Close your eyes and envision the deep, mechanical respiration of Lord Vader’s breathing apparatus. Now imagine the drone of a light saber being ignited and waved back and forth. It only takes a couple of examples to recognize what an important role sound effects play in the Star Wars saga. Truly, they are as vital as any one of your favorite characters.
A couple of months ago, I was walking through the aisles of Comic-Con and I saw a preview copy of the book, The Sounds of Star Wars. I opened the cover and was glued to that spot for the next 20 minutes, oblivious to the horde of people around me. Page after page, I was engrossed in fascinating facts and trivia about the thousands of sounds created for the epic space saga.
The book was written by best-selling author, J.W. Rinzler, and includes a foreword by the guru himself, Ben Burtt. In 300 pages, it packs more than 300 photos that illustrate many of the most memorable scenes of the Star Wars movies and – best of all – the book contains a sound module that plays more than 250 sound effects from the film.
The Sounds Of Star Wars is a fascinating tour of the movies. Beginning with Episode IV and working through Episode III, plus a bonus chapter on The Clone Wars, you can read about the feeling that Burtt and his sound engineers were trying to capture for various events and scenes. Then, when you’ve finished reading these lovely little nuggets of trivia and insightful looks into their creative approaches to sound, you can dial up the corresponding sound effect and listen to it on the sound module. (The sound module also includes a headphone jack for closer listening.)
We learn that Chewbacca’s growl and moans were based on the limitations of the original mask. Because the only movement was the mouth opening and closing and the lips couldn’t be shaped, the sound had to be credible. Because most animal sounds, and in particular, a bear’s growl, is made at the back of the throat, they became the basis for Chewie’s talking.
Burtt says the original Vader noises were mostly beeping and clicking, like walking into an emergency room, but it was too distracting. Given the original film’s small budget, Burtt turned to a creative solution. He walked into a local scuba shop and recorded his own breathing inside a scuba regulator.
There are dozens and dozens of more stories like that in The Sounds Of Star Wars and Burtt’s philosophy of found sounds makes the sound effects creations all the more fascinating. (There are even two pages dedicated to the Wilhelm Scream.) What’s in the book make it well worth the price of purchase — almost as much what’s excluded from its pages: there’s not a single sound effect dedicated to Jar Jar.
Disclosure: GeekDad was sent a review copy of this book.