As you might have noticed from the photo on the previous page, and in the tail-end of the above video, The Sounds of Star Wars has a rather unusual design. It’s a hardcover book that contains 304 glossy, heavily illustrated pages, but attached to the back cover on its right-hand side is a plastic case that’s as thick as the actual book and looks a bit like a boxy version of a lightsaber. But it’s actually a digital playback device, programmed to accompany the book. As Rinzler and Burtt explain the origins of each sound effect in the book’s text, a still photo from the movie in the book’s text is accompanied by a number, which can be dialed up in the audio player. Press play, and you’ll hear banthas and ‘speeders and TIEs — oh my! (And over 250 more sounds.)
Those who would like to incorporate Star Wars’ sound effects into their own YouTube productions should take note that the digital audio player has an 1/8th-inch miniplug headphone jack, and can thus be plugged into a digital audio recorder or your computer’s mic jack.
And Then Came the Prequels…
The book covers how Burtt and his associates captured the sound for all six of the Star Wars movies. Though paging through The Sounds of Star Wars, I was reminded that while sound and visual effects are important, they’re ultimately there to support the characters and the story. Once the book started to focus on the disastrous Star Wars prequels, I found myself fairly quickly losing interest. I know those films are a technical milestone. But as video maker Mike Stoklasa thoroughly demonstrated with his marathon video deconstructions, Lucas these days is more concerned with his digital effects than either creating characters that we can invest ourselves in, or telling meaningful stories about them. The sound and fury are both awesome, but in the hands of a now creatively exhausted Lucas, unwilling to bring in outside directors, as he did with his first two sequels, they signify nothing. (Or to put it another way, which would you prefer to watch over and over again: Casablanca, filmed in black and white and recorded in scratchy, hissy mono on the Warner Brothers backlot, or one of Lucas’s zillion-dollar digital Star Wars prequels?)
But we all have fond memories of seeing Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back for the first time (or the first 20 times), and witnessing a revolution in moviemaking. Those who’d like to relive those memories, and incorporate their sounds into your own efforts, know who you are. And you will love The Sounds of Star Wars. At least the first two-thirds of it.