Ben Burtt Discusses John Williams' humor in Return of the Jedi's soundtrack

A 2023 interview reveals a quirky secret behind Return of the Jedi's iconic music
Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View - Return of the Jedi. Image courtesy
Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View - Return of the Jedi. Image courtesy /

John Williams, award-winning composer of the soundtracks of dozens of films, including the Star Wars trilogies, is a genius. That much has never been in doubt. In his decades of work, he has the most Academy Awards nominations of any person alive, only beaten out by Walt Disney for the most, for his full scores as well as one for the incidental music for Fiddler on the Roof.

There are also times when his sense of humor shines through very clearly. In E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, the titular character is out trick-or-treating when he sees a child dressed as Yoda and tries to follow the familiar figure while saying "Home." John's Academy Award-winning score plays Yoda's theme from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

John Williams
American Film Institute’s 44th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to John Williams - Show / Kevin Winter/GettyImages

In a 2023 interview with entitled "Jedi at 40: Ben Burtt and Randy Thom on Crafting Ewokese, Jabba's Voice, and the Rancor's Roar," sound designer Ben Burtt highlighted one aspect of the 1983 film's production that was unexpectedly hilarious. Until the 1997 special edition changed the music for the post-battle celebration, audiences were treated to a catchy song sung by the Ewok allies called "Ewok Celebration" or "Yub Nub!" of the no-longer-rebellious Alliance. The lyrics in English, penned by Williams' son Joseph, are quite stirring:

"Celebrate the light; (Freedom!)
Celebrate the might; (Power!)
Celebrate the fight; (Glory!)
Celebrate the love.
Celebrate the love.
Celebrate the love."

Joseph Williams

Ben Burtt was responsible for the Ewokese lyrics and reports having created a large cue card for use in the recording studios in England where the music was to be recorded. The recordings, he says, were hilarious for an unusual reason:

"John had the London Symphony choir do the Ewok vocals in this perfect, classical, style, like it was Handel's Messiah. I couldn't stop laughing when I listened to it, because it was so precise and so perfect."

Ben Burtt

The London Symphony Chorus, a world-class ensemble, would release a recording of Hector Berlioz' Te Deum. In that work, they praised God with a traditional hymn:

"All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers, all the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee."

Nicetas, Bishop of Remesiaha

Set against that poetry, the choir also was tasked with singing lines like "Ah toe mee toe pee chee keene g'noop dock fling oh ah." Under Williams' skilled direction, they performed with attention to rhythm, melodic phrasing, dynamics, and, most importantly, articulation. And it still sounded like an impromptu and joyous drinking song by the light of the exploded Death Star.

Ben Burtt is surely not the only one laughing at this.

Next. Dave Filoni shares key lesson he learned from George Lucas. Dave Filoni shares key lesson he learned from George Lucas. dark