Racal Amplivox RA-150 and Star Wars

Reading Time: 5 minutes
by Mateusz Kacprzyk
Published 04/05/2022

Star Wars

Star Wars, the epic film saga which began as a modest release in 1977 quickly became a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon and multimedia franchise. A big part of the appeal has largely been to the ground-breaking special effects, with creator George Lucas consistently pushing the boundaries of the cinema-going experience.

To ensure his vision, during the production on Star Wars in 1975 Lucas founded Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the motion picture visual effects division of Lucasfilm1, tasked with creating never-before-seen special effects and a pioneer of the digital revolution within film.

As the franchise grew, so did a wealth of immersive technology companies. The film helped put Dolby Sound on the marquee and was a catalyst in the demand for surround-sound, which is now a staple of the viewing experience.2

Revolutionary techniques

Lucas also used a succession of revolutionary techniques that made us redefine our relationship with technology. Holograms, laser weapons (lightsabres) and bionic hands were just some of the ways that helped him bring to life his creative vision. 

He understood that a careful, harmonious blend of live-action and digitally created sequences was ideal for that feeling of realism and connection with characters.

The iconic intercom headsets worn by actors Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill aboard the Millennium Falcon were the Racal Amplivox RA-150 (Amplivox Minilite) headset, manufactured by Racal Acoustics. A headset that was subsequently used in several other classic sci-fi films including Alien, Blade Runner and Superman to name a few.

Racal Acoustics

Racal Acoustics was a British electronics company, founded in 1950.4 Racal was a diversified company, offering products including voice loggers and data recorders, point of sale terminals, laboratory instruments and military electronics, including radio and radar. 

At its height it was the third largest British electronics firm, operating throughout 110 countries worldwide and employing over 30,000 people, acquiring Amplivox Ltd in 19685 before selling it to Demant Group in 2008. 6

Why the Racal Amplivox RA-150?

Being a spaceship intercom prop wasn’t the RA-150’s original purpose, but believe it or not, neither was audiometry. The headset was originally used for military purposes, air traffic control, aviation, and communication control sectors.7

Despite being referred to as the ‘the headset of the seventies’ by Racal, many other competing products were on the market at the time. So, what made the RA-150 the most popular choice for sci-fi films such as Star Wars? 

George Lucas always aimed to push the boundaries of what was possible with a view to creating the most advanced visual effect, whilst employing a realism and authenticity for audiences to connect with. The set and costume designers were tasked with creating a ‘real-world’ environment to help sell the idea that ‘a galaxy far, far away…’ could in fact exist.

The Racal Amplivox RA-150 was the perfect choice, with its innovative and ergonomic design, it looked advanced for its time, whilst also being incredibly comfortable and fit-for-purpose for the cast members to wear. It also lent itself perfectly to the simplistic designs and gritty-realism of the landscapes depicted in many 70’s sci-fi films.

Noise-reducing enclosures

As well as being an excellent 70s sci-fi film prop, the headphones have been a highly effective tool within audiometry, as well as other sectors. Designed to offer high speech intelligibility and comfort, with no wearer fatigue, it is no surprise that they have been so popular. They are also lightweight with an adjustable head band for optimal wearability. 

At Amplivox, we are proud of our history of innovation and modern design, and continue to be forward thinkers in the industry. Today, we offer class-leading audiometric headphones designed to ensure accurate pure tone audiometry in conditions where ambient noise becomes too high for unshielded earphones.

Our Audiocups are the perfect add-on to a standard air conduction headset such as the RadioEar DD45, Telephonics TDH39 and TDH49 transducer. For more information on our Audiocup noise-reducing enclosures please contact our customer support team on +44 (0)1865 880 846 or email us at solutions@amplivox.com.

 

Resources

1Industrial Light & Magic. Accessible at:
https://www.ilm.com/

2S. Thompson (2020). How George Lucas’ Ideas Blazed Trails for Dolby Sound Over 40 Years of ‘Star Wars’. Variety. Accessible at:
https://variety.com/2020/artisans/awards/george-lucas-dolby-sound-star-wars-1203487459/ 

3Platt College. A Breakdown of the Visual Effects Used in the Star Wars Franchise. Accessible at:
A Breakdown of the Visual Effects Used in the Star Wars Franchise - Platt College San Diego

4Wikipedia. Racal. Accessible at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racal 

5Grace's Guide. Racal Electronics. Accessible at:
https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Racal_Electronics#cite_ref-8 

6Demant. Our history. Accessible at:
https://www.demant.com/about/our-history

7Aviation Ancestry. The Aviation Ancestry Database of British Aviation Advertisements 1909 – 1990. Accessible at:
http://www.aviationancestry.co.uk/?searchQuery=Racal+Instruments&startYear=1920&endYear=1980