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'A New Hope'
Perhaps one of the greatest science fiction movies of the twentieth century, Star Wars has captured the hearts of millions and lost a few of them along the way as the series went back in time. Of course, I’m talking about the prequels, but that’s not the purpose of this review.
This adaptation of Star Wars IV: A New Hope was released on NPR back in 1981. Many others have been fortunate to get it on audible.com, years after its original broadcast. Those expecting the movie but in audio form will be pleasantly surprised.
The runtime of the audio drama is five+ hours and the movie is less than three. That means there’s at least two hours of extra story that adds more dimensions to the characters. We spend more time on Tatooine in the beginning, getting to know Luke as more than just a whiny farm boy. Or, at least, he has a bigger motivation for wanting to leave the planet than originally portrayed in the movie.
The acting done by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels is top quality. However, most of the cast from the first film do not make an appearance. That being said, the only actor who felt out of place was the person playing Darth Vader. Even so, near the end I came to accept the voice.
If there was one flaw early on that drove me up the wall it would be the unnatural timing of Darth Vader’s respirator. It went on and off constantly without any rhyme or reason. Thankfully, it became background noise after a while, but when first introduced to one of the greatest villains in history, it came off as a grown man with breathing issues.
Fans of Star Wars and audio drama will be sure to get their money’s worth.
'The Empire Strikes Back' (Episodes 1-5)
Yes, this is a review of the Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back radio drama. No, the title isn't a goof. When originally aired on NPR all those years ago, the second Star Wars radio drama was released episodically. There were ten episodes in all. In fact, Star Wars IV: A New Hope was always released the same way.
The first half of this adaptation of Episode V goes up to the the point where Luke reaches Dagobah system—where Jedi Master Yoda lives. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say you know what happens in this story, so I won't bore you with a plot synopsis. Just know that by episode 5, we still haven't been introduced to Yoda.
This was an interesting experience because I watched the film version at the same time when I was listening to the radio drama. Well, within a few hours of each other. This made me realize how much this radio drama matches the film in terms of the dialogue. Almost every single line from the movie is used in the radio drama. This might be a good thing, but one of the parts I liked most about A New Hope was the fact that it added scenes not in the original movie. Empire Strikes Back starts off similarly, but the scenes in the radio drama feel like deleted ones found on a special features disc. In Episode IV, it adds depth to the characters.
'The Empire Strikes Back' (Episodes 6-10)
If there's one thing I noticed when listening vs. watching The Empire Strikes Back, it's how much of Han Solo's rogue nature and pigheadedness is exemplified in the radio dramas than in the films. Harrison Ford does a great job, but watching the films a long time in a galaxy far, far away, he never acted as despicable as the actor playing him in the radio drama. It wasn't bad, simply different, but his character was what stood out the most. Even if some of the lines were the same, the way this actor delivered them was creepy. Like Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler kind of creepy. Han is a bit of an asshole, but there was charm to his character.
Moving past Han Solo's ego, Luke begins his training under Yoda. The furry green Jedi master is played by a different actor, but there are still remnants of the original voice. At times, it was odd listening to a different interpretation of the voice, even more so than Darth Vader, whose voice took a while to get used to in A New Hope. I mean let's face it, James Earl Jones is the voice of the iconic Star Wars villain. However, that does not mean someone else can't do their own interpretation of the character. It will just be a harder obstacle to overcome for a good portion of the population. By this adaptation, I was already sold on this acting interpretation of Darth Vader. To be more specific, it happened in A New Hope.
Perhaps one the most memorable moments in cinema history is when Darth Vader tells Luke that he is his father. That revelation paved the way for sites like TVtropes.com to exist. It's become a cliche, sure, but back then it was a WTF moment of epic proportions. Of course, at this point, we already know the revelation is coming. It's sort of like the Sixth Sense in that once you know the ending, it's hard watch the movie without that reveal in mind, acting as a sort of one trick pony.
All in all, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a fun ride with little deviation from the movie. In fact, 98 percent of it was taken straight from the screenplay it seemed.
'Return of the Jedi'
"Luke, I am your Replacement."
One of the more noticeable differences between the first two Star Wars radio dramas and this one is the surprising lack of Mark Hamill. For whatever reason, he decided to be played by Joshua Fardon. It's rare that someone as big as Mark Hamill could be replaced with a lesser known actor, but Fardon managed to pull off an above average Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker performance.
The story — like The Empire Strikes Back radio drama — follows virtually the same dialogue as the movie, but with the added bits that detract from the experience, because it's "theatre of the mind" and the listener can't imagine unless we explain it. Because of this, it dates itself quickly — unlike the actual film which at least has some re-watchable parts like the final lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader, and tedious parts like the entire opening sequence at Jabba's palace. In the movie, it feels like forever. In the radio drama, it takes up two to three episodes out of six. At least they were consistent with the ratio of prologue versus actual story content.
Ewok Temptation and The Dark Side of the Force
While in the final Star Wars film of the original trilogy the ewoks marked the beginning of a toy-focused franchise for years up to and including the prequels, in the radio drama their presence is limited to the major story beats and one expository scene. Though, in that case, they are there mostly as background chatter. The scene in question is when C3P0 recaps the events of the last two stories and it always felt odd, even in the film.
One of the main themes of Star Wars is evil's pull on people. The classic fall from grace archetype is taken to an obvious and, let's face it, uninspired name, "The Dark Side." In the Return of the Jedi film, the fear that Luke would turn evil could've been handled better. If you asked people if they really thought Luke was going to turn bad, the majority of them would say no. It's engrained in our culture that good triumphs over evil in our stories. In the radio drama, the temptation feels more genuine, though not as nerve-wracking as the movie made it try and seem. Fast forward years later to 2015 and the now debunked rumor that Luke Skywalker was Kylo Ren in Star Wars VII was the "Darth Plagueis is Supreme Leader Snoke" theory of its time.
The radio drama of A New Hope was by far the most unique of the audio trilogy, having scenes which added to the character roster and the world. Empire was a carbon copy of the movie and Return dabbled in the first at the beginning and the end of the story, but ultimately follows the script of its visual media counterpart and doesn't take too many risks in the grand scheme of things.