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Radio / Star Wars Radio Dramas

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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 original Star Wars Expanded Universe (now Star Wars Legends), 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 C-3PO 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: The Original Series films) as Darth Vader. Some of the more well-known actors in the production include Ed Asner as Jabba the Hutt, John Lithgow as Yoda, Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson) as a robot in Jabba's palace, Adam Arkin as Fixer (one of Luke's acquaintances on Tatooine, not included in the films), Keene Curtis as Grand Moff Tarkin, Ed Begley Jr. as Boba Fett, and David Alan Grier as a supporting player.

All three series were adapted for radio by Brian Daley, who also wrote some of the earliest Star Wars tie-in novels. During the thirteen-year delay between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Daley almost Died During Production— he died of cancer hours after the wrap party for Return of the Jedi in 1996.

The radio plays were formerly considered to be "G-Canon", which, by the Holocron's canon hierarchy, placed it in the same tier as the movies, but not as high as the movies themselves, and even below the scripts and novelizations. This became a moot point when they were thrown out with the rest of the EU by the 2014 "Legends" rebranding. Despite this, material from the dramatization for the original Star Wars (A New Hope) was adapted into the 2015 novelization A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy, particularly the torture sequence with Leia and Darth Vader (however, the narrative of how Leia got the Death Star tapes is now completely superseded by Rogue One).

Daley wrote one more audio play, an interquel between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back called "Rebel Mission To Ord Mantell", a half-hour production (with a only a soundalike cast, including a young Corey Burton as Luke!) that tells the story behind Han's comment about "that bounty hunter on Ord Mantell" in the latter film. It was released as a record in 1983, and can only be found online now.

These plays, being adaptations of the Star Wars original trilogy, feature most of the plot-related tropes found in those films. Tropes unique to the radio plays are listed below.

These dramas provide examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: inverted in Return of the Jedi, which opens with Luke building his new lightsaber. After failing one more time, he goes back to the instructions but stops himself, thinking out loud, "I've read the instructions a dozen times, and a dozen times I've failed." He takes Yoda's words, "do or do not, there is no try," to heart and succeeds on the apparent thirteenth attempt.
  • Accidental Misnaming: The gruff, bellowing officer on the Tantive IV that assigns C3PO and R2D2 to Captain Antilles calls the former "Three-Seepio", then, after he's corrected, does it again. It's actually ambiguous as to whether it's this or Malicious Misnaming.
  • Action Prologue: The Empire Strikes Back opens with a Rebel supply convoy being ambushed and destroyed by the Empire, featuring the famous Commander Narra.
  • Adaptational Explanation: One of the fan nitpicks of The Empire Strikes Back is how the Empire managed to take the base on Hoth but was unable to stop the bulk of the Rebel Alliance from escaping. The radio play has Vader and his commanders talk about how the fleet attacking Hoth is all the Empire can spare, the rest of the Imperial fleet busy pacifying the rest of the galaxy. (This of course makes Adm. Ozzel's blunder in coming out of light speed too close to Hoth even more costly.)
  • Adaptational Heroism: Probably to the smallest degree possible when it comes to the Imperials, who are otherwise even bigger jerks than they were in the movies, but it is still worth mentioning that both Vader and Tarkin seem to not be so fond of having people die or be killed if it doesn't serve their interest.
    • When Vader crushes Antilles's throat on the Tantive IV, he remarks irritated that his death was "without meaning", suggesting that he actually would have let Antilles live had he revealed the truth about the stolen plans.
    • Throughout the drama, Vader shows respect towards legal procedures, at least as long as his mission doesn't start slipping out of his grip; Leia is able to get away from Ralltiir with the information that leads to the capture of the Death Star plans because he decides to make sure that his detaining her is completely legal and she bluffs Tion into letting them leave the planet without inspecting the Tantive IV. Later on, he raises objections concerning picking Alderaan as the Death Star's target without consulting the Emperor first, although it doesn't take Tarkin long to convince him.
      • At the time the drama premiered, it could also be interpreted as a sign that the Emperor himself, still a figure largely obscure to the audience, might not have approved of such radical measures to be taken against the Rebellion.
    • Both Vader and Tarkin express pity over the deaths of the four TIE-Fighter pilots who were sacrificed in the fake attempt to stop the Millennium Falcon crew escaping (which, incidentally, was useless since it didn't fool anyone).
      • He also expands on his frustration with Ozzel in Empire Strikes Back compared to the movie, citing concern and frustration that the Imperial conquest of Hoth will be much more difficult and cost far more lives because Ozzel's actions have alerted the Rebels to them. Considering that most of the Rebels subsequently escaped Hoth to regroup elsewhere, including the high-value targets of Luke, Han, and Leia, he's right to be angry.
      • Later on, in Return of the Jedi, it's made more clear ahead of time that Vader is slipping away from the Dark Side before Palpatine tries to kill Luke by him subtly expressing reluctance to kill Luke or carry out some of Palpatine's orders, even hesitating one time as he says, "Y-yes, my master."
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Harrison Ford's Han was mercernary, sure, and he could get on Leia's nerves on occasion. Perry King's Han is outright mean at times. A great comparison is the scene in A New Hope when Han tries to convince Luke not to fly the Death Star mission. Film Han makes his argument calmly once, and then backs off immediately when Luke refuses. Radio Han devolves into screaming at Luke.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Aside from the exceptions listed above, we get much more than just a vague idea as to why the Empire is such an oppressive regime (the lack of which resulted in a significant part of the movie fandom to root for the Empire):
    • We are given a somewhat detailed description of the Empire's merciless crush of the Ralltiir uprising, with random killings of civilians and concentration camps to hold real and alleged rebels. Lord Tion in particular is a 100% bastard with no redeeming traits who even has the nerve to boast about how skillfully the Imperials managed to torch alive a group of unarmed rebel leaders who thought they were going to negotiate a ceasefire in front of Bail Organa and his daughter Leia, known for their pacifistic views. Tion goes on to offer to participate in the planned culling of sickly animals in Alderaan's nature reserves not because he's concerned for the wellbeing of the others, as Bail is, but because he enjoys hunting for the fun of it, which Leia calls him out on.
    • There is an extremely disturbing sequence of Darth Vader torturing Leia by means of a droid. Let's just say that he plays it cruel even for his own standards.
    • Some viewers might have been indifferent to the destruction of Alderaan as it was shown in the movie but they sure as hell won't be indifferent to the very same scene in the radio adaptation.
    • Although not villainous, the Rebels themselves are portrayed as a little less morally pure than in the films, for example by covering up the death of Lord Tion in a fight when he was privately visiting the Organas on Alderaan.
    • Salacious Crumb of all creatures gets a moment of this. When Leia begins strangling Jabba with her chain, Crumb actually leaps up and begins attacking her to the point that he needs to be fought off by C3-PO.
  • 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 are 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 then-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 a (strongly implied) undercover Mara Jade.
  • Audio Adaptation: Three adaptations of the three films of the original trilogy, with quite a bit of additional material mixed in.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Leia and Captain Antilles realize that 1) the Empire is listening in to their ship and 2) if Lord Tion searches the Tantive IV and finds what are obviously supplies meant for the rebels, they are screwed. So they stage a conversation in which Leia hopes that Tion will make a fruitless search of the ship and embarrass himself. It works in getting Tion to call off the search.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Thanks to the Narrating the Obvious limitations of radio, Darth Vader has to call out the objects he throws at Luke during their climactic duel in The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Canon Foreigner: Imperial official Lord Tion serves as a secondary villain and foil to Leia in her expanded story arc: a fellow aristocrat, but one who embraces the technocracy of the Empire rather than the romantic ideals of the old Republic.
  • 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. Although there is a bit of Continuity Snarl as he is named "Prestor" instead of "Bail". A later EU novel, The Paradise Snare, reconciled this by just calling him "Bail Prestor Organa," and this was the solution adopted by the rest of the Expanded Universe as well.
    • 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.
  • Canon Marches On:
    • 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.
    • With the release of Rogue One, the entirety of Episode 2 (in which Leia first learns of the Death Star and she and her father devise a scheme to get more information) and the first half of Episode 3 (in which the Tantive IV sneaks into a restricted system and receives a transmission containing the stolen plans) of the New Hope series are now out of continuity with the official series canon.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: 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 she resists the suggestion that Vader is a member of the Rebel Alliance who needs the stolen plans, Vader then uses the suggestibility to torture her by making her believe she's in agonizing pain. While she does succumb to this illusion, she still refuses to give up the information, and Vader finally has to put an end to it before he jeopardizes the life of a valuable prisoner.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Perry King's Han Solo is somehow even snarkier than Harrison Ford's in this version of A New Hope, where it feels like every initial response he gives to someone is a sarcastic quip, such as remarking on the "meteor shower" (e.g., the remains of Alderaan) when Luke asks what's going on with "We picked up a load of gravel."
  • Doomed by Canon: There's a scene in episode 13 of the New Hope play where Admiral Motti and Grand Moff Tarkin discuss using the Death Star to overthrow the empire. Both of them die when Luke blows up the station.
  • The Dreaded: The play of A New Hope coming out after the film of The Empire Strikes Back allowed for a couple of forward thinking references:
    • In the scene where Heater confronts Han:
      Heater: I am a... businessman above all Han. So for something extra, let's make it... 25%? I'll wait... but not long.
      Han: You'll get it.
      Heater: I'd better. If I'm disappointed again, it won't be any two-for-the-credit twerp I'll put on your trail. Next time, I'll hire Boba Fett himself.
    • When Motti is trying to convince Trakin to use the Death Star to leverage power from Palpatine:
      Tarkin: (gravely) I would not care to have the Emperor as my enemy.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: In Star Wars, Heater says that if Han doesn't pay Jabba back for that spice, next time it won't be dumb old Greedo sent after Han, it will be Boba Fett. That of course is exactly what happens in the next play.
  • Guile Hero: In the movie, Luke winds up buying R2-D2 when the R5 unit he bought first immediately burns out. In this radio play, R2 sabotages the R5 unit to improve his own chances of being bought and thus having a shot to find Ben Kenobi. It ends up rubbing off on C-3PO, too, who gets more "flexible" in the last scenes on Tatooine during Star Wars by disguising himself and R2 as merchandise on a used droid lot and getting a brief respite from the stormtroopers by posing as canvassers for a fictitious repair service that Luke runs.
  • 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: While Leia is subtly grilling Lord Tion on Alderaan about the mysterious new battle station, she lets slip the code name "Death Star". Tion instantly realizes she knows more than she should, since supposedly this conversation was the first she'd heard about the then-top secret project.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When Commander Willard goes to congratulate and thank Solo for his part in rescuing Leia, Han brusquely demands payment. When Willard balks, Leia has to point out that jerkass he may be, but Han's right: both Luke and Leia promised Han payment.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: The Imperial officer confronting Captain Antilles in Star Wars (supposedly, since we have no visual to verify that) upon the latter's capture punches him in the gut.
    Commander: Rebel scum... Didn't even have the guts to fight, huh?
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: All we hear from Biggs as he's blasted by Vader's squadron is "Luke, I—".
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: An interesting case of Adaptation Expansion in which not only scenes are added to the source material but an actual secondary message gets much more focus. And so, while the movie did hint on the conflict between modern technology and the "trickery" of the Force, the Star Wars radio adaptation makes it much more prominent.
    • Lord Tion is critical of Alderaan's opposition towards embracing newest technological advances even though it could significantly expand their economy. His indiscriminate admiration of science even when its put in the worst use is made clear when he slips out how powerful the Death Star will be.
      Bail Organa: But this is unthinkable!
      Tion: It's progress.
    • When Leia sees the Death Star for the first time, Darth Vader tells her not to be concerned too much about it since "it is, after all, but a machine".
  • Narrating the Obvious: An unfortunate limitation of a 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 C-3PO narrates Leia releasing Han from the carbonite. Later, Luke's fight with the rancor is narrated by himself, Leia, and 3PO, particularly including a bit where Luke tries to get the Gamorrean who fell down into the pit with him to help so that they can both get out alive and then to not try climbing out because it will only make him an easy target, which it does.
    • Sometimes this is made less awkward by rendering scenes from the movies as communications instead. Luke's takedown of the AT-AT in The Empire Strikes Back is done in this play as another Rebel fighter pilot making a report back to HQ about how the battle is going. Luke's encounter with the wampa in the same movie is framed in the play as Luke trying to raise Han on his emergency communicator, and describing where he is and what's happened.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Discussed Trope. As Lando escorts the gang into Cloud City, an apprehensive Leia says "we'll see if it's true what they say...about honor among thieves." They soon find out that it is true, although Lando repents.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: This is how the droids eluded the Stormtroopers in Mos Eisley, instead of hiding behind a locked door: they found a used droid dealer display yard and stood still to pretend they are just part of the dealer's regular stock.
  • Noodle Incident: Towards the end of Star Wars both Luke and Leia lean on Han pretty hard to help with the Rebel attack on the Death Star. Han finally snaps, saying "LOOK, I PUT IN MY TIME!", then, much more quietly, he says "Long ago." Nothing more of his backstory is ever explained. (This was obviously decades before the Retcon that was Solo, but it may be a Mythology Gag to Brian Daley's The Han Solo Adventures series.)
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: Red Leader as the Red Flight gets ready to the final approach against the Death Star in Star Wars:
    Red Leader: "Right... uh, okay, Red Flight. This is it..."
  • The One Who Made It Out: A theme in the first episode of the Star Wars drama. Luke's friends are pathetic losers who mock him for having dreams of leaving Tatooine and going on to better things. Biggs tells Luke that the reason Fixer and the others won't accept him is that they know he is destined for something more.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: As an audio adaptation of a film series primarily known for its visual storytelling, some changes are necessary.
    • The play follows C-3PO being captured by Jawas instead of R2-D2, since C-3PO can actually talk during it.
    • The Battle of Yavin is primarily told through Leia discussing the battle with General Dodonna in the Yavin IV command center while listening to the comm chatter, to make the action easier to follow.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: After strangling Jabba the Hutt to death, Leia says "Here's your final payment, Jabba."
    • Leia gets an extra one after Jabba finally kicks the bucket.
    Leia: "You're out of business."
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Vader comes across much more as one of these in the radio drama, especially in Empire Strikes Back when he repeatedly overrules Admiral Ozzel's dismissal of Piett's report of a missing probe droid as vague information of no use to them; it's actually the exact lead that they were looking for to find the Rebel base on Hoth and Vader realized this immediately.
  • 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.
  • Staging the Eavesdrop: Overlaps with Bluff the Eavesdropper. Leia and Antilles learn that the Imperial forces are setting up audio surveillance to listen in on any unguarded conversation, so Leia gets the idea to fake a conversation that convinces Tion, who's running the show, to let them go without searching them. It works.
  • 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.
  • 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 second episode of the Empire Strikes Back play is titled "The Gathering Storm". In the next episode the Empire...uh, strikes back, attacking Hoth.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: In the Star Wars play, Leia's implied torture from the film is expanded to a full scene. Vader uses drugs and the Force to torture Leia, first trying to make her think he's on her side and that her adoptive father Bail Organa knows this and wants her to cooperate, then just inflicting pain in hopes of wringing the information from her. He nearly kills her, but she doesn't crack.
  • Viewers Are Morons: All three dramas are relatively well written and directed so most of the time what we get is just Narrating the Obvious. That being said, the writers do seem to underestimate the audience's intelligence and/or memory skills every once in a while:
    • In Star Wars, upon the Devastator catching the Tantive IV over Tatooine, Leia exclaims how it's "the ship that fired on us before", even though it's been literally just over two minutes since we were introduced to that particular Star Destroyer and her captain.
  • Villainous Crush: Lord Tion has one on Leia, although whether it's purely physical attraction (possibly combined with political ambition, given Leia's status) or genuine affection for her personality is never clarified. That being said, considering how they differ in terms of their outlooks on war and technology, the latter option is rather dubious.
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: The radio drama of Return of the Jedi contains one of these. C-3PO was deliberately kept in the dark about Luke's complicated plan to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, so that when Jabba had Threepio's data files scanned and found no trace of the stratagem, he accepted the droid's story at face-value. (R2-D2, meanwhile, was in on the whole thing.) Leia later apologizes to Threepio for the deception.