.: Theatrical Audio Resources

The Star Wars trilogy has had a lot of mixes over the years. In 1985, Ben Burtt supervised a stereo remix for home video, taking into account the acoustics of television audio (as this was the pre-home theatre days it has the least dynamic range of any mix). In 1993, the sound was remixed in stereo again, this time "sweetening" the audio with added effects in Star Wars. In 1997, the films were remixed in 5.1 surround and released on Laserdisc in Dolby Digital (and VHS in stereo). In 2004, the sound was remixed in Dolby Digital yet again for DVD release.

However--the history-making original audio has never been officially released by Lucasfilm, excepting the two-decades-out-of-print stereo mix. These are the audio mixes that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have heard when they awarded the films for sound design and mixing, and they are also the audio mixes that everyone was blown away by during the original theatrical experience.

On May 25th, 1977, Star Wars was released in two audio formats: stereo for regular 35mm and a six-track surround for 70mm. The six-track 70mm mix in particular was memorable because of the surround channels, wide dynamic range, and special low-frequency "baby booms" (equivalent to sub-woofers today) that made this a very special experience; people today still talk of hearing the roar of the star destroyer first flying overhead. The stereo and six-track mixes were both sourced from the same stems, although they are not entirely identical. In June, the film expanded onto more screens and now it was accompanied by a mono mix, which is what most people would have heard in theatres. Since Lucas had more time to work on this mix, he could add many more sounds and fixed things he was unhappy with in the initial mixes. At the time, Lucas put the most amount of effort into this release, and considered it definitive (ironic, as it was never released on home video).

If you compare the stereo/six-track to the mono, you can hear that this contains additional foley and ADR work (listen to the trash compactor sequence, for example). It also contains more obvious ADR, such as C3P0's tractor beam explanation and "close the blast doors", both of which were restored for 1997 (many thought they were new additions since they had never heard the mono mix), and many of the stormtrooper voices are different as well. But there are more obvious examples, probably the most noteable of which is that Aunt Beru is voiced by a completely different person (neither the stereo nor mono version is actress Shelah Fraser), and the battle of Yavin radio chatter is undistorted. There are more mundane differences as well, such as different sound effects used in the background--for instance the alarm that sounds on the blockade runner, or the squeaks emitted by the 3D chess board. The levels are, of course, mixed a bit differently as well. In fact, each of the three original mixes had to be done seperately, so each mix was it's own "performance." Starkiller's excellent mono mix comparison page catalogs all the differences with audio samples of each.

Now, how does one hear these mixes?

Well, the original stereo mix showed up on the few pre-1985 home video releases. The fidelity is not as good as a modern transfer, but the Laserdisc releases from this time are very listenable. Moreover, the 1993 remix used the same stem that the original stereo and six-track mixes were derived from; editing this mix to remove the additions has been achieved by Hairy_Hen recently, to great effect. Belbucus was able to capture the actual stereo mix off of a 1985 pan and scan Laserdisc (catalog number 1130-84), which contained the analogue theatrical mix, for Moth3r's LFL Pwnage preservation (the previous Laserdisc from 1982 was not used because it was time-compressed; although the film's sound was remixed in 1985, this only appeared on VHS that year, and the first Laserdisc to use it was in 1989, catalog number 1130-85).

The mono and six-track mixes are the most difficult because neither of them were ever released on home video. The mono mix, because it contained so many alternate recordings, was the first to be tackled. Fan preservations had initially used a recording ripped from a 1977 bootleg telecine, but the quality was lacking, and so the Mono Restoration Project started building a better quality version. Using a variety of sources, including a bootleg telecine from 1977 of the mix and 1977's "Story of Star Wars" album, as well as European television broadcasts from the 1980s (UK and Denmark specifically), the Mono Restoration Project eventually created a composite restoration, which was then cleaned up using digital tools. The fidelity of the sound is not quite as good as an official release would have been, but it is professional enough to be used as a legitimate audio option when watching the film. See the original OT.com thread here.

Which brings us to the 70mm six-track. This was thought impossible to salvage, but recently Hairy_Hen was able to recreate it. He realized that the 1993 stereo mix was created from the original 1977 stems that were used to make the initial stereo and six-track mixes, which was good news since this mix has the greatest dynamic range and is therefore most similar to the range of the six-track release. Working from the Laserdisc PCM track, he was able to pull apart the Lt-Rt splits to isolate the surround channel. He also had to carefully edit out the added sound effects to this 1993 release, filling it in with the theatrical stereo. Belbucus has created a detailed list of the added sounds for the '93 mix. To create the baby-boom low frequency effects, Hairy_hen isolated some of the low-frequency effects from the 2004 5.1 mix. Combining all of these sources, he was able to create an AC3 file that recreated the 70mm six-track mix. See the OT.com thread here.

For the hell of it, there is also a bootleg audio recording from a 1977 70mm showing. It is in virtual stereo: the recorder made two recordings--one from the right side of the theatre, one from the left, and then combined them on a reel-to-reel deck, though the sync drifts around a bit. Amusing to hear people applaud the Death Star destruction, and also gives you a sense of the 70mm audio levels (the opening fly-by in particular is impressive). You can read the original article here, and read the original OT.com thread here.

So, what about Empire and Jedi?

Hairy_Hen is working on recreating six-track mixes of these films using the same methods. Empire's mix, however, is a bit unusual. The 70mm print of Empire needed to be readied first, and as a result, the 70mm version of Empire is missing a few shots that the other versions had. Hence, making a true recreation of the six-track/70mm version would require a slight re-edit to the film. The 1993 mix has been theorized to be based off the 70mm stems, since it is missing a few sound effects (such as the crashing snowspeeder) that appear on the stereo mix (as the 70mm would have been readied first, it is thought that these effects were only added for the later mixes). There are no surmised differences between the other mixes of the films, however. The original theatrical stereo mixes have been captured by Dark_Jedi using pre-1985-mix Laserdiscs (see the OT.com thread here). Empire and Jedi did not appear to have dedicated mono mixes; instead the stereo 35mm prints were made for mono playback in theatres not stereo equipped.

Below are links to the audio files (coming soon!). These have been made to sync with the 2006 official DVDs of the original theatrical versions. So, if you own the official discs, you can re-author your own personal version with the original mixes.

1977 Stereo mix recreated by Hairy_Hen

1977 Stereo mix captured by Belbucus

1977 Six-track recreated by Hairy_Hen

1977 Six-track theatrical bootleg recording

1977 Mono mix restored by the Mono Restoration Project

1980 Six-track mix coming soon

1980 Stereo mix captured by Dark_Jedi

1983 Six-track mix coming soon

1983 Stereo mix captured by Dark_Jedi

Those wishing to know more detail on the original sound mix will find a definitive article written on the subject by website in70mm.com. It has since been reposted in an expanded form.

Chainsaw Ash also compiled a list of Laserdisc audio sources that could be useful:

Star Wars
1977 Theatrical Stereo:
- 1130-84

1985 Stereo Remix:
- 1130-85

1993 Stereo Remix:
- 0693-84 (Definitive Collection)
- 8763-85 ("Faces")

ESB 1980 Theatrical Stereo:
- 1425-84

ESB 1985 Stereo Remix:
- 1425-85

ESB 1993 Stereo Remix:
- 0693-84 (Definitive Collection)
- 8764-85 ("Faces")

ROTJ 1983 Theatrical Stereo (assumed)
- 1478-80

ROTJ 1985 Stereo Remix (assumed)
- 1478-85

ROTJ 1993 Stereo Remix
- 0693-84 (Definitive Collection)
- 8765-85 ("Faces")