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Just what is a nerf herder? How do you herd nerfs?

August 22, 2008

A long time ago, when I was just a teenager, I was walking through my local Borders bookstore.  I’m not really sure what I was doing in there in the first place.  I think I was probably waiting for my dad to pick something up.  As I blindly walked through the store, something caught my eye.  It was something I had never seen before.  It was a big box set titled “Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama”.  It was presented on 13 audio cassettes, if I remember correctly.  I remember thinking at the time, “Star Wars?  Radio drama?  How the hell did they manage to pull that off?  Star Wars has so many visual effects that a radio drama would be pointless!”

Well, I was wrong.  Apparently, back in 1981, National Public Radio broadcast this radio drama.  They managed to get some of the original cast to perform the voice acting, including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels (C-3P0).  Other characters received new voice actors, including Perry King (playing Han Solo, a part he also auditioned for for the original movie version) and Brock Peters (playing an incredible Darth Vader).

This radio drama wasn’t just some rereading of the movie script.  It was just like the old-time radio shows back before TV became the preferred means of entertainment in most American homes.  The radio drama had great sound effects and excellent voice acting.  It also included several scenes that weren’t in the movie, such as giving us more background on Luke’s friend, Biggs.

Well, needless to say, I purchased the box set, and I instantly fell in love with it.  I will admit that the movies never really sat well with me.  Mediocre acting and highly dated special effects seemed to weaken this movie the first time I saw it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I own the DVDs of the original three movies and I’ll watch them anytime they’re on TV, but honestly I don’t understand all the fuss around these Lucas creations.

But the radio drama was a whole new dimension.  Even though the movie didn’t knock my socks off, the radio drama did.  It’s truly an amazing feat, translating a visual movie like Star Wars to the ranks of radio, but they did it perfectly.  And because there were new voice actors interpreting the tried-and-true characters, and due to the inclusion of several new scenes, it felt entirely fresh and new.  I wasn’t just listening to the movie, picturing the actors in my head, but rather I was able to use the building blocks that Lucas had presented in the movie and alter them in my imagination to create new worlds.  It was familiar, and at the same time, exciting and fresh.

This original radio drama is now available on CDs (I guess audio cassettes are long dead…).  I have long lost my original tapes of this and I think it’s time to reinvest and rediscover this oft-forgotten offspring of the Star Wars franchise.

And for those of you who don’t know, the Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi were also made into radio dramas, but I was not impressed by those.  I guess the second and third movies had so many more visual effects that just couldn’t be portrayed in radio effectively, and it damaged the overall storyline.  Actors would spend half an episode awkwardly describing the action that was taking place so the listener would have some clue as to what was happening.  They do that a little bit in the first radio drama, but it’s not nearly as noticeable.

If you have the $45 or so, I highly suggest you pick up the first Star Wars radio drama from Amazon and give it a whirl.  If you have a working imagination, you won’t be disappointed.

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