by @holocronGeorge and @holocronJosh for @sw_holocron
Kevin Kiner has been a familiar name to Star Wars for over a decade now, and his brilliant work in a galaxy far, far away continues with Star Wars: The Bad Batch. The composer of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels returns to the fold this month scoring the newest Star Wars show streaming on Disney+. We had a chance to speak with Kevin Kiner, who opened up about scoring The Bad Batch, his work in the Star Wars franchise, collaborating with Dave Filoni and George Lucas, musical influences, and more.
Kiner spoke of his long history with Clone Force 99 as he first composed the music for the animatic story reel, before scoring The Clone Wars season 7, but how he didn’t expect to be working with these characters for so long.
“No, I had no idea. The theme for Bad Batch was co-composed Sean and Dean [Kiner’s sons], and, you know, we wrote them for that episode before The Bad Batch came out in The Clone Wars. We had no idea they were going to be that big of a deal. Having said that, I’m really happy with that theme and it plays a large part in the show now.”
Similar to his work on The Clone Wars and Rebels, Kiner collaborated with his sons Sean and Dean on the score for The Bad Batch.
“We were worked all of season 7 of Clone Wars. Quite a lot of Rebels, almost all of Rebels I believe. You know you’d have to go back to season 6 or 5 of Clone Wars when I was not writing with my sons when they were still at university. It’s become kind of a team endeavor for five, six, years or whatever. It’s really fruitful. It keeps me fresh. It helps take a load off of me, because I’ve been doing this for 35 or 36 years. I’ve been doing Star Wars since ‘06 since I started with George and Dave when I first auditioned…’06 or ‘07, something like that. So that’s, you know, 14 years there.”
In terms of the process of composing the music for The Bad Batch, Kiner noted some minor logistical issues due to the pandemic, but, overall, noticed his work was not affected by the state of things.
“Film and television composers are kind of lone wolves out in our little cave. Composing is a bit of a solitary life. So, you know the pandemic didn’t really affect that at all. There were some logistical things that continue to be with orchestras. And we had a time where we went to Budapest, Hungary, and Prague when they were not having much problems there. So, we were able to record at times when we were completely locked down in the States…That’s just logistical. In terms of writing process, it’s not different at all.”
Unlike The Clone Wars, Kiner isn’t playing around with as many established characters with his work on The Bad Batch. Kiner spoke about what it was like composing music for a new series characterized by five central characters with five unique abilities and personalities.
“As always with Clone Wars, a lot of the great direction comes from the showrunners. Dave Filoni set up Clone Wars and he set up Bad Batch as well. One of the bits of direction he gave us, because he’s not really running that show anymore. One of the bits of direction he gave us was that the Bad batch are a group of misfits, sorta like the dirty dozen. So we went and watch dirty dozen and listened to the soundtrack. Guns of Navarone, another one called Kelly’s Heroes. So you’ll hear a harkening to a gang of misfits, they don’t really fit in, and yet they end up winning the day in a very unconventional way. Very similar to those great caper films and so that is an element you’ll hear in Bad Batch.”
Kiner also commented on what it was like to work on The Bad Batch with less direct involvement from Dave Filoni:
“Brad Rau is now the showrunner of Bad Batch. He’s really stepped into that job and we’re having a great collaboration with him too, super fun guy to work with. Really pays attention, knows what’s hes doing. Its amazing how Lucasfilm is able to find these people. I mean, I really feel like I was the right call for music and I try to live up with it everyday. And I know so many of the people I’m surrounded with were totally the right call. Look at Dave Filoni. George handpicked him. And it was pretty good choice [Laughs]. Everyone has their own personality and [way of] dealing with things, but, overall, it’s been seamless. And one of the cool things, Dave didn’t just say, “Bad Batch / Dirty Dozen! See you later!” He’s still involved, he still watches the show, he still listens to the things we’re doing and gives comments and stuff. And he’s doing this with Brad and Athena and all of the people involved, so it’s just been seamless…The transition has been seamless.”
In reflecting on his work in the Star Wars franchise, Kiner noted that it’s been one of the most demanding challenges of his career.
“It’s definitely the hardest gig I’ve ever had, on so many different levels. Filling John Wiliams’ shoes, which really is impossible, so I’ve never really filled his shoes. But I try not to wreck what he started. And I try to do it justice and I respect it. I’ve tried to, for instance, be really big on melody and he writes the greatest melodies ever for film, so there’s a huge challenge there. And his orchestral chops are insane. And I’m a rock and roll guitarist, I played in garage bands when I was kid since I was 10 years old. I was playing in bars way before it was legal for me to play in bars. There’s a different tradition that I come from. You know, I’ve educated myself on classical music. I continue to educate myself on classical music and study scores, study John Williams’ scores. And then the best I think is to study who he studied: Korngold, Stravinsky, all of the real greatest, Boulez. A lot of these fantastic composers and orchestrators and guys that came before. Star Wars is just in another league. It’s harder than anything for sure. It’s really rewarding, you know, once you’ve gotten through it. And the process is rewarding too. Because your brain doesn’t sit still.”
Throughout his work in Star Wars, Kiner has noticed it has become easier to strike a balance between honoring the work of John Williams and executing his own, unique style.
“I always…use this parallel, as a guitar player you’re starting to learn to solo and, as all of us guitar players, love to shred, right? That’s what we live for. So, maybe you copy a Jimi Hendrix solo or even a Joe Pass jazz solo or I copied the solo on Stairway to Heaven, Jimmy Cage. You don’t do that so you can play that solo over and over every night when you’re gonna play that song…The reason you learn that solo is so that it gets under your fingers, so when you do your own solo, some of those motions, whether it be physically or whether it be tonally or pneumatically, they’re kind of under your fingers, they become a little bit of you, they become an influence. But you don’t play them note for note, but now I can move in that direction if I want to. As much as I’ve studied John Williams, I don’t really worry about it. Some of his licks and stuff have gotten inside of me and I express them in my own way now. I’m not really concerned…I don’t think about it any longer. I used to think about it a lot, like I said it wasn’t a great strength of mine so I feel like I overcompensated for my lack of classical background for a long time.”
Beyond Star Wars, Kiner is proud of his other work in various different franchises.
“I had a great time doing the Bond games. I did Goldeneye and Bond Legends. That was really, really fun. It would be awesome to work on a Bond film or something like that. Everything I’m working on…I worked on Superboy in the 80s… so now here is Superboy and he shows up in Titans and it’s 30 years or something like that, it’s crazy. And I get to work with, here’s Batman, and Nighthawk and all of the different iterations and Robin. And Doom Patrol. I’ll tell you, I’m really most interested in the new stuff coming out. There’s a couple things I can’t really talk about, but when I see some of the new things coming across my desk I’m like ‘Wow, I can’t imagine enjoying something more than what I’m doing.’..Also, look at how good Clone Wars is. It’s such a great property…You could argue Clone Wars has done a tremendous amount for Star Wars as a franchise, I don’t even think that’s an argument – it’s a fact. To be involved in that is a complete dream. And to be involved with any kind of project that is really well respected. I’m working on this third season of Narcos Mexico. What a great show that is, the drama is fantastic. Really, really different score. It keeps me really fresh. And the style is very different.”
Following John Williams’ cameo appearance in The Rise of Skywalker, Kiner was asked if making a cameo appearance would be of interest to him.
“Man! I gotta ask them about that! Next time I talk to Brad, they gotta animate me…This guy has a museum, he used to work with Lucasfilm. He’s up in the Bay area. He’s got so much Star Wars memorabilia. A lot of it is fan art. He’s got the entire cantina band, you know all posed in the cantina, and there’s a picture of me sitting in with the band there…That’s what it should be. I should be in the club….I’m gonna bring that up now.”
Looking forward, Kiner hopes that his time in the Star Wars universe doesn’t finish any time soon.
“I certainly hope it’s not the end of myime. I hope I’m doing Star Wars for the next 20 years. Like me and John Williams, we’re not going to quit. Pry it from our cold dead fingers, I guess. That’s my attitude.”
Finally, in speaking of the members of Clone Force 99 in the upcoming series, Kiner included a little tease of what’s to come in The Bad Batch…
“I think I can say, there’s not just 5 central characters…”
It was an honor to be able to speak with Kevin Kiner about his work on The Bad Batch, his career, and more. His thoughtful and insightful comments have made us even work excited for the upcoming Disney+ series.
You can check out Kevin Kiner’s website for an in-depth look at his career and the projects he has worked on.
Stay tuned to Star Wars Holocron for more coverage of Star Wars: The Bad Batch! And look out for our video interview with Kevin Kiner coming soon!
Images courtesy of Disney+, Lucasfilm, Netflix, and kevinkiner.com