One of the most significant achievements of the Star Wars™ universe is its use of sound. When the original film came out in 1977, there were few audio or visual effects companies that could create what was needed. This forced Star Wars creator George Lucas to start his own company, Industrial Light and Magic™, which is considered today to be one of the leaders in movie special effects.
We thought it would be fitting this May 4th (the official Star Wars Day) to pay tribute by presenting a list of the sound effects used in the saga that are best appreciated when heard in surround sound.
We’re providing YouTube™ links of film clips to help you identify the effects listed here, but to get the most from these moments, we suggest you go beyond your TV speakers and listen on a 5.1 (or more) channel system, using either an AV receiver and discrete speakers, or a sound bar with surround sound capabilities. You’ll enjoy even better audio if you can get your hands on Blu-ray Discs™ containing the full movies or access a streaming service that offers an option for 5.1-channel surround sound.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
Originally created by combining the hum of movie projector motors and electronic TV interference, this iconic sound can be heard buzzing through the front stage of your system in most of the original Star Wars trilogy, most notably when Luke Skywalker battles Darth Vader. A more recent example can be heard during the animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, when Vader faces off in an epic duel with his former apprentice, Ashoka Tano. Filled with the clashing of light sabers from every angle and rounded out with great music and a powerful, lightning strike-filled low end, this tense fight ends in a nail-biting climax. Watch it here.
While there’s no shortage of blaster fire to enjoy in any of these movies, try watching Rogue One while observing where the shots are coming from in the surround sound mix. One standout moment occurs when Baze Malbus rescues his wannabe Jedi pal Chirrut Îmwe from a bunch of stormtroopers using his heavy repeater blaster cannon. During the rescue, and in the incredible fight sequence that precedes it, you’ll notice blaster fire scattered through the soundstage, with some high-impact martial arts moves mixed in that make great use of the subwoofer as well. Watch it here.
Any chase sequence in Star Wars is well worth watching, but one notable recent addition happens in Solo: A Star Wars Story, when Han Solo, Chewbacca and their accomplices attempt to heist a monorail-like train on a frozen planet and are forced to contend with a group of thieves. Underpinned with rousing music, lots of blaster fire, ships crashing into things and a big explosion or two, this sequence makes great use of surround sound, with audio across the whole front stage, rear nuances from mechanical noises and full use of the subwoofer for explosions. Watch it here.
No Star Wars story is complete without epic space battles. One of the most jaw-dropping scenes takes place in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith right after the opening crawl during the Battle of Coruscant. First you’re introduced to a complete color palette of ships, lasers and explosions that fill the soundstage from front to back. Then the two Jedi fighters of Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker enter, soaring in from off-screen and zipping all around, heading towards their objective: a rescue. Watch it here.
There are plenty of big moments in Star Wars, but what about the little ones? There’s lots of those too, from the ominous sound of Darth Vader’s breathing to the playful droid noises from R2-D2 and BB8. One of the most impactful comes in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, when Princess Leia frees Han Solo from being a carbonite wall ornament in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Just when they think they’re safe, Jabba’s laugh creeps into the audio track, soon filling the room, along with the sounds of his lackies laughing along with him. Watch it here.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace offers something unique: pod racing. During this thrilling sequence, Anakin Skywalker, a 10-year-old boy, is competing against professional racers to win his own freedom, along with some ship parts to help his friends. While the whole race is filled with exciting sound, pay particular attention to the moments when ships are turning corners, crashing into each other and exploding … as well as at the end, when Sebulba tries to overtake Anakin with tragic results. Watch it here.
Large engines sound cool when they reverberate with the low-end power of a subwoofer, but smaller engines — the ones that offer more than just the gut-punch of a subwoofer explosion — can sound even cooler. The perfect example: the jetpacks (known as “the Rising Phoenix”) used by Mandalorians, a warrior creed that train from a young age to fight for noble causes. In the Season 1 finale of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, the title character launches himself towards the show’s main villain, Moff Gideon, who is flying overhead in a TIE Fighter (the solo fighter craft used by the evil Empire in aerial and space combat). The Mandalorian manages to get the upper hand and the result is a buffet of audio mayhem, from the launch of the jet pack to the sounds of the fighter and air whooshing by during the onslaught. Watch the series trailer here.
As every Star Wars fan knows well, “the force” is the invisible presence that binds all life together. One of the more shocking (and audibly powerful) moments involving the force occurs in the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order when the hero, Cal Kestis, has just defeated an Imperial Inquisitor and is about to escape when footsteps and the familiar sound of breathing signal trouble, in the form of Darth Vader. Now it’s time for you (the player) to attempt to fight the menacing Sith lord, and what ensues is a race for your life. During the battle, there’s plenty happening audio-wise, from slashing sabers in the front to the low-end rumble of the force in action. Watch it here.
Have fun … and may the force be with you!
Here are some more blog posts to help you enjoy Star Wars in surround sound: