‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ sound designer explains how he helped rework a major scene

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Warning: This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

It’s hard to appreciate the profound impact that sound design can have on a movie until you talk to one of the people who supervised that task on a mammoth project like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

For supervising sound designer Matthew Wood, a lifelong Star Wars fan and 26-year veteran of Lucasfilm, the process of designing, editing, and mixing the blockbuster sequel’s audio track was a chance to season J.J. Abrams‘s new adventure with sound effects and dialog that recalled the saga’s familiar past. From the whoosh of Luke Skywalker’s proton torpedos to the cackle of Jabba the Hutt’s pet lizard-monkey, The Force Awakens is rife with sounds culled from Lucasfilm’s massive archive, each carefully inserted for a specific purpose by Wood or a member of his team.

“When we did The Phantom Menace, I remember spending months and months recording vehicles for the podrace,” Wood said. “And now that sound of all the vehicles we recorded for the podrace, some of those went into the speeder sounds on Jakku. We just tried to keep that thread connected, between all the films—[the] prequels and the classic trilogy.”

Wood’s most famous contribution to Star Wars may be his performance as General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith, but as a key team member at Skywalker Sound, he has been shaping the iconic sound of Star Wars for almost 20 years, from The Phantom Menace to the ongoing TV series Star Wars Rebels

In an interview with the Daily Dot, Wood—who is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing at this year’s Oscars, along with fellow sound designer David Acord—discussed hunting down an obscure voice actor from Return of the Jedi, becoming Adam Driver‘s go-to guy for re-recording masked dialog, and working with Daisy Ridley to add a new dimension to a pivotal scene.


Tell me about how you first started working on the film. What guidance did J.J. give you before you began, as far as a general sense of what he wanted it to sound like?

[David] Acord and I and the [Skywalker Sound] team were working on Star Trek Into Darkness, and it was around that time that the whole Lucasfilm sale [to Disney] was happening, and the idea that we were going to make some more new films, and the idea was being floated that J.J. was going to be involved. So we knew pretty early on that that was happening. And oddly, coincidentally enough, they were writing the early outlines of the story while we were here at Fox in one of the editing rooms working on Star Trek. So we’d try to peek in there and look on the whiteboard and see what was coming. It was all very secretive.

“It’s very subconscious, sound, and you can bring in homages to the sounds that we know and love, like the TIE fighters and R2-D2 and the lightsabers and Chewbacca.”

But then once the deal was all made and everything was put together, J.J. wanted us on there, and it was just a nice, natural fit, because we had done J.J.’s last three films, and then we had all the Star Wars experience that Acord and I and Ben Burtt brought to the table. It just naturally flowed into what J.J. wanted to do; we knew his work approach.

It wasn’t until about … late 2013 that I started. … I can’t remember when exactly I read the script. And then we had this great meeting where J.J. hosted us out at Pinewood Studios right before they started shooting in early 2014, to just kind of pitch the whole movie. We sat down in the conference room and we went through the entire movie beat by beat, and we had all the storyboards and the videomatics, and we had the prop department and the creature shop, and a lot of the sets were up. So we got to go see all of that and really just get inspired about the movie.

He’s relatively my generation, grew up with the original, classic trilogy, and so those movies really resonated for him. So it was fun to be able to play with those toys, basically, in real life, to make these movies.

That’s sort of the directive: He wanted it to [be] an extension of what was made with those classic movies. Sound was an opportunity to do that, because it’s the emotional thread. It’s very subconscious, sound, and you can bring in homages to the sounds that we know and love, like the TIE fighters and R2-D2 and the lightsabers and Chewbacca. And [it] also gives you an opportunity to push it forward with new sounds that are based in that same universe. And that was sort of our challenge—to come up with that.

Having [original trilogy sound designer] Ben Burtt around to guide us, and having [prequel trilogy re-recording sound mixer] Gary Rydstrom, who’s a fantastic sound designer in his own right, and then David Acord, who I work with a lot, we’ve basically been keeping the Star Wars fires burning since the end of Revenge of the Sith 10 years ago or so. It was a really perfect team to come together to do that.

And J.J. had very specific things he wanted to do with some of the characters that he was introducing, like Kylo Ren and BB-8 and the Starkiller Base, and then also [he wanted] to get our expertise on how everything else should sound [with] the classic characters.

So it was a big undertaking, but we felt fully invited into the process.

You’re a veteran of the Star Wars prequels and the two animated series, The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Even those two TV shows are really film-level productions. How did working on all of that help prepare you for this experience?

You know, it was like a training camp, I gotta say. We did 100-plus episodes of [The] Clone Wars. As you said, we wanted to make that show like they were little movies. Especially when they did the four-part or three-part arcs—[our goal was] that you could sit down and watch them like a film, and then you could also then put in one of the Star Wars films right after that and the quality level would stay the same. We wanted to have [an] orchestral score and surround-sound audio and all that. And a really amazing picture and story—to have these all play together, [so that] wherever you want to view into the Star Wars universe, it will have that level of quality.

Working on that just kept our chops up, because it was the same kind of thing: taking classic sounds that had been made with the original films, with Ben Burtt, and then expanding upon those locations and creatures and ships and building a new universe. Just like when I started in the company in the early ’90s—I started in 1990, when I was 17—the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was what George Lucas made to get technology where it needed to be, and then also as a training ground for getting us ready to do the prequels. I felt like, for Dave and myself, that The Clone Wars and Rebels and all that were getting us ready for the same thing—keeping us in training.

What was the division of labor on your sound team? Did people have technical specialties? Did you divide people up by scene, or was it more ad hoc?

I have a team of people that I work with that I’ve had for a while now that are fantastic. The main elements of a soundtrack are the dialog that’s recorded on the set; the dialog that you have to re-record after the production—because of line changes or droids or helmets or technical reasons that they didn’t get recorded on set properly. That’s called ADR. So there’s the dialog, the ADR. There’s the sound effects that you take from library, which would be the classic sounds that were made for Star Wars. And then there’s the new sound design that’s created specifically for the movie, so that’s part of the sound-effects track. There’s the foley; that’s all the very specific sound effects that are really too specific to be found in a sound library. And we have performers go through the film and we spot every little moment where that might be. And they actually perform them, like an old radio play. And then we have, obviously, John Williams’s music.

So those components are all edited to picture; that’s the editorial department’s job, to make sure that we put all those individual units and pieces that we’ve come up with in synchronization with the picture. And then it’s brought to the final mix stage, where we have every single piece of audio ready and put it in sync with the picture. And [then] J.J. can start playing to balance and build a soundtrack how it’s going to sound in the movie theater, like with all the panning and the low-frequencies extension and all that.

“You might just hear an interesting sound out in the world, and you record it and put it in your library.”

The two divisions are editorial and mix and design. One of the things that George Lucas was always very known for was [that] his post-production process was pretty high-end, and he would have all the latest tools. And a lot of technologies that were used for the Star Wars movies—the originals and the prequels—were built for those films. So I can draw upon a lot of that tech that came together over the last 20 years for me, and take it forward.

There’s the artistry part of it, there’s the technology part of it, and it all kind of blends. We were on the film for over a year to build that, to get prepared for this. It was a pretty massive undertaking, and everyone was very excited to be part of it.

On A New Hope, Ben Burtt went out and recorded all these natural phenomena to create unique sounds for this universe. How much of that did you do for The Force Awakens?

Whenever you can go out and go recording, that’s one of the most fun things about the job. You record something [that] you might not even know that you’re going to use for the current movie you’re working on. You might just hear an interesting sound out in the world, and you record it and put it in your library.

As you said, Skywalker Sound, over the last 25-30 years, has worked on some pretty amazing movies from all different studios and directors, and a lot of that material ends up in our library that we now have in a searchable database form. That’s one of the special things about working at Skywalker Sound—all those files and all that media.

How you put those together is the sound designer’s job, working with the supervisor to make sure that you get the director’s wishes fulfilled. Leaning on that library is a huge resource, and how you put that together, and how you manipulate the sound in the computer, with your layering and pitching and changing and all that, is the sound designer’s job.

Early on, I know David [Acord] did a lot of recording. You could speak to him more about that. But yeah, there’s a lot of recordings that were done, that were brought back into the studio.

And even dialog-wise, how we made Kylo Ren’s mask was almost a sound design moment. I was able to work with Adam Driver really directly and build the process for how his voice was going to sound in that mask. We built [it] in sound design and actually took it to Adam and got him to play with it. He could hear the process of his voice through the mask as he was doing it live, so we could use it like an instrument and play on it. So you could get these really creepy performances of him playing a very intimate recording right up on the mic. And yet it has this distorted, otherworldly feel through the mask, so it still keeps [dialog] intelligible. That mask’s sole function is to intimidate. It’s not keeping him alive like it [was for] Darth Vader; it’s just a mask of intimidation. We really wanted to work with that.

And Adam was so into working with us. At one point, we had to record when Adam was rehearsing for a play in New York. We set up across the street in a hotel across from his rehearsal space. And so he’d run over to us, and we’d work in a hotel room. We outfitted the closet in the hotel room as a makeshift recording room. So he’d come in and we’d work on it, [and] we’d send the files back to J.J. to see what he thought. That was some guerilla sound design, and Adam was really up for it. In fact now, whenever Adam has to do anything Kylo Ren, he demands me to be there, so [I’m] kind of his personal Kylo Ren recordist now. [laughs]

Do you have a favorite sound effect that comes from a strange source?

One of the things that was really fun was David Acord and I were involved in the remastering of Episode IV, V, and VI for DVD and Blu-ray. With Episode IV, that film—the way it was archived, at its time, when it was being made, ou didn’t know it was going to be a hit. So the way that they archived that film wasn’t the best, as far as how they did it. It was just, “Oh, it’s another science-fiction movie in the ’70s, and we’re just going to archive it in this pretty standard way.” So a lot of what was there wasn’t usable in the master format.

David Acord and I had to build that movie from scratch from the original tapes and units in very small segments to get it back into shape. We spent almost a year on that project, getting that track built, so it would sound like the fans would remember it sounded, yet it would still be expanded for the dynamic soundstage of Blu-ray in 2011. We had to go through that film with a fine-toothed comb and find every single sound effect, which was a great history lesson for both Dave and I, that we both knew was preparing us for the future, obviously, and also paying homage to our past as children.

We could listen to this movie, and it was the only movie in the world I think we could do this [with], where, if we knew something was wrong, immediately you knew; it’s like in your DNA that you know that, “Okay, that’s not the right take,” or “That laser’s a little bit off,” or “This is not the right pitch,” or “That might not be the right Chewie growl.” Because we’d watched the film 100 times as fans.

There are sounds [from that experience] that I tried to get into [The Force Awakens]. There was one sound—when Poe is flying around on the inside of the oscillator trying to blow it up from the inside out, I tried to find the proton torpedo [sound for] when he’s blowing up [Starkiller Base], to have this [imitates proton torpedo] kind of sound. I really wanted to make sure those got in, because that was something from my childhood. I remember when Luke does that run, where he tries to take out as much as he can in the trench run, that was that sound that I always loved. So we tried to get that in there.

[It was also] just going through Chewbacca’s stuff. A lot of that was based on an original recording of this bear that Ben had recorded. He actually found some recordings that never got put into the library, that we used for Chewbacca in Force Awakens.

We paid little homages to things. When Ello Asty gets blown up in the trench, we used a few of the elements of when Porkins gets blown up. It was just little things in there.

And even when we recorded a lot of the dialog for the background players, I went ahead and gave notes to people [to be] very similar to [the original film]. Obviously, we had a couple of stormtroopers, when Rey is sneaking around [Starkiller Base], we had them say something about the T-17s, because in A New Hope they were targeting the T-16s. So just little things like that, for fans and also for us to have fun with, just to keep that thread back to the past that everyone seemed to love.

There’s so many sounds in that movie that David and Ben and Gary contributed to that were fantastic.

As far as my own feelings about the things that I enjoyed, [it’s] things [that originated from] the prequels. When we did The Phantom Menace, I remember spending months and months recording vehicles for the podrace. And now that sound of all the vehicles we recorded for the podrace, some of those went into the speeder sounds on Jakku. We just tried to keep that thread connected, between all the films—[the] prequels and the classic trilogy.

And even in Rebels…have they shown [Kylo Ren’s] lightsaber already in Rebels? [Lucasfilm publicist: “Yeah, we showed it in the trailer. We gave a little sneak peek.”] Yeah, so that was fun to have another…for [Rebels executive producer Dave] Filoni to pick up the thread and connect them.

We always have access to the “Keepers of the Holocron” with [franchise continuity experts] Pablo Hidalgo and Leland Chee, so when I had questions about announcements and Starkiller Base, or what the stormtroopers might say at this particular point, I wanted to make sure I hit those points from Pablo and Leland and got those lines right. Or for alien dialect.

That’s the great thing now that we have at Lucasfilm. Before, it used to be most of this material was all in George Lucas’s mind. So now it’s nice to have a Story Group here at Lucasfilm that we can lean upon, that will keep the arc going for all the Star Wars stories that are happening. There’ll be a clearinghouse of people that can keep that alive. And we have people like Dave Filoni and [development lead] Kiri Hart and [creative executive] Rayne Roberts and [other] folks that are going to keep that story thread alive and consistent.

It’s funny that you mention talking to Pablo for Starkiller Base background audio, because one of the background lines that fans really loved was, when Rey is sneaking around there, the P.A. system announcer says something like, “Re synchronize all clocks to Galactic Standard Time.” That’s a term that originated in the Expanded Universe, and fans loved hearing it resurface in canon. They felt like someone was paying attention to the old material and looking for ways to give it new life.

That’s such a great part of having Pablo around. We can work together—because it’s like, I want to place dialog here, I want to make sure it’s good. So I’ll go out, cast an actor that will be able to sound similar to the voices that we used in A New Hope, and then we’ll have him say something that Pablo can connect to something in the [existing] series.

You’re right. It’s funny, because that was one of the things, coming into this film, that I knew—because I had done the prequels—how many times the movie is watched, and how scrutinized it is. But in a loving way, too. You just want to understand. There’s something about the film that you just want to see a million times. I know, like, “Okay, if I even put one line of dialog here that may seem insignificant, it’s going to be watched a thousand times. So let’s make sure it’s something that’s connected.”

And J.J. was open to all that, too. We’d have lines of dialog that were said by digital characters, or characters with helmets on, so we could change it during post-production, and I would make suggestions—or C-3PO even—about how we could connect something back to something a little bit bigger in the Star Wars universe. And he was always open to that, because he was very much motivated to connect the films too. That’s just a fun part of being able to now play in this universe with all these people who are fans [and] who are also now the creative leads in the Star Wars story.

I would imagine that Ben Burtt brought some continuity to the sound design for this film, given that he’s been doing this since the beginning. What was it like to work with him again on a Star Wars film, and how did he help keep things true to the saga?

Ben has an office here at Skywalker Sound that he comes to every day, and … he’s a film historian in his own right, beyond Star Wars. The filmmaker process and the classic ways of [the] filmmaker process, he’s very versed in, and he loves film history. He made some fantastic sounds for the movie.

He’ll read the script and really research it and give us direction about how we could tie something back. He’s just a valuable resource to have around and a great person to have around. It’s fun to know that he’s got that connection back all the way to the original films and their inception. Working with him has always been an honor, and learning from him. At a certain point, we had this great relationship where I would bring him what was the latest in technology at the time, and then he would teach me the art of sound design. It was a great yin-yang there of learning with Ben.

He’s a great resource and I’m really happy that he’s still involved in the filmmaking process.

This may be like asking you to pick a favorite child, but do you have a favorite scene for sound design, where you felt like something you did made it really special or really fun?

I really enjoy—we called it the “Force-off,” which is where Kylo has just taken his mask off, and you get to see that juxtaposition of—his voice has now changed, this voice you’ve been hearing the whole film under this helmet. He takes the mask off, and visually you see that it’s Adam Driver; he’s got a very unique face. He’s got an interesting voice. It’s a surprising thing to see the character take his mask off in the film like that. And then he proceeds to try to get the information from Rey.

It’s a moment where it’s all taking place in the heads of the two characters. The physics of that scene—if you could say this, the space physics—would be that you’re not hearing the Force happening in the room. If you were standing as an observer in the room, you wouldn’t be hearing the sounds that you’re hearing in the film. What you’re hearing is what’s going on in the characters’ minds. You feel this low frequency coming from Kylo Ren as he’s trying to scour Rey’s brain to get the information out about the map. And then, as Rey starts to fight back, you hear her Force tones come in in the absence of the low. And then the breathing that we recorded in there from the actors, and then the rattling of the foley from the chair—it’s a very tense scene, and a lot of it is done with sound.

I felt like that’s that moment where [Rey] finally—she has her hero moment when she resists Kylo, and you realize this character’s got this strength and she’s got Force sensitivity. It’s really cemented there. I really enjoy that scene for that—and where the music comes in seems really good right there. And just the acting and everything in that scene, I think, blends really well with that sound design. That’s one of my favorites in the movie.

It’s funny, because that’s exactly what David Acord said was his favorite scene, almost word for word.

I can talk about other scenes, too!

No, it’s great, because…I mentioned this to him, too. It really feels like the foley and the sound design is the dialog for that part of the scene where they’re fighting. And the moment where Rey gains the upper hand is made extremely clear through sound design.

Yeah, that’s a good one. And not to give Dave a huge ego or anything, but I really love what he did with the character Teedo. That’s Dave Acord’s voice, actually. That was one of our early characters that we were working on in the movie. When we were first temping the film, going through the footage and putting things in so J.J. could get an idea of the scope of what we were trying to achieve…he gave us a lot of freedom, you know. Dave and I did our own voices for a lot of the characters. We’re both actors in [the Screen Actors Guild], and we work as actors as well. So when he did Teedo, I remember…I didn’t know the process of how he made him. I just knew it was his voice. And I was like, “Oh, that’s really clever. It really sounds like that character.”

I remember we needed some updates; they’d changed the Teedo scene. And Dave had gone on vacation. Because we weren’t in a full mode where we all had to be working at that point. We were just trying to feed J.J. every few weeks [with] sound effects. [Someone said,] “Oh, he’s updated the Teedo scene. We need some more Teedo sound effects.” And I was like, “Well, that’s David, but he’s in Thailand.” He brought his recorder with him, and I called him, and I said, “Dave, you gotta give me some more Teedo pieces.” He had given me this raw voice, and I brought it back to his studio and I opened up his system and I processed it. But I remember, he was out—he had a relatively late night out with some friends, and the recording I got back was Dave, in the closet of his hotel room, reading the room-service menu—it was a Thai room-service menu—to come up with some of those lines of Teedo. And then I took those back and processed them, and that ended up being some of Teedo in the movie, which I thought was hilarious.

What’s the scene or sequence that gave you the most trouble, whether for technical or creative reasons? Is there a scene where you go, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that we finally finished that.”

I know that there was a concern at one point where we were like, “Oh, the character of Rey, we really want to make sure that she comes into her own,” as far as the … [we wanted to ensure that] it’s a slow build about her Force powers. I know that…how J.J. had cut the sequence, he’d moved around the scene between her and the stormtrooper that she does the Jedi mind trick on. One of the things that we did to solve that is we brought Daisy back into the studio and we had her perform—because she says the first thing, “I want you to unhook these”—I can’t remember the exact dialog. But “I want you to”—

“You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”

Exactly! There you go. That line—she says it three times, I think. And she had played it very strong from the beginning. She just was confident that she was going to do that from the very beginning. We were like, well, it might be a nice thing to have her kind of feel this inside of her, like, “I don’t know why I’m being compelled to say this, but I’m going to do it anyway,” enough for her to verbalize it. We wanted the first couple of appearances of that to be different. So she came in, and we worked on it to try to give her a trepidacious read of those lines, and it totally fit.

“We certainly certainly took it to the very last second.”

That’s when ADR—what I was talking about when you bring an actor back into the studio to re-record lines and put it in sync with the picture—that’s when it really works: when it’s helping you do something in the film. A lot of actors and directors are thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to go back to the studio and try to recreate something, because it’s so sterile, or it’ll never be the same,” or they get used to the way it sounded in the original recording. But she came in and we worked on that, and it actually really helped build that character from feeling scared about what she was saying to building confidence. So the very last time she says it in the film is how she performed it on the set. That’s the actual original recording.

That was a fun progression, to see that scene take shape, and for us to help it with ADR.

And then some of the later scenes in the film—a lot of the trench run that happens as they go into the oscillator was added at a later date. That was a scramble to get that all together. But I loved that. There’s a scene in there where we take the music out and we just get to feel the reality of the situation, and all the sound effects and the battle. It brings you into the gravitas of that war that’s happening. I really enjoyed that scene.

Maz’s castle, all of the creatures in there—that was really intense… We wanted to get that to sound right. We worked on that for a really long time.

It’s funny. You work on these films, and as they get closer and closer to ending—Ben Burtt has a statement where he says, “Films are not released. They escape.” You could just work on them for over and over and over, just to refine and refine and refine, but at some point, you’re like, “Okay guys, this is not ours anymore. We have to release it to the world and people have to experience and make their own mind up about it.”

We certainly certainly took it to the very last second. I think we worked on that film—maybe two weeks before it came out into the movie theaters, we were still working on it. For a major release like that—I don’t know any film that’s taken it to the limit like that. But I’m super happy about how it came out, and the crew is, too. We look forward to working on many more. Acord and I and Chris Scarabosio and my team have already started preliminary work on Rogue One. We’re still doing Rebels. Episode VIII’s on the horizon. So I’m really happy to work with this new Story Group under Kathleen Kennedy and see what Lucasfilm is capable of.

I have to ask you about your StarWars.com post breaking down which voice actors played which background roles. If people have watched The Clone Wars, they’ll recognize these voices. What was it like for you to be able to bring these actors—these friends of yours, who are huge Star Wars fans and huge parts of the fan community—into the production of this massive movie?

Oh, it was a dream. I work with group recording all the time; whenever I work on a film, I bring in [groups of] actors and we record. It’s called “loop group.” I do it, too, as an actor. I work on other films that I’m not supervising, as well. It’s just a fun acting job. It’s kind of like being an extra, but you’re using your voice instead of your body.

I put the word out to everybody. I was like, “I’m doing this Star Wars film, and hey, I’d love to get a group of everybody that has had some contact with Star Wars before.” These are big actors that have schedules on TV shows and movies, but everyone made their time to be able to make it happen. And I was totally blessed with that group. It worked out great. Everyone was super excited.

I got to grab … for instance, this guy Mark Dodson, who I’ve known for a really long time, was the voice of Salacious Crumb in the original movies. I got him to come in and record—just because I knew there was a laughing character in Maz’s castle that had this little moment, I was like, “I want to get Mark Dodson for that.” And I put him in there. The two characters that are playing a game of chess or something inside Maz’s castle—those laughs are Mark Dodson.

I even went and found—with the help of one of the other loop-group actors, who took it upon himself to help me track him down—the original voice of [rebel pilot] Nien Nunb, [who] was this guy named Kipsang “Bill” Rotich, an African foreign-exchange student from Kenya that Ben Burtt had recorded in the ’80s to get his dialect.

I think it was a Haya dialect, I believe it was called. And that was just a straight-up lift from his voice that [Burtt] put in for Nien Nunb back in [Return of the] Jedi. He became sort of a local celebrity, because the lines that he said were not obfuscated at all; you could exactly hear what he was saying in that dialect. That one group [of Haya speakers] was very excited to hear their own native dialect.

So I said, “I want to track this guy down.” And it was actually really hard. Christian [Simpson, the loop-group member who helped with the search] almost had to be like a private investigator to locate him. But we found him, and I got him into a television station close to where he lives, and I had him record lines that were very … I said, “Do things that are in the affirmative.” Because every time Nien Nunb was asked to do something in the movie, it was always, “We’re going to go here!” And he had to say, “Yes!” Or, “We’re going to do this!” and “Yes, sir!”

I did the same thing [as Burtt did for Jedi]. I took his voice and put it in there exactly how it was. That’s the original voice. And I got him a credit in the movie, which is fantastic, because in [Jedi], he never had a credit. It was just something he did for Ben.

Connecting those things, and having all those Clone Wars actors and original trilogy actors and prequel actors together, to do something for Force Awakens just felt super right to me. And it actually turned out great, because all the voices they did were awesome.

I would say, “Here’s a scene where you’re a bunch of First Order officers and someone’s attacking…there’s a TIE fighter loose, and they’re attacking this area,” and they could improv and use the proper dialects and use the proper Star Wars vernacular. I didn’t even have to write stuff down. [The Force Unleashed voice actors] Sam Witwer and Dave Collins were two stand-out actors there that I used as stormtroopers here and there; [they] really stood out as great. And I had [The Clone Wars stars] James Arnold Taylor and Matt Lanter play characters together. That just was super, super fun. And J.J. really liked it when I would tell him, “Oh, this is this guy, and this is this guy.” I didn’t tell him until I’d recorded everybody, and he was like, “Oh, that’s fantastic!” And he liked what he was hearing from a director perspective, too, so it all worked out great. I hope to keep doing that on the future films.

Are there any fun Easter Eggs in the sound editing that people should listen for?

I guess the one I told you about using Porkins’s explosion for Ello Asty’s explosion. That was one thing that we did. I revealed a lot of things in that article with all the background voices. Gosh, I’d have to think about…

“Connecting those things, and having all those Clone Wars actors and original trilogy actors and prequel actors together, to do something for Force Awakens just felt super right to me.” 

Oh, Acord and I in Maz’s castle. There’s the sound of a … we called them the bunny bots. They were the little waiter droids that were in Clone Wars. They looked like bunnies and they would carry drinks and stuff. That’s Dave Acord’s voice, and I put a couple of those in Maz’s castle. You don’t see them, because the camera view can’t see down that far. So that was our logic. But you could still hear them.

There’s a part at Niima Outpost where [Rey’s] trading with Unkar Plutt. We put the sound of someone that sounds like … oh my gosh, I played the dang guy in Clone Wars and I can’t remember his name right now. The one that’s like, “The Techno Union army is at your disposal, Count.” What’s that guy’s name?

Oh, Wat Tambor.

Yeah. So we put a Wat Tambor-type sound. Because it looks like a guy that’s, like, a prototype or [the] same race as Wat Tambor [who’s] in the background there. And I put a little [imitates Wat Tambor’s robotic sound] to kind of make it sound like [him].

Just all those little things. J.J. makes the sets so rich, and there’s so many different layers there.

I’m trying to think of anything else. … At some point in the future, I’m going to have to watch the movie again, because I really haven’t even had a vacation since this movie’s been finished. I went straight onto another film. So I’m looking forward to a break.

Yeah, take a vacation, man. You need one.

I need to do that. But yeah, I’ll watch the film again at some point and probably get all those Easter eggs out. The proton torpedos that I put in there at the end, that was a little button [where] I wanted to pay homage to Luke Skywalker’s attack on the Death Star. You can hear those in there.

Yeah. That’s all I can think of at the moment.

Well, that’s all great. It really does seem like the movie was a celebration of Star Wars both in terms of your process, on a meta level, and in terms of the story of the movie itself.

Yeah. I mean, I love it, I’ve grown up with it, and my entire … from even my pre-adult [life]—I guess 17 is still not technically an adult. So from my youth to now, I’ve been here 26 years almost. So I’ve lived it. And I still love it! So I hope to keep going.

Screengrab via Star Wars/YouTube

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‘The Force Awakens’ sound designer reveals the secrets behind the sound of ‘Star Wars’
What gave Kylo Ren his Force rumble? Sound designer David Acord has the answer.
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