George Lucas has said that sound is 50% of the experience of going to a movie. When it comes to Star Wars, this may be an understatement. Star Wars is full of recognizable sounds: The scream of a TIE Fighter; the snap-hiss of a lightsaber igniting; blasters firing; all of R2-D2s bleeps and blurps; Chewbacca; and of course, the sinister, mechanical breathing of Darth Vader.
All of these sounds had to be created for the films. Consider that before 1977, no one knew what a lightsaber sounded like, or what a Wookiee roar sounded like. So many of the creatures and objects in Star Wars are completely fictional, and as such there is no basis for what they would sound like. Sound designer Ben Burtt had to create all of those sounds. The sound in any one scene in Star Wars can be very complex: Consider the Death Star battle: Every sound you hear with the exception of the dialogue had to be created. TIE Fighters, X-Wings, Droids, Explosions, Laser cannons – EVERYTHING.
In designing the sound for Star Wars, Ben Burtt created an entire galaxy of sounds that are now as recognizable as an airplane flying overhead or a car passing by. Everyone knows Vader’s breathing, the sound of a lightsaber, and R2’s happy chirps. It’s no wonder Ben won an Academy Award for his work on Star Wars.
The sound design in Star Wars is so rich. It’s like an amazing, layered chocolate cake, except with fewer calories. It’s ear-candy, and I love it. From the opening scene when the Rebel Blockade Runner and Imperial Star Destroyer flew over our heads on the big screen, Ben Burtt’s sound design in Star Wars played a huge part in transporting us all to that galaxy far, far away.
My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Burtt at Star Wars Celebration V in 2010. For me, it was truly one of the highlights of the trip. In my opinion, he may have the coolest job on the planet. I can’t wait to hear what he and his team have in store for us in THE FORCE AWAKENS!