On May 4, let’s remember the time NPR aired a “Star Wars” radio soap opera: NPR

Mark Hamill (right) and Anthony Daniels reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO in the radio adaptation of star wars.

Steve Smith

hide caption

toggle caption

Steve Smith

On May 4, let's remember the time NPR aired a "Star Wars" radio soap opera: NPR

Mark Hamill (right) and Anthony Daniels reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO in the radio adaptation of star wars.

Steve Smith

On this May 4th, we want to take you back to 1981, when NPR turned to star wars. That’s right: some of you may have forgotten (and some may not even know) that the network has created three radio series based on the original three George Lucas films.

NPR thought it might attract more listeners by reviving the radio drama, which had been out of fashion for about 30 years. So the network called Richard Toscan, then head of the theater program at the University of Southern California. He recalled asking a colleague for advice on which story to dramatize: “There’s this long pause, and he’s like, ‘Create a scandal.'”

Tuscan was lost. Then he mentioned the problem to a student. “And he said, ‘Oh, why don’t you star wars?’ ” recalls Tuscan. “The was the scandal.”

To see, star wars was a commercial juggernaut. And as Toscan puts it, “People who worked at NPR thought, ‘Oh, geez, we’re selling to Hollywood. “

But if it sold, it sure was cheap. George Lucas was a graduate of USC and was a fan of the campus NPR station. So, after a little nudge, he handed over the radio rights to star wars for $1 – a public radio budget if there is one.

The producers brought in John Madden, a little-known director who had worked with the BBC. Madden says, “The idea of ​​doing this seemed crazy, but I was so ready for that.”

And so were some of the film’s stars: Anthony Daniels returned as the uptight protocol droid C-3PO, and Mark Hamill voiced Luke Skywalker. The Hollywood-public radio collaboration was so remarkable that there was a photographer in the studio to document it. Madden says Hamill, a radio newbie, was an absolute natural.

But turning a movie known for its spectacular visuals into non-commercial radio hasn’t been easy. The producers had to create 13 half-hour episodes from a film that only had about 30 minutes of dialogue. They enlisted sci-fi novelist Brian Daley to write more stories and expositions. So, for example, the radio version has an extended scene aboard the Death Star that never appeared in the film. In it, Princess Leia undergoes a harrowing interrogation at the hands of Darth Vader. Brock Peters plays Vader and Leia is voiced by Ann Sachs:

Death Star scene from the radio drama “Star Wars”

Sachs still gets chills when she thinks about recording this scene. “It was really scary,” she says. “I will never forget after it was finished, [Peters] came out into the green room and gave me a big hug. And I kind of fell silent when he hugged me and he said, ‘Oh, my poor darling. I’m sorry.’ “

Sachs says part of what makes this scene work is engineer Tom Voegeli’s mix. It didn’t hurt that Voegeli had access to John Williams’ music and Ben Burtt’s sound effects from the film. But it could still take him a whole day to put together a minute of audio.

“Just choreographing Darth Vader’s breathing so he doesn’t breathe in the wrong places,” Voegeli explains. “You know, now you can take those breaths and move them around on a computer screen and do that quite easily.” At the time, Voegeli was mixing with reel tape recorders and editing with razor blades.

Toscan, the drama’s executive producer, said, “It was analog with a vengeance.” He says that when the drama debuted in 1981, “We were all walking on a plank, I think, with our fingers crossed.” But it was a resounding success. The sleepy little network received 50,000 letters and phone calls in a single week, and there was a 40% increase in viewership.

For Madden, the experience eventually led him to direct his own films, including the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in love. “We were making movies with the lights off,” he says of his star wars live. “You know, movies to watch with your eyes closed.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published in December 2015.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button