I love radio. Do you know why? Because of Star Wars. When NPR broadcast these radio dramas in 1981, I missed them. I discovered their version of The Empire Strikes Back that same year, with a single half-hour episode airing once a week, every Sunday evening on AM radio. It opened my world to the concept of the “theater of the mind.” To this day, I still consider radio to be the best storytelling medium. One of my neighbors recorded this original one onto cassettes and loaned them out to me after much begging and pleading. You see, back in those days, the only way you could relive the movie was to hope for a return engagement at the theater, which Star Wars did periodically. If it wasn’t there, the options were the novel, the picture storybook, the John Williams soundtrack, and your own imagination breathing life into your action figures. This radio series was a throwback to the Golden Age of Radio the way the film was a throwback to the film serials of the same era. It’s an excellent compliment to what already existed.
This series stands as one of the great early curiosities of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Expanding on themes and ideas that were cut from the original screenplay, along with plenty of new material to fill the gaps, there is is very little about the production that can be called “filler.” For its time, it was amazing. 35 years later, the wonder and fun is still there in my eyes… *ahem* ears. There are certainly differences in cast, but the cast here does a respectable job all around if you can open yourself to an alternate performance. Reprising their big screen roles are Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Ben Burtt’s sound design and John Williams’ Oscar-winning score provide the rest.
Maybe it’s not something that would be created today. Maybe modern audiences are far too sophisticated. But for me, I’m 7 years old again every time I listen. I encourage anyone who claims fandom to explore these audios and to give them a fair shake. They’re hardly primitive by any standard, and fans of the audiobooks will find it easy to be impressed.