For all of the iconic elements that have made the Star Wars films such a cornucopia of cultural quintessence, it’s easy to lose sight of how those pieces fit together as a whole. In fact, the film’s indelible visuals often overshadow the critical element of sound. However, thanks to a fan-made supercut showcasing the work of sound effects legend Ben Burtt on the Original Trilogy of films, the spotlight on the amazing audio effects of those films can be fully appreciated.
Thrown together by a filmmaker fan, Rishi Kaneria (opens in new tab), this packed, pulse-pounding supercut gives you a quick, potent shot of some of the most famous Foley work in film history. Besides the unmistakable John Williams score, the critical role of the work done by sound designer Ben Burtt is never more apparent than in this creatively condensed montage of magnificence. The often-evoked "used future" idea in describing the Star Wars universe was quite apparent in the worn, dirty aesthetics of rural planets like the desert of Tatooine, contrasting with the sterile grayness of the Imperials on Star Destroyers and The Death Star. Yet, it’s perfectly clear that it was the audio work that essentially gave those things the visual veracity that made these elements iconic.
Of course, the original Star Wars trilogy films during their 1977-1983 run existed before the days when digital technology played such an integral role in the filmmaking process, as everything from visuals to audio were accomplished using practical magic. Yet, behind the curtain, the audio process was an especially unorthodox concoction, utilizing some of the most unlikely everyday elements to create an experience that transported moviegoers to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way." In fact, it was a process that required just as much inspiration and random experimentation as the filmmaking process itself was for George Lucas. Consequentially, much of the more famous elements were actually accidental discoveries.
For example, the now-unmistakable sound of an ignited lightsaber was created by an interesting amalgam. The hum recorded by putting a microphone against the back of an old television set was mixed with sounds from a 35 mm film projector, which, with some tonal tweaking, created the illusion of a luminescent energy-infused objected waving dangerously about in the air, ready to obligatorily cut off someone’s hand. Likewise, the common sound of blasters being fired was simply created by taking a hammer to an antenna wire. Additionally, the ground-shaking terror of the towering quadrupedal Imperial AT-AT Walkers that invaded the Rebels’ snowy safe-haven of Hoth were simply recorded from industrial machine punch presses, mixed with the sound of bicycle chains.
While you probably won’t find a die-hard Star Wars that would learn anything particularly new from this supercut, it nevertheless stands as a fantastic focus on an element of these unforgettable films that is often ignored. As fans get ready for another leap into the cinematic world of Star Wars with Episode VII: The Force Awakens on December 18, this video also stands as tremendous tribute to the work of Ben Burtt, who continues his role as sound producer on the Sequel Trilogy kick-off; he's probably working on some spectacular new sounds for us to experience at this very moment.
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