Star Wars: Origin of the Wookie

Walter Murch, the award winning film sound designer, explains where the name ‘Wookie’ (or ‘Wookiee’) from the Star Wars movies came from.

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On the DVD extras for the early George Lucus movie THX1138 (1971), Murch is explaining his thoughts and processes for the film’s sounds and atmospheres…

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I THINK I JUST RAN OVER A WOOKIE
Walter Murch: “The voices that you hear throughout the film have many different colourations to them. We wanted there to be a kind of a chatter like you’d hear in a flight control tower. So we got hold of some improv actors, and among these was Terry McGovern who was also a radio DJ. We would sit them around the table and give them each an identity,  and in the middle of this dialogue  you can hear Terry McGovern say “I think I just ran over something back there, I think I ran over a Wookie”. This is the first emergence of the word Wookiee as we know it today. And the small Wookies in THX who lived in the shell of this environment became the large Wookiee that we all know in Star Wars.”

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“And later on after the recording I asked Terry “What’s the Wookie?” and he said “Oh that’s a friend of mine who lives in Texas, Ralph Wookie, and I just threw his name in there as I always want to stick it to him and thought he’d get a kick out of hearing his name in a film”. Little did Terry know what kind of thing he was creating, this off-hand phrase has since become a character that literally billions of people probably know about.”

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THX1138 is a surprisingly stylish, arty and very interesting film. I’d highly recommend a viewing. During the directors commentary George Lucas says this is the kind of film he likes to make, a more subtle, stylish and less mainstream (less Hollywood) type of film, a style he hopes to return to later in his career.

The commentary by Walter Murch is very interesting for anyone interested in sound design as he explains further details about the lengths he went to to get the sounds right; like broadcasting sounds from one side of the room to a receiver on the other to get the de-tuned radio voices; and editing of acoustic sounds to get the electronic light-saber like effects for the prods used by the largely harmless robots in the top image above.

The term sound designer is thought to be coined by either Murch during his work on Apocalypse Now, or Ben Burt during his work on Star Wars.