There are many wonderful things about being a Star Wars fan, but not to be discounted is the appreciation for the unique soundscape it presents -- much of it created by the legendary Ben Burtt. There is nothing in cinema history that sounds like an X-Wing rocketing through space, or a R2-D2 speaking, and they are noises that every aficionado immediately recognizes. Certainly the activation of a lightsaber fits into this category, but it may surprise you to learn exactly how that sound is made: using an emergency life vest. Sound designer Ren Klyce recently told me,
For example, the lightsaber turning on, what is that thing? We figured out that it was the sound of a life vest. You know when you're on an airplane, 'In the event of an emergency, pull the red tabs.' There is like a CO2 cartridge or whatever that activates. You pull that and it goes, 'Pssshhhh' and fills up with air. So we were like, 'That's what it is?!' And so we went on YouTube, and Steve Orlando, our sound design assistant, went, 'I found a YouTube video! And it's totally that sound, man!' And we were like, 'Great' Let's buy some of these vests, get some of these CO2 cartridges.'
I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Star Wars: The Last Jedi sound designers Ren Klyce and Matthew Wood last week during a special Los Angeles press day, and it was during a conversation about the legacy sounds of the franchise that I learned the above Easter egg. I asked the two men if there was a specific formula that had been passed down for creating the special noises of the sci-fi saga, and they went on to explain how one of the most iconic of all time is made.
As Ren Klyce and Matthew Wood continued, I learned that there was a bit of trial and error involved in the process. After purchasing a bunch of automatically-activated life vests, they wound up discovering that it takes a special method to get precisely the sound that they wanted for Star Wars: The Last Jedi:
Ren Klyce: So Matt and I, and everyone on our team, went into the scoring stage and we got these vests. We pulled the first one and recorded it, and it was all, 'Crinkle-crinkle-crinkle.' Ugg! So we were all holding it.
Matthew Wood: I think I ended up standing on it.
Ren Klyce: You stood on it! And then we pulled it, and we got this, 'Pshewwww' sound. And, you know, you synchronize it up with picture, and it's Rey's lightsaber! So when you see her on the cliff, when she turns it on, that's actually our new sound. It's all inspired by what Ben did. But that's actually our new sound. But it's fun to go, 'It's working!'
Pretty amazing, right? And certainly a wonderful demonstration of the sound design craft. Next time you see a lightsaber activate on the screen just try and imagine where that sound really comes from, and you may never look at Star Wars the same way again.
Of course, you can do exactly that right now at your local theater. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters everywhere now, and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the filmmakers and artisans who helped make the new movie!