Ben Burtt isn’t one of the names people most associate with the making of Star Wars, but his groundbreaking work provided the films with one of their most defining aspects: unique and memorable sounds. The latest video essay from Kristian Williams, who goes by KaptainKristian on YouTube, delves into Burtt’s process for creating some of the series’ iconic effects, while doing a great job of emphasizing just how important those noises were to making Star Wars feel like a living, defined universe.
As Kristian points out, the impact that sound has is easy to overlook. Often, it’s meant to exist alongside a film’s visuals, complimenting them with contextual sounds and bringing a scene to life. But when it comes to something as thoroughly fantastical as Star Wars, we don’t have a natural context for what we’re seeing should sound like, so Burtt had to create his own, constructing the soundscape of Star Wars’ reality in the process. Without the iconic hum of the lightsaber—created by combining the noise of two projectors idling with the feedback from a TV, a sound Burtt would then capture while waving a microphone in time with the fight choreography—those scenes would be nothing more than a couple dudes swinging light-up sticks at one another.
And it’s not just about crafting cool, otherwordly noises. Kristian goes on to credit Burtt for taking R2-D2, little more than a “trashcan on wheels,” and turning it into a charming, relatable character. He recorded himself making baby-like noises through a synthesizer, allowing the droid to communicate personality and emotion through a limited palette of beeps and boops.