Ben Burtt Talks Star Trek (& Star Wars) Sounds + Links To More Recent Star Trek/Star Wars Connections

Today is the 10th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which is still the 6th best grossing film in US history. Star Trek and Star Wars have always had a symbiotic relationship (from Lucas’ ILM providing effects to George Takei’s voice in Clone Wars). So today TrekMovie provides some recent SW/ST links and references, including a new interview with Star Wars (and Star Trek) sound designer Ben Burtt.


Ben Burtt talks Star Trek and Star Wars in new interview
TMPEG has a fascinating interview with Ben Burtt, the sound editor of the Star Wars films and genius behind WALL-E and so many films, who also contributed to the new Star Trek film. The interview contains interesting information on the origins of Star Trek sounds and Burtt’s work on the film. Burtt Talks about creating the sounds for photon torpedoes, phasers, warp, transporters and more. Burtt notes how he brought some Star Wars into the sound for the phasers.

EGM:  We’ve talked about the library of sounds you created for J.J.  Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek.  Can you talk about how you re-created some of the iconic effects for the movie?  Let’s start with the hand phaser.

BB: In the original series, the steady blast of the phaser was derived from the hovering sound of the Martian war machines made for the 1953 version of Paramount’s War of the Worlds.  The original was made with tape feedback of an electric guitar and a harp.  You can achieve a very similar sound on a Moog synthesizer by modulating a steady sine wave with pink noise.  The phasers in the new movie are more like the blasters in Star Wars in the sense that they are flying bolts or tracer bullets, rather than a steady beam.  The steady sound just wasn’t the right way to go because the visuals are so different, so I made something that recalls it, but features a Doppler effect and is shorter and sharper.  My sounds were added to those that had already been supplied by Mark P. Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin.

He also addressed how Trek fans would feel about him coming into their franchise:

EGM: Do you think the Trekkies will “get” your work on Star Trek?

BB: It’s very difficult to satisfy all fans, especially when these sounds are such a part of science fiction folklore.  But you can’t make a movie just for the fans.  You respect their loyalty and you want them to come along for the ride, but you first have to make the movie for yourself.  It may sound corny, but I feel that if you put love into your work, hopefully that will give the film a special quality that will enamor the audience as well.  What I did on Star Trek was to build on the audio legacy that I loved from the original TV series, and to expand and amplify it to fill J.J.’s epic vision; it’s the original series on steroids!

Read the full interview

Ben Burtt talks sounds of Star Trek and Star Wars


Star Wars actor talks Trek fandom in official Star Wars Magazine
The Official Star Wars Insider Magazine (Issue #109, a Special 100 page Phantom Menace issue, available on newsstands now) has an interview with Star Wars actor Ralph Brown ("Ric Olie") who discusses how William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s acting helped prepare him for his role as the Naboo who teaches Anakin Skywalker how to be a pilot. From the interview by Jonathan Wilkins:

I’d grown up with Star Trek and watched William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy speaking with absolute and utter sincerity about faintly ludicrous scenarios. There’s ways of saying those lines, which is to say them with utter convictions and sincerity, which makes them resonate. If you aren’t prepared to do that, you shouldn’t be doing films in this genre, really.

The editors of the magazine also chime in about the connections between Trek and Wars:

The most eagerly awaited movie of all time, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace is also one of the most influential. Popularizing the idea of the prequel in modern cinema, a variety of franchises have now gone back to their beginnings, with the James Bond and Batman series of movies both enjoying the prequel treatment to much acclaim and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise boldly going back to the beginning in J.J. Abram’s 2009 take on Star Trek.

Star Wars talk in Star Trek: Original Motion Pictures Collection
There are several new bonus features on the Blu-ray Star Trek Motion Picture Collection which reference the connection between Star Wars and Star Trek. "The Longest Trek: Writing the Motion Picture" features much discussion of how the initial success of Star Wars in 1977 helped influence a Star Trek movie (from the TMP disc). The bonus feature of "Industrial Light & Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Trek" discusses the contributions of ILM to Star Trek (from the TSFS disc).

Fan Boys DVD release
Today, the DVD of the film Fan Boys is released. The film features a very fast William Shatner cameo and the stereotypical Star Wars vs. Star Trek sillyness. [see TrekMovie interview with Fanboys director Kyle Newman on Fanboys/Trek connections].

Recent Trek connections at the Official Star Wars Blog
TrekMovie isn’t the only place that sees connections. Since the release of the new Star Trek movie, the official Star Wars blog has been doing a few Star Trek/Star Wars stories:

May the force live long and prosper with you
At TrekMovie we have never seen a ‘Star Wars v Star Trek’ battle and we are fans of both. So happy birthday, Phantom Menace. And as Star Wars becomes a new television show and Star Trek a new motion picture, we know that the futures of these franchises are forever linked.

Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas

George Lucas and JJ Abrams


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love the sounds of the new trek!

Moog synthesizer music ROCKS !!!!

I am very glad that not only did the producers team up with ILM, but that they were able to make use of the considerable talents of Ben Burtt. What a talent!

Woah, never saw that pic with Roddenberry and Lucas!

Happy Birthday, Phantom Menace!

I like Ben Burtt but I still love the original sound effects more.

And I completely agree with the guy who was inspired with how delibarate and seriously Shatner and Nimoy would emote. It inspired me too. It is a classic text book example of how to sell something – a concept – a show. There was a time when it was okay to be serious. Being uber serious in character and taking yourself seriously these days seems to be a dirty word.

That picture wit J.J. Abrams and George Lucas is so well-taken…. it’s so beautiful.

Very cool, from Roddenberry to Lucas and Lucas to Abrams!

Ben Burtt is really a legend… such iconic sounds in Star Wars and he did an amazing job with the new Trek as well. I hope he’s involved again in the sequel.

Ben Burtt was one of my earliest heroes… and the sound effects in the new movie were one of the things that I really liked about it. It is clear that he has a connection and love of the original… and I am glad that survives.

Its good that trekmovie did this article. Theirs been quite a bit of Star Wars -vs- Star Trek crap going around the web and how the mccoy bar scene in trek 3 is a copy of the cantina scene, etc. Its just annoying to see stuff like that. I admire both franchises quite a bit actually (obviously bigger trek fan), but non the less. Why can’t both franchises exist in harmony ? Why can’t the fans just enjoy both and respect both. No one really wins. Its just a great story to tell. People should be happy both exist.

This is the first time i seen gene and george meet and shake both of their hands for the first time. Wow this is epic
Great shows and movies from both great legends

George Lucas….the ‘Citizen Kane’ of movie making.


Because Star Wars sucks! ;-)

No, just joking. I agree with you. Why must the fandom be mutually exclusive? It shouldn’t be.

It has not been a decade since TPM, ………has it?

Although I defer to Burtt, I suspect that the original Trek phasers were based on a bandwidth limited frequency test recording. Of course I went out and tested his technique of modulating a sine wave with pink noise and it works amazingly well. The guy is a legendary craftsman.

dude.. i’m steve-o.. have been for a long time.. could you not?

The reason (s) the original is still my favorite version of Trek:

1) The acting. A lot of people love to criticize Shatner’s work, but when you look at it objectively, he did have a lot of ridiculouus lines and situations and he did deliver it with the utmost conviction and sincerity. He portrayed Kirk as a very confident explorer and soldier, not a brash arrogant jerk. Nimoy created a character that was very regal and noble and beloved around the world. DeForest Kelley, one of the most underappreciated actors of his day. His humor and humanity help make the show so great.

2) Set design. Call me crazy but I loved the 60’s design look in the sets. It kind of reminded me of Ken Adams (of the early Bond movies) work. It’s style of sleek lines and simple layouts are beautiful to me.

3) The music. To this day, TOS music is still the best. It was serious without being presumptuous. It did humor without being corny.

4) The sound effects were wonderful. Nothing beats the low hum of those warp engines!

#11: “Why can’t the fans just enjoy both and respect both?”

Honestly, with most of the films it’s a challenge to enjoy either.

But many of us do try our best.

Though I have tremendous respect for Burtt and his achievements in Star Wars, to me his sound effects in the new Trek fell far short of my expectations.
The sound and “action” of the new phasers were nowhere near as cool as the TOS phasers.
This was for me in fact the most annoying aspect of the new movie, despite the plotholes, etc.
Updating is one thing. Watering-down is another.

“But you can’t make a movie just for the fans. You respect their loyalty and you want them to come along for the ride, but you first have to make the movie for yourself. It may sound corny, but I feel that if you put love into your work, hopefully that will give the film a special quality that will enamor the audience as well. ”

Quoted for truth.

~ Ben

Tricorder and Phasers in New Movie = VERY DISAPPOINTING

burtt is a legend, a true artistic inspiration.

loved his work on WALL-e and SWars.

his commentary is what dvd commentary was invented for. great insight!

Wow. Kool Picture of George Lucas and Gene Rodeenberry. I wounder what they said to each other. Oh to be a Fly on that wall.I love Trek and i do love Star Wars as well. Both are great Scifi shows and movies. I think this Galaxy is big enough for both of them.

Ben Burtt Rocks!!!
I’m glad he’s still doing sound for movies and I’m very glad they snagged him to do Star Trek. He has created so many iconic sound effects over the years for both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies (not to mention many, many others).

At least Jar-Jar Binks didn’t get a cameo in the new Trek film!

10. darendoc

Thank you for your contributions to TMP as well. That must have been a blast to work with Mr. Wise.

If Sci-FI space based shows were a royal dynasty: Star Wars would be King, Star Trek would be Queen, Battlestar Galactica would be a Prince, Babylon 5 would be Princess, and Stargate would be a Lord.

#11 jas_montreal —

I whole-heartedly agree. I have been a fan of both series as long as I can remember… and I’ve been around long enough to have lived during the initial run of TOS! I never thought there was a need to compete; there’s room enough in the sci-fi lexicon for both landmark series. Just as there’s enough room to include other icons like 2001, Forbidden Planet, Silent Running, etc.

Not to say that Trek isn’t my absolute favorite of all of those… but my love for Trek does not preclude my enjoyment of Star Wars.

And… the next time someone gives you garbage about the McCoy scene in TSFS (or any other bar scene in any other Trek movie) just point out to them that Lucas got the inspiration for that from the Trek episode “Journey to Babel,” specifically, the scene with all the different alien races gathering on the Enterprise for food and drinks on the way to the conference. Sure, Lucas’s vision was amped up by a movie budget and 10 years of make-up and special effects evolution… but all great literature borrows from other sources!

I enjoyed the sound design very much, particularly the opening shots of the Kelvin. I also enjoyed hearing the low hum of the warp engines a couple of times, plus the “alien planet ambience” on Delta Vega before the creatures attacked.

that pic with Roddenberry and lucas is kinda surreal, not sure why lol

the sound effects were awesome. they go by so fast tho ;;^^. the sonic boom effects were nifty too.

#1 – George Lucas was influenced by Star Trek and I believe I read that Gene was a mentor.

#2 – Where is R2D2? I have seen the movie three times and have looked for it each time.

#3 Great pic of JJ and George; passing the torch.

I’m glad that Mr. Burtt incorporated new audio with what was used in the original series. We don’t have the same exact look, but the sound effects from the original show can certainly be used.

Roddenberry sent greetings to Lucas at the 10th Anniversary of Star Wars convention in 1987; he had his picture in the program with a message that he’d always been a big Star Wars fan.

Four years later, Lucas delivered a message to Roddenberry at the Star Trek 25th Anniversary convention (via Darth Vader) saying the same about Star Trek.

Of course, Shatner famously, ahem, “sang” to Lucas when AFI honored him.

I remember once reading that in one cut of TMP, as V’Ger is reading the computer, you can see Darth Vader and Miss Piggy on the screen.

The only sound effect I didn’t like in the new movie was for the photon torpedoes. It was this weird, high-pitched synthesized sound that didn’t have nearly enough power behind it.

Everything else was great though.

As for the hand phasers, I thought Burtt did as good a job as he could. But unfortunately the little pulse blasts just weren’t visually dynamic enough for the screen. They either need to bring back the solid beams or go for bigger pulse blasts like they used in the ENT pilot.

The Great Bird of the Galaxy meets the Great T**d of the galaxy!
Phantom Menace//Attack of the Clowns….. indeed!!!!!

Some of the sound effects were awesome…
warp speed sounds… awesome
communicator, tricorders….litle wimpy

In comparison the prequel star trek film was much better as Star wars eoisode 1 and what a epic pic!!

That picture of Lucas meeting Roddenberry was taken at the 10th Anniversary Star Wars Convention, where Gene Roddenberry was a surprise guest. This is the only known photo of the two meeting.

Is there any truth to what I just read in comments on the above R2D2 link, that the Millennium Falcon is in the First Contact Borg battle scene? I’ve never heard that, or seen it.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this mentioned here or elsewhere, but the rumble of the warp drives firing up before the fleet jumped to Vulcan was easily my favorite use of sound in the film. There was a meatiness that gave the feel of massive, barely-harnessed power.

While talk of a “battle” between Star Wars and Star Trek fans makes good press, I’ve rarely found it to play out in real life. I find that people tend to love or hate a movie on its own merits, even if it’s a franchise like Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters , Aliens, Jurrasic Park, or Terminator. (We all know of clunkers and gold in each of these series.)

And don’t let anyone kid you. Everyone borrows from everyone else. It’s a practice as old as the art of storytelling itself.

RE #36
I agree that the new “blaster” style phasers were a little too generic and wimpy. It would have been visually interesting to see (and hear) classic Federation phaser bolts during the fight scenes on the Narada.

BTW, if you click on my username, my web link takes you to my page that compares the original TOS sound effects with some attempts at re-synthesis (sound examples on page 3). Let me know what sounds you’d like to hear re-created, as we are planning a second part to this feature.

PS. Andy Patterson: Shouldn’t you be at work?

Ben Burtt’s sounds for the movie are fantastic.

I love that the sounds are very much based on the TOS sounds, but with far greater scope.

The new sounds for the Enterprise and the Kelvin are great, and reading about the Phaser noise was interesting, because I can now pick out the TOS Phaser sound in the new phaser sounds.

Well done Ben !!!

It is true that there is at least one Falcon in the battle in First Contact. I have yet to see R2 in the new Trek flick, though. Could someone just tell us where he is? It’s too expensive for me, a person with a short attention span to keep going back to find it.

As for the Star Wars v Star Trek stupidity, I have no idea where that stuff comes from other than fanboys sometimes have too much of a sense of proprietership over the things they ar fans of. Some of the people at the Lucasfilm site (people posting not moderators) actually are saying that you shouldn’t combine sci-fi. I hate to tell them that Star Wars is nothing if not a combination of ideas, sci-fi and otherwise. Asimov’s law for robots being one of them. You sure wouldn’t want to combine your ideas with a crackpot like Asimov, would you? (a joke)

Star Trek has had a large influence on Star Wars. The cloaking device is a perfect example. In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, when the ISD Avenger loses track of the Millennium Falcon, Captain Needa dismisses the possibility that his target engaged a cloaking device because the target ship is too small to have one. In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn asks if Queen Amidala’s yacht has a cloaking device, but Captain Panaka informs him that it does not.

I love Star Trek and Star Wars. Always have.

I immediately fell in love with Star Trek when I was a kid in the 1970’s during re-runs, and also when I saw Star Wars in 1977, I was absolutely blown away by it.

Both franchises are great. Both have made a big impact in my life.

Let’s live in harmony. I’m OK with that. But please do not put anything SW related into the next ST film.

There’s no that much space for both franchises in one galaxy. Star Wars have its own galaxy far, far away. ;)

Star Trek is better!!!! J/k …

Star Wars has its own little world just like trek! Both have the goods and the bads…