.

"I get my own screen, so I've got to keep an eye on that. But what I'm watching, I'm not actually enjoying the movie. I have to do that at home," McKeich says.

"I'm inside the speaker. I'm in this mix. I have the best possible seat in the house. Just having this sound world swirl around me is a privelege," says Reese.

For Reese, Star Wars has a special place in his heart, since first seeing the original movie in 1977.

"That piece and that movie and this music really helped me decide to be a percussionist. So it's very special, it's like full circle for me."

The Empire Strikes Back will have two screenings in Wellington this Sunday - for Aucklanders, May the 5th be with you.