The soundscape of the Star Wars saga is every bit as lush and unique as its Ralph McQuarrie inspired design cues and John Williams musical accompaniment.
Just as Eddie Van Halen has longed to recreate the legendary ‘brown sound’ of his 1978 debut album, Burtts successors have strived to stay true to that 1977 original and David Acord and Matthew Wood describe that constant challenge, bringing life to new characters and ensuring they fit the Star Wars audio framework.
“It’s just trying to create that Ben Burtt sound, if that’s at all possible,” says supervising sound editor/designer Acord. “That’s the trick, if you’re going to make a new TIE fighter sound, to examine Ben’s recipes for what a TIE fighter sound is and make that the thing, but with your own ingredients, to extend that metaphor.”
“In Rise of Skywalker, for the movement where Rey flips over Kylo’s TIE fighter and that whole approach, we use new elephant scream sounds. We use some other animal screaming sounds — no animals were harmed during the recordings of that — and some other motor sounds we used to give it more power.”
While Burtt is no longer leading the team, to not involve him in the final Skywalker Saga episode would be criminal and the great man was in charge of a key scene, the ‘Be with me’ sequence on Exegol where Rey is visited by the great Jedi of the past.
“We got Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson and Sam Jackson,” says Wood. “It was wonderful to have all the actors come back and be able to revisit their characters. I had to fly all around the world to go get them all. Everyone just has such a great love for Star Wars, and it was so fun to see all the different eras of Star Wars represented in that moment. It ends with Luke Skywalker telling her to get up, and then she has both sabers in her hand from Luke and Leia.”
The duo also work on The Mandalorian where the voice of Baby Yoda was concocted.
“I was recording animals at this wildlife rescue outside of San Diego. Two of the animals I recorded had this really cute, almost childlike quality to them. One was a bat-eared fox and one is a kinkajou.” Baby Yoda’s initial vocal was made up of only those two creatures.
“Then Jon Favreau thought that they needed to be more human-sounding or something a little more relatable,” he explains. “We dialed way back on the animal part, and now that’s just there for little grunts and coos and purring. We used some real baby vocals for when [The Child] gets really fussy and that kind of thing. Then I have some of my own vocal in there, too, for more of the articulated vocalizations, pitched way up. So it’s a combination of things.”