In 1981, 1983, and 1996, National Public Radio
station KUSC-FM performed radio play adaptations
of the original Star Wars
movie trilogy. Considered part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe
, the plays were made with the full cooperation of George Lucas
, who sold the rights to KUSC-FM (hosted by his alma mater, the University of Southern California) for a dollar apiece.Mark Hamill
reprised his role of Luke Skywalker for both Star Wars
and The Empire Strikes Back
, before being recast by Joshua Fardon for Return of the Jedi
after the 13-year delay. Anthony Daniels voiced C3PO in all three dramas. Billy Dee Williams played Lando in The Empire Strikes Back
but was replaced by Arye Gross in Return of the Jedi
. All of the other roles were recast, with Perry King playing Han Solo, Ann Sachs as Leia, and Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright in the Star Trek
films) as Darth Vader. Some of the more well-known actors in the production include Ed Asner
(Jabba the Hutt), John Lithgow
(Yoda), Yeardley Smith
as a robot in Jabba's palace, Adam Arkin as Fixer (one of Luke's acquaintances on Tatooine, not included in the films), and David Alan Grier as a supporting player.
All three series were adapted for radio by Brian Daley
. The thirteen-year delay
between The Empire Strikes Back
and Return of the Jedi
almost led to Author Existence Failure
—Daley died of cancer hours after the wrap party for Return of the Jedi
The radio plays were formerly considered to be "G-Canon", at the same level as the movies themselves, but were thrown out with the rest of the EU by the 2014 "Legends" rebranding.
In addition to using most of the same tropes as the movies, the Star Wars Radio Dramas provide examples of the following tropes:
- Action Prologue: The Empire Strikes Back opens with a Rebel supply convoy being ambushed and destroyed by the Empire.
- Adaptation Expansion: The plays are all quite a bit longer than the source movies—the Star Wars play is nearly six hours long. Consequently, they include several scenes that were either cut from the films or entirely new. The additional material provides most of the tropes listed on this page.
- From Star Wars, we get Leia using the Tantive IV to smuggle medical supplies to Rebel forces on Ralltiir, learning about the Death Star plans and acquiring them from Rebels on Toprawa, and Luke watching the battle between Tantive IV and the ISD Devastator. There are also scenes of Luke interacting with his friends on Tatooine.
- The Empire Strikes Back showed the Battle of Derra IV, which was alluded to in several later EU materials including the first four books of the X-Wing Series. We also got a conversation between Han and Luke after he got the storm shelter put up in the Hoth wastes.
- Return of the Jedi included Luke constructing his new lightsaber. Being that it was performed after the current EU got into full swing, we also got a Call Forward to The Thrawn Trilogy in the form of a conversation between C-3PO and an undercover Mara Jade.
- As You Know: An unfortunate limitation of radio drama is that players sometimes have to narrate or describe things for the audience:
- In Star Wars, Luke and Biggs reach a scenic point, where Luke helpfully tells Biggs that they can see the whole canyon from there, and Luke describes the lightsaber Obi-Wan hands him before he turns it on.
- In The Empire Strikes Back, Wedge narrates Luke's attack on a walker for the Hoth command center, and Darth Vader calls out the objects he's Force-throwing at Luke during their duel.
- In Return of the Jedi C3PO narrates Leia releasing Han from the carbonite.
- Canon Immigrant: The Star Wars play had the first in-story appearance (he was first mentioned in the novelization of Episode IV but did not appear) of Bail Organa, who would later appear in the prequel trilogy as the Republic senator from Alderaan. Also, Return of the Jedi features a character strongly implied to be Mara Jade, a character never seen in the films and originally introduced in The Thrawn Trilogy.
- Cold-Blooded Torture/Mind Probe: The original Star Wars merely hints at Leia being tortured, with a shot of Vader entering her cell along with a scary-looking probe. In the radio drama, Vader injects her with a drug to make her more suggestible. When roofies aren't enough to convince Leia that Vader is a member of the Rebel Alliance who needs the stolen plans, Vader switches to torture, using the Force to inflict psychic pain on Leia. This also fails.
- Continuity Snarl:
- Lucas's decision to include a Deleted Scene with a digitized Jabba the Hutt in the re-release of Star Wars created a continuity conflict with the Star Wars radio drama, as "Heater", one of Jabba's men, takes Jabba's place in the radio version of the scene.
- Lucas's infamous decision to have Greedo shoot at Han when he Re Cut the 1977 film (later revised again to have Han and Greedo shooting simultaneously) created a continuity conflict with the radio drama, in which Han still shoots first.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Derra IV from the Empire play was a one-sided slaughter that cost the Rebels a valuable supply convoy and most of a squadron of X-Wings. Later-published materials establish that the ambush was planned by Grand Admiral Thrawn, and by the Legacy of the Force novel series it's being used as a Virtual Training Simulation for GFFA fighter pilots.
- Fantastic Racism: Hints of this from Luke Skywalker, of all people. When Luke sees the hologram game on board the Millenium Falcon, he assumes Han has to play the ship's computer. Obi-wan has to explain to him that Chewbacca is an intelligent being who can play games of strategy with Han.
- Gun Struggle: Happens between Leia and Lord Tion on Alderaan, resulting in Lord Tion's death.
- Hunting Accident: Bail Organa's plan to conceal the death of Lord Tion. It doesn't help them.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Leia is grilling Lord Tion on Alderaan about the mysterious new battle station. She lets slip the code name "Death Star", and Tion instantly realizes she's a spy for the Rebel Alliance.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: All three radio series were available together, in a CD boxed set, with special artwork on the discs not available on other editions, as well as exclusive bonus tracks. The bonus tracks were excerpts of conversations with cast members, select scenes played without music or sound effects, and an audio get well card recoded by the cast for Brian Daley, the writer who adapted all three series for radio and who at the time Jedi was recorded, was sick with pancreatic cancer. (Unfortunately, Daley didn't last long enough to be able to hear it. He died the morning after the wrap party.)
- No Sell: In this version Han lampshades Vader blocking DL-44 shots with his hand, right before Vader yanks said blaster out of Han's.
- Slip into Something More Comfortable: Inverted by Leia after the escape from Tatooine in Return of the Jedi. She goes to her quarters in the Millenium Falcon to take off the metal bikini, saying that she's going to "put on something more durable". Han then asks her if she's going to "just throw it away," and her response is "we'll see."
- Space Is Noisy: The Star Wars play justifies this through the use of auralization, with Han mentioning it to Luke as they warm up the Falcon's quad lasers during the escape from the Death Star.
- A Storm Is Coming: In Star Wars, Luke and Biggs note that the wind is rising on Tatooine, and that it soon will be everywhere.
- The Starscream: In some cuts of the Star Wars play there's a scene where Tarkin and Admiral Motti are plotting to overthrow the Emperor. Nothing ever comes of it.
- It does add context to Tarkin's line "Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?"
- The scene was clumsily - and unnecessarily - cut from the BBC broadcast.