I’d be willing to bet 100 Republic credits that when Star Wars Rebels sound designer David Acord, was asked to go into the sound library for effects, he was like a kid in a candy store. Or perhaps more appropriately, Zeb and Ezra in a meilorun field.
Once it was announced that the timeline for Star Wars Rebels was to be set right before the events of A New Hope, we knew that some pretty iconic characters, ships, and weapons would once again come to life.
Luckily for David Acord and the Rebels sound team, they had the sounds they needed right at their finger tips. Thanks in large part to the masterful Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt.
Burtt is the man who created among other things, the hum and clash of a lightsaber, the beeps and boops of R2-D2, and the grunts and growls of the Wookiees.
One could argue that the sound effects in the Star Wars universe are some of the most well-known sounds in movie history. But how did these sounds come about? Let’s dive into a few of the elements that we’ve heard so far in Star Wars Rebels.
It doesn’t take long for our auditory senses to go into maximum nostalgic overdrive. Roughly 36 seconds into “Spark of Rebellion” episode (the original premiere version), we hear the familiar whirr and scream of TIE Fighters as they patrol the Lothal skies. In fact it’s the very first sound element we hear after the title screen as our story begins.
The TIE Fighter flying sound effect was originally produced in 1977 for Star Wars: A New Hope. Ben Burtt, who had access to the 20th Century Fox sound library, found an interesting sound clip of elephants stomping and shrieking. The clip came from the 1958 Errol Flynn movie The Roots of Heaven. Burtt copied these sounds and added field recordings he had made of cars speeding through puddles. By adjusting the speed of the playback and mixing the sounds together, the final result was the screaming, whirring, and terrifying twin ion engine fighter ship sound that we know and love today.
The Speeder Bike, most famously used in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi makes its Star Wars Rebels debut at the 3:13 mark of “Spark of Rebellion” as troopers speed away, protecting the Imperial shipment crates “at all costs”.
This sound was achieved by recording and mixing a P-5 Mustang airplane and a P-38 Lockheed Interceptor.
At approximately the 16:31 mark of the Rebels episode “Droids in Distress”, we get to see the AT-DP in action. The walker is based off of an unused concept design by artist Joe Johnston for the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back film. The mechanical movements and marching sounds of the bipedal walker are the same sounds, albeit in different pitches, as we hear from the AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back. The original walker sounds were made by recording a factory metal stamping machine and a field recording of a creaking dumpster door.
At 15 minutes and 42 seconds into “Spark of Rebellion”, we see and hear for the first time perhaps the most famous weapon in cinematic storytelling: The lightsaber.
Ezra has stumbled upon Kanan’s Jedi weapon. Upon igniting the blade for the first time, reminiscent of Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, Ezra is captivated with intrigue and wonder.
The lightsaber sound was the first element that Ben Burtt created for A New Hope and like most great inventions, it was a happy accident. Burtt had recorded the hum of a Simplex movie projector. A few days later, while recording, Burtt noticed that his broken microphone cable was picking up a signal from the back of the TV. The buzz from the picture tube along with the projector motor would become the basis of the lightsaber sound. To get the pitch changes from the lightsaber in movement, Burtt played the hum/buzz mix through a speaker and recorded that playback with a moving microphone, creating a Doppler effect (change of a frequency moving in relation to the source).
It is interesting to note that there are audible differences in lightsaber sounds for the many saber wielding characters in the Star Wars universe. In essence, like snowflakes on Hoth, no two lightsabers are the same.
A good example of this is at the 13:22 mark of the Rebels episode “Rise of the Old Masters”. The Inquisitor, as he ignites his blade, produces a harsh, deep hum with a slight sizzling sound. As he battles Kanan, we can hear the Inquisitor’s saber almost growl, while Kanan’s saber produces a higher pitched hum and crackle as the blades meet.
As the season is now in full swing, I’m sure there will be plenty of other great sound effect flashbacks as well as some new sounds that will be added to the ever growing Star Wars sound database.
Until next time, keep your ears open, let go your conscious self and act on instinct.