In 1981, four years after the release of the original Star Wars, the film was recreated over almost six hours for radio broadcast on what is now NPR. Very few of the film’s actual stars participated — only Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO reprised their roles — which led to some interesting casting choices. Perry King, who is probably best known for a starring role on the NBC action series Riptide, played Han Solo, and Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, voiced Darth Vader.
In 1983, a radio version of The Empire Strikes Back was broadcast. Return of the Jedi wouldn’t receive this treatment until 1996, just a year before the special editions were released.
Sure, it’s a little antiquated, but it’s also kind of surprising that in the “all Star Wars, all the time” world we live in now, that these radio broadcasts don’t garner at least a little more attention, for no other reason than that the story is significantly expanded. For instance, in The Empire Strikes Back (which Billy Dee Williams returned for), when Han Solo finds Luke Skywalker stranded in a snowstorm, we see Han begin to build a shelter, then in the next scene he and Luke are rescued. In the radio version, there’s a scene between Han and Luke while they’re both hoping to be rescued. At one point, Luke tells Han, “Boy, maybe we should send for road service and get some breakfast.” Then, Han gets mad at Luke for not being more careful about his injuries. Then Luke laments that he should ask the Rebellion for a raise. (Also, it should be noted, Perry King sounds nothing like Harrison Ford.)
The most surprising moment comes when we are introduced to Yoda, who, instead of being voiced by Frank Oz, is now voiced by, yes, John Lithgow. I dare you not to laugh when Lithgow as Yoda screams, “Ohhh! Don’t shoot!”
If you want things to get even more strange, in Return of the Jedi, Ed Asner voices Jabba the Hutt — speaking Huttese! — and Ed Begley, Jr. plays Boba Fett. Let me write that again, Ed Begley, Jr. plays Boba Fett. And, even better, Lithgow is back as Yoda.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.