Monday, January 24, 2011

The Sounds of Star Wars

Valentine's Day came a little early here for Ben this year as I was completely unable to contain my excitement (I know, I know... nerd alert!) in giving him his awesome gift.

To all you Star Wars fans out there, I highly recommend adding this gem of a book to your collection: The Sounds of Star Wars. For those of you who don't know him, Ben Burtt is the sound designer and creative genius behind all the films. Imagine having the task of making a sound for a laser gun. Darth Vader's infamous breathing. Chewwie's laugh. Blast doors closing and opening. Light Sabers. Pretty tough huh? Not if you're Ben Burtt. This book goes through nearly every sound you can imagine played in Star Wars with an explanation of how he created them.

It's nearly 300 pages with a drive and buttons to actually be able to listen to the sounds as you're reading through them. It also features perfect color photos from the sets and movies themselves. Nerdy right? We can't stop looking through it.

So, here are some of my personal favorite secrets of the sound design:

1-Darth Vader- The sound of his breathing is infamous and has been mimicked in movies and TV shows for years. How did he do it? Simply put a mic in a Scuba Mask, got in the water, and started breathing. Pretty damn clever, right?

2- The Millennium Falcon- That wonderful noise it makes as it passes by the camera is a combination of a few things. First, he recorded World War II piston-driven racing planes out in the Mojave Desert. Next, at the peak moment of pass-by, he would add a thunderclap or the roar of a lion to add intensity as the ship blasted past.

3- The Ewoks- As Burtt generally did with Alien languages, he sought out rather obscure dialects of foreign languages. The sounds you hear from a few of the Ewoks (think Wicket) is actually a recording of an 80-year-old woman from a Western
Mongolian tribe telling stories and folktales. They also combined a little Native American Lakota.

4- The Rancor Beast- Don't piss Jabba off or you'll end up in a pit face-to-face with the Rancor beast. Surprisingly enough, the terrifying roar is actually a recording of an "insanely aggressive" Dachshund owned by Burtt's neighbors.

5- The Call of the Jawa- Burtt based the language on Zulu, then raised the pitch of the actor's voices. The memorable Jawa call of "Utinni!" is actually Burtt himself and a friend in a canyon outside of LA yelling across the rocks to one another until they were hoarse.

6-Chewwie, Tauntauns, and Sand People- All are actually a variety of different animals. Chewwie is mostly comprised of grizzly bears, slowed down or played backwards. TaunTauns are recordings of little sea otters, with the pitches slowed down and lowered. And Sand People are simply pack-mules. Listen carefully next time and you'll no doubt catch the braying sound of a donkey.

Ben Burtt continues to make movies and has worked on Star Wars Episodes I-VI, The Clone Wars series, the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T., Wall-E (he's the voice of Wall-E!), and JJ Abram's 2009 Star Trek.

Happy geeking everyone!


  1. In the words of What About Bob? "I want, I want, I want. I need, I need, I need. Gimme, gimme, gimme!!!"

    Very cool gift tin-tin! Thanks for sharing with the rest of us.

  2. My family would LOVE this. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I loooove the new songs on your playlist. :)

    I also love this post. I literally JUST finished watching Return of the Jedi. And then here I am checking up on my favorite blogs and you've just written about the sound effects?

    We are of one mind..