A FOTF Exclusive interview with the voice of General Grievous about the return of The Clone Wars, being Grievous and Solo: A Star Wars Story
Taking over the reins of one of the greatest space franchises in cinematic history would be a daunting prospect for any individual, but when that franchise happens to be the Star Wars saga, the pressure is increased tenfold. The sound effects of the Star Wars universe are equally as familiar as the iconic music of composer John Williams and share a kinship with the very soul of George Lucas’ remarkable story.
It is part of the very fabric of the genre.
At the time of its launch, the sound of Star Wars was captured by legendary sound engineer Ben Burtt, a pillar of the Hollywood landscape. His masterwork on the original Star Wars trilogy gave birth to the essence of what we regard as the sound of Star Wars itself. His work produced the sound of Darth Vader’s breathing, the voice of R2-D2 and even the iconic hum of the lightsaber. After his fantastic work on the original Indiana Jones trilogy and E.T The Extra-Terrestrial, Burtt jumped back into the Star Wars universe once again when George Lucas commenced work on the prequel trilogy. Bringing his wealth of experience back to the saga, Burtt called upon the services of up and coming sound editor and former Lucasfilm game tester Matthew Wood, and in doing so found the perfect collaborator to take over the mantle of Star Wars sound design.
The rest, as they say, is history, and today Matthew Wood is the leading sound editor/designer for the entire Star Wars universe. His masterwork has been prevalent in every Star Wars motion picture since The Phantom Menace and has continued to serve as the beating heart of the franchise on Ron Howard’s superb Solo: A Star Wars Story. If those accolades aren’t enough to ensure his legacy, Wood has also been credited for voicing several iconic characters from the franchise including the Trade Federation Battle Droids and the sinister leader of the droid army, the infamous General Grievous.
Assuming the custodianship of Ben Burtt’s legacy, Matthew has continued to walk in his footsteps and has blazed a trail by pioneering new techniques and embracing the latest technologies which have earned recognition by the Academy. This richly deserved praise has led to nominations for best sound editing on Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Disney Pixar’s WALL-E, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and finally Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
With his work on Solo: A Star Wars Story complete, the sound editing maestro has now turned his attention to the highly anticipated return of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and J.J Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX. At London Film & Comic Con 2018, I had the chance to catch up with Matthew, and he was gracious enough to sit down with me for an exclusive interview which you can enjoy here:
Matthew Wood at London Film & Comic-Con
Phil: What does London Film & Comic Con mean to you?
Matthew: I love coming to London because we have such a history with Star Wars here, the first movies were done here, as well as part of the prequels, and we do a lot of the post-production here. And, I actually lived here when I was a teenager and it was kind of formative for me for about a year, so I have friends that live out here and I just love coming to London, I’ve done it a lot – coming to Pinewood for the new movies as well.
Phil: You have been part of the furniture at ILM for well over a decade now and responsible in following in the footsteps of the great Ben Burtt. How does it feel to take over the mantle of the very sound of Star Wars?
Matthew: You know, no one can ever replace Ben Burtt, he’s done such amazing work and I was just so privileged to have worked with him early in my career. We had a good relationship and he wanted to convert his style to digital basically, and that’s right when I first started to work with him on the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV show. So, I got to learn a lot of sound design from him, a lot of his methods and how he works and got to teach him something too, so it was a great balanced relationship. We went on to supervise a bunch of movies together and he still comes to Skywalker sound every day, he has one of the best offices there and we love him, he’ll always be my friend and I’m very happy to have been working with him for so long.
Phil: And what a fantastic relationship to have.
Matthew: Yeah, he’s just a decent man. He didn’t like us working long hours, he’s very methodical in how he works and it’s wonderful to see how knowledgeable he is about film history and the stories he has to tell himself. He’s full of energy, and I would love to be full of that much energy at his age as well, and he’s inspiring in that way.
Phil: The announcement of Clone Wars’ resurrection shocked the world at San Diego Comic-Con. How do you feel about returning to the Clone Wars era?
Matthew: Very happy. Dave Filoni is a good friend of mine, as well as a professional colleague. We’ve worked together from early on in his career at Lucasfilm, he came to myself and David Acord, my co-supervisor and sound designer and asked us to do this sound for this little animatic piece he had put together of the troop transport, the clone transport climbing up the cliff like they did in the first episode of The Clone Wars. We kind of put it together for him on the sly and our relationship has blossomed ever since then, and he’s one of the good ones at Lucasfilm. He got his training directly from George Lucas, who was involved in every episode of The Clone Wars, and it’s just wonderful to see his career expand and grow. He just has a great sense of what Star Wars is, what storytelling is, so coming back to Clone Wars and being able to tell more stories from that era is great. And, to have all the people involved…Dave Filoni, Kevin Kiner, myself and David Acord, all the voice actors all ready to come back and work on it again is a dream.
Phil: There was a rumour that the team were going to use previously recorded material from five or six years ago that was recorded before the series was cancelled?
Matthew: Yeah, I’m not privy to…(pauses). Well I can’t talk about what the source material is or what we’re doing for the next episodes, but it’s great for it to be a surprise for people, but suffice to say it’s the original crew, working with the original methods we did to make that show, and it’s wonderful for us to come back and do that again.
Phil: For me, General Grievous shares Boba and Jango Fett’s legacy of amazing characters that have been tragically underused in the Star Wars universe. Is there potential for a stand-alone General Grievous adventure in the future?
Matthew: Well you know, I don’t know…I’m not privy to what the story department at Lucasfilm has cooked up for that kind of stuff, and you know those guys…Pablo Hidalgo, Leland Chee, Kiri Hart and Matt Martin are all friends of mine…but who knows…Grievous is a cyborg, so there’s always possibilities there. I would certainly love it, any incarnation of what Grievous is involved in, I would love to be a part of. It was such a thrill to play that character and when he was done in Revenge of the Sith, I thought okay that’s it…but luckily, we had the Clone Wars series and dropped him into the timeline where he was still alive.
Phil: The series also expanded on his character didn’t it?
Matthew: Exactly, we had a lot of cool episodes like “Lair of Grievous” which gave us his backstory, so those were fun, and the video game work has been great and I’m always open to doing anything Grievous related. I’m just humbled to be a part of Star Wars in this capacity, normally I’m one hundred per cent behind the scenes, so coming to Comic-Con’s and meeting fans and this kind of thing is a thrill for me.
Phil: Will we see the triumphant return of General Grievous in the new Clone Wars episodes?
Matthew: (Laughs) I would love to be able to talk about what the material for The Clone Wars is, but you know…it’s got to be a surprise, and in a couple of days it’ll be twenty-eight years that I’ve been working at Lucasfilm, so one of the reasons why I’m doing that is because…I never tell the secrets! (Laughs again).
Phil: Despite being a fantastic movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story underperformed at the box office. Why do you think that was?
Matthew: You know, I don’t know. There’s a confluence of factors why everything happens and all I know is that I had a wonderful time working on it. We had Ron Howard come back and he came to Skywalker ranch and stayed with us for a few weeks on our final mix. And, he has a relationship with Lucasfilm previously, from movies like Willow, and we did the sound effects for him on Backdraft, and he stayed with us at the ranch and he had very clear objectives for what he wanted in the film and completely put it in a good place, and did it in a very professional and clear way. So, I would love to work with him in any capacity, on anything he does…he’s a very kind-hearted professional with a really great track record with our work. So, how things perform at the box office…I know for Ron, it was one of his highest grossing movies…he was happy, and as far as we’re concerned crew wise, we were happy. I loved the story we told…I’d love to be able to tell more Han Solo stories, but you know, that’s not my department – but I certainly enjoyed my time on Solo.
Phil: Like many of our fellow fan sites, Future of the Force attended the UK press screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story and were amazed by it. We loved it completely, so how it underperformed was baffling.
Matthew: Exactly, it’s a mystery. I’m sure there are top people working on that right now to figure that out, but as an artist, working on films I have high respect for the way we made these movies, and what we put into them, and our passion, and, for me I feel the movie went out the way we wanted it to. We didn’t pull any punches in saying this wasn’t some job that wasn’t created correctly, we really put our all into it and I love working with the Star Wars team, and I look forward to working on many more projects with Kathleen and our story department, and all the new voices coming in to make these movies, and that’s the exciting part for me.
In the post-George Lucas era, to have new voices come in who are fans…it’s like myself, I wanted to work for this company because I was a huge fan, so, to be able to do that has been a dream and that’s how I get my reinvigoration, by being able to hire people who have never worked on it before…to see through their eyes how they feel about it. And, that’s why I come to conventions too, because I get to meet fans and share that connection with them and see how the movies affect them on a deeper level, and I get to take that with me back to work and work on the movies…so it’s really great.
It was an absolute pleasure to stop and chat with Matthew at London Film & Comic Con. His passion for Star Wars and the movies he has helped to create is infectious and is a true testament to the devotion of every single member of the team at Lucasfilm. His relationship with Ben Burtt is the purest demonstration of the family atmosphere that has permeated the halls of Skywalker ranch since its inception under the watchful eye of George Lucas and has continued under the custodianship of Kathleen Kennedy.
Star Wars has always been about family. Whether that applies to the Skywalker legacy, or to the extended family working tirelessly behind the scenes at Lucasfilm, the togetherness remains unchanged – with all its members committed to a common cause. To deliver the best possible Star Wars material for the fans to enjoy.
Above all else, Matthew Wood is one of us, he’s a fan. And, with him having gained an understanding of what the franchise means to so many of us from the godfathers of the saga, he is using that knowledge to pump new life into the very heart of Star Wars itself.
He is the epitome of the Future of the Force, and the saga is in safe hands.
Whether or not his incarnation of General Grievous makes a return in the new episodes of The Clone Wars remains to be seen, but Matthew Wood’s mastery will be heard in every single lightsaber swing, every explosion and every Battle Droids’ demise throughout the series. And when Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K HD, his hard work will reverberate through our speakers when the Millennium Falcon blasts out of Kessel and makes the iconic Kessel Run through the Akkadese Maelstrom.
Long may he continue to uphold the principles of the saga beyond Star Wars: Episode IX and help cement the legacy of George Lucas’ vision, continuing to serve as an inspiration to a whole new generation of Star Wars lovers.
And finally, I would like to extend my personal thanks to both Matthew Wood for giving up his time and granting this exclusive Future of the Force interview, and to Showmasters who invited Future of the Force to attend their incredible London Film & Comic-Con event.
The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.