Thursday, November 17, 2005

Yoda on the Air

After finally catching STAR WARS EPISODE III and then seeing a truly bizarre image of everybody's favorite muppet Jedi Master, Yoda with Rastafarian Master Bob Marley over at Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin on November 12th's post, I had to dig up this cool Yoda image from the Library archives. This is an ad for the radio version of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. What's that, you say? Radio? Yes, you remember radio, don't you?
Dramatic radio was all but dead in the US when George Lucas agreed to a dozen part public radio adaptation of STAR WARS a couple years after the initial movie. With Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels, along with the already classic John Williams music and Ben Burtt sound effects, the series greatly expanded on the movie, adding back scenes and characters cut from the original as well as lots more background and character development. Okay, it dragged in spots. Deal. The rest of the film cast was unavailable so Han Solo was played by handsome journeyman actor, Perry King (best known perhaps for the infamous MANDINGO)and Darth Vader's deep wheeze came from the late, great Brock Peters(TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, SOYLENT GREEN), if anything an even finer actor than James Earl Jones! The series was quite the hit at a time when almost literally no one was doing radio in this country, let alone adaptations of popular movies.
In fact, in the "Golden age" of radio, many series regularly offered over the air adaptations of then current or classic movies, often with one or more original stars but just as often with fascinating new casts! Thus, you have a LUX RADIO THEATER version of THE MALTESE FALCON starring Edward G Robinson instead of Bogart and Alan Ladd in CASBLANCA. In fact, someone more recently did their own version of LUX as in "What if STAR WARS had come out in the 1940's and been adapted for radio?" Thus we have THE ADVENTURES OF LUKE SKYWALKER. Don't get too excited, though, as the idea is more clever than good and the execution is neither. Never promise certain actors if you can't even serve up a good impression. I mean, come on! Ronald Colman?? Small children and people who only speak Swahili can do Ronald Colman! It's genetic or something! Not this guy, though. Thanks guys but, uh...let's get back to the real thing.
If you think about it, after more than thirty five half hour episodes, Perry King played Han Solo a hell of a lot more than Harrison Ford ever did! It was many years later before RETURN OF THE JEDI was adapted but it was, if only to round out the set. The STAR WARS radio shows, although apparently non-canonical, are a most fascinating footnote to the long-running saga.

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