There’s a reason why this radio mini-series is so iconic.
The NPR radio adaptation of the first Star Wars film really nails what a retelling should be—it shares the story in a fresh way that adds something new to the original plot.
With this 13 episode series, we learn more about the original characters, especially Leia and Luke. The first few episodes are set before A New Hope even begins—we see Luke hanging out with Biggs and his friends on Tatooine, and we see Leia fight tirelessly for the Rebellion.
For me, Leia’s story was the most compelling. She didn’t get as much airtime as Luke does (for good reason—I’ll get to that in a moment), but we see her in the middle of a mission, making snap decisions in an effort to salvage her cause and fight for the galaxy. Some of the most heart wrenching moments come when Leia interacts with her father, especially her final conversation with him when they decide that she should be the one to get the Death Star plans. Ann Sachs is an excellent Leia—her performance in the Alderaan destruction scene is truly breathtaking.
The series also gave me a new appreciation for Luke. I’ve never not liked Luke—I really love his character. But he was never my favourite, like Leia or Han. However, I felt like I really got to know him in a way I didn’t during A New Hope. The series gives him a more fleshed-out arc, and Mark Hamill gives a killer performance as Luke. You feel his journey throughout the story and understand his emotions.
However, I have a couple of minor quibbles. During the scene where Luke and Han talk about Leia shortly after their escape from the Death Star, the conversation is played more as Han messing with Luke instead of the hint of vulnerability we get in the film. This isn’t a knock against Perry King as Han, but it’s something I wished had stayed in the radio drama. As well, Leia gives Luke an additional kiss “for luck” before the Battle of Yavin. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with it, but it feels like the radio drama is really pushing the Luke/Leia pairing. George Lucas et. al. may not have decided on the (much better) Han/Leia pairing by that point, but it still feels a little weird to listen to considering they’re eventually revealed to be brother and sister.
Overall, this is an excellent adaptation—it’s everything I want in a retelling of the classic Star Wars story. The series stays true to the original message and characters while breathing new life into the story. Without that additional special element, there’s no point in a retelling.
If you’re a Star Wars fan and haven’t listened to it, what are you waiting for?