Friday, May 28, 2010

Star Wars Week: Return of the Jedi - The Radio Drama

After the success of the first two radio dramas, you’d have thought that George Lucas would have followed up with a radio dramatization of Return of the Jedi. He did, just thirteen years after the source film opened. Why? It might have been Star Wars fatigue. I know I hit it in the mid 1980s. The comic book from Marvel was cancelled and there wasn’t anything new coming out. That is, until Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars trilogy revived interest in Star Wars in the early 1990s. One of the results of the newfound enthusiasm for Star Wars was the Return of the Jedi radio drama.

Where Star Wars was a 13-episode extravaganza and Empire was a 10-episode expansion, Jedi was a mere six episodes. Frankly it barely cleared the threshold for needing to even produce the thing. I didn’t even know it aired in 1996 and it wasn’t until this spring that I gave it a whirl.

Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams do not return. Only Anthony Daniels does. All the other regular cast returns, including the excellent Brock Peters as Darth Vader. I had to get used to the new guys and, a couple of times, I forgot who was speaking. Probably my bad, but still.

The Jedi radio drama does what neither of the other two did: incorporate Expanded Universe things into the story. The Expanded Universe is the global term used to describe any Star Wars story/character/ship/whatever that is not in the films. Thus, in Radio Jedi, we get the scene in which Luke goes to Tatooine, lives in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s house, and constructs his new, green lightsaber. This sequence originally was featured at the end of Shadow of the Empire. Plus, Coruscant is mentioned by name. It’s a nice thing to include, these extras, as it gives a broader scope to the entire story.

Whereas Star Wars and Empire’s radio presentations were chock full of fun, new scenes, there isn’t a lot with Jedi. Among the more interesting ones are these:
  • a scene in Jabba’s palace where Boba Fett taunts the recently-thawed Han Solo and Chewbacca. I always had the impression that Fett was just a good bounty hunter with little hatred for Solo. Not so anymore.
  • the scene when Leia, disguised as the bounty hunter, Boushh, defrosts Han, Bib Fortuna is with her. It’s almost as if Fortuna is helping Boushh. Irritatingly, this thread is dropped.
  • Lando and Leia talking after she’s been captured by Jabba.
  • Lando and Han talking before they all escape. We learn that Chewie filled Han in on Lando’s good deeds.
  • the scene where the heroes escape Tatooine but also have to evade the Imperials who have set up a sort of blockade knowing that they’d try to rescue Han.
As you can tell, all the good, new scenes are at the beginning. Nothing much extra happens for the rest of the movie. However, there is one meta-detail thrown in. From 1983 until 1996 when this drama aired, all the ire at Jedi had formed. One huge problem many fans had was how the heck did a bunch of Ewoks defeat an elite squadron of stormtroopers. During that battle sequence, Leia (I think) voiced that question. Han answered it with something along the lines of “It’s their turf so they have the upper hand.” Yeah, I didn’t buy it either.

Make it a point to listen to the first two radio dramas. You won’t be disappointed. As far as the Jedi radio drama, listen to it once, just to say you did.


Perplexio said...

Ann C. Crispin's Han Solo novels that are set before A New Hope provide a bit more of the back-story behind the the whole Fett/Solo feud and why Fett hates Han Solo so much. That trilogy ends with Han on his way to a cantina in Mos Eisley to meet up with a crazy old man and a teenager who are enlisting his services as a smuggler to get them off the planet. It's my 2nd favorite set of books from the expanded universe (my favorite being the Zahn trilogy). There's also a short story in the Tales of the Bounty Hunters about Han Solo and Boba Fett's final confrontation that is a rather enjoyable read.

Richard Robinson said...

Scott, I've really enjoyed this series of posts a lot. Thank you for all of them, they have gotten me back into a Star Wars frame of mind, and I've listened to the CDs and plan on watching one or more of the films over this holiday weekend. Good, good stuff.

Although it's apparent you think them inferior, I'd certainly like to see posts on the other three films, as well as the Dark Horse graphic novels.

Daniel said...

I've been reading the posts this week and I too am part of the Star Wars generation. The first one came out when I was ten and Jedi came out when I was 16. It feels like a lot of my life took place in between.

Between the movies I began to say hell and damn in front of my parents (and worse with my friends); I bought my first record (Dream Police -- it still rocks); I read almost everything by Robert E Howard and Michael Moorcock; I saw my first late night movie on Cinemax; I read the Maltese Falcon and I saw another childhood, life-changing movie: The Blues Brothers. What Star Wars was for me and toys, Blues Brothers was for me and music buying.

Star Wars fatigue had set in on me by the end. I let my subscription to the comic lapse after the Empire adaptation. And during the Jabba scenes in Jedi, it finally occurred to me that a lot of this was goofy.

My favorite line from the whole series is still "I've been waiting for you Obi-Wan. When I left you I was but a learner, now I am the master." It was riveting for me to realize that there was an untold back-story between two adults that I wasn't allowed to hear. The answers never lived up to this mystery