Interviews: Composer Gordy Haab Discusses Star Wars and His Battlefront II Score

TMS:  You did some work on the original Battlefront, right?

GH: Yeah, I did Battlefront 1 a couple years ago and most recently Battlefront 2. 

TMS: We're gonna hit it right off with a question you've probably been asked a million times. What would you say is your favorite Star Wars film?

GH: Well, Empire Strikes Back. That's gonna be my number one. Probably mostly because of the nostalgia. It was the first one that I have the strongest memories of. A New Hope as well. I was born in '76. It came out in '77. So by the time I saw it, it had run its course. Having watched all of the films probably hundreds of times, I still think Empire is the most solid from a story arc perspective. 

TMS: Who would you say has been your favorite villain so far in the Star Wars universe?

GH: I would have originally said Vader but I have started to look at Kylo Ren as a great villain. We're getting so much of his backstory and it's an interesting character with a lot of depth. That's kinda my new fav. 

TMS: So, you grew up with the movies. How would you say seeing those movies at a young age and listening to the music effected your composition style?

GH: I would say that it had probably the strongest influence on my sound and my musical aesthetic. John Williams at the very least made a huge impact on me and I was a huge Star Wars fan growing up. So the music from the films was pretty much my anchor for what orchestral or symphonic music was. It's a huge influence, probably more than any classical composer because I really didn't understand what that was so I started diving more into what it was that I loved about Star Wars. It was my love of these films that I even got into that in the first place. 

TMS: How did you get the job working on Battlefront a few years ago?

GH: I actually have a bit more history with Star Wars games prior to Battlefront  even. I scored Star Wars: The Old Republic which I guess was about 7 or 8 years ago. That was my first Star Wars video game project. I also scored a game that Microsoft had put out that was the Kinect Star Wars when they first released the Kinect for the Xbox 360. So having those two under my belt was how I was essentially able to demo for Star Wars Battlefront. Those projects I could trace back to a short film. It was a five minute long Star Wars fan film called Ryan vs Dorkman 2. It's just two guys fighting with lightsabers. This hit Youtube long before anyone knew what viral meant. But it went viral. It got five million views in a week. Lucasfilm saw it. They were looking for a composer for their Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings video game. They needed someone that could live in that musical arena and somebody there had seen that video and reached out to me. That's how I got my first job scoring a video game which led to Star Wars: The Old Republic and so on. 

TMS: We know that the campaign portion of the game centers on a female character, Iden Verso. You composed a new theme that centers on her. Is there any difference for you when you're writing for a female character versus a male?

GH: That's a really good question. The answer would be no. For John Williams at least there was a difference how he wrote for a male character versus a female character. There's a definite distinct sound when he's writing for a female hero. I chose to approach it and forget gender altogether to write a dark Imperial theme that has a subtle undertone of heroism. Forget whether it's a man or a woman. It doesn't really matter because it's still a hero. 

TMS: Did you always see yourself working on these types of projects or was there ever another focus for your musical aspirations?

GH: Initially when I moved to Los Angeles to pursue film scoring, I had one goal in mind stylistically and that was to score horror films. I'm a huge fan of horror films. I love all the B-horror movies from the '80s and '90s. My music (at least at that time) lent itself very well to that type of film. I saw an opportunity to make a mark on that genre. It was more textural orchestral music. Like I mentioned before this Star Wars fan film landed in my lap was made by a filmmaker who had also made a short horror film I had scored when I was at U.S.C.. I never even imagined I'd get into this side of genre so to speak. I kind of fell into it. Horror films were what I was really reaching for at first. 

TMS: When you're scoring a game are you given guidance towards creating original music or are you given absolute freedom?

GH: I'm definitely given guidance, more so from a technical standpoint. They know how many levels or maps there are and exactly how much music is going to be needed for each map. So it might be that we need ten pieces of music that are two minutes each for this particular planet. It's coming more from a technical need than anything. Creatively, they put a lot of trust in me to understand the Star Wars universe. And they do give me a lot of freedom to explore that myself. Of course everything does go through a tedious approval process. 

TMS: Is it a lot different composing for a game versus a movie?

GH: It is and it isn't. From an emotional standpoint, the impact of the music should be the same. I always try to approach it that way. From the technical side, there's a difference. With a film there's a finite timeline. You know you have this many seconds and frames before you have to hit this cut and change the music to a new theme. Suddenly you have to cut to a battle. The timeline never changes. But in games, the timelines are constantly changing based on what the player is doing. As musically as possible, you're building puzzle pieces to create a piece of music. This an analogy I like to use. It's like those one of those books I had when I was a kid. The choose your own adventure books. You get to a certain page and it'd ask if you'd want to go down this hallway or do you 'want to do this'? Turn the page. It's like doing that musically. 

TMS: Was it hard for you to align your original music with pre-created John Williams themes or is that simple to do?

GH: It really depends. With Battlefront 1 there was a lot more direct aligning with the original John Williams scores. I mean that almost literally. We would have a John Williams piece of music playing then I would have to write a transition out of that piece into something brand new. There was a lot of back and forth. It was meant to be rooted in the original trilogy  and pretty much only that. With this game, all of the eras exist. With the campaign, there is a lot of game play that's completely brand new, so that gave me some room to "gloves off" do my own thing, so to speak. There was certainly still some back and forth between mine and John Williams themes. Stylistically, it's never a problem because that sound comes somewhat naturally to me. 

TMS: Outside of Battlefront 2, what projects do you have coming up?

GH: Well, I have more BF2 because we're doing expansion packs. For the next year there will be DLC packs that will come out with the game. We're writing new music for all those expansions. We'll be recording those all next year. There are other game projects that I'm not allowed to talk about because (for whatever reason) this industry is very secretive. I promise they're a lot of fun. As soon as I'm able to announce, I will. This past year I just wrapped up Halo Wars 2 which is a Microsoft game. We did a lot of big orchestral scores for that too. 

TMS: Going back to the original Star Wars music, we all have our favorites. Mine are probably Duel of the Fates and the Imperial March. What would you say are you favorite bits from the original soundtracks?

GH: I know the answer right off the top of my head, but I'm trying to think of a good reason why. It's the Battle of Hoth. I think part of it is just that I had never heard anything like that before. And that particular film really sort of shaped what I think of music. It was so exciting. I latched onto that. And it had so many themes and variations. To this day, it's my favorite piece of music from any of the films.

TMS: So, when producing the music for Battlefront 2, where did you guys record everything?

GH: We recorded everything at Abbey Road Studios in London and we used the London Symphony Orchestra. 

TMS: That's amazing!

GH: Yeah, it was very cool. It was a very conscious decision. For Battlefront 1 in particular because to that point all the Star Wars scores had been recorded in that studio with that orchestra except for A New Hope, until The Force Awakens came out with was recorded in Los Angeles. That was the first time that had ever happened. The decision to do that was because this music needed to align alongside with the John Williams scores both musically but also sonically.  We wanted to make sure that they matched in that sense. The choice to record in London was obvious. 

TMS: So, all this music is done with a live orchestra? None of it is created digitally?

GH: It's 100 percent live orchestra. 100 piece orchestra. 80 piece choir. All the music was recorded live. All recorded with everyone playing in the room at the same time. So there's no recording in sections or anything like that. 

TMS: How does a person that's interested in this field enter the workplace and what pointers would you give them?

GH: I think for the video game industry in particular, saying it's cut and dry is not accurate. There is no cut and dry path. At least in the video game industry, there are many conferences. There's a game developers conference every year in San Francisco. There's E3. There's all these events where the game developers are there talking about the technical processes. You can meet the people making the games. You can go and introduce yourself. Step one would be to go to these events and introduce yourself, meet the indie game developers. In the film industry, it's very different. It's very scattered. And there's no singular event where every filmmaker in Hollywood is going to be at any time.  Film is more location based. Being in Los Angeles is almost imperative. With games, not so much. It's more of global industry. 

TMS: The Last Jedi is out now! We're getting very mixed thoughts. What did you think of it?

GH: I absolutely love it. I thought it was a great film. It really hit the feeling of a Star Wars film that I love so much. It's playful. It's emotional. There's symbolism. And character arc. I think it hit on all those points. I really fell for it. I find it interesting to see mixed thoughts. It's interesting to see mixed reviews. I think people from my generation that grew up with the original trilogy seem to be liking it a lot more. I don't know if there's anything to that or not. But short answer, I loved it. I'll see it multiple times again. 

We thank Gordy for talking to us. May the Force be with you, always.