The Star Wars lightsaber sound: How was it created?

The Star Wars Lightsaber Sound: How Was It Created?

You don’t need any kind of introduction. In fact, you can already hear it in your head: The hum, the change in tone with your movement, the explosion of your touch. Star Wars lightsaber produces one of the most spectacular sounds in science fiction… but not everyone knows how was it created. Luckily, his mastermind Ben Burtt shared several details about the exact process, and like other famous Star Wars sounds, the lightsaber was based on a rather strange combination…

Death Race 2000, ET, The Dark Crystalthe franchise Indiana Jones, WALL-E, Star Trek, John Carter. All these movies have a name in common: Ben Burtt, one of the best sound designers in the film industry, with more than 40 years of career and four Oscars under his belt. However, naming Ben Burtt is naming Star Wars. Do you remember Wilhelm’s scream? Burtt himself was the one who was in charge of popularizing it in Star Wars, and tracing its true origin.

But the list of effects associated with Burtt is much broader: Darth Vader’s breathing, the blastersthe “dialogue” of R2-D2, the engines of the TIE Fighter… and lightsabers. What did you use to create one of the most important and powerful sounds in the history of cinema? Fortunately, Burtt isn’t averse to sharing his tricks…

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How was the lightsaber sound made in Star Wars?

Burtt explains that the lightsaber was “the first sound” he created in Star Wars. Although his initial job was to find voices for Chewie and R2-D2, he became fascinated with the lightsaber after reading the script and seeing the fantastic concept art created by Ralph McQuarrie. With such a source of inspiration, Burtt was able to imagine sounds (or rather, “hear them in your head”) that fit with that visual style.

The Star Wars Lightsaber Sound How Was It Created
Vader Already Inspired Terror Even In Concept Art (Ralph Mcquarrie)

Another interesting fact is that at that time, Burtt was still a student and a projectionist at the University of Southern California. The screening room was made up of old simplex equipment. These projectors had a special motor that connected them to the system, and when they were “on hold” they made a fabulous buzz.

That buzz wasn’t enough, though: The lightsaber was missing something else, a “sparkling” item in Burtt’s own words. That something he found by accident in the back of a tv which was on the floor, turned on but without volume. Basically, your microphone recorded the entire broadcast from the working TV. Burtt took that “bzzzt”, combined it with the drone of the projector, and that mixture became the basis for the lightsaber. The last step was create the sensation of movement: To do this, Burtt placed a speaker with the new sound, and started moving a microphone over him, moving away and approaching. The final result… is unforgettable.

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