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Darth Vader’s Iconic Breathing Sound Explained

Legendary sound designer Ben Burtt is responsible for many of the now-famous sound effects from the Star Wars saga, including the electric hum of lightsabers, blaster bolts, and R2-D2’s digital squeals. He also created the sound for Darth Vader’s breathing using an old-fashioned scuba diving regulator.

“I went to a diving shop where they just give lessons and I asked a guy, ‘Could I record a bunch of your different regulators?'” Burtt said in an interview with Roadtrip Nation. “I found that if I took this little tiny microphone, and I put it right inside, held it inside the regulator, and then breathe … it’s much more of a mechanical sound with these old regulators.” This kind of experimenting ultimately led Burtt to Vader’s signature sound — a heavy breath that’s equal parts menacing, pained, and mechanical.

That kind of classic, practical effects-making is part of what’s kept the original Star Wars trilogy so relevant and exciting in the modern age. Everything from the sound effects to the miniature model work in space battles, the visual effects on things like lightsabers and blasters, and the eccentric sci-fi costumes made the films stand out in the ’70s and ’80s. They also created a cohesive aesthetic that still guides the franchise.

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