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Considering that sound can't travel through vacuum.

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This, among many other things, is why Star Wars is sci-fantasy bordering on straight fantasy. :) –  DampeS8N Feb 13 '11 at 22:29
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In the EVE Online lore, an in-universe designer mentions that "[a]s you know there is no sound in space, but [while] developing the capsules we found that people wanted to use as many of their senses as possible, thus we added the sound. By letting a computer create three dimensional sound we also add to the awareness you have while in battles, for instance." –  Nick T Oct 4 '11 at 15:50
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Because...[answer drowned out by sound of millennium falcon flying by]...and that's why. –  Richard Mar 13 at 20:32

10 Answers 10

up vote 24 down vote accepted

In one of the many, many shows that covered scientific inadequecies in Star Wars, it was explained that because the engines used ions, and space is not truly empty, the sound was transmitted through the little gas that was there. I guess this could explain why few ships actually used thrusters to change attitude in space also. Weak, but it was all they could come up with.

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The density of matter in space is so low that you'd barely even register it as a pressure wave... if one was even created. –  Nick Bedford Apr 20 '11 at 4:09
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When J. Michael Straczynski (you know you're a fan if you can type that name without thinking) was preparing for production on Babylon 5, he and his crew sent out questionnaires to many scientists about such issues. He stated, online, that they were surprised that many scientists said that air expanding from the exploding ship could carry sound. (tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpaceIsNoisy - click on Live Action under TV) –  Tango Jun 22 '11 at 23:57
    
@Tango Do you remember if the discussion involved particle charges in the expanding gas? In space, with an atmosphere to dampen energies of all kinds, particle charge could perhaps be more effective (than normal) at transmitting aspects of the explosion – which conversely could be detected by appropriate sensors, and render explosion phenomenon in the acoustic range. High-bandwidth information in the range of human senses would trump limited awareness (by forcing data to remain in the realm of visual-sensor-readout). Since this is retcon, I'm commenting instead of answering –  New Alexandria Nov 24 at 17:54
    
@NewAlexandria: No, I do not. It might be possible to find JMS' comments on it, since they were on Usenet and would be archived. (I'd suggest using 'jms' for his name or jms@b5 or maybe jms@b5.com, he used one of the latter two, but I don't remember which when he signed his posts.) Add in, maybe, "Sound in space" and that might narrow down the hits. I do remember they had responses from well known groups and organizations. I think they even worked with JPL on a few things to make sure they were accurate. –  Tango Nov 24 at 21:12

It is for dramatic effect to enhance the story. No science in sight! :)

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Actually, the original movie's novelization included a quick explanation for (at least part) of this - The computer provided the sound of the TIE engines to give Luke/Han some situational awareness while they manned the quad guns. By simulating the sounds, Han/Luke could tell where (in relation to them) the TIE's that were out of sight were at any given time, without needing to look at (and potentially misread) instrument panels. –  Jeff Feb 14 '11 at 19:54
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The inertia dampers in the XWing cockpits were also designed for situational awareness. Wedge partially blames Jed Portkin's inertia damper settings as a reason why he died. –  surfasb Jan 21 '12 at 19:36

Not just explosions, you can hear music, too. With any possible reasons to describe explosion hearing, you can't explain the music. So, it's clear: Explosions are heard by us only (we are third persons outside movie). Definitely, Skywalker & Kenobi would be unable to hear explosions..

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My favourite answer. I don't understand why you have to look for a scientific rationale when it is clear that what you hear in movies as a viewer is not necessarily meant to be the exact same thing you would hear had you actually been there. Music is, of course, the first thing that comes to the mind. –  Malcolm Feb 27 '12 at 22:31

If you watched Star Wars without the sound effects, just think how boring it would be. You may as well go see a silent film.

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There are a few seconds with no sound in Star Trek while in space. I find that scene pretty cool. –  juergen d Mar 11 '12 at 17:03
    
Or in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or in Gravity ... silent violence in space films is often pretty striking, at least to me. –  Dronz Nov 17 at 3:07
    
@juergend mostly because it contrasts the rest of the acoustic environment of the movie –  New Alexandria Nov 24 at 17:54

The claim that explosion sound effects in the vacuum of space is "wrong" assumes that the microphone is at the same place as the camera. But neither the microphone nor the camera are part of the story; they're part of the medium through which the story is told.

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Just what I was thinking. When you’re watching Star Wars YOU ARE NOT IN SPACE. This is why you can hear telepathic force conversations too, despite not being inside Luke’s mind. –  Paul D. Waite Jan 21 '13 at 12:37

If you're looking for some kind of excuse try claiming that the explosions are hot enough to create plasma and you are listening to a unfiltered radio receiver.

It's not a great explanation---the details aren't right---but for something to hang suspension of disbelief on, it'll do.

And it covers the guns, too, if they work on magnetohydrodynamic principles.

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And the big explosions, the ones that tear spacestaions or planets apart, would generate a lot of electromagnetic noise, so you might be able to justify it that way. Also bothersome to me are the 2D ring shockwaves. I think its somewhat in imitation of the shocks we see in pictures of explosions from the Vietnam war. But that is the effect of an interaction of a shockwave and the surface (mach stem), and would not hapen in space. –  Omega Centauri Feb 14 '11 at 0:55
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But, @Omega, they look so cool! –  dmckee Feb 14 '11 at 1:17
    
I'm with Omega Centauri. Yeah they do look cool .. on a surface. In space they just make no sense at all. –  JustJeff Feb 14 '11 at 1:58
    
@JustJeff: You might want to turn on your sarcasm detector. But you can't watch that kind of show without turning your suspension of disbelief up to eleven anyway. In fact, I can't watch the alleged prequels at all. ObXKCD: Too bad they only ever made the three of them. –  dmckee Feb 14 '11 at 2:03
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sarcasm was, in fact detected, which is why i didn't aim my previous comment at you as such. it's just that the prequels were such a disappointment that i wasn't content to merely +1 Omega's comment w/o amplifying it a bit. Meesa think chuckems all and try again! –  JustJeff Feb 14 '11 at 23:12

Because physical correctness doesn't make for good drama. (Yes, it's what my foreposters said, but I couldn't let this phrase go to waste ;-)

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I heard JMS once say that an astrophysicist told him that you CAN hear explosions in space - just not the way they sound in movies. Specifically, if you have an explosion, part of the makeup of that explosion is something that will carry the sound waves (like oxygen). So when the (whatever) explodes, you'll "hear" it when the gases involved in the explosion reach you.

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And you're vapourised in the firey wave of death... –  Nick Bedford Apr 20 '11 at 4:11
    
I think that JMS also said that one could consider the sounds as being from the point of view of the people on the ships that were exploding, or the ships firing weapons. He also said that viewers were free to consider these sounds as part of the score. (I think this was from usenet, quoted on the Lurker's Guide site somewhere?) –  neilfein Jun 23 '11 at 4:30

It was learned with 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, that 100% pure space realism doesn't make for good sound design. It managed to be dramatic enough through its own silence, but that was part of the art of the film.

When audiences see an explosion, they expect to hear it. That's been our experience since birth; things that drop make a noise when they hit, and things that explode make a bang. This is so ingrained in us that many times even depictions of real explosions in documentary-type shows, filmed from a distance for safety, have the explosion part of the soundtrack brought up to match the blast. Otherwise, we'd think that they screwed up the sound-to-video matchup in post-production.

So, out-of-universe, most space sci-fi movies have put sounds in space; the Enterprise whooshing by, sounds of phasers, blasters and torpedos heard in shots taken from an in-space POV, even the "puff" of thrusters firing in Apollo 13 (which was very technically accurate in most other respects). Sometimes it can be explained that, although the POV is outside, we're listening to what someone inside the ship that we're looking at would hear reverberating from the hull of the ship through the inside atmosphere; that explains 99.9% of the sounds in Apollo 13. However, most of the Star Trek and Star Wars sound design simply cannot be backed up by real physics; it's simply more dramatic to engage both sight and sound in a movie, and when that movie is in a theater, even feel (as the shock wave of the sound reproduction of the explosion "hits" you, and low rumbles resonate in your seat).

I can think of only one of the "pop" sci-fi movies after 2001:ASO where the silence of space was ever illustrated, and that's the new Star Trek, where the woman is sucked out through a hull breach in the Kelvin into the vacuum in the initial scenes; the full perspective of the battle is right in front of you but I think even the explosions and phaser fire is cut out, leaving just a subdued music track for the shot of her floating away amidst debris from the Kelvin and weapons fire from both ships. Again, its sole purpose is not technical accuracy but rather drama; our rational mind expects silence in a vacuum, so we get a taste, and we suspend disbelief and are sucked into the universe of the movie, after which they can do whatever they want sound-wise (like the "light-speed boom" of a ship entering Warp).

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I was under the impression that, on some scenes, it was done properly.

For instance, when Fett was chasing Obi-Wan in the asteroid, the sound from the explosions had a delay. Which was the time required for the shockwave to reach the ship.

EDIT: When I said shockwave, I meant the shrapnel + gas + whatever was expanding in those explosions. Those would reach the ship and transmit the vibrations.

Depending on the distance to the explosion, that could produce a considerable amount of sound inside the cabin (which does have air), but not damaging the ship in any significant way.

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The shockwaves don't reach the ship though, otherwise it would have blown up. –  Nick Bedford Apr 20 '11 at 4:13
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The shock wave would propagate through air, not in a vacuum (in a vacuum, if you get hit, it's not by a shock wave (sound), it's by shrapnel). That was the whole point of the question. –  Gilles Apr 20 '11 at 6:58
    
This is the right answer. The effect is exaggerated, of course, just as the effects of firearms and explosives are exaggerated in atmosphere in every movie I have ever seen. Explosions are caused by part of a solid (or other materials) being turned into a rapidly expanding cloud of gas. When that gas reaches another ship, it would transmit/create sound when it impacts the hull. –  William B Swift Sep 14 '12 at 17:48
    
There might also be a second effect, without intervening atmosphere, other than the minimal gases from the explosions, the radiant energy of lasers or exceptionally bright explosions (like nuclear) might create sound within ships by causing their hulls to expand rapidly, even if only to minimal extent. –  William B Swift Sep 14 '12 at 17:51

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