Feature Article

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama

Written By Brian Daley

Published By: National Public Radio and Lucasfilm Ltd.

By Melissa Minners

            Many years after listening to the original airing of Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama, I wondered why I never heard of this radio drama again.  In fact, when I asked other people my age about it, they usually looked at me like I was crazy.  They had never heard of a Star Wars radio drama.  One day, while checking out the Star Wars section at the local Barnes & Noble, I found a book which featured the script of the original radio drama.  Right next to it was something I never expected to find: a script for The Empire Stirkes Back Radio Drama.  Realizing that such a thing did exist, I searched far and wide until I came across a copy of the drama on CD.

            Based upon the movie created by George Lucas and written by Brian Daley, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama debuted as a 10-part series in February 1983.  As in the first radio drama, Brian Daley wrote in some extra scenes to fill in some of the story.  One such scene finds a Rebel transport convoy under attack by Imperial forces.  The convoy, en route to re-enforce and re-supply the Rebel forces hidden on the ice planet of Hoth, is destroyed.  This explains why the Hoth Rebels are severely undersupplied and somewhat outmanned when the Imperials finally find them.  Another scene expands upon the rescue of Luke Skywalker by Han Solo, offering up some dialogue between the two friends that takes place prior to being found by Rogue Squadron’s newly refitted snow speeders.

            Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels returned to reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian and C-3P0 respectively.  Stars from the original radio drama like Ann Sachs, Perry King, Bernard Behrens and Brock Peters also returned to their former roles.  New arrivals included John Lithgow as Yoda, Paul Hecht as the Emperor and Alan Rosenberg as Boba Fett.

            I loved listening to the radio version of The Empire Strikes Back.  The movies are still first in my heart, but I loved the additional scenes included in the radio drama and most importantly the way the radio version tested the limitations of my imagination.  I was recreating the visuals in my mind as I listened to the action play out on the radio.

            Once again, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels were a real treat to listen to as they reprised their movie roles.  Billy Dee Williams seemed extremely comfortable in re-creating his movie role for radio.  Ann Sachs was even more believable as Princess Leia than she was in the original radio drama.  Bernard Behrens is perfect as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Brock Peters tries, but he is no James Earl Jones, and the vast differences between Peters’ voice and Jones’ truly comes to light in this installment of the Star Wars radio dramas.  Peters tries hard, but can not match the strength of emotion in Darth Vader’s voice the way James Earl Jones did.  But, he should be proud of his performance.  It was nothing like that of Perry King, who falls short in his portrayal of Han Solo, and certainly not as bad as John Lithgow’s Yoda.  I’ve heard the Jedi Master portrayed by many different people over the years (Frank Oz is of course the original and thus, the best), but I have never heard this character portrayed worse than when John Lithgow took on the role in The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama.  I cringed every time I heard it.

            Another complaint I have about the radio drama is that I had to pump up the volume incredibly high just to hear some of the script.  It seemed as if some of the actors were kept in the forefront while other actors were speaking their lines from across the room without microphones.  Of course, raising the volume often meant I was blasted whenever Ben Burtt’s sound effects or John Williams’ music played.

            Despite the issues I had with some of the acting and the volume, I thoroughly enjoyed this new and exciting version of The Empire Strikes Back.  Brain Daley was very faithful to the movie and his additional scenes served to fill in the gaps between scenes in the original film.  It gave the story a bit more substance without hurting the original script.  The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama is something that every true Star Wars fan should listen to at least once, if just to experience the Star Wars movie they loved in a different media format.  I can’t wait to listen to the last radio drama in the series, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.


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