The ninth installment of Hollywood’s most successful space saga features one of its most unusual and compelling moments when “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson tries something that none of the previous films attempted: silence.
For the film’s release, some movie theaters even posted signs warning audiences that approximately one hour and 52 minutes into the movie, all sound stops for 10 seconds and to not be alarmed, as the effect is intentional.
“When we heard about this, we got a big kick out of it,” says sound designer Ren Klyce, who served as a co-sound supervisor alongside supervising sound editor Matthew Wood, with both collecting a recent Oscar nomination for sound editing. Klyce also shares an Oscar nom on the film for sound mixing with Stuart Wilson, David Parker and Michael Semanick.
The scene in question finds Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern, sacrificing her life by flying a spaceship at light speed directly into a Star Destroyer to allow Resistance escape pods to flee from certain doom. “It was a very tricky sequence where our picture editor, Bob Ducsay, converged three dramatic plot points — Kylo and Rey battling the Praetorian Guards, Finn and Rose being captured on Canto Bight and the Resistance trying to escape — into one climactic moment,” says Klyce. “Bob allowed us to figure out the timing of the sound design, which was building through John Williams’ score. When Holdo jumps to light speed, she splices through the ship, the ship explodes and then there’s an absence of sound immediately after. In a way, it ties them all together.”
Also new to the franchise are the Force connection sequences that Kylo and Rey use to speak to each other across the galaxy. To accomplish that, the sound department took dialogue, reversed it and ran it through different reverbs and delays, then flipped those sounds again and edited them so it felt as if they were approaching from a great distance before dropping off into silence — giving the audience the impression the two characters were connected. Voices were also panned around speakers to add a swirling effect.
Sound went a step further in the fight sequence between Kylo and Luke Skywalker at the film’s climactic ending: Effects were removed to push the story subliminally. “We used a bit of smoke and mirrors in the soundtrack when everyone looks up to see Luke walk in, but in reality, he doesn’t make a sound; he’s completely silent. No foley, nothing,” says Klyce. When the two face off with lightsabers, Skywalker doesn’t leave any footprints, nor can you see snow land on his body. “We had some deep conversations about what sounds should and shouldn’t be heard for Luke’s Force projection — and ultimately made the jump and said the lightsaber is going to make sounds.