When you go to the theater and see a movie, even one as bad as anything in the Michael Bay Transformers universe, it might be hard to separate the quality from the quantity of work put into the motion picture. A major Hollywood project can be poorly made in terms of story and acting, but it's actually so much more than the sum of its parts. A ton of man-hours (and then some) go into the cinematography, costumes, props, music, and sound to make the film a completely immersive experience for the senses of sight and sound.
Reminding us of this fact, a short ABC News documentary about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, called The Force of Sound, provides a coveted peek into the fascinating world of sound creation for a Star Wars movie. Once you watch the 26-minute video, you'll come to understand why there are Oscar categories for Sound Mixing and Sound Design. So much effort went into the sounds, both big and small, for The Last Jedi that you might come to appreciate the movie a bit more, even if you were disappointed by its content.
Following Lucasfilm sound editor and mixers Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California, the documentary reveals the sources of the film's most memorable sounds. It spends a good amount of time with the Foley artists, the people responsible for the subtlest of sounds like footsteps or the brushing of cloth.
For instance, the sounds of the crystal foxes on Crait were created by the tinkling of a wind chime, while the Porgs flopping around Luke's lightsaber on Ahch-To came from the combination of an air pistol and garlic press. Their webbed footsteps were simply the result of leather gloves being patted on a dirt floor, and their cries are just sped-up chicken clucks and the intonations made by man-made turkey calls provided to Lucasfilm by a summer intern.
We get a nice long explanation of how the Canto Bight scenes came together, particularly the instance where the CGI alien tries to place tokens into BB-8. The sound of the droid's rolling was simply brought to life by sliding a granite orb on a hollow box. When he clinks around with the chips that eventually save Finn and Rose, the Foley team placed old casino tabs, poker chips, and napkin rings into a metal orb and shook it around. Klyce does a rundown of how all these noises (from background buzz of the casino to the petite alien's belching) come together to form a cohesive scene, driving home that sound design/mixing is just as multi-layered as composing a shot.
When the Farthiers crash into the casino complex, the artists had to stomp on a dirt floor with horseshoe-like attachments. Since dirt and dust were being disturbed into the air, they had to wear medical masks to protect their mouths and noses.
The video also touches upon the famous Holdo Maneuver where Laura Dern's character destroys the First Order ship in a total moment of silence. The creative choice to forgo any noise at all, says Rian Johnson, is that the entire thing takes place within the fraction of a second. When the sound finally cuts back in with the explosion, it's meant to symbolize us catching up with the maneuver in real time. An immediate loud explosion would have been just fine, adds Klyce, but the moment of silence is more powerful. Indeed, Wood states he heard gasps all around the theater at the premiere when the scene arrived.
Lastly, the The Force of Sound informs us that the exciting battle between Luke and Kylo Ren on Crait was actually full of little hints, which alluded to the fact that Skywalker wasn't really there. There was no audio done for Luke's footfalls on Crait, a clue that he's just a Force-created hologram. ILM took this a step further by including no disturbance in the salt at the Jedi's feet when he moves.
A shortened version of the documentary airs tonight on ABC's Nightline at 12:35AM, but you can watch the full thing online.