Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Star Wars Radio Drama Story ....

 There have been some nice reviews written of late  about NPR's 13- part adaptation of "Star Wars" for radio that was produced during the early 1980's by their Earplay series and released on compact cassette and CD in 1993, 1996, and again in 2013 by the Highbridge Audio Company under the title
 "George Lucas's Star Wars:
 The Original Radio Drama"

The latest release  - 
The Topps Trading Card Limited Edition MP3Version finds
 the entire program on an single disc, for $29 or less.

 I believe it was, and still to this day, very well may be, 
one of the best versions of "Star Wars" ever produced.
 But this isn't another review of the Radio Drama itself.
 A Great Podcast by TheExpandedFandomverse that 
does just that  can be found here:                                                  http://radiodramaretrospective.blogspot.com

This story is, shall I say, a trip down memory lane,
to my youth, and is my response to all the other post about this series on the web.  For anyone who has ever enjoyed this landmark audio production of "Star Wars", this is for you.

During the summer of 1983, when I was a mere
13-years old,  I had the pleasure of recording NPR's production of  "The Empire Strikes Back" Radio 
Drama off the air using one of those old Radioshack Boom Boxes of that era  (a Realistic SCR-2, I believe? ) 
while listening to it in the dark of night in my closet in order that I could actually hear it. 
   Why did I have to do that?
 Well , because at the time my old man would blast
 the volume on our old 25" RCA Console TV
( that's only gotten worse ) and the sound would
 travel  ( all to well - I might add ) 
down the hallway, so I had to block that noise out.
 Note: no, I simply was not able to shut the main
 bedroom door because,  our house didn't have
 central air, and our old 3-ton, 36,000 BTU Window AC  ( that's a huge window unit !) was, get this - in our room             ( I shared a room w/ my younger brother), directly in front of the door, blowing the cold air down the main hall. It's giant compressor  and built in fans produced quite of bit of noise which had to be overcome as well.
 Hence: The closet ! 
 Now, I had never actually heard "Star Wars" when it when out  "over the air". However, the parents  of one of my best childhood friends at the time,
 Andrew Kelly Beckett, (who is now an
 Assistant Dean @ University of Iowa) who lived
 2 doors down,  had bought (at $5 bucks a cassette
 tape!!! which, was like $$$$$$ when you are a kid 
in the early 80's) for some extremely good, 
shall we say?, "bootleg" recordings from an employee who worked @ our local NPR radio station, who had managed to reproduced the series on, of all things, Scotch Brand audio cassettes (the very same brand of tape that Lucasfilm Sound Designer, Ben Burtt,  had used to record the movie's sound effects on open reel to reel). 

     I would later used my 1986 Radio Shack
 (13-1219) Realistic-Clarinette's 115 double tape deck to dub them (again using , in this case, some rather cheap Scotch brand cassettes - the ones with the translucent see-through blue shells - remember them?
You know- I was a kid, ok?)

 This was my 1st stereo system that I had bought with my own cash - and while this deck may not have looked like much, and yes - while she didn't have a built in CD player because that was a new Technology  at the time - 
RS's 1st CD player :CD-1200
Retail cost: $299.95

and a standalone CD player cost more than this entire system - she never the less had it where it really counted, mainly because of a little button labeled:
"Hi-Filter".                                                                                                                  This feature was normally only found on high end single cassette decks of the day.  I remember not even seeing it 
on their ( Radio Shack's) other stand alone double 
cassette decks  when I purchased this  shelf system - which even featured manual recording level control, normally a function not found in ANY "all-in-one" system. While  lacking "auto-reverse",  for a product at this price point,  which ,  "on sale", sold for a mere $200 bucks, she made beautiful copies. 
 I  would later go on to purchase way more expensive and far better decks ( from 3 head units, w/ DBX, & even Dolby S, to a deck w/ Digital NR)  - but I'll always have a special place in my heart for what this deck was capable of. 
I know that must sound shocking,
  but I swear it's true. 
The unit even contained an aux input that would allow for the matching CD player to be connected.

      ( The Ultra  cheap  speaker's that it came with were low end,
         so I quickly replaced them w/ some Pioneer 2-way bookshelf units.   )   

 I have absolutely no idea how his parents managed to come across this person selling these cassettes
(pictured at top and bottom of this article), however, the impression I was given @ the time was this individual might have been going around selling them door-to door,
 ( but, in all fairness, that might? just be that way I'm remembering it) but man, I'm sure glad they found this guy. 
 At one point in my youth, I had them ( all 13 episodes ) so well committed to memory that during the sixth grade I would recite them at recess for another one of my friends .
  Cassette one (Episodes 1 & 2 - A Wind to Shake the Stars & Points of Origin ) was one of my favorites, mainly because most of that material came from the "missing" 1st
 ( and as of yet, unfinished) 20 minute reel of film - in which  they reveal glimpses of Luke's life on Tatooine - working on his Uncle Owen's moisture farm, dreaming of entering the Imperial Space Academy, and racing his skyhopper in the dangerous stretches of Beggar's Canyon - and in Episode 2, we get Princess Leia's first involvement in the Rebellion/   
Although,  I must admit, having just finished listening to this series again when I was traveling cross country this last past summer with my friend Matt, and I believe  Episode 4 of Empire - which is titled "Fire and Ice" - is easily the best produced episode of the entire series, in terms of production value.
Speaking of which, the audio in this series is better than in the films. Rest assure this simply isn't just some "book-on-tape" with added background music to accompany the narration and dialog.  No, no, no. 
Using Lucasfilm's sound effects library , sound mixer Tom Voegeli built this series "from scratch". This is truly "theatre of the mind's eye" with an audio landscape so rich in detail the scenes  allow the listener to build / visualize great images . 

Keep in mind this program was produced not that long after former President Ronald Reagan just took office, and the VCR was just starting to sell. It be a couple years yet til Star Wars was available on VHS for retail sale ( 1984) - and oh yeah, Blockbuster Video wasn't on every corner. Oh - another thing. 
The reason why everyone rented the titled was cause do you know what these VHS tapes cost back in the day?
      I have a sales list for Disney VHS tapes from the time, & they were more expensive than their Laserdisc counterparts!
 I mean these tapes are like $49 - $79 bucks a piece- and that's in early 80's dollars.  Besides, I don't remember  Laserdisc until the late 80's, even though they were being manufactured by the time the Radio Drama aired.  Not to mention, other that the film's soundtrack, the only other way to get any "Star Wars" was to
 listen to the famous "Story of Star Wars", which indeed was taken from the film's audio track, but timed out @ just under 50 minutes. Also, the original soundtrack itself only contained about half the music used in the film @ the time.

        Anyhow, after High School, in 1989, I left home, joined the Army and afterwards moved to Florida. I was never able to find those any of those old cassettes again. Ironically, the last birthday gift my mother ever bought for me before she died was the"Jedi" Radio adaptation on cassette in 1996.  I was not there when my family cleaned out the house I grew up in before they sold it, and those old bootleg tapes might have been thrown away then?
   I remember  Waiting 10 long years ( seemed like forever ) for the Program to finally be officially produced and released in 1993.  I'll never forget that day I laid eyes on the  Highbridge       ( cassette and CD)  version of it in the book store. 
 I had no idea that it was even being released. 
  Seeing it was a shock. Finally! There IT was !
I was expecting this thing to cost  $100 bucks.
Even though I was still attending school and just beginning to land real work  - no matter how much this thing cost -
 I was willing and going to deal with the pain.
Only $35 dollars on Cassette ! OH Hell yes! 
Hello ear candy. It was mine !
I'd later get The Empire Strikes Back version, and then the CD version of Star Wars. To this day,  I still have that receipt !

 In August 2010, I brought the CD's to Star Wars Celebration V  in Orlando and got Ben Burtt himself to sign them.

The only thing I didn't like about the packaging was that fact that pictures of the characters from the film were placed inside the program booklet.  I always  felt that one of the key advantages of The Radio Drama was that you, the listener, could make up both what the character's and the scenes looked like yourself.               So my version of the story "looked" different in my head than the film. Also, this release is missing the original  "an adaption for radio in 13-parts" opening tag line.
        Truth be told, these store bought CD's will never replace the fond childhood memories of those old home recorded cassette tapes - of that great adventure that once took place in my head, a long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far, away. 

Today we have produced a Facebook Fan Page dedicated to this product.
 You can find it here at : The Star Wars Radio Series.
 Hope you enjoy. Thank You.