Star Wars. Two words that can mean almost the world to everyone who is passionate about sci-fi movies and, more generally, epic stories on the big screen. However, we all know that behind its huge success there are some elements that made it really stand out, especially when the first movie Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope came out in 1977. One of those elements is, without any doubt, sound.

“In my first discussion with George Lucas about the film, he – and I concurred with him – that he wanted an organic, as opposed to the electronic and artificial soundtrack. […] we wanted to draw upon raw material from the real world: real motors, real squeaky door, real insects; this sort of thing. The basic thing in all films is to create something that sounds believable to everyone, because it’s composed of familiar things that you can not quite recognize immediately.”

In this extract from an interview given by Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, published in the book Film Sound Today, he underlines how the intention was to start off from real sounds, as they are familiar the majority of people, and then to manipulate them and to create unique and amazing new sounds. For example, Chewbacca’s roar has been created by manipulating the noise of some animals such as lions, bears and badgers, while R2-D2 sound needed to be less cold and more human than other robot sounds made before: that’s why it’s been created by using some recordings of Ben Burtt himself making weird baby noises over electronic audio, plus some water drops sound effects. Darth Vader’s breath came out after a microphone was positioned inside a scuba diving tube, and it recorded the sound of the breath going through. What about the lightsaber? The first inspiration was an old projector, then Burtt discovered by accident the sound of an old cathode television when a mic was placed nearby to record; by moving the mic, he managed to obtain that amazing swoosh sound.

So, everyone loves Star Wars sounds, this is a fact. Still not convinced? Should we mention how viral can get on the internet moving a can on a table with Chewbacca face on it? Sounds like Chewbacca compilations still gain loads of views, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Do you fancy a kitchen timer with the appearance of R2-D2, or do you prefer it as the Death Star?

And Hollywood stars are no strangers to that either. MTV recently asked to Jennifer Lawrence, David Tennant, Bradley Cooper and many more to perform some of the best Star Wars sound effects, or to recite the most epic quotes from the movies. Some of them did actually a great job, others might need a little bit of revision, but there is no doubt, the last episode Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, has really awakened our deepest passion about the saga.

Sound lovers especially will be amazed by the powerful sound experience that this new movie represents, and by the fact that the soul of the sonic elements has been kept. While watching the movie, sounds always keep bringing you back to that unique Star Wars feel that has been created in the first classic trilogy and maintained throughout the following movies.

After all this, The Force is certainly with us. But what if you could have, right in your hand, a real lightsaber? It’s always been everyone’s dream, and now it can come true, thanks to one man: it’s called Hampton’s Hand-Crafted Lightsabers and he makes amazing lightsabers of any kind. Not only he is able to provide refined details on the handles and custom blades with LED, he focused exactly on what we love the most: sound. Every lightsaber has an integrated sound card and a speaker at the bottom of the handle; other than the switch on/off sounds when pressing the button, he was able to integrate the swoosh sound to the actual movement of the lightsaber, and the clash sound when the lightsaber gets hit.

This is fascinating stuff… but it obviously does not come cheap. The basic model saber costs $ 430, you can get the custom designed hilt, the removable pommel and the LED removable blade. This version, however, doesn’t come with the sounds. For more complex and sounding ones, pricing then go from $ 650 (Apprentice package) up to $ 1.050 (Fully Loaded Package). There is also a Special Edition Lightsaber, which costs $ 1.550 (but it seems fair, after all).

There is no way, however, to ask your friends to get it for you on your birthday, neither the following birthday, or next Christmas: the waiting list is, at the moment, of 40 months!

This is so far the best idea that magnifies one of the most iconic Star Wars sounds. Are there any more and better to come? Maybe yes, because what Ben Burtt has created will always be inspirational and sensational, no matter how many years will pass.

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Daniele Prina

Daniele Prina

Executive Editor at sounDesign
Daniele Prina is a sound designer and music producer from Turin, Italy. He graduated with a B.A. in Creative Music Technology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Broadstairs (UK). He is the owner and sound supervisor at Allume Film, a production company specialised in video-making and motion graphics. He is very enthusiastic about sound, new technologies and hip-hop/electronic music. Very addicted to football.
Daniele Prina