A key component of the success of the original Star Wars trilogy is that not only were they ambitious and inventive visually, but the sound design had to blend futuristic concepts with real-world sensibilities, with a video series on YouTube compiling a number of interviews with sound designer Ben Burtt to talk about crafting the series' iconic sounds. From beastly growls to laser blasts to screaming TIEs, INDEPTH Sound Design pulled together explanations for the most important sound effects in the films, featuring archival interviews about the effects. Check out the videos for Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Over the course of any given film, audiences likely aren't anticipating how many sounds they might be hearing each scene, though sound effects artists don't have the luxury of taking things for granted. During a previous interview with StarWars.com about the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, Burtt revealed exactly how many sound effects he and his team had to craft.
“I would say there were about one thousand different things that needed to be addressed in the movie in terms of projects for sound effects creation. I went back a few years ago and I counted ‘em up,” Burtt revealed back in 2020. “The organic nature of the sound is the defining basis for everything done in Star Wars. That was really [franchise creator George Lucas'] direction from the beginning, so we got used to that sort of thing and looked for it.”
The charm of the sound effects of Star Wars is that many of the effects are familiar to audiences, yet they can never quite place their origins. This is thanks to Burtt's expertise when it comes to combining animals with one another to evoke all-new beasts.
“We wanted Dagobah to be teeming with off-screen life; life that you basically didn’t see,” Burtt recalled. “It was entirely invisible. It was under the leaves or under the bark or something in the trees.”
As far as Burtt's work collecting sounds at the San Francisco Zoo’s aviary, he noted, “They had a giant cage that had birds in it and it was very echoey. When you recorded in there and slowed it way down, way down, the little high-pitched chirps became unidentifiable unknown creatures that sparked your imagination.”
What is your favorite Star Wars sound effect? Let us know in the comments below!