It is not overstating it to say that John Wayne is one of the most popular movie stars of all-time. He routinely ranks among the most popular movie stars among fans…NOW. The guy’s been dead for almost 43 and he STILL typically ranks in the top ten every year when people are asked, “Who is your favorite movie star?” That’s the sort of list that guys like Tom Cruise routinely fall off of and Cruise is still making blockbuster movies every other year while Wayne’s last starring role occurred over four decades ago. So that’s how much of an impact that John Wayne had had on the American popular culture.
Naturally, George Lucas is no exception when it comes to filmmakers who were fans of “The Duke.” I wrote in the past about how one of the reasons why George Lucas edited the original Star Wars film to make Han Solo kill Greedo only AFTER Greedo shot at Han is because Lucas felt that shooting first wasn’t something that a John Wayne character would do and so he didn’t want Han Solo to do it, either.
In addition, the John Wayne influence on Star Wars is also evident in the scene where Luke races home to discover the burned bodies of his beloved uncle and aunt. The sequence is practically a shot for shot remake of the sequence in The Searchers when Wayne’s character races home to discover the burned bodies of his brother, sister-in-law and nephew.
So it would certainly make sense if Lucas were to include a tribute to John Wayne that would involve his voice being used in the movie. After all, Wayne had done cameos in movies before (including the “awe”-inspiring cameo in The Greatest Story Ever Told).
However, that’s not really what happened. Wayne’s voice DID make it into the film, but in a really weird fashion.
As it turned out, that squeaky voice was, technically, John Wayne’s voice heavily distorted!
It does not appear, though, that Lucas had any say in it. Ben Burtt, the legendary sound designer for Star Wars (the guy who came up with R2-D2’s beeps and boops), explained what happened years later:
“I always wanted to do an insect man – we didn’t really have an insect man come along until Poggle the Lesser [from Episodes II and III]. We had that character that looked kind of like a mosquito from the first Star Wars [Garindan] that we found we needed a sound for. And I was wondering back a few months ago how I did it – because I keep notes and tapes – and I discovered it was an electronic buzzing which had come off of my synthesizer that was triggered by a human voice. And I listened to it and realized it was John Wayne – I had found some loop lines in the trash from the studio that had been thrown away. So the buzzing was triggered by some dialog like ‘All right, what are you doin’ in this town’ or something like that.
STATUS: Sort of a mixture of false and true. It’s true that Wayne’s distorted voice appears in the film, but it’s false that it was an intentional cameo by Lucas or that Wayne had any active knowledge of it.
Thanks to Ben Burtt and the Star Wars Blog for the information!