Friday, 6 July 2018

Hear the difference between the mono and stereo 1977 versions of Star Wars

C-3PO had more to say in the mono mix of Star Wars

If you saw Star Wars two or three times in 1977, it may not have been the same each time.

That's because, as we've seen before, there were three different sound mixes of the film.

A video on YouTube allows you to listen to those differences for yourself.

The different sound mixes of Star Wars

Ben Burtt with C-3PO, Mark Hamill and his special Oscar

In a nutshell, here is why Star Wars didn't always sound the same.

The first prints screened were in 70mm with six-track Dolby stereo. After that, there came 35mm prints in Dolby Stereo. Finally (and not until June 1977), there was the version for cinemas which still had just a single speaker.

JW Rinzler, in his 2007 book The Making of Star Wars (page 291), says: "The first mix sent out with the film, at the last possible second was the six-track Dolby stereo version, but the first mix also had the most errors. Next up was the two-track stereo, which was derived from the six-track, yet there was still no time at that stage to make any changes." 

The mono mix was still being prepared when Star Wars opened. It's what Lucas was working on when he and Marcia discovered there were crowds outside Grauman's Chinese Theater, where the film was showing.

Ben Burtt recalled (in Rinzler's book, p293-294): "George, [editor] Paul Hirsch and I and everyone in the crew sat down and made a list of the things we didn't like in the stereo mix. Then we tried to achieve every one of those things on the mono."

Some voices sounded different. A couple of voices actually were different. There were some different sound effects and even some totally different lines of dialogue.

Since the mono mix contained various tweaks from the other version, it was said to be Lucas's preferred version in many ways. And when the LP The Story of Star Wars came out (co-produced by George Lucas), even though it was in stereo, the dialogue and effects were based on the refinements made in the mono mix.

When the film was first released on home video, the soundtrack was that of the original 35mm Dolby Stereo prints. But in 1985, Ben Burtt started to make some changes, and put back in some elements from that mono mix. Ever since then, we have listened to a succession of mixes that were never exactly like any of those 1977 prints.

Hear the difference: The Star Wars Dolby Stereo and mono mixes

I've seen several attempts to describe in text the differences between the different mixes of Star Wars. Fortunately, the YouTube video above, posted by SpaceHunterM, makes it all nice and easy.

The widescreen sections of this video are the mono version, taken from a print of the film with Swedish subtitles.

The other parts, presented in 4:3 shape (presumably because they come from one of those earliest VHS tapes) present the Dolby Stereo 35mm version.

You'll hear the differences for yourself, but the key differences include:

  • A different actress dubbing the voice of Aunt Beru.
  • In the mono mix, one of the stormtroopers trying doors in Mos Eisley says "All right, check that side of the street. It's secure. Move on to the next one." In the stereo version, he says: “All right, check this side of the street. The door’s locked? Move on to the next one”.
  • When the heroes are in the Death Star control room planning to deactivate the tractor beam, C-3PO has another line in the mono version: “The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations. A power loss at one of the terminals will allow the ship to leave."
  • The voice that warns Grand Moff Tarkin about the escaping rebels adds the name "Governor Tarkin" to his line in the mono mix.
  • One of the stormtroopers pursuing Han and Chewbacca through the Death Star says "Close the blast doors!" in the mono version (before saying "Open the blast doors!" in all versions).
  • There is a different voice on the Death Star counting down until the Rebel base is in range.
  • The death screams of X-wing pilot Porkins are drowned out by an explosion in the mono version.
  • Luke says "Blast it, Wedge, where are you?" in the mono version, instead of “Blast it! Biggs, where are you?”

Why we should never have wiped our off-air, VHS recordings of Star Wars

Star Wars comes to UK television 

The mono mix became sought-after as people became more aware of the different versions. Everyone wanted to hear it.

The irony is that many of us used to own it.

One of the best places to hear that mix was the UK television transmission. ITV showed the film in October 1982 (as we remembered in this post) and repeated it several times, in the days before TV went stereo. Many of us had off-air recordings, only to wipe them when the film was available to buy at an affordable price on tape.

Not for the first time in the history of Star Wars collecting, we had got rid of something we would wish we had kept.

Why Lucas took so much care over the mono mix

The Story of Star Wars LP used elements
of the film's mono mix

This has all been very geeky, but the existence of the mono mix gives us another reason to admire Lucas and his collaborators.

A great deal of care was taken over this third version of the film's soundtrack. Lucas and his team could have just "folded" the Dolby Stereo mix into one channel of sound, but they didn't. They went to considerable trouble to refine the soundtrack once more.

In 1977, stereo was still a bonus enjoyed at the more up-to-date cinemas, while the majority of venues were only equipped with mono. So Lucas was taking trouble for the benefit of all those millions who would not see a stereo print.

Lucas says in the Rinzler book: "We were locked in this little room, but it was important because monaural was what most people were going to see." 

Television was still in mono, of course, and home video didn't exist for the vast majority of viewers. So by devoting attention to the mono mix, Lucas was taking care over the version of the film that he might have expected to be around for many years.

And while the mono mix has been left behind by film history, we can hear some of its tweaks reinstated to the several different stereo mixes of the film we have heard on tape, laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your insightful blog posts. In the late 70s/early 80s all my info was gleaned from reading Famous Monsters of Filmland and Starlog. I thought I knew quite a bit, but your posts have given me some fresh insights. Keep up the great work.

Darren Slade said...

Hi Anonymous!
Thanks so much for the kind comments. Really glad you're enjoying the blog. The feedback does help me keep going.