How Ben Burtt Revived the Wilhelm Scream in Star Wars

24 April 2023
The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect of a man screaming, often used in scenes where a character falls or is thrown from a great height or is attacked by an animal. 

Recorded in 1951 for the movie "Distant Drums," the Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect that has since appeared in over 400 movies and TV series. 

It is considered one of the most recognizable sound clichés in cinema, along with the Universal Telephone Ring, Castle Thunder, and the cry of the red-tailed hawk. Actor and singer Sheb Wooley is believed to have provided the scream, which was recorded in six takes. The fifth take was used in "Distant Drums" for the scene in which a soldier is eaten by an alligator while his platoon crosses a river.

The Wilhelm scream's resurgence is largely attributed to Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, who discovered the original recording while tracking down sound effects for the films. He named it after the character Wilhelm, who emitted the scream in the 1953 film "The Charge at Feather River." after he takes an arrow to his leg. 

ralph brooks wilhelm scream

 Its use in Star Wars became an in-joke among sound designers, particularly at Skywalker Sound, with Take 4 and Take 3 being the most commonly used versions in the franchise.

In 2018, sound editor Matthew Wood announced that Lucasfilm would no longer use the Wilhelm scream following the release of "Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens." Instead, a new stock sound effect would be used.

Here are the times the Wilhelm Scream was used in Star Wars

  • Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace: Naboo soldier shot in the Theed Hangar (Take 3), another Naboo soldier 14 seconds later (Take 4)
  • Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones: Naboo guard falling from the ramp of the exploding J-type diplomatic barge on Coruscant (Take 3)
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Clone trooper who hit a battle droid too hard with his hand on Christophsis (Take 4 slowed down), clone trooper hit when an AT-TE cockpit explodes on Teth (Take 4)
  • Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith: Knocked-back clone trooper on the Guarlara during the broadside battle with the Invisible Hand (Take 4)
  • Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope: Stormtrooper shot by Luke Skywalker prior to the chasm swing aboard the Death Star (Takes 3 and 4 in quick succession)
  • Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back: Rebel soldier as a turret is destroyed by an All Terrain Armored Transport (Take 1), stormtrooper thrown down by Chewbacca before Han Solo is put into carbonite (Takes 1 and 4)
  • Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi: Weequay falling into the sarlacc pit (Take 4), another skiff guard falls into the sarlacc one minute later (Take 4), Colonel Dyer knocked off a catwalk by Han Solo in the Endor shield bunker (Ben Burtt portrayed the character and mimicked the Wilhelm scream himself), stormtrooper lifted by crowds on Coruscant (Take 4)
  • Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens: First Order stormtrooper hit by an explosion aboard the Finalizer, as Finn and Poe Dameron attempt to escape in a TIE fighter (Take 4)


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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