The Empire Strikes Back is a ten-part radio adaptation of the film Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. It is the second of the Star Wars radio dramatizations adapting the original trilogy. The radio drama first aired on National Public Radio in the United States on February 14, 1983,[3] as part of its program NPR Playhouse.

The drama followed on the success of the first radio series, Star Wars (1981), which had broken NPR's records for audience size and engagement.[5] As with its predecessor, George Lucas sold the rights for one dollar in a deal that gave NPR access to all the sound effects and music from the film.[6] Most of the leading crew returned from the first drama: scriptwriter Brian Daley, director John Madden, sound engineer Tom Voegeli (who was also credited as co-director), and casting and production coordinator Mel Sahr. Nearly all members of the Star Wars radio cast with roles to reprise returned for The Empire Strikes Back, including film actors Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels. Joining the cast were Billy Dee Williams, who reprised his role as Lando Calrissian, and John Lithgow, who played Yoda.[2]


The radio drama follows the plot of the film The Empire Strikes Back, telling the story of Luke Skywalker's rescue by Han Solo, the Battle of Hoth, Luke's training under Master Yoda, and Darth Vader's relentless pursuit of Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke, which culminates in their duel on Cloud City. Because of the requirements of audio drama, each episode includes a good deal of additional dialogue to describe action that the films convey visually.

A few scenes are original to the radio drama. Like Star Wars, it opens with new material amounting to around half of the first episode Freedom's Winter. The opening scene depicts the destruction of Renegade Flight and a Rebel supply convoy in the Battle of Derra IV. After that, the episode depicts the launching of the Imperial probe droid from the Star Destroyer Avenger and the efforts of the Rebels Alliance to establish Echo Base. Additional scenes beyond the first episode are mostly brief; they include Luke and Han's night in an emergency shelter while stranded in the Hoth wasteland; the Rebels' preparations for the Battle of Hoth; Luke reuniting with the pilots of Rogue Squadron before leaving for Dagobah; and two conversations between Lando Calrissian and Lobot.



Star Wars for radio had comprised 13 weekly episodes—exactly one quarter of a year—to better fit into NPR's calendar,[7] The Empire Strikes Back was written as a somewhat leaner 10 episodes. Madden directed the recording at A&R Studios in New York City over ten days.[2]

For the post-production, Voegli again oversaw the sound mixing to combine the new dialogue with the film's music score and sound effects library. Voegli had access to new equipment not available for the first Star Wars: as the end credits of each episode boast, "Post-production was realized at Studio M in St. Paul on the 3M digital mastering system."[6] While recording the dialogue had taken only 10 days, Voegli's work in St. Paul took 150 days, almost as long as post-production for the film itself.[7]


Like with the first radio drama, the creators of the radio drama were given free rein to use the score to the film. Notably, they were not provided with the cutdown OST album, but rather the raw session masters.[8] As a result, the radio drama includes lots of at-the-time unreleased music in it, some of which still cannot be heard anywhere else to this day (such as the clean opening to the End Credits cue).[9]


NPR again went to considerable effort to promote the radio play, commissioning a movie-like poster using art by Ralph McQuarrie. A more unusual promotion was commissioning food writer Craig Claiborne to create a recipe for Yoda's rootleaf stew, which the Jedi Master served Luke in his hut on Dagobah. The recipe ran in magazines and newspapers across the country just before the series aired.[10]

NPR celebrated the premiere of the first episode at an event at New York's Hayden Planetarium.[6]


The first episode, Freedom's Winter, was first broadcast on February 14, 1983. New episodes aired weekly on Mondays, with the finale "The Clash of Lightsabers" airing on April 18; some local stations followed different schedules.[11]

The radio dramatization is published by HighBridge Audio. In 1996 HighBridge released a Collector's Limited Edition of the entire radio trilogy. The radio drama's original script was published in The Empire Strikes Back: The National Public Radio Dramatization in 1995.

Canonicity and continuity[]

The Empire Strikes Back adds some original material to the events of the film on which it is based, though not nearly as much as its predecessor Star Wars. As with the other NPR radio dramas, all material beyond what was in the original film is considered part of the Legends continuity. Some elements from the radio broadcasts were later referenced in other Legends stories. The drama's opening scene, depicting the Battle of Derra IV, was shown in flashbacks in the 1997 comic X-Wing Rogue Squadron 25.[12] The episode "The Millennium Falcon Pursuit" introduced Rogue Squadron pilot Tarrin Datch, whose backstory and role would be developed in later sources.[13]


Episode Title Original Airdate
1 "Freedom's Winter" February 14, 1983[11]
2 "The Coming Storm" February 21, 1983[11]
3 "A Question of Survival" February 28, 1983[11]
4 "Fire and Ice" March 7, 1983[11]
5 "The Millennium Falcon Pursuit" March 14, 1983[11]
6 "Way of the Jedi" March 21, 1983[11]
7 "New Allies, New Enemies" March 28, 1983[11]
8 "Dark Lord's Fury" April 4, 1983[11]
9 "Gambler's Choice" April 11, 1983[11]
10 "The Clash of Lightsabers" April 18, 1983[11]




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