The Ed on why even the sounds of Star Wars are brilliant.
The Star Wars movies are usually celebrated for their groundbreaking visuals – and rightly so. But Star Wars isn’t just about what you see. In fact, even watching Star Wars with your eyes closed is an incredibly evocative experience that instantly transports you to a certain galaxy far, far away. A big part of that is John Williams’s score, that immortal succession of some of the most memorable movie music ever recorded. But even more important, I reckon, are the sound effects. Has there ever been another film series where noises have been given such a big role?
The hum of a lightsaber. The scream of a TIE fighter. Darth Vader’s mechanical breathing. The stomp of an AT-AT… Just hearing them in isolation is enough to awaken that warm, fuzzy Star Wars part of your brain – even if they’ve simply been commandeered to tell someone a text message has arrived. And amazingly, nearly 40 years on, they still feel original and fresh. They’ve burrowed their way into our collective aural pathways in a way that perhaps only the TARDIS and transporters from the original Star Trek can match. The props for that go to legendary sound designer Ben Burtt, possibly the only member of his profession that the average movie fan could take a shot at naming. Rather than following the ’60s and ’70s convention of playing around with bleepy, artificial sounds, he went for something more organic and real-worldy. That’s why those TIE fighter screeches are a blend of a car on a wet road and an elephant. Blaster shots are simply the noise of a hammer hitting a guy-wire holding up a radio tower. The snow speeders’ drone is traffic on a motorway. While, for the people who live in George Lucas’s universe, they’re probably just as mundane as the whirr of a lawnmower, for us they’re part of the Star Wars magic. Would the original have been such a hit if Darth Vader’s lightsaber hadn’t sounded so cool when he turned it on?
Rich is currently making lightsaber noises at his desk.