“It Had Such An Impact On Everything”: Dhani Harrison Talks Star Wars

The musician on his lifelong love of a galaxy far, far away.

Dhani Harrison is a musician, singer, songwriter, composer, designer, and the son of a Beatle. But StarWars.com had a sneaking suspicion that Harrison — who recently released his debut solo album, the atmospheric, dark-hued, and powerful IN///PARALLEL — is also a massive Star Wars fan. As it turns out, he’s a make-your-own-lightsaber, launch-Luke-into-space kind of fan. (But, please, don’t try that last one at home.) In a wide-ranging interview, StarWars.com spoke to Harrison about his love of Star Wars, including going to the Rogue One premiere, his father’s thoughts on the saga, and his superfan exchange program with Mark Hamill.

StarWars.com: How are you?

Dhani Harrison: Great, thank you. First, can I say it’s such an honor to be interviewed by StarWars.com. I was actually a bit nervous, to be honest.

StarWars.com: Please, it’s an honor to talk to you. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for a long time. I noticed every time you’d be on a talk show or something, you’d drop a Star Wars reference. Your Instagram has these crazy Star Wars mashups. So…

Dhani Harrison: Yeah. Well, I grew up with Star Wars, first of all, obviously. As did everyone. I just have so many wonderful points of entry into the Star Wars universe. Russ and Carol Titelman, who were producers back on A New Hope… Russ Titelman produced one of my dad’s records. So they were like my connection to the Star Wars universe when I was a kid. And then I just realized, a year and a half ago, that a dear old friend of mine, who was actually my first friend when I was a kid at nursery school, he grew up to be a producer on Rogue One — called Simon Emanuel. And on the The Force Awakens. He got hired by Kathleen Kennedy because he was a location manager, he did all the Harry Potter films, and he invited me to the Rogue One premiere. It was just like going with an old childhood friend to see this wonderful universe that we’ve grown up in, and kind of feeling like, “Oh, we grew up and it stayed the same.”

StarWars.com: That’s a great feeling.

Dhani Harrison: Yeah, it’s a brilliant feeling. When I’m in England, I live very close to Pinewood Studios. I got given a tour by master Mark Hamill, and he’s obviously one of my big heroes of all time. I got to go and view the [The Last Jedi] set. So I’ve had, recently, a bunch of new Star Wars experiences. But really, I’ve always done martial arts, and I’ve done meditation since I was a kid, so “Jedi training” is a very familiar thing in my family. [Laughs]

Yoda uses the force in The Empire Strikes Back.

StarWars.com: Do you remember the first time you actually saw Star Wars, and how it impacted you?

Dhani Harrison: I definitely saw Empire [Strikes Back] in theaters, and I think I saw it in a double feature with [Return of theJedi.

StarWars.com: How old would you have been?

Dhani Harrison: I was born in 1978, so I was born the year after A New Hope came out. Obviously, it was filmed very close to where I grew up. To me it felt English, in a weird way, because of the English character actors. A lot of it was just the guys that were there.

StarWars.com: Did you notice that all the bad guys were English?

Dhani Harrison: Yeah, all the bad guys were English, but I liked that. That’s just the Revolutionary War [influence]. I mean, we’ve always been the bad guys in all Hollywood stories, so I didn’t take particular offense in that.

StarWars.com: Okay, good.

Dhani Harrison: It’s really one of those things that has just been one of the greatest points of reference, I think, in my whole life. Years later I actually happened to become friends with Hayden Christensen, because after my father passed away, he was in London. During Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I got to hang out with him because we had mutual friends. We kind of would have weekends down at my house and we’d play croquet and ping pong, and Hayden’s such an amazing gamer, he wins at everything. So there were a lot of us playing. That was a really hard time for me in my life, because I had just lost my dad. I remember that summer, and it was a lot of really good healing with those guys out in Henley-on-Thames playing croquet and ping pong, and just whatever games we could get our hands on — darts, table football, pool, anything. We were just obsessed with games. And then visiting Hayden in London when they were filming. Again, Star Wars kind of comes back into my life during strange times. [Laughs] It always revisits me.

Yeah, it’s a very interesting thing, because it’s such a good way of referencing all of the wonderful parts of spirituality and discipline and belief system. It had such an impact on everything, and there have been so many films that have adopted that philosophy.

StarWars.com: On that note, I wanted to ask, if you don’t mind, what your dad thought of the movies and if he liked them.

Dhani Harrison: Oh, my dad loved Star Wars. We were always very into Empire, obviously. My dad had a way of explaining things. He used to say things like, “If you talk about God, you can watch people’s toes curl.” You know what I mean? Like, people don’t like to use the word “God.” But if you use the term “the Force,” essentially to mean exactly the same thing, or the universe, it’s a way more palatable thing that people with no spiritual or religious affiliations can get behind. So I think he always enjoyed that — the way that George Lucas explained that spirituality. Because it made his job easier. [Laughs] It made the explanations of things easier.

StarWars.com: I always thought there wasn’t much of a difference between “My Sweet Lord” and “Luminous beings are we.” 

Dhani Harrison: No, no, exactly. My dad spent a lot of time in the garden, and if I ever wanted to find him he would be down at the bottom of the garden. I used to go to school on Saturdays, as well. My friends would kind of end up back at my house in the garden, and it would be like around twilight on a Saturday night, and we’d find my dad somewhere in the garden. Sooner or later it would turn into like, five teenagers sitting there, listening to him lay things down in a very Obi-Wan kind of way. He had that kind of gravity to him. You know, you didn’t mess with him. He was tough but he also was like a father to everyone that I knew. It came with his life experience of having years and years of just the weirdest life that anyone could imagine, and with that came great wisdom. He would sit there and before long it would be like some sort of Jedi Master class. We would all just be sitting there, listening, hanging on to his every word, because he wouldn’t talk about stuff that other parents would talk about. He would talk about miracles and yogis and levitation and flying and astral projection. That, to him, was not in any way weird. But, of course, the Star Wars generation, for us that was just great. That was just brilliant. So all my friends would love coming over and hanging out, listening to the crazy old wizard in the garden.

StarWars.com: Well, that’s interesting because Star Wars, like you said, it took those concepts and it made them more…

Dhani Harrison: Accessible.

StarWars.com: Yeah. It made it okay to think about them.

Dhani Harrison: Exactly, exactly.

Dhani Harrison in a hat and coat in the forrest in the snow.

StarWars.com: So when you were a kid and you first got into it, how far did your fandom go? Were you a toy collector?

Dhani Harrison: Oh, yeah. Definitely. A toy collector, definitely. I remember when I was young enough to be still playing with my X-wing pilot Luke toy, and I wanted him to go into space because I didn’t think he was authentic enough just being in my living room. So I managed to get ahold of a bottle rocket or something. I was very, very young at the time, and I know that this is probably not allowed. And I taped him to this rocket and set him off with a parachute that I’d made for him. Believe it or not, he actually went really high and came down on a flaming parachute because, obviously, the paper had caught fire from the rocket. I managed to recover the said toy and I have it still to this day. The crazy thing was that when it came back down, Luke was missing his right hand.

StarWars.com: See, that’s Star Wars magic right there.

Dhani Harrison: Right there! And it was kind of charred at the stump from where it had been blown off by the rocket. So to this day people think I chopped off his hand, but actually, life imitated art.

StarWars.com: Right. And we’ll put a warning at the top of this article saying “Do not try this at home.”

Dhani Harrison: “Do not try this at home with your Luke Skywalker toy.” But he had his helmet on and everything. Safety first. He was wearing his orange X-wing suit and he was ready to go into space. He was fine with the whole thing. He did lose a hand, but then again, he probably already lost that hand and it was a robot hand, so it didn’t make any difference.

StarWars.com: You have to sacrifice sometimes.

Dhani Harrison: Yeah, exactly. So that was one of my earliest toy memories.

I can’t wait for The Last Jedi to come out, because somewhere on someone’s hard drive is a photo of me sitting on the Millennium Falcon at the chess board. I think that my life might be complete when I get sent that photograph.

StarWars.com: Wow. So what was it like walking onto the Millennium Falcon?

Dhani Harrison: I walked onto the Millennium Falcon and it was one of the greatest experiences of my entire life. It was The Last Jedi Millennium Falcon, as well, so bear in mind it was 30 years older than it was. [Jokingly] The whole thing was in a pretty bad state back in the day. It was looking like it needed a woman’s touch. It was really just like, wires hanging out everywhere. It was quite sad to see it in such a state. And the dirt…they’d aged it really well. There was bits missing and panels and wires. It was a really sad state for the Millennium Falcon to be in.

I think I teared up. I definitely teared up in my eyes and I had to sit there, and I had a conversation with one of the security guards at Pinewood. He was standing there and I said, “Wow.” I just looked at him and he just looked at me, and there was no one else there. He said, “You know, when I go to work every day, my son asks me what I do, and on other jobs I’m just a security guard. But when I go to work every day, I can tell my son that I’m guarding the Millennium Falcon.”

StarWars.com: That’s pretty awesome.

Dhani Harrison: And he just looked at me with such pride. I looked at him and was like, “Wow, you’re a hero. You must be your son’s hero.” He was just like, “I am.” Even now it gives me a lump in my throat. Like, wow. “What does your dad do?” “Oh, he guards the Millennium Falcon.”

That was definitely an unforgettable moment in my life. Getting to wield [Chewbacca’s weapon] the bowcaster, Han’s original blaster, and Luke’s original blaster [in the prop workshop, featuring weapons from all the films]… Everything works, it’s not all make believe. Everything actually works. I saw a Crait fox. I had a dog that looked like a Crait fox. He passed away last year. To see my dog, who was kind of like a mini-wolf, in crystalized form was just mind-bending. I couldn’t tell my friends until the trailer that just came out recently. Just being able to tell the story about seeing that stuff is like, ultra bragging rights. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to Game of Thrones, Westworld. Star Wars, mainly. Stranger Things, everything like that.

Actually, I had a really interesting experience, which I was wondering if anyone had picked up on. I wrote a record that just came out, and the subject matter I was writing for about three years. I wrote the single, and this is kind of me in my studio, all alone for a really long time. Through months and months, and years, actually, of getting back into meditation and spending time in nature, spending a lot of time in solitude. And I wrote this record, and a lot of the scenes that happen in the record went on to manifest themselves in the real world. I don’t know if I was tuning into what was about to happen, but it’s weird — when you start to tune your mind-radio into things, you can afford yourself synchronicity. I don’t know what or how it works. I can’t pretend to understand how it works. But the single off the record that I wrote was called “All About Waiting.” And the first line is “I know all there is to know about waiting.” A few months later, I was waiting for the trailer of The Force Awakens to come out, and the first thing that came on screen was Rey. I’ve never seen Rey before, and the first line that came out of her mouth was, “I know all about waiting.” [Laughs] It just made my blood run cold. I was just like, “That is too weird.” I swear to God, that is a true story. And a few months later I had another song that was about parallel dimensions and the physical continuum of Earth, and all this kind of interesting stuff. I’d written a song called “Admiral of Upside Down,” and then Stranger Things came out and I had never seen that! [Laughs] I was like, “I am tuning into some stuff here. This is weird.”

StarWars.com: You haven’t written any songs about who Rey’s father is, have you?

Dhani Harrison: No, no. I haven’t. [Laughs]

StarWars.com: I thought we might have a scoop!

Dhani Harrison: I don’t even approach that issue, because I have several theories and I’m pretty sure one of them’s gotta be the right one. I respect it too much. I respect the process of finding out Rey’s parentage. I had actually just written the record and I was on the set of Star Wars, and I turned around, and Daisy Ridley was standing there. All I had to say was, “Oh, wow,” and she looks at me like I was weird. [Laughs] I was just like, “Oh, wow. You’re here. That’s crazy!” [Laughs] I thought they’d finished shooting because it was the last day of The Last Jedi.

Yeah, so there is a lot of weird stuff in my life that relates and pertains to that whole…well, the Force generally.

StarWars.com: Well, not to get too lofty for StarWars.com, but I believe you can kind of pick up the vibe of the state of the world.

Dhani Harrison: Yeah! Definitely, definitely.

StarWars.com: And those things come through in whatever art you’re making.

Dhani Harrison: I totally agree, you know, and it’s funny. We are watching “the upside down” [in Stranger Things] and it’s so reflecting the times that we live in. Good art reflects its time, I guess. That’s the way it is. It should mirror what’s going on in the real world and have something to say about it.

The lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

StarWars.com: You grew up with Star Wars, loving it. In your adult life, I know that you are someone who knows and understands design. So I’m curious what the aesthetic of Star Wars

Dhani Harrison: Oh, my God, listen to what just came on the radio as you said that. I’m listening to KUSC. [Puts phone up to the radio, and the “Imperial March” is playing.] That just came on the radio as you said that. There you go. [Laughs] KUSC classical, I’m listening to right now. That’s my morning jam. Well, that was weird.

StarWars.com: This is getting pretty weird.

Dhani Harrison: It gets weird! The design… I mean, I’m obsessed with everything. I even had the privilege of meeting, on a different project that we were going to work on, [Star Wars designer] Doug Chiang, who is just phenomenal. I actually am sitting right now with the gigantic book of all of the blueprints for everything Star Wars. I’m pretty nerdy. I’m looking around my room right now. There’s a couple lightsabers that I’ve built from parts from the Internet. I actually have one right here. [Turns on lightsaber, it makes the classic ignition sound.] There you go. This is a yellow lightsaber that I built the other month. So yeah, I love tinkering with design. I said to my friend Simon, when I was [visiting Pinewood and] looking at the props department, “Could I just quit music and just join the props department here? If this album doesn’t go well, I don’t really see why I should carry on. Maybe I could just get a job working here?” [Laughs] Simon, my friend, said, “Every single person says that when they come here. Everyone wants to work with real X-wings and real blasters and real lightsabers.” As a designer, going to see the creature shop and to see the props department was probably the greatest treat of my life.

StarWars.com: We have the shoretrooper from Rogue One here at Lucasfilm…

Dhani Harrison: Whoa.

StarWars.com: …and some other stuff. What always amazes me is that it doesn’t lose the magic when you see it in person. 

Dhani Harrison: No, it almost reinforces it, in a funny way. The build quality on everything in Star Wars, especially now that you’ve got Disney behind you, as well, [is excellent]. When I look at what they’ve done for the Marvel universe and to see Star Wars... The reason why it looks so good is because it’s all real. They built everything.

StarWars.com: So I know we’re talking for a while. 

Dhani Harrison: Oh, I could talk all day.

StarWars.com: Okay! I thought maybe we’ll do some rapid fire.

Dhani Harrison: Okay.

StarWars.com: Favorite character?

Dhani Harrison: Obi-Wan. Definitely. Sir Alec Guinness, I think, is my favorite. Obviously, Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of him is fantastic, as well. But I think the original Obi-Wan from A New Hope was my favorite of all.

StarWars.com: And what’s interesting is, he’s actually not in the film as much as we think.

Dhani Harrison: No, no.

Obi-Wan shows a lightsaber to Luke while C-3PO and R2-D2 rest in A New Hope.

StarWars.com: But the weight of the performance just leaves such an impression on you.

Dhani Harrison: Yeah. And the position that he’s in. He has to lie [Laughs], but he also has been there caring for him the whole time. You know? So it’s a very ambiguous position, and isn’t that the way in life? It’s never quite clean cut.

StarWars.com: Favorite Star Wars film?

Dhani Harrison: Obviously Empire, but I really enjoyed elements from Force Awakens. I mean, A New Hope is kind of my favorite film of all time. So I don’t know. I enjoyed elements of Force Awakens, I enjoyed elements of even Revenge of the Sith. I just want see the whole story told. The Anakin/Obi-Wan stuff was really one of my favorite parts of the whole saga. But I think favorite film, definitely Empire, obviously.

StarWars.com: Favorite scene?

Dhani Harrison: Battle of Hoth was probably my favorite scene of all time. But also, more like the rescue of Luke at the beginning. To see Han using a lightsaber is probably one of my favorite things. He’s the only person that’s ever ignited a lightsaber that’s not a Jedi. Oh, until Finn. Until Finn.

StarWars.com: Favorite bounty hunter not named Boba Fett?

Dhani Harrison: I’d have to go with probably Greedo. Just because he had swag and I would have liked to have seen more of him. I bet he had beef with Han, way more beef.

For him to just blast him straight away under the table…Han definitely shot first.

StarWars.com: Good. That was going to be my follow-up question. Your opinion on that.

Dhani Harrison: Definitely. He just straight up, coldblooded murdered him at the table. There must have been some serious stuff that went down for him to do that without even worrying.

StarWars.com: Right. Just like, “All right, I’m not dealing with this anymore.”

Dhani Harrison: Yeah. “No, no, no. We’ve had this before. I’m just going to straight up blast him under the table.” In a very Inglorious Basterds kind of way.

Musician Dhani Harrison.

StarWars.com: I did want to mention to you, I’m a big Beatles, Wilburys, Jeff Lynne superfan.

Dhani Harrison: Oh, yeah. Me too.

StarWars.com: Obviously!

Dhani Harrison: [Laughs]

StarWars.com: I’m from New York, so I flew home to go to the ELO [Rock & Roll Hall of Fame] induction with my dad. [Dhani inducted ELO.]

Dhani Harrison: Oh, you were at the Barclays Center!

StarWars.com: I was way in the back, but I was there. We really loved your speech. But I did want to thank you for the line where you said, “They reminded me of the Star Wars cantina band, only with lots more hair.”

Dhani Harrison: [Laughs] Yes, they did. Well, you know, if you’ve ever seen Bev Bevan move around the stage, he does look like one of those guys. With the giant glasses, not too dissimilar from those big alien eyes.

StarWars.com: Well, I appreciated it. It hit both my nerd buttons, so it was perfect.

Dhani Harrison: Okay, great. That’s great. That’s what we want to do. I love mashups. I was talking to Mark Hamill about this. He said to me that his Star Wars is The Beatles, and I said, “Well, let’s nerd out on stuff.” There’s that child in all of us that really appreciates the little technical things, the little inside things. That’s what I’m all about.

I posted all these things the other month when the new Game of Thrones season had come on, and someone had done all the Game of Thrones characters as Jedi. It was like Arya with a lightsaber, and Cersei Lannister with a yellow lightsaber, Melisandre using the Force to wield six red lightsabers. Stuff like that, I just love. Mashups.

Abearded Luke stands in front of a stone wall.

StarWars.com: You mentioned Mark Hamill. I read a long time ago that he came over to your house and you showed him your dad’s guitar collection.

Dhani Harrison: Well, we did an exchange program. He showed me the set at Pinewood. I’m only 15 minutes away from Pinewood, and I said, “If you’re really here and you’re that much of a fan, you should definitely let me repay the favor by having you over.” I had the whole family over and they’re so lovely. Yeah, so we spent one day completely nerding out on Star Wars, and then one day completely nerding out on my dad’s studio. Which was really fun for both of us, because you get to experience it in a different way.

StarWars.com: I wanted to talk about your album a little bit. I’ve been listening to it the last couple of weeks and I was so surprised, speaking of genre mashups, by how it throws all these different sounds and styles into one album. I thought it would be interesting just to hear about your approach to making music like this and what you wanted to accomplish.

Dhani Harrison: I spent so much time scoring, for picture and TV and film, the last five years, and I kind of pivoted my career from being a recording-making artist to being a more of a producer and composer. I spend so much time doing things for other people’s visions, and… I was just talking to someone about this earlier. I remember when the Wu-Tang [Clan] were making solo albums. The RZA made an album called Bobby Digital in Stereo, which was kind of like a soundtrack to a movie that never got made. There was no plan to ever make the movie. I just thought, “Well, that’s a great idea. Just because something doesn’t get made doesn’t mean we can’t have the soundtrack to it.” I just took the idea of “I’m going to approach making my own record as I would scoring a film,” only I have a very detailed memory. That’s just one of my personality traits that I have. I have quite a good ability to recall detail. I don’t know what it is that allows me to do that.

StarWars.com: Just say it’s the Force.

Dhani Harrison: Yes, exactly! So I just approached it by scoring my life. I would take little things that affected me or that stuck with me, and then from memory, laid it down. How did that feel, sonically? It’s like I was saying. It’s kind of like a cloud. If you concentrate on something hard enough it kind of comes into form. So then you have this stuff that I’d done and it was just like, “Okay, well this is kind of a movie,” and I didn’t want to then try to turn it into songs. But songs came out of them, which was kind of strange. Yeah, I approached it more like a movie, I think.

StarWars.com: That’s interesting. One thing you notice just going through the tracks is, they’re not three minutes, in and out. It feels like you’re really taking your time with it.

Dhani Harrison: Well, I wanted to have movements. Like anything, if you want something to develop and you want to build tension or fear, or you want to make something really beautiful, you have to have contrast. You have to have light and dark. It’s really hard to do that within three minutes. So I didn’t want to set myself any boundaries on this one. I wanted the music to make people feel what it is that I was feeling. And sometimes that’s more complicated than a three-minute radio song.

StarWars.com: Well, I think it’s a beautiful record. So thank you for making it.

Dhani Harrison: Oh, thank you.

StarWars.com: I know it literally just came out, but are you thinking about what you’re going to do with the next one?

Dhani Harrison: Definitely. Already.

StarWars.com: When I listen to the album, I get the sense that this is a person who can jump between genres and styles and might not stick to this particular sound.

Dhani Harrison: I think this sound is kind of very big, and it was appropriate for what I was feeling in the world at the time. I think whatever I do next is going to be a bit simpler, because I want to make more of a band-style record. The band that I play with at the moment is really a bunch of fun guys. They’re such great musicians. And I didn’t get enough time to work with some of the people that I co-wrote a few little bits on because I already had this thing fully formed. So people like Jon Bates from the band Big Black Delta, he came in worked on a couple of tracks with me. We’re such good friends, and I played in his band actually for a while. I really want to work with him again. I hope that maybe he’ll produce the next record. I’ve never actually done that before, where someone else produces your record. So, you know, just trying to do new things. I never released a record under my name before [this]. I’ll probably work with a producer on the next record because I haven’t done that. I’ve already done the things that I want to do and got that stuff out of the way, so let’s see where it can go and develop. I don’t want to stifle my process before I’ve even gotten started.

StarWars.com: One last question. Your next album. Pick one Star Wars character to duet with. 

Dhani Harrison: Oh… I guess it would have to be Rey, wouldn’t it? I hear she’s quite a fantastic rapper, as well.

StarWars.com: Okay, perfect.

Dhani Harrison: So it could be like a hip hop garage [band]. I think Rey and Finn would make a good UK underground garage band. It would be like So Solid Crew or something.

StarWars.com: Very cool. Well, this was a real treat for me.

Dhani Harrison: What a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much, and I’m glad I got through this without getting into trouble with spoilers or anything like that. [Laughs]

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.