American Graffiti: Sound Designer Walter Murch remembers his time on the film

Lucasfilm continue their celebration of the first blockbuster from George Lucas as they sit down with the sound designer of American Graffiti Walter Murch, who remembers his time working on THX 1138 and inadvertantly creating the name of an iconic character.

“We were going through the film,” Murch continues, “working on Reel Two, and I asked the machine room operator, who had to jockey all of the reels of film, ‘Can you get R2-D2?’, meaning ‘Reel Two Dialogue Two.’ And George, who was asleep in a cardboard box behind me, suddenly woke up and said, ‘What did you say?’ I replied, ‘I didn’t say anything, go back to sleep.’ But he said, ‘No, no, you said something.’ I explained, ‘I asked for R2-D2’ and George said ‘What a great name!’ I had no idea what he meant, but that was it.”

As they finished Graffiti, Lucas had been making notes for his next project, a space fantasy ultimately called Star Wars. That late night request from Murch would be the inspiration for one of the Star Wars saga’s central characters. But it was the completion and resulting success of American Graffiti that made Star Wars possible in the first place. And the cinematic achievement of the film was due in part to the innovative contributions of Walter Murch.

A contemporary of George Lucas, Murch grew up in New York City, and was unfamiliar with the teenage car culture that so inspired the Californian who would become his friend and collaborator. “Our family didn’t have a television or even a car until the late ‘50s,” Murch explains. “There was a lot of public transportation. I must’ve been about 14, and a senior at our high school had graduated, and he drove up in a red MG sports car. It exploded my mind that a student could actually drive a car. This idea that there’s a world out there, the fantasy Modesto world where kids don’t exist without their car [was new to me].”

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