‘The Mandalorian’ Composer Ludwig Göransson on Crafting a New ‘Star Wars’ Soundscape
It hasn’t even been a full month since Disney+’s highly anticipated The Mandalorian debuted, and the internet is already filled with chatter about the masked bounty hunter (and “Baby Yoda,” of course).
Set in the Star Wars universe, the series from showrunner Jon Favreau offers viewers something both familiar and new, a fact that wasn’t lost on the show’s composer Ludwig Göransson.
Göransson, who won a Best Original Score Oscar for Black Panther and is currently scoring Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, has previous television experience (Community) and has also won Grammys for his work with Childish Gambino. But that didn’t mean there weren’t challenges to scoring The Mandalorian, such as “[telling] a new story, but also keep[ing] the soul of Star Wars,” he says.
Nonetheless, Göransson says there was much to draw inspiration from. “I knew I wanted to have a very big soundscape,” he tells Fortune, pointing to a mix of “organic instruments” like the recorder, modern production tricks, and the 70-piece orchestra he worked with in L.A. to tailor the music for each episode.
Göransson elaborated on what it was like developing The Mandalorian score and how it relates to his other work during a recent conversation with Fortune.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The music of Star Wars has a very distinct identity that people have known for a long time. The score for The Mandalorian has elements of that “epic” quality that we’ve all come to know, but it also feels very different. How did you go about establishing something that both is and isn’t part of that universe?
Before I got started writing music, [Jon Favreau and I] had a lot of conversations. He invited me over to his office, and I went down there, and all of the walls [had] early artwork from the show. They hadn’t started shooting yet, so I was just looking at the walls, at this beautiful scenery, and new colors and new characters, and listening to Jon talk about his inspiration for the show, which was samurai movies, and Sergio Leone, and I understood pretty early on that he wanted to do something different and something new. But after reading the script, it was also important that the music had the soul of Star Wars.
To me, I had to go back to when I was a child and hearing Star Wars for the first time and seeing the movies. You know what really resonated with me was the music. It was stuck with me forever. And going back to those feelings I had as a child, I remember that when I heard the music for the first time, it took me to places I had never been before. I felt like I was in space or on a different planet. That was an emotional feeling I wanted to convey in my score.
What did you turn to for musical inspiration while figuring the score out?
I wanted to take a step away from the computer. That was my first thought that I wanted to kind of be more playful and write music like I did when I was younger. So I surrounded myself with just instruments that I could play. I bought a set of recorders because I used to play recorder when I was a child. And I put out guitars, drums, bass, ‘70s synthesizers in my studio, and just started playing with my hands.
For a month, I was just playing, and it was like I was a kid in a toy store again. I started off with flutes and with recorders, and then that led me to pick up another instrument. The first song I wrote [had] these kind of flute sounds, recorder sounds—in particular the bass recorder because that was like a sound I hadn’t heard before, and I processed it with some modern production, like the delay and reverb. It sounded like space to me, it sounded like something futuristic. I knew I wanted to have a very distinctive intimate simple sound for the character, so that was the first song I wrote—and I played it for Jon and [executive producer] Dave Filoni. After two seconds of just hearing the first note of the recorder, they looked at each other, and they were like, “This is the sound.”
I was always interested [in] the other music that [John Williams was] doing at the time [of the original score]—because that was also an era where electronics started to pop up. I was always interested in: How did [composers of that era] use modern sounds in their scores? So I listened to a lot of old scores from that time.
You mentioned being in Jon Favreau’s office and seeing artwork before they even started shooting. What other information were you privy to while you were getting this score together?
I read all eight scripts, and so I had a pretty clear picture of what I needed to do and especially what really stood out to me, that I hadn’t seen or read in a while was that you’re following this gunslinger on his journey—there’s one story to it, and also, he’s also wearing a helmet the whole time. So there’s no facial expressions, which both means that my music needs to convey his feelings and his facial expressions. I knew that it [needed] to be something very subtle and intimate.
You’ve had a pretty varied career. You’ve worked in film and TV—there’s Black Panther, there’s Community. You’ve worked with Childish Gambino. What about these experiences helped you prepare for this particular project?
I feel like every project I work on, I learn so many new things. I feel extremely lucky. For Black Panther, I learned so much about music, and every time I work with new artists, I get their view on music, and it just makes me more flexible and makes me more open to genres and open to new ideas. Everything I’m working on, I feel like I’m coming out on the other side as a better composer.
What do you feel like you’ve learned from doing The Mandalorian that you might take to your next project?
I think how we created such a huge world of sounds, of music—there’s crazy cyberpunk electronics combined with orchestral strings, combined with organic baroque recorders. I think how we were able to combine a lot of different sounds and instruments that you haven’t really heard before, using them in new ways. That’s something that I’m very excited about.
How do you go about picking such a mix of projects?
I’m extremely lucky to be in this position where I can really work with people that are extremely inspiring to work with, and people that I feel like I learn a lot from. That’s what I want to do. Whatever project I’m working on, I want to feel like I’m learning, I want to feel like I’m learning new things, and I feel like I want to work on projects that make me want to study and make me want to feel engaged. And so far I’ve been lucky enough to work, have people around me that are really inspiring to me.
The Mandalorian is currently streaming on Disney+.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—The Aeronauts director on how he pulled off the high-flying adventure film
—South Korean anti-trust complaint over Frozen 2 alleges more monopolistic behavior by Disney
—Knives Out and other original titles slice their way to Thanksgiving box office success
—Vanessa Hudgens talks Knight Before Christmas and why she loves Booksmart
—Knives Out: Rian Johnson and composer Nathan Johnson discuss their cousinly collaboration
Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.