Like many, Star Wars was an entry point into my love of all things science-fiction. At one point in my young life, if a show or movie looked anything like Star Wars, I was all-in. That included such things as The Black Hole, the original Battlestar Galactica and the 70’s version of Buck Rodgers.
So, in the early 80’s when I heard there was a radio show based on Star Wars, I was all-in.
Originally airing on NPR, the radio show adapted and expanded the two-hour movie into thirteen half-hour episodes. I’m fairly certain I didn’t hear all thirteen when they initially aired, though I did manage to record an episode or two off the air on my dad’s fancy stereo.
I recall listening to the episodes using a seat of headphones and marveling at the immersive nature of the sound experience. Sure, it isn’t the surround sound we have today, but it was mind-boggling back in the day. It was even more mind-boggling that Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprise their roles from the movie for the radio drama.
Star Wars was such a hit that NPR adapted The Empire Strikes Back for radio as well. There were plans in place to adapt Return of the Jedi, but they fell through. That movie eventually got adapted for radio years later when the radio shows were commercially released on cassette and CD.
As the movie version was an entry point into the larger world of sci-fi, so was the radio radio show an entry point into the world of audio dramas — specifically old time radio shows. My NPR station followed-up the broadcast of Star Wars with a three-hour block of old radio shows called “The Big Broadcast” each Sunday evening.
I’ve had the full run of the radio shows thanks to the commercial releases in the early 90’s. I had Star Wars and Empire, though it took me a long time to get around to listening to Jedi. (I finally checked it out of my local library and listened to it). I’ll dust off my CDs every once in a while and listen to them while commuting or doing stuff around the house, taking a trip down memory lane and hearing the expanded story of these iconic movies. (Though, Jedi is probably the least expanded and most straight-forward retelling of what you see on screen).
Last week, my good friend Barry sent me a link to a podcast that delved into the history, impact, and influence of the radio shows. It was a trip down memory lane and underscored just how cool the Star Wars radio dramas were. (It also gave me a new respect for them since the podcast tells us there were only 28 minutes of dialogue in the original Star Wars and yet writer Brian Daley found a expand that to six and a half hours!) It also made me wonder (as I think Barry and I did twenty or so years ago) what it might be like if they adapted the prequel trilogy for radio. It might be interesting to see what might happen if they adapted the new trilogy for radio as well
If you haven’t listened to the radio drama, I highly recommend them. They’re available for digital listening and might be a fun way to get into the spirit for the upcoming Rise of Skywalker.