The Empire Strikes Back was adapted by NPR soon after its release, just as the original Star Wars film was. Mark Hamill and Anthony Williams once again reprised their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO with Billy Dee Williams also joining the cast as Lando Calrissian. The rest of the roles from the movie were filled in by other actors with Ann Sachs as Leia, Perry King as Hans Solo, Brock Peters as Darth Vader, and introducing John Lithgow as Yoda.
Compared to the solid Star Wars Radio Drama, the ten part Empire Strikes Back is a far better production. There’s hardly any padding (and none after the first episode.) The production works perfectly as an Adventure radio serial rather than a supplementary derivative of its source material. There’s quite a bit of extra running time and it’s all used to good effect and the big winner is the character of Hans Solo who is fleshed out even more than in the film. The audio drama fleshes out his relationship with Luke as well as Leia.
Perry King started off a bit shaky in Star Wars as Hans Solo, but he gives a really compelling performance here and his interpretation of Solo is different but just as good as what Harrison Ford did on the screen. Ann Sachs turns in another great turn as Princess Leia and again, the audio makes her a much stronger character.
The same thing goes for Brock Peters who is absolutely brilliant as Vader, who also gets more scenes in the course of the search for rebel base and for Vader. Peters has captured the essence and menace of Vader while offering his own twist.
Anthony and Billy Dee Williams as well as Hammil turn in good performances that are little different than what they did on screen.
The sound effects and music are exactly what you’d expect from Lucasfilms and the action is really well-executed. The awkward adaptations from screen to audio in Star Wars has become much more seamless and natural.
Probably the only really disappointing aspect of the production was John Lithgow as Yoda. Lithgow is a talented actor who has gone to much bigger and better things, yet while Peters, King, and Sachs took their iconic roles and made them their own, Lithgow essentially does a so-so imitation of Frank Oz’s performance. It made me wish they’d just gotten Frank Oz in the first place.
Still, despite that weak spot, this is one of the best Audio Drama series I’ve heard. It shows greater appreciation for the medium and really hits it out of the park, making this iconic story come alive.
Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0
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