Original Saga,  Prequel Trilogy,  Rogue One,  The Last Jedi

Lucasfilm didn’t want Star Wars veteran sound designer Ben Burtt to work on Rogue One and The Last Jedi


From Vanity Fair:

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi is strewn with the sounds conceived and concocted 40 years ago by sound designer Ben Burtt. Now 69 and working in Lucas Valley, California, at a company named for Luke Skywalker, Burtt spends his days holed up in his dimly lit office, surrounded by movie memorabilia, mostly souvenirs of his years behind the scenes of the Star Wars films.

But his name is nowhere to be found in the credits for The Last Jedi. Like George Lucas, the Star Wars visionary who sold his company and faded from view, Burtt is both omnipresent in the new Star Wars and conspicuously absent from it.

In an August conversation, I mentioned that I had been advised to steer clear of speaking about the new movies. “You can talk about the new movies,” he said with a smile, a shrug, and then a pause. “I haven’t seen the new movies, so . . .” […]

Burtt worked on the sound design for this year’s animated Star Wars micro-series Forces of Destiny, plus a Star Wars video game that has since been suspended. But after contributing sound design on The Force Awakens, Burtt did not work on last year’s Rogue One or The Last Jedi, the first Star Wars films to be made without Burtt’s direct involvement. “On The Force Awakens we had veterans from previous Star Wars films work with the new generation of talent and in many cases the new talent then took the baton and ran with it on The Last Jedi,” a Skywalker Sound representative said in a statement. “Ben will always be a treasure at Lucasfilm but we also want to give the new generation of talent an opportunity to shine as well.”

Early on in my conversation with Burtt, we’re interrupted by a mechanical rattle emanating from something on his desk. Nice sound, I say. “Those are my rejected sounds for BB-8,” says Burtt, referring to the painfully adorable spherical droid who rolled into the hearts of audiences in The Force Awakens. “I use them as ringtones.” […]

Burtt tends to speak about his career in past tense. At the moment, he’s developing a documentary on movie sound-design history, and a documentary on his other love, the space program. He’s also “looking for feature-film work, but nothing’s come my way.”

Cinematic tastes have evolved: today’s frenetic blockbusters, he says, have little need for his meticulously orchestrated sound design. But mostly, there’s no patience—and no allocation in production budgets—for his preferred mode of peripatetic sound-searching and experimentation.

“I don’t see that happening at all today. Not just with Star Wars, but in general,” he says. Burtt’s original Star Wars sound-collecting was so comprehensive, it turns out, that he may have contributed to his own redundancy. “They know there are big libraries”—created in part by Burtt—“that people can just click and drag things out of and make a lot of noise.”

First contacted in 2015 about a story on Burtt, Disney ultimately declined to assist in arrangements for this interview. I asked Burtt himself if there’s bad blood between them since his work on The Force Awakens.

“I don’t know if there’s bad blood,” he answered. “Nobody . . . I was just never consulted or hired to do any of them. No one’s ever told me why. No, I was told—on the new regime, I was just told, ‘Just stay in your room and make sounds and just send stuff to us. We’ll decide what to do.’” It was a change in philosophy that, Burtt thought, would “doom the whole process.”

It was a considerable demotion as well. Burtt was deeply involved in Lucas’s prequel trilogy, working as an editor and second-unit director in addition to his usual role in the sound department. “I had a lot of influence on all that,” he said. “It wasn’t always easy working with George, but at least it was one voice. And you could get his attention and have your say and present something and get a yes or a no. But it was just one person you had to get past. Not banks of different people who want to have a say.”

Burtt has a model plane, a Nieuport fighter aircraft, dangling from the ceiling; there’s a miniature cutout of Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams standing in it, waving anachronistically from the cockpit. “Matt [Wood] put that there to torment me. I came in one day and he’s flying my plane.” Burtt laughed. “Anyways. That’s reality.” He also explained his decision not to use any Star Wars footage in a sound-design class he taught earlier in the year: “Then I’d have to deal with Disney.” […]

With the extra time on his hands, Burtt is now at work trying to persuade the decision-makers at Skywalker Sound to turn his accumulation of physical artifacts and curiosities into a museum.

“You know that line in Indiana Jones, ‘It belongs in a museum’?” he says. “That’s me. I’m a museum piece.””


  • Anticitizen One

    Just like the rest of Star Wars, it seems. The n00bs think they know everything and how everything works and can therefore trash the true visionaries like Lucas and Burtt. What a shame. The only sound that stood out to me in TLJ was how bad Anakin’s lightsaber sounds when it ignites.

  • Cryogenic

    Scorching interview!!!! And so, so sad. It also squares well against something I was told off the record about a year ago. The new Disney era of Star Wars is odious and pathetic. Star Wars used to have a polymorphic, architectonic mastery to it, and Ben Burtt’s fantastic sound design was one aspect of its genius construction. That’s clearly no longer the case. The way Disney/LFL have treated him and various other people (Rinzler, Lucas himself, and the various writers and directors they’ve rapidly hired and fired) is truly contemptible — but just what you’d expect from a faceless corporation run by the terrible two-headed monster of Bob Iger and Kathleen Kennedy. Money is all they know. Class, loyalty, integrity, respect? Forget it.

    And yes, it reeks of hubris, too. Greed and arrogance are a terrible combination — much as Lucas’ Star Wars saga teaches. And you know what else it teaches? That no-one, no matter how mighty or lofty, is immune to being brought down by that terrible combination.

    I feel for Ben. Like Lucas, he’s one of a kind, and he deserved so much better than this. I love the burn of: “Then I’d have to deal with Disney.” Stick it to ’em, Ben!

  • lovelucas

    B(d)S – before Disney sale – could anyone have predicted that George Lucas, Ben Burtt (others,too) would be given their walking papers on everything Star Wars? Just pathetic and a heap of shame to those who got their ducks in a row and practiced kissing asses just to ensure they were “safe” as they justify the actions of discarding the makers for “giving a new generation a chance to shine” – as they use Burt’s original sound creations. Really sad to see Star Wars become exactly what George has always paid the price to avoid: gallons of yes men with no vision stealing others’ creations.

    • Cryogenic

      “Just pathetic and a heap of shame to those who got their ducks in a row and practiced kissing asses just to ensure they were “safe” as they justify the actions of discarding the makers for “giving a new generation a chance to shine”

      If you don’t kiss Kathleen Kennedy’s crinkly ass, you’re in trouble! The situation actually reminds me of a certain SW message board, too. I love how fans — or certain fan sites, pretending to be “diverse” and “inclusive” — mirror the actions and “values” of fascist corporations without so much as a murmur of anxiety.

      Anyway, good post, LL. You nailed it.

      The open, creative culture that Lucas carefully developed and sustained at great cost at his film companies is gone. And this, of course, despite pithy assurances from Disney that they wouldn’t interfere and would be letting Lucasfilm and the rest run independently. Kathleen Kennedy, too, was practically boasting how much more motivated she was than George, and how every director being hired was picked for their specific artistic sensibilities and would be allowed to make a film with little interference because that’s what she and Disney are all about (*rolleyes*) — right at the start of a spate of firings and brutal over-rulings.

      Of course, fans lapped up all of those assurances, glorying in how Star Wars was being fully revitalized under new management that was infinitely superior to the “pathetic” and “ultra-commercial” Lucas era, and spitting them back in the faces of anyone who disagreed and who pointed to a multitude of signs to the contrary. “HAHAHA! You idiot. Lucasfilm is going to be treated the same as Pixar or Marvel. Just chill out and STFU with your conspiracy-theorist tinfoil-hat nonsense.” Well, yeah… Oh, and disapproval toward TLJ is down to trolling! Hope all these people like the sausage they made.

      • KirkMan1701

        After the TLJ, I have left all Star Wars fandom except for the prequel groups because of those hateboys and how the powers that be at Lucasfilm spoil them coupled with my childhood and teenage bad memories etc. about the OT.

        “Well, yeah… Oh, the disapproval toward TLJ is down to trolling! Hope all these people like the sausage they made.”

        That’s no sausage, it’s a very hard and gigantic constipated stool and I sure hope those Prequel bashers enjoy the disgusting Constipated Stool they made! It is sad that they fire anyone who enjoys or has worked in the SW prequels like Ben Burtt and hire prequel-bashing brats like Simon Peggy and Willy Wheaton. I am sure that the days of this pandering to SW prequel-bashing Star Wars trilogy fanboys are numbered and it is only a matter of time before this cinematic tyranny ends.

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