Star Wars Blu-ray: behind the scenes

Lucasfilm take us on a tour of the most-anticipated Blu-ray ever

Star Wars Blu ray  behind the scenes

The launch of Star Wars on Blu-ray is the biggest thing to happen to the format, so when TechRadar got the call from Lucasfilm to join them in San Francisco for a look at the discs, we said 'yes' faster than Luke on an Imperial Speeder Bike.

Lucasfilm may be a company responsible for many of the major technological advances in movie-making, but it also does a fantastic job of making the old feel new. You only have to look at its campus in San Francisco to see this.

The Letterman Digital Arts Centre is refurbished and re-imagined out of the Presidio, an old fortified base, and is now the offices for many of George Lucas' SFX visionaries and the business side of the Star Wars franchise.

It is here where TechRadar was invited for an exclusive sneak peak of the new Star Wars Blu-ray – apt surroundings, considering that Star Wars has been given another makeover to bring it up to Blu-ray standards; refurbished and re-imagined for the new AV age.

Star wars blu ray

GUIDED TOUR: Luckily, Marc has identification on him

The Star Wars Blu-ray is not just any re-issue, however, it is a boxset years in the making that has been refined for high definition. Even though Episode IV has 23 years on Episode III, the restoration the movies have been given brings them closer together than ever before.

Couple this with 40 hours' additional footage and the closest look at props, maquettes and costumes you will ever get and this is a Blu-ray boxset that doesn't disappoint.

So, with notebook in hand, we followed two Stormtroopers - they even asked to see our identification - past the Yoda fountain into what can only be described as a Star Wars shrine and on to a sound booth where one of the movies' audio maestros was waiting.

Star wars blu ray

STAR WARS EMPIRE: Lucas' movies have spawned many companies

Given that Lucas once said that sound and music is 50 per cent of the entertainment in a movie, remastering the audio soundtrack has been key to putting all six movies on an even keel. This job was given to Matthew Wood who has been working for Skywalker Sound for 21 years, with a number of those years spent sprucing up the Star Wars soundtrack for a hi-def release.

"It was a long process; I started working on A New Hope around the same time as the DVDs were released. I was already preparing the soundtrack for some sort of high-definition release around that time," said Wood to TechRadar, minutes before he previewed the soundtrack to us straight from one of Lucasfilm's mixing desks.

"[George] Lucas loves sound; it is very dear to his heart. Skywalker Sound is actually at Skywalker Ranch so we have a very close relationship."

Star wars blu ray

SOUND ADVICE: Matthew Wood explains all about Star Wars' audio

The soundtrack has been given a massive makeover by Wood and his team. For the first time we get to hear the movies in 6.1 DTS-HD MA, which has meant some hefty tinkering for the Original Trilogy. But with help from Lucas and a surprise find in the archives - production roles from 1976 - the audio re-fresh is how Lucas originally intended the movies to be heard.

"I wanted to make sure that George for the original trilogy was hearing what he heard when he first made the films, as we're remixing for a 6.1 format, so he spent a long time with us making sure it was right," said Wood.

"On this Blu-ray release one of things that came available to us that we found deep in our archive was the original production rolls.

"These were the rolls that were used for the original dialogue recording and the entire production recording that were done on the set."

Star wars blu ray

AUDIO ARCHIVE: The original production rolls found

Working from such an audio record was a special moment for Wood – a lifelong Star Wars fan – but it was also key to picking up audio cues that had been lost over time.

"These [production rolls] had only been played once, the first time they were used they were transferred to magnetic film back in 1977 and that was cut.

"So I got to take them and retransfer them into the computer and with the highest quality analogue to digital converters I could actually re-sync these back into the original picture. That is one thing that is new on the Blu-ray. It's amazing."

Star wars blu ray

HISTORY CLOSE-UP: The production rolls date from 1976

Wood also emulated the recording processes of the time so as to not lose the magic of the soundtrack, borrowing some of the tricks used compiling the original soundtrack to his benefit.

"When I think about what was done with the mixes back in '77, and I was talking to Ben Burtt [the original sound designer] about this, they were working on Star Wars on the night shift, as that was the only way they could get time on the main stage and mixes were done like a performance.

Star wars blu ray

MASTER MIX: Wood played us the audio masters of the movies

"The entire reel had to be mixed at once. You had somebody working on dialogue, someone on the effects, with all the tracks coming in synchronised from magnetic film machines which were very loud.

"And you have to remember all your favourite moves and what dialogue comes up and your EQ, and it is all done live. I have always found that fascinating and I always want to make sure that I hold on to that performance, because it is a performance.

"We have that mix and are constantly going back and forth and making sure that we are getting that and at the same time trying to expand it for the modern soundstage."

The demo we were given of the audio was exhilarating. Watching Darth Vader in the carbon freezing chamber in Episode V, it was the soundtrack you know and love but it fizzed with extra detail.

Wood worked on the prequels with Lucas, so it's no surprise that one of his favourite audio mixes in the films is the pod race in Episode I. This is also where he has a cameo in the movie.

Star wars blu ray

SCENE IT: Wood shows us one of his favourite scenes from the franchise

After having a demo of the new mix, this section of the movie was definitely a stand out – the 6.1 mix of the movie gives the audio a 360-degree feel and the roars of the pods are sublime, with a realism that Wood puts down to how they originally collected the sounds for the movie.

"When I started working on the prequels one of my first tasks was to go out with Ben Burtt and record all the different vehicle sounds.

"The Sebulba pod is a Ferrari that had no sound governor on it so it was really loud. The revs were from a boat I recorded in San Francisco Bay.

"Anakin's pod was a Porsche. There was this race track up north you could go to, all you had to do was paint a number on the side of your car so I did that and got the sound from there.

"I remember I was walking around and there were these concrete tubes in the middle of the track so I put my mic inside one of the tubes and recorded an ambient track. It's the sound they make when they turn through the canyon."

Star wars blu ray

STAR MIXER: Wood explains how he recorded sounds for Star Wars