A classic Star Wars trope has just gone all Alderaan. The ‘Wilhelm scream’ sound effect – which has featured in every Star Wars film up to Rogue One – has been destroyed by the firepower of the fully armed and operational sound department.
“In this movie, we decided to move from the Wilhelm scream,” said Star Wars supervising sound editor Matthew Wood, speaking about The Last Jedi to ABC News. “We’re letting the past die, as Kylo Ren says.”
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Even if you don’t know the name, you probably recognise what the Wilhelm scream sounds like. Used in 387 films to date (according to IMDb), it’s an effect that was first heard in 1951 film Distant Drums when a character was eaten by a crocodile. Two years later the scream was re-used in The Charge at Feather River, where a character named Wilhelm took an arrow to the leg.
And it’s there the noise took off. After seeing Feather River, original Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt took note of the unique noise and tracked down its sound reel (which was labelled “man being eaten by alligator”). He then added the noise into what we now know as A New Hope at the moment when a stormtrooper fell down one of those pesky Death Star canyons.
Since then it's been added to every Star Wars film and even found its way into George Lucas’ other project, Indiana Jones. In homage to the original scream, we hear it when a man is eaten by a crocodile in The Temple of Doom.
However, although Wilhelm can finally give his voice a rest and reach for the Soothers, Wood revealed that the sci-fi franchise has found a replacement. “We’ve started another scream that we like,” he said. “It’s actually been in [The Last Jedi] and Rogue One, and some other films that are not Star Wars-related. But it’s our own little calling card.”
What does this new scream sound like? Wood refused to say, “but in due time, it will be revealed,” he teased. “I’ll let it gestate in a few more films before we start talking about what it is.”