Sunday, July 6, 2014

Star Wars Radio Drama

A long time ago in a bedroom not too far away, an adolescent boy obsessed with the STAR WARS films discovered another portal to the wonderful adventures born of Mr. George Lucas. In 1981, National Public Radio presented a 13 part adaptation of the first film (Episode IV), itself originally conceived as the first in a trilogy. I recall Lucas saying there were to be nine movies but later recanted after directing Episodes I - III. After seeing those films, I imagine few were disappointed. But then Lucas sold this billion dollar franchise to Disney and now there in fact will be three more films. Baited breath.

It truly was theater of the mind. Even though I had seen the original film a few dozen times by then, familiar with every frame. NPR's program was so vividly rendered, so beautifully produced. Brilliantly directed by John Madden. It lit up my 12 year old mind even further. I taped many of the episodes and wore them out.  It was one of the first radio "plays" I had heard and I could now understand what some of elders were speaking of when they recalled the glory days of the medium. Brian Daley's adaptation considers events that occur before the opening of the film, more of Luke Skywalker's history on the desert planet Tattooine. Later scenes are nicely expanded and some are brand new, providing a deeper understanding of those familiar characters.  Ben Burtt's post production sound design uses effects from the film in ingenious ways, with masterful cues that make every droid, light saber, and turbo thruster come alive in ways limited only by your own imagination.

Most of the actors from the film did not return but Perry King, Ann Sachs, and Bernard Behrens do just fine as, respectively, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In fact, the entire cast is excellent. David Paymer, Adam Arkin, and David Alan Grier can be heard in supporting roles.  Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprise their roles as Luke and C3P0.  They would return for the radio follow-up of The Empire Strikes Back two years later. Only Daniels would be back for Return of the Jedi, which was delayed until 1996 due to issues between Lucasfilm and KUSC, the Los Angeles radio station that produced the original shows.

I recently downloaded the Star Wars radio program from iTunes (it is also available on CD) and am just as impressed 30 + years on. Wish I'd had this for those two Florida to Maine road trips I did back in the late 90s! It's a real treat for fans and is one of radio's finest hours, at least in my lifetime. Star Wars was a huge success for NPR, reportedly driving up listenership 40 percent and prompting mountains of fan mail. I wish there were more radio plays of this, heck, any type.

As of this writing I am finishing up Empire Strikes Back which I had missed during its 1983 airings. It is not as well produced (sounds a bit rushed) or compelling as its predecessor but still quite good and essential for devotees. John Lithgow's voicing of Yoda is a little disconcerting. I have yet to audition Return of the Jedi.
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