Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Radio Dramas
Sadly this year’s ‘Star Wars’ Day (May the 4th) snuck up on me, despite me having an idea for a while.
So you’d think that’s it. Either wait until next year or just release it late for everyone to see how late you are. However, today is May 6th as in Revenge of the Sixth. I’m counting it as a “Star Wars” Day and I’m ok with claiming this was all planned. So anyway why review this? Well I find it to be a fascinating little piece of “Star Wars” media and I like sharing that kind of stuff.
Cinematics (Cinematography, Acting, Plot, etc.) – 4
This is going to be interesting to discuss since this was a radio show. As such, cinematography and (to a lesser degree) directing don’t have much bearing on the discussion. So what are these exactly? Well back in the day before home video it was common for big films to get radio adaptations. This was to placate fans who of course wanted to experience the movies again much like novel or comic adaptations. Although even at this point audiences were losing interest in radio dramas. NPR took a chance and decided it would adapt the first two films. Miraculously George Lucas allowed them to use all the official music/sound effects for $1. They later followed up with “Return of the Jedi” once it was released. Needless to say they were all huge successes much like the films they were based on.
In addition to the John Williams score and sound effects, they managed to get some of the actors back as well. The most prominent would be Anthony Daniels who voiced C3-P0 for all 3 adaptations. The other big name would be Mark Hamill voicing Luke for the first 2 while someone else took over for Episode VI. Even “Empire Strikes Back” had Billy Dee Williams as Lando. They’re all good and it helps a lot with the immersion and authentic feel to have them back. This was still early in Hamill’s career, but he shows right away he was a gifted voice actor. He’s probably the most natural sounding.
Unfortunately they couldn’t get most back and as a result we have a lot of replacement actors (aside from Chewie and R2-D2 which are sound effects and thus very accurate sounding). Some are pretty good like Princess Leia and Obi-Wan. I’m not saying they sound anything like the originals, but they’re effective at capturing the characters. Brock Peters (Tom from “To Kill A Mockingbird”) plays Vader, but seems a little miscast. Often sounding like he’s forcing too much in his voice. However, the actor playing Han Solo is the worst. It really goes to show how much Harrison Ford brought to this role. Radio Han is pretty insufferable. Like someone TRYING so hard pretending to be a badass, but just comes off as an annoying jerk. Still I will admit they get better as the adaptations go on.
Entertainment Value – 4
Here’s something I doubt anyone expected me to say, but there are some parts I feel the radio drama does better than the film. It’s not much, but it does happen. The moment I’m thinking of is the scene where Obi-Wan and Luke are stopped by Stormtroopers. Obi-Wan uses the Jedi mind-trick to get them out. In the film, it’s presented in Lucas’ pho-documentary style of filming. No music, shot in a very matter-of-fact way. The radio drama uses the part of the score from when Luke and Obi-Wan meet and he hears his name again for the first time in a long time. What this does as it is the first time Luke (and the audience) witness the Force in action is it makes the moment seem that much more important and mystical. I got chills down my spine at that moment.
The other really fascinating thing about this whole endeavor is all the added stuff. “A New Hope” is 2 hrs long, standard movie length. The radio version is about 5 hours long. So there’s a lot of new scenes, it’s almost 2 hrs before we even get to the point where the film starts. Some are taken from the original script some, are completely made up, and some you’ll recognize from the deleted scenes. They technically do all of “Rogue One” in Leia’s introduction. Also, as fan of the originals and not so much of the prequels it’s interesting to hear that political talk is NOTHING new to this franchise. Some of the discussions characters have sound like they’d be right at home with “Phantom Menace” although I would argue it’s done better here. And that’s pretty interesting seeing both styles meshed together like this. Also, they have John Lithgow as Yoda. It’s exactly as entertaining as you imagine.
Re-Watchability – 3.5
Well to put it bluntly I’ve bought the CDs so I can listen on long car rides or just to have as white noise while I work. Yes, if I want to experience these stories I’ll go with the movies. However, despite being a big Star Wars fan I actually don’t own the DVDs. I’m planning on getting the inevitable box set of all 3 trilogies once they’re finished. So until then it’s not a horrible substitution and fans may find this to be an interesting addition to their collections.
- Entertainment Value
So what we have here are early examples of Star Wars extended universe building in retellings in an audio medium. On those terms it's a fun time. “A New Hope” is definitely the best feeling the most like a theoretical director's cut. By the time you get to "Return of the Jedi" it feels like they're just making them out of obligation. Still there's no getting around that the best use of these is probably for long roadtrips or white noise while working on other projects. Still, if you love Star Wars and want some way to experience it differently then seek these out. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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