"Pew pew." One word, said twice, has sparked the imaginations of countless people. And soon, the origin story of that sound will be revealed.
On May 13, an episode of the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, hosted by Dallas Taylor, will explore the significance of the sound design found within the original Star Wars movie trilogy.
Inverse has an exclusive two-minute excerpt from the upcoming episode, in which Taylor details the unexpected origins of the iconic blaster sounds: A hiking trip taken by Star Wars sound designer, Ben Burtt.
"His pack just caught one of his little guy wires you have on radio towers," Taylor tells Inverse. "You see them everywhere. You can go up to one and do it and it'll go, pew. And his pack caught on one and it went, pew. It is fascinating how that really set up the style of Star Wars and set the tone for sci-fi movies for a long time."
Adds Taylor, "It's not only a single moment in time, it was a single moment at the right time that influenced everything."
As the creative director of the sound design studio Defacto Sound, Taylor hosts Twenty Thousand Hertz, a documentary podcast about the untold stories of popular sounds. Previous episodes have zeroed in on sounds like the NBC network chimes, the Xbox start-up noise, the Wilhelm Scream, and America Online's "You've Got Mail" greeting.
Though Twenty Thousand Hertz has previously explored Star Wars in some capacity — including a two-part episode unpacking George Lucas' THX somewhat terrifying "deep noise" — the May 13 episode will be exclusively about the unforgettable sonic universe of Star Wars.
Taylor admits he isn't a lifelong fan of the Star Wars movies, which gives him an outsider's perspective in examining the cultural impact. He says he only developed interest after visiting Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in 2019 and being bombarded with the film franchise's sounds. (This YouTube video essay from video game sound designer Marshall McGee also convinced him to pursue Star Wars for an episode.)
"My first experience [with Star Wars] was when Galaxy's Edge opened. I’ve become obsessed," Taylor says. "I've had people say, 'Don't tell you’ve not been a Star Wars fan as a sound designer.'"
By now he's seen the movies and talks up the work of Ben Burtt in the upcoming podcast. Taylor argues that Burtt was "thinking 40 years in the future" as did one thing that made the sound of Star Wars so memorable, that even modern sound designers don't do: They "perform."
"The brilliance of Ben Burtt was that he treated every sound as a performer," Taylor says, likening Burtt to a concert pianist. "That's what we've lost as sound designers in the last 40 years. We're so spoiled by the riches of the technology and recording plug-ins, we lose getting a microphone and seeking sounds, performing them with our hands, feet, and mouths."
Taylor acknowledges the irony in thinking that the cinematic sounds containing the most "touches of humanity" is found in Star Wars, a movie series populated by aliens and androids.
"That's why it's stood the test of time," he says. "If someone approached Star Wars now, most people would never get up out of their seat. They would go through plug-in libraries and bang it out. But it doesn't have this inherent performance."
Taylor says Burtt's contributions to Star Wars didn't just influence decades of artists, but pushed sound design to the sophisticated state it is in today. He believes that without Star Wars, sound design would be both lagging and lacking.
"A world without Star Wars, we’d probably be ten years behind," he says. "We wouldn't be where we are now. It really jump-started with that entire crew and Ben leading the helm on that font. [They] not only built this entire sci-fi genre but built a foundation on what you can do when you care about sound."
Adds Taylor, "40 years later, we’re saying pew pew."
Twenty Thousand Hertz will release its Star Wars episode on May 13.