The Sounds of Star Wars

Did you know that the screech of a TIE Fighter is a drastically altered elephant bellow. Or that the voice of Chewbacca was constructed out of pieces of walruses and other animal sounds?

Lucasfilm has published a new book, The Sound Of Star Wars, that looks at the work of Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt.

In this aurally astonishing and visually engaging book, New York Times best-selling author J. W. Rinzler reveals the illuminating history of the sounds that make the Star Wars universe so believable, as recounted by their creator, legendary sound designer Ben Burtt.

An attached sound module with an exterior speaker and headphone jack lets readers listen to more than 250 unique sound effects, and more than 300 photographs illustrate the epic’s many memorable scenes.

Yes – one more reason to give George Lucas your money – but the excerpts make it pretty tempting.

Here, Burtt explains why he favored found sound over electronic sound:

When George Lucas approached Burtt about making the first Star Wars film, he had specific desires for how his fantasy world should sound. As Burtt puts it, the sound effect “language” of science fiction films at the time was pretty much electronic. Early films such as The Day the Earth Stood StillForbidden Planet, and War of the Worlds were created with clean, electronic-sounding sound effects and most films and television series after were created in the same mold. During Lucas’ first conversation with Burtt, he stated that he wanted an “organic soundtrack” and a “used universe

” He wanted squeaky doors, rust, and motors that didn’t start up quickly. Burtt’s solution was to collect sounds from the real world rather than use a Moog synthesizer as an initial source. “We did incorporate an element of electronic sound,” Burtt continued, “but it was imbedded in a world of organic sounds.” With sound devices based on the real world, the effects would seem authentic to the listener in some way even if they couldn’t identify the source of the sound.

If you’ve read The Sounds Of Star Wars, leave a comment with your thoughts!

7 thoughts on “The Sounds of Star Wars

  1. I dig this. In those days this held truth. I enjoy the new SW movies, but IMO the amount of detail and work which went into the old and new holds no comparison, and I'm sure the same went for the sound.

    Example.. (lets compare new with "most modern then"): Luke stands on the transporter before Jabba's palace and is about the be pushed into the mouth of the sarlacc. (pit of carkoon). You'll get a closeup. You might have noticed nothing about it. During the closeup pause the video and look again carefully (or google for 'skirmish at carkoon').

    Notice the marks on the vehicle (desert skiff) ? It looks natural; something which has been used and kind of worn out. THAT is the amount of detail I was used to when looking at a SW movie.

  2. Burtt's sound design made it all seem real.

    Funny how some of the practical effects from the original movies have aged so well, but the cutting edge stuff from both then and now looks cheesy.

  3. I remember seeing a documentary showing how the BBC's radiophonic workshop used all these bizarre kitchen-sink techniques to create sonic illusions of all sorts: a brick manipulated in a tray of sand used to create footsteps on gravel etc.
    Funny – given that these 'tricks' are so effective at fooling the ear – that there's an assumption that visual effects can't be so easily faked. Are there more sonic similies than visual ones?

  4. It's the same reason that prosthetics, models and puppets are superior to CG in most cases. Even though CG is more realistic, somehow we perceive the dodgier looking models, i think, purely because you can tell they are real things. Maybe it's also a case of having grown up with those techniques. As a child you think they are real, so as an adult, they still have a feeling of realness to them, even if you can see the seams, or the strings.

    Though I expect it's somehow the same with found sound vs synthetic sound, you can just tell sounds from synths are from a machine, whereas manipulated sounds still contain that nature to them that contains a realness.

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