'Star Wars,' The Trilogy That NPR Turned Into Radio Drama | KUNC

'Star Wars,' The Trilogy That NPR Turned Into Radio Drama

Dec 19, 2019
Originally published on December 19, 2019 5:01 am

The ninth episode of Star Wars blasts into theaters this weekend, more than 40 years since the release of George Lucas' original hit movie. Back then, NPR got in on Star Wars saga action, creating a radio drama of that original episode.

In 1981, George Lucas sold the radio rights for $1, and the network partnered with the University of Southern California theater program to produce it. The production was an overwhelming success, and NPR went on to do radio versions of all the movies in the original trilogy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

David, are you a fan of "Star Wars?"

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

My whole life, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Whole-life fan of "Star Wars," well, you have an opportunity, once again, to hear this iconic theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "STAR WARS [MAIN TITLE]")

INSKEEP: Yeah, David, "Star Wars: Episode IX" blasts into theaters this weekend. It is sure to bring fans more special effects-filled space battles and lightsaber duels.

GREENE: Yes, but here's something you might not know. Nearly 40 years ago, public radio listeners heard a very different version of the "Star Wars" saga.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "STAR WARS")

KEN HILLER: (As narrator) A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there came a time of revolution, when rebels united to challenge a tyrannical empire.

INSKEEP: This is from the 1981 radio drama of "Star Wars" produced by NPR.

GREENE: Right. George Lucas generously gave NPR the radio rights for a dollar. And the network partnered with the University of Southern California theater program to produce this. Some of the original actors even joined in to voice their parts. Here's Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "STAR WARS")

ANTHONY DANIELS: (As C-3PO) Have we reached the planet Alderaan, master?

MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) There is no Alderaan, 3PO.

DANIELS: (As C-3PO) Oh, I beg your pardon, sir. But I feel it is my duty to point out that you are...

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) It's gone. Somebody's blown it to bits. Now, will you shut up and come on?

INSKEEP: Not everybody could come back. Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo and Princess Leia had to be voiced by different actors - as well as a certain green alien stranger.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "STAR WARS")

JOHN LITHGOW: (As Yoda) Help you, I can, stranger. Yes.

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) I don't think so, little guy. I'm looking for a great warrior.

LITHGOW: (As Yoda) Oh, great warrior.

INSKEEP: Was that Cookie Monster?

GREENE: (Laughter) Well, it's definitely not puppeteer Frank Oz, who voiced Yoda in the movies. It's actually the actor John Lithgow.

INSKEEP: Well, the producers had to tackle how to tell this story that's known for its visual effects and do it on the radio, so they hired a writer to add more lines of dialogue, like the conclusion of the fight between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "STAR WARS")

BROCK PETERS: (As Darth Vader) What's this? His robes - empty.

INSKEEP: NPR went on to do radio versions of all the movies in the original trilogy.

GREENE: And I know that some of you true "Star Wars" crazy fans are probably wondering - did this production stay true to the original in one important way? And yes, it did.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "STAR WARS")

PERRY KING: (As Han Solo) Over my dead body.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Greedo, speaking non-English language).

KING: (As Han Solo) Yeah, I'll bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLASTER SHOT)

KING: (As Han Solo) Rest in peace, Greedo.

GREENE: Han definitely shot first.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "STAR WARS [MAIN TITLE]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.