A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there came a time of revolution when Rebels united to challenge a tyrannical Empire… – Spoken intro to every Episode in the Star Wars Trilogy’s radio adaptations
You may think you’ve seen the movie; wait till you hear it – John Madden, speaking about the Star Wars Radio Drama
With the success of National Public Radio’s NPR Playhouse adaptations of the Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back in the early 1980s, fan expectations for a radio drama based on Return of the Jedi were high. The creative team of writer Brian Daley, director John Madden, and co-director/sound mixer Tom Voegili had proved such a project could be launched with little turnaround time; after all, only one year separated the recording and airings of the first two Radio Dramas…the story was there…and most of the cast could be assembled, barring movie projects or theatrical play obligations.
Unfortunately, the release of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (May 25, 1983) coincided with Congressional cuts in spending for public broadcasting, and although radio dramas are far less expensive than the average film, they still require funding, and neither NPR nor KUSC-Los Angeles, which had the rights to the Star Wars radio dramas, could afford the cost of adapting Jedi. The Star Wars Radio Trilogy seemed doomed to remain incomplete, thanks to the Reagan Administration’s lack of interest in public broadcasting – in part due to a perception by some Republican politicians that PBS and NPR had a “liberal bias.”
Thus Jedi remained on hold for 13 years as if frozen in carbonite. Fans inquired if and when NPR would be able to complete the Trilogy, but NPR simply couldn’t afford it.
Fortunately, the success of the release of the first two Radio Dramas on compact disc and audiocassette by Minnesota-based Highbridge Audio in the early 1990s gave the company’s executives an idea: Fan demand is certainly quite high for a Return of the Jedi Radio Drama, and sets of the first two shows are selling well….so if NPR can’t produce it, why don’t we?
And so it came to pass that in 1996, after so many years of frustration and waiting, the Madden-Daley-Voegili troika was hired by Highbridge Audio to complete the Radio Drama Trilogy. LA Theatre Works and Lucasfilm signed on, and Brian Daley set off to work the six-part adaptation. For fans, it was a dream come true, but for Daley, it was to be his final project; consumed by cancer, the acclaimed writer of the Han Solo Trilogy and the first two Radio Dramas finished the six-part script in the nick of time. He died a few hours after the completion of the Jedi recording sessions.
Return of the Jedi is, of course, the third and final act of the Luke Skywalker Trilogy. It is a dark time for the Rebellion. The Empire has defeated the Rebel Alliance at Hoth and elsewhere, and Emperor Palpatine is confident that the Rebellion will soon be crushed and that the “son of Skywalker” can be turned to the dark side of the Force. Certain that victory is near, he implements a risky but potentially devastating plan: he’ll allow the Rebellion to learn that the Empire is constructing a second and more powerful Death Star, incomplete and protected only by a strong deflector shield generated from the nearby moon of Endor. Surely, he reasons, the Rebellion won’t pass up a chance to destroy the deadly superweapon before it is operational.
For Luke Skywalker, the choices he must make are painfully obvious. First, he must rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Second, he must complete his Jedi training on Dagobah, for only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, can defeat Darth Vader and the Emperor. His failed attempt to rescue Han at Bespin and the loss of his hand – and his father’s lightsaber – were painful reminders that his impatience and recklessness stood in the way of his quest to become a Jedi. Worse, Vader’s claim that he is Luke’s father gnaws at Luke’s consciousness. Is it true? Did Obi-Wan Kenobi lie about Anakin Skywalker’s fate?
Return of the Jedi: The Original Radio Drama begins with Tatooine Haunts, with Luke (Joshua Fardon) attempting to build a new lightsaber to replace the one he lost on Cloud City. In the quiet solitude of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s hut and using the old Jedi’s books and tools, the young Jedi trainee struggles at first to build the archaic laser sword, but when he remembers Yoda’s maxim “Try not. Do, or do not There is no try,” he succeeds. As the lightsaber hums and hisses, he simply says “I’m ready.”
On Coruscant, the Emperor (Paul Hecht) and Vader (Brock Peters) sense a stirring in the Force. Palpatine suggests that young Skywalker should have been destroyed on Bespin, but Vader – the former Anakin Skywalker – insists the boy can still be turned. He wants to continue the search for his son, but the Emperor has other ideas. The construction of the Death Star, he tells his Sith underling, is running behind schedule, and Palpatine is not pleased with the engineers’ lack of progress. Perhaps a visit from Darth Vader can impress upon them a certain sense of urgency?
Although the Jedi script follows the Lawrence Kasdan-George Lucas screenplay and only adds an additional hour or so to the film’s storyline, instead of showing Vader’s arrival at the second Death Star, Tatooine Haunts really gets underway as C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 make their way to Jabba’s Palace to deliver a message from Luke to the Hutt crimelord (Edward Asner of Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant fame). Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca, C-3PO tells his astromech companion, apparently failed in a rescue attempt, and he’s very, very anxious to deliver Luke’s message and leave. But 3POs discomfort turns into dismay when R2-D2 plays the holographic recording in which Luke not only seeks to bargain for Solo’s life, but that the gift he is offering Jabba is…the pair of droids. To his horror, the Hutt tells his court that “there will be no bargain. I will not give up my favorite decoration. I like Captain Solo where he is.”
3PO is further dismayed later on when he discovers that Boussh, a Ubese bounty hunter who has brought Chewbacca in for Jabba’s reward, has been caught thawing Han Solo (Perry King) from his carbonite slab and is really Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs). The daring rescue, it seems, has failed even before it begins….
But Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is still out there, making his way across the Dune Sea for a reckoning with Jabba. And after that, there are still other matters for young Skywalker to deal with. There is still the promise he made to Yoda to return and complete his training. There is still the unresolved question about Vader being his father. And beyond Luke’s personal crises, the war between the Rebel Alliance and the evil Galactic Empire is still raging as thousands of worlds seek to gain their freedom from Imperial tyranny.
Although Mark Hamill was not available to reprise the role of Luke Skywalker, Joshua Fardon does an incredible vocal performance that approximates Hamill’s earnest farmboy-turned-hero persona. On the other hand, Anthony Daniels did return to the recording studio to play the overanxious protocol droid that he has played in all six Star Wars films plus the previous two Radio Dramas.
Also returning to the “galaxy far, far away”: Perry King as Han, Ann Sachs as Leia, Bernard Behrens as Obi-Wan Kenobi, John Lithgow as Yoda, Paul Hecht as the Emperor, and Brock Peters as Darth Vader. Director Madden also benefitted greatly from the performances of Ed Asner (Jabba), Ed Begley, Jr. (Boba Fett), Natalia (Star Trek: The Next Generation) Nogulich (Mon Mothma), David Dukes (Bib Fortuna), Arye Gross (Lando Calrissian), and The Simpsons’ Yeardley Smith as the evil droid 9D9.
The one odd note was Lithgow’s performance of Yoda, which is very different from the one in The Empire Strikes Back. It sounds as if the actor had forgotten how to imitate Frank Oz; fortunately the Jedi Master is only in one sequence in Prophecies and Destinies, so listeners who are put off by Lithgow’s performance don’t have to suffer too long.
Although in some ways Jedi is the lesser of the three Original Trilogy films, Daley and John Whitman (who contributed additional material) made the radio adaptation an enjoyable listening experience, not only expanding the story in an economical and restrained manner, but incorporating characters and situations from various Expanded Universe novels (Mara Jade makes a cameo disguised as the dancing girl named Arica, while events from Steve Perry’s Shadows of theEmpire are mentioned in passing).
Tom Voegili once again used Lucasfilm’s library of sound effects and John Williams’ original 1983 score to create a pure-audio Star Wars adventure that allowed fans to enjoy an enhanced retelling of the final confrontation between Rebels and Imperials…the redeeming power of love and faith in one’s friends…and the ultimate struggle to restore balance to the Force as the last of the Jedi Knights faces the powerful Sith lords aboard the Empire’s ultimate weapon.
Note on the music: Because Return of the Jedi: The Original Radio Drama was produced between 1995 and 1996, Voegili utilized the original 1983 soundtrack recording of Williams’ score. He utilized cues – such as “Jabba’s Baroque Recital” – that were not yet available in existing soundtrack albums, as well as the Lapti Nek and Ewok Celebration tracks that were later superceded by the Special Edition’s “Jedi Rocks” and Victory Celebration cues written for the 1997 re-release version.
CD 1: Episode One: Tatooine Haunts
Episode Two: Fast Friends
CD 2: Episode Three: Prophecies and Destinies
Episode Four: Patterns and Web
CD 3: Episode Five: So Turns a Galaxy, So Turns a Wheel
Episode Six: Blood of a Jedi