Dolby, JJ Abrams & Ben Rosenblatt Make Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This past Christmas season Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the box office by storm by pulling in more than $2 billion. The creative team behind the blockbuster discuss how the movie was made.


This past holiday season it's pretty easy to say that anyone who didn't go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens missed out on a global phenomenon. 

Taking in more than $2 billion at the box office, the record-breaking reboot of the classic movie series utilized Dolby Laboratories' state-of-the-art Dolby Vision color gamut format, and its Atmos object-based surround sound format. The use of these technologies was recognized by the movie-making community when the movie received five Oscar nominations for Film Editing, Visual Effects, Original Score, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, and according to the film's production team, its technical merits would not have been possible without the aid of Dolby. 

“When audiences see Force Awakens in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, they are seeing the absolute best version of what was intended,” says Ben Rosenblatt, co-producer, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  

Rosenblatt explains the essence of Star Wars is the contrast of light and dark, and nothing represents this more than stars in space. 

“When we came to our Dolby Vision grade and finish for Force Awakens we went scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot for the incredible enhanced contrast and color range you find in Dolby Vision,” he explains. “When JJ [Abrams, the movie's director] was in color correction and the moment he saw it, he said, 'this is how I want people to see the movie.'”

He points out the first thing you see in the movie is the star fields and Dolby Vision laser projectors allow the star fields to “pop.” 

Addressing the audio portion of the experience, Andy Nelson, sound re-recording mixer, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, says the use of Dolby's object-based surround sound format Atmos supported the aural experience of a more immersive, more stimulating action. 

“With Atmos, we could have TIE Fighters zoom in from anywhere,” says Nelson. “More speakers allow for sound to be more spread out.”

Nelson notes that prior to the use of Atmos he would mix with content to the left and right speakers in a traditional surround sound setup, but with Dolby's object-based format, he was able to pull the music away from the screen to make the audio more encompassing, which is an experience that movies previously couldn't deliver. 

Rosenblatt says that after hearing the Atmos mix, there is no other way to listen to the movie's sound. 

“I can't imagine hearing the film in anything but that format [Atmos],” states Rosenblatt. “John Williams believes that format captures the orchestra. I couldn't agree more, and JJ feels the same way.”

Another example in which Dolby's technologies impacted how the movie was made was how Dolby Vision facilitated more image depth to The Force Awakens that made the movie more visually stimulating. 

“We spent a lot of time on Kylo Ren's light saber trying to get the color and luminance dialed in just right,” Rosenblatt emphasizes. “At first we did digital cinema spec color, but with Dolby Vision we could see the light saber 'pop.'”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set for home video release on April 1 as a digital version, and on April 5 on Blu-ray disc. If Internet reports are correct the Blu-ray version will not offer a Dolby Atmos soundtrack option, but perhaps if demand is great enough, an Ultra Blu-ray version will be released that includes Dolby Vision color gamut and Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound options.

About the Author

Robert Archer
Robert Archer:

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons and Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Binda Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; both schools are located in Haverhill, Mass.