“Ahsoka” Composer Kevin Kiner on Scoring Jedis, Sith Lords, and Space Whales

There are few people alive with more Star Wars experience than composer Kevin Kiner. While Kiner would be the first to point out that the legendary John Williams has him beat, when it comes to the number of minutes—and hours—of music composed for a galaxy far, far away, Kiner is a proper Jedi. For more than a decade, Kiner has been working with George Lucas and Dave Filoni to score every season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and has added to his endless Star Wars credits scroll Star Wars: Rebels, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi.

Which brings us to Kiner’s work on Filoni’s critically acclaimed Ahsoka on Disney+, the first live-action Star Wars show to spring from one of the franchise’s animated series (Star Wars: Rebels). Ahsoka follows its titular heroine, the rebel Jedi Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), dealing with the rumored return of a terrifically powerful adversary, Grand Admiral Thrawn, played by Lars Mikkelsen (who also voiced him in Rebels). The series is set in the aftermath of the fall of the Galactic Empire, and Ahsoka, a loner by nature, still has a few allies she can rely on. They include her former padawan Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), a capable, if wayward, warrior who Ahsoka worries about and tries to push away in equal measure. Then there’s her trusty droid Huyang (voiced by David Tennant) and General Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), two steadfast companions in a dangerous world. Along with Thrawn, her chief antagonists are the formidable Baylan Skoll (the late Ray Stevenson), his protege Shin Hati (Ivanna Sakhno), and an assortment of galactic ghouls, including ferocious droids and would-be assassins, all working in concert to aid the return of Thrawn.

We spoke to Kiner about taking on the assignment of a lifetime, his hard-to-describe process, and scoring the thrilling arrival of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, reprising his role), who’s featured prominently in episode 5, “Shadow Warrior,” as he and Ahsoka plunge into a deeply satisfying trip down memory lane.

What was it like jumping from the animated Star Wars world into live-action?

I co-wrote with my two children, Sean and Dina, and they were a big help in putting together. First, we put together a playlist of stuff we liked, from Max Richter to John Williams. We gave those to Dave [Filoni] and then started thinking, what does a mature Ahsoka sound like? It took a while. It started with Tales of the Jedi. We came up with this samurai vibe. The first three episodes of Tales of the Jedi are about Ahsoka’s birth and growing up. We wound up slowing that groove down quite a lot and then taking her melody, which is a very simple melody, and stretching it out. I guess you could say it’s a level of sophistication, a Ronin samurai vibe that we kept. Funny enough, when I wrote the first cue in the theme for the first time, I wrote it for shakuhachi, a Japanese flute.


Were you inspired by any scores from other live-action Star Wars shows?

I thought what Ludwig Göransson had done with The Mandalorian was super groundbreaking. We’d been experimenting quite a lot with not being John Williams all the time, and I’ve written more music than anyone on Earth for Star Wars, starting with Clone Wars and then going through Rebels and then The Bad Batch and Tales of the Jedi. So when you write that much, you don’t want the music to get stale. So, we started using synthesizers and textures that are not what you would not find in a John Williams score. Star Wars always stays grounded in a way to the Williams legacy because there’s richness, there’s grandness, and there’s a willingness to be very, very broad. I mean, think about “The Imperial March”–that is broad as heck. I saw an interview with John about when he played the Jaws theme to Steven Spielberg, and Spielberg thought it was a joke. And John’s like, no, this is really it. But John Williams can pull that off. 

And Ludwig went a different way.

Ludwig took it in a new direction. He set the bar for what we call “main on ends,” which is the end credits theme, because everybody listens to that and knows that’s the theme. That was a big challenge for us—we wanted our theme to be equally iconic.


What’s it like for you as the composer shaping Ahsoka’s emotional journey? We learn how she became a rebel Jedi, her connection to Anakin Skywalker, and her fear of having a Padawan—it’s very emotional.

That’s kind of Scoring 101 because Rosario gave it to us, and Dave Filoni gave it to us in his writing. We flashback to young Ahsoka, and that actress [Ariana Greenblatt] is absolutely perfect and wonderful. The whole job of the score is to inform the audience in a musical way of what is going on, and that information can be about very deep things that you don’t necessarily see or hear in the dialogue. Ahsoka is a young girl in that flashback. She’s tired of life as a warrior; that’s all she has known. Then, further on in that episode, you can see that the older Ahsoka is very conflicted about having a Padawan in Sabine, and she’s conflicted about what she’s going to become because her Master became Darth Vader. There’s a saying that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” and it’s very difficult for me to elucidate exactly how I do it. Writing music for me is a very emotional thing; it’s kind of like jazz. You just jam with the feelings, and Dave Filoni arms me with really good information about the characters, and I have to just go through what I’m feeling and try to communicate that.


Let’s discuss the episode you’re talking about, episode 5, “Shadow Warrior,” in which we travel back to a young Ahsoka and her master, Anakin Skywalker.

I was proud of a couple of places in that episode. There’s a spot where Anakin is at the end of the siege of Mandalore, and young Ahsoka is saying, “I don’t want to do this,” and then he says, “Then you will die. She keeps reiterating, “I’m going to stop,” and he’s like, “Wrong answer.” It’s just before they go back to the world between worlds. We do this build with French horns and trombones, which I was very satisfied to hear. With the way the cue works when Ahsoka’s lightsaber is at Anakin’s neck—Dave and I worked on that particular moment for a very long time because he wasn’t positive if he was going to use the sound of the lightsaber for her; he wanted the audience to feel like she was about to chop his head off.


What about your music for the space whales scene?

You talk about the fine line of Star Wars; I mean, space whales that could have gone really wrong, right? And to pull that off, to have the cojones to go for that—I feel like the music helped support the magic of these marvelous creatures. I’m a very ocean-centric person, I’m always surfing and things like that, going out and looking at the whales when they’re around. When Ahsoka has her arms out and she’s commuting with that giant creature, I was very satisfied with how that cue turned out.


What’s it like being a part of the Star Wars family?

You just gave me goosebumps, I swear to God. If you had told me in 1977 when I was in that theater in Westwood that I’d be a part of the Star Wars family—holy crap.

Featured image: (L-R): Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.