"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... There came a time of revolution, when rebels united to challenge a tyrannical empire."
―Introduction to each installment of the radio drama — (audio) Listen (file info)[1]

Star Wars is a thirteen-part radio adaptation of the original Star Wars film. It is the first of the Star Wars radio dramatizations adapting the original trilogy. It was produced in 1981 by National Public Radio as part of its program NPR Playhouse.[5] Richard Toscan conceived the idea of a radio adaptation of Star Wars and served as executive producer. The series was made with the full cooperation of George Lucas, who donated the rights and allowed the use of sound effects and music from the films.[6] Brian Daley adapted the film into a radio script, John Madden directed the voice actors, and Tom Voegeli mixed the dialogue, sound effects, and music.[3] Most of the movie actors were unavailable to reprise their roles (Harrison Ford, for instance, was committed to Raiders of the Lost Ark), but Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels returned to reprise Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, respectively.[6]

Following the success of Star Wars on the radio, two more radio dramatizations were produced: The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and Return of the Jedi (1996). The recordings of all three dramas were published by HighBridge Audio.


The radio drama follows the plot of the film A New Hope, telling the story of Princess Leia's capture by Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker's unexpected involvement in the Rebellion against the Empire, the rescue of the princess, and the destruction of the Death Star. The story is adapted to the auditory medium of radio. Additional dialogue describes action which in the films is conveyed visually. Radio has a less demanding narrative pace than cinema, which gave Daley the freedom to spend time developing characters and exploring events taking place before the first film.

The first two episodes - "A Wind to Shake the Stars" and "Points of Origin" - consist entirely of new material, while episode three - "Black Knight, White Princess, and Pawns" - begins with new material and transitions into an adaptation of the film's opening scene. Star Wars on the radio introduced a number of characters and concepts that would be referenced in later Legends stories, such as a skyhopper race through Beggar's Canyon, the Subjugation of Ralltiir, and the Battle of Toprawa. It also adds detail to scenes only hinted at in the film. For example, A New Hope shows Threepio and Artoo emerging from a locked door in Mos Eisley; the radio drama shows how they enter the building by posing as workers for a made-up maintenance business. In another notable example, while the film implies that Vader tortures Leia, the radio episode "Death Star's Transit" depicts it explicitly.[7]



NPR was looking for ways to expand its audience. The network was in financial trouble and was worried about even more serious cuts in the future: public broadcasting was one of the areas where presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was calling for budget cuts. NPR's president Frank Mankiewicz believed that reviving the genre of radio drama could draw new listeners.[8] Toscan, a theatre professor at the University of Southern California, had produced other dramas on KUSC, an NPR-affiliated station run by the university, for the program NPR Playhouse; he credits a student of his with suggesting that he produce an adaptation of Star Wars.[9] Toscan believed that this could "create a scandal" - something outrageous that would capture people's attention. Star Wars, famous for its lavish visual effects, might seem impossible to adapt to the radio.[5] Yet it also had rich, innovative, recognizable sound design and music that would lend themselves to a radio adaptation.[10]

KUSC's connection to the university helped gain the support of George Lucas, who was a graduate. He sold the movie's rights, along with access to its music and sound library, for one dollar.[6] An agreement was made to secure support and additional funding from the BBC. An experienced scriptwriter for BBC radio was at first contracted to write the script. But Carol Titelman, the Lucasfilm director who was assigned to serve as the drama's executive producer alongside Toscan, felt that the first draft suffered from the writer's lack of familiarity with Star Wars. Instead she tapped Brian Daley, who had no experience in radio but plenty of experience writing for Star Wars, having authored The Han Solo Trilogy.[3] This contributed to the breakdown of the deal with the BBC, which backed out soon afterward.[11] Toscan's role was now to make sure that Daley's script followed an approach necessary for radio, using dialogue and sound to replace the film's visual input.[9]


Daley wrote the script while staying in North Hollywood between December 1979 and March 1980.[3] John Madden was hired as director that May. Mel Sahr cast the voice actors during that same period. Recording began in late June at Westlake Audio Studios in Los Angeles.[11]

Sound design[]

One of the strengths of radio is that listeners are called upon to use their imaginations and create their own visuals mentally. The drama succeeds by the auditory associations with the movies, drawing on the subliminal power of John Williams's incidental music, Ben Burtt's sound design, and of course the voices of the leading actors from the cinema screen, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels. Director John Madden said, "Anyone who's ever listened to radio drama will testify to the fact that a play you hear will (remain) in your mind—twelve years later you'll remember it vividly. And the reason you'll remember it vividly is because you've done the work... it lives in your imagination."[10]

In Minnesota, Tom Voegeli worked long hours to mix the recorded dialogue with Burtt's effects and Williams's score.[10] Working with reel-to-reel audio tape and pre-digital tools such as a razor blade, Voegli could spend hours mixing only a few minutes of run time.[5]


NPR launched an extensive campaign to promote the radio series. The tagline was, "You may think you've seen the movie; wait 'til you hear it!"[10] NPR commissioned an original poster designed by Celia Strain depicting C-3PO wearing headphones standing in front of an old-fashioned microphone, linking images from the film to images from the golden age of the radio drama.[8] The series was launched at a special event at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.[6]The launch of the series was considered a resounding success, setting records for total NPR listeners, young listeners, and engagement in the form of calls and letters.[3]



The first episode, A Wind to Shake the Stars, was first broadcast on March 2, 1981, and weekly on Mondays for a total of thirteen weeks, ending on May 25.[12] Some local NPR affiliate stations aired the episodes on different days of the week. A half-hour documentary program, The Making of Star Wars For Radio: A Fable For the Mind's Eye, first aired in February to promote the upcoming series; some stations chose instead to air it the week after the final episode.[8]

NPR's reruns of the first series had some small timing cuts. One of these involves some dialogue in which Leia tells her father about a walk she took in the countryside on Alderaan, which makes the planet's eventual fate seem more of a personal tragedy to her.[3] BBC Radio 1 broadcasted the series in the UK, with a key scene in the final episode clumsily cut for timing.[source?]


All three series were released on cassette and CD in the US by HighBridge Audio; the first version retained NPR's cuts. In 1996 HighBridge released a Collector's Limited Edition of the entire radio trilogy that restored the removed dialogue.[3]

In October 2013, HighBridge Audio released two limited-edition, mp3 Collector's Volumes: Star Wars: A New Hope - The Original Radio Drama, "Light Side" and "Dark Side." Each volume includes the original Star Wars: A New Hope radio drama, an exclusive trading card from Topps, and rare audio content and interviews from the making of the radio drama.[13]


In 1994 the entire radio script was published as a book called Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization. Brian Daley's introduction to the book recounted aspects of the drama's production.[3] The script of the first episode, "A Wind to Shake the Stars," was republished in an article of the same name in Star Wars Galaxy Magazine 2 together with illustrations and an interview with Daley.

Canonicity and continuity[]

All radio scenes that are not featured in the original film are considered to be part of the Legends continuity, and many have been referenced in other Legends stories. The 1999 one-shot comic book "Luke Skywalker's Walkabout" depicts a story that Luke tells about his childhood in the radio episode "Jedi that Was, Jedi to Be." The 2003 two-part comic arc Princess... Warrior adapts a portion of the episode "Points of Origin". The 2013 trading card set Star Wars Illustrated: A New Hope depicts many scenes from the drama that were not in the film.

Some elements from the radio drama have been incorporated into Star Wars canon. Elements from Luke and Leia's backstories are retold in the 2015 novel The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy.[14] Artoo-Detoo's sabotage of R5-D4 was first introduced in the radio episode "While Giants Mark Time" and features in the canon story "The Red One," written from R5's perspective. The story "Verge of Greatness" incorporates a subplot from the radio drama centering on Admiral Motti and Grand Moff Tarkin, using some of the exact dialogue from the radio episodes "Death Star's Transit" and "Force and Counterforce." Both of these stories were published in the 2017 anthology From a Certain Point of View.[15]


Episode Title Original Airdate
1 "A Wind to Shake the Stars" March 2, 1981[12]
2 "Points of Origin" March 9, 1981[12]
3 "Black Knight, White Princess, and Pawns" March 16, 1981[12]
4 "While Giants Mark Time" March 23, 1981[12]
5 "Jedi that Was, Jedi to Be" March 30, 1981[12]
6 "The Millennium Falcon Deal" April 6, 1981[12]
7 "The Han Solo Solution" April 13, 1981[12]
8 "Death Star's Transit" April 20, 1981[12]
9 "Rogues, Rebels and Robots" April 27, 1981[12]
10 "The Luke Skywalker Initiative" May 4, 1981[12]
11 "The Jedi Nexus" May 11, 1981[12]
12 "The Case for Rebellion" May 18, 1981[12]
13 "Force and Counterforce" May 25, 1981[16]




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Cover gallery[]


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Notes and references[]

  1. Star Wars (radio)
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 HighBridge-Favicon Star Wars on HighBridge Audio's official website (backup link)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization
  4. 4.0 4.1 HighBridge-Favicon Star Wars on HighBridge Audio's official website (backup link)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 That Time NPR Turned 'Star Wars' Into A Radio Drama — And It Actually Worked by John, Derek on NPR (December 18, 2015) (archived from the original on May 4, 2022)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Brian J. Robb. A Brief Guide to Star Wars. Hachette, 2012. ISBN 9781780335834.
  7. Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Jessica K. Brandt. "An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age: Star Wars, Public Radio, and Middlebrow Cold War Culture.". A Galaxy Here and Now: Historical and Cultural Readings of Star Wars. edited by Peter W. Lee, McFarland, 2016. ISBN 9781476662206.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Richard Toscan, champion of contemporary audio theater by Brett Campbell on Oregon ArtsWatch (January 13, 2022) (archived from the original on July 5, 2022)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 The Making of Star Wars For Radio: A Fable For the Mind's Eye
  11. 11.0 11.1 Christopher H. Sterling. Encyclopedia of Radio vol. 3, Routledge, 2004. ISBN 9781135456498. (web archive)
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 'Star Wars' to blast off as a radio series by Gerald B. Jordan on The Kansas City Star (March 2, 1981) (archived from the original on January 24, 2024)
  13. The Original Radio Drama on starwarsradiodrama.com (content now obsolete; archived from the original on November 14, 2013)
  14. TwitterLogo Alexandra Bracken (@alexbracken) on Twitter: "I was lucky enough to be allowed to adapt from the very cool ANH radio drama for The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farmboy" (screenshot)
  15. From a Certain Point of View
  16. Radio Highlights on The Courier-Journal (May 25, 1981) (archived from the original on January 24, 2024)

External links[]