Wednesday, September 20, 2017

'The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick' Blu-ray Review


(C) 2017 Public Broadcasting Service and Florentine Films
"I never make films about things I know about. I make films about things I want to know about." - Ken Burns on Twitter, September 11, 2017. 

On Sunday, September 17, The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour-long documentary series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, premiered on PBS with the episode "Deja Vu: 1858-1961." Written by Burns' frequent collaborator, historian Geoffrey C. Ward, this epic series seeks to explore a complex and still divisive topic - the Vietnam War. 


Two days later, PBS Distribution released The Vietnam War on DVD and Blu-ray even though the series is still (as of this writing) in progress. PBS affiliates all over the country will air "Resolve: January 1966 - June 1967"  tonight, although some PBS members are already able to stream the series as part of their paid supporter's perks.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, THE VIETNAM WAR, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides - Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. - package blurb, The Vietnam War

Although "Deja Vu: 1858-1961" covers the era of French colonial rule, the Vietnamese nation's long and bloody struggle for self-determination, and the Cold War tensions that led to America's involvement in Indochina, the series focuses on the period between 1961 and 1975. Those 14 years saw the U.S. - motivated by idealism, naivete, and fear of Communist expansion - gradually involve itself in what was essentially a local civil war that ended up becoming a military and political quagmire that divided the U.S, like nothing else had since our own Civil War in the 1860s.

Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. THE VIETNAM WAR features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from (the) greatest artists of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo Yo Ma. -   package blurb, The Vietnam War

PBS Distribution's box set presents The Vietnam War in 10 Blu-ray discs (BDs) - one for each episode. The BDs are packaged in two multi-disc jewel cases, which in turn come in a paperboard slipbox that features a striking photo-illustration on the front cover and a list of production credits on the back. 

Volume One of The Vietnam War consists of the following:


  • Episode One: Deja Vu (1858-1961)
  • Episode Two: Riding the Tiger (1961-1963)
  • Episode Three: The River Styx (January 1964-December 1965)
  • Episode Four: Resolve: (January 1966-June 1967)
  • Episode Five: This Is What We Do (July 1967-December 1967)
Disc One, the BD that features "Deja Vu," also contains a 45-minute-long behind-the-scenes look at The Making of THE VIETNAM WAR and some scenes that are not in the main series. 

Volume Two of The Vietnam War consists of the following:

  • Episode Six: Things Fall Apart (January 1968-July 1968)
  • Episode Seven: The Veneer of Civilization (June 1968-May 1969)
  • Episode Eight: The History of the World (April 1969-May 1970)
  • Episode Nine: A Disrespectful Loyalty (May 1970-March 1973)
  • Episode Ten: The Weight of Memory (March 1973-Onward)
The 10th disc also comes with several bonus features, including a moving gathering of veterans from the conflicts in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. One of the participants of The Vietnam War, Marine veteran John Musgrove, is one of the vets who shares his vivid and moving memories of how he served in "the Walking Dead" and talks about his struggles with the wounds - physical and emotional - the war left him with. 

Overall, PBS's home video division did a magnificent job with this Blu-ray release. The high-definition video quality is excellent, boasting a crisp and clean resolution of 1080i. The audio mix is also top-notch, boasting a 5.1 Surround English language sound track as well as a Spanish language 2.0 stereo track. In addition, there are English and Spanish subtitles for deaf or hearing impaired viewers, and a Descriptive Video for the Visually Impaired (DVI) audio track for the blind.

SPECIFICATIONS

Video


Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080i
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Audio

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Spanish Dolby Stereo 2.0

Subtitles

English SDH, Spanish SDH


Discs


Blu-ray Disc
Ten-disc set (2 BD-25, 8 BD-50)

Packaging

Slipbox

Playback


Region A



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The Radio Drama' Episode Review: 'The Millennium Falcon Pursuit'

(C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
The Millennium Falcon Pursuit

Cast:


  • Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
  • Han Solo (Perry King)
  • Chewbacca
  • Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs)
  • See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels)
  • Artoo-Detoo
  • Darth Vader (Brock Peters)
  • Tarrin
  • Wedge Antilles (Dan Scardino)
  • Transport
  • Admiral Piett (David Rasche)
  • General Veers (Gordon Gould)
  • Imperial Pilot (Jay Sanders)
  • Narrator (Ken Hiller)

Reviewer's Note: All quoted material is from the 1995 Del Rey book Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The National Public Radio Dramatization. This edition contains Brian Daley's complete radio play, which differs slightly from the version of the Radio Drama which aired on National Public Radio in 1983 and the original 1990s HighBridge Audio cassette and compact disc editions. The version in Daley's script was recorded, but as with the original 1981 Star Wars Radio Drama, edits were made at the request of NPR due to the needs of the radio format. The longer version is available in HighBridge Audio's more expensive Limited Edition CD collection of Star Wars: The Complete Radio Drama Trilogy.


Announcer: OPENING CREDITS.

Music: Opening theme.

Narrator: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there came a time of revolution, when Rebels united to challenge a tyrannical Empire.

Sound: Battle, wild lines, etc.

Narrator: Now, it is a dark time for the Rebellion. Darth Vader, with an Imperial starfleet, has attacked the Rebels' fortress-base on the ice planet Hoth. Stormtroopers, assaulting the base in "walkers," enormous, armored war machines, are about to breach their defenses. The Rebels rush to evacuate the base, but within the lead walker, the Imperial ground commander prepares for a final assault.

SCENE 5-1  WALKER COCKPIT

"Have all walkers redirect their fire at the power generators, maximum power." (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Sound: Walker noises come up.

Veers: Pilot, what is the distance to the Rebel power generators?

Pilot: One seven, decimal two eight, General Veers.

Veers: Very good; we're within range. Have all walkers redirect their fire at the power generators, maximum power. And open a comlink channel to Lord Vader's ship.

Pilot: Yes, sir. 

Sound: Comlink.

Veers: Lord Vader, General Veers here. The Rebel defensive shields will be down presently. You may begin your landing approach. 

Sound: Walker fades. 

The Millennium Falcon Pursuit is the fifth of 10 episodes in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The Radio Drama.  Based on the screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, it was directed by John Madden and adapted for National Public Radio by sci-fi author Brian Daley. 

Like Fire and Ice, this episode is incredibly action-packed. It opens on a suspenseful, sinister note as General Veers (Gordon Gould) orders his squad of All-Terrain Armored Transports to target the Rebels' power generators, then advises Darth Vader (Brock Peters) that he may begin his landing. 

As the Dark Lord prepares for his arrival on Hoth, the situation in Echo Base is becoming dire, especially for Han Solo (Perry King), Chewbacca the Wookiee,  Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs), and the always-nervous protocol droid See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels).  Chewie is aboard the balky Millennium Falcon awaiting Han's arrival so the two ex-smugglers can leave Hoth, while the cocky Corellian is taking the Princess to one of the last Rebel transports. 

SCENE 5-2   HOTH CAVERN TUNNEL

Sound: Hoth cavern tunnel comes up. Distant, muffled explosions. Han and Leia running, approaching. 

Leia: (APPROACHING) Han, will you kindly stop trying to yank my arm off? I'm hurrying!

(C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Han: (APPROACHING) Nice, Princess. I just want you to get down this tunnel and outta this base. Try and do somebody a favor and what d'you get -

Sound: Huge explosion, closer.

Leia: Ohh!

Sound: The ceiling ice cracking.

Han: Look out! Get back!  Leia!

Leia: SCREAMS AS THEY BOTH FALL.

Sound: Cave-in, as the ice gives way and the tunnel collapses, blocking their way. 

Han: Are you okay? Here, get up -

Leia:  I'm fine - just let go! (BEAT) Um, are you all right, Han?

Han: Yeah. The tunnel's never gonna be the same, though. They must've hit the power generators. 

Sound: Comlink.

Han: Transport, this is Solo.

Transport: (OVER COMLINK) Transport here, Solo.

Han: Y'better take off right away, boys. The south tunnel's collapsed and we can't get to you. I'll get the princess out in the Millennium Falcon.

Transport: I copy, Solo! Move fast! You're only one step ahead of the stormtroopers! And good luck!

Sound: Comlink deactivates.

Han: Always gets me nervous when people start wishin' me luck. Awright; the last bus is loadin' now, Princess.

Leia: (SIGHS) Looks like I'm with you, flyboy.

Threepio: (APPROACHING) Your Highness, thank you so much for waiting! I - what's happened to the tunnel?

Leia: (MOVING OFF) Threepio, follow us! Hurry! There's no time!

Threepio: (FOLLOWING AFTER) But, but, but - where are you going? Come back!


"Chewie, hey, partner, is she ready for liftoff?" (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)


 As the title clearly infers, the fifth episode of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The Radio Drama depicts the heroes of the Rebellion - Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels) and Artoo-Detoo at a dark crossroads in their war against the Empire. 

With the destruction of the Rebels' power generator, Imperial stormtroopers in arctic combat gear and led by Darth Vader arrive on Hoth and join the assault against Echo Base already in progress. Outgunned and hopelessly outnumbered, the battered band of freedom fighters is forced to evacuate and head for the vast reaches of space. 

Now, the six Heroes of the Rebellion that struck a heavy blow against the Empire at Yavin three years earlier are splitting up. Luke and Artoo escape from Hoth aboard his X-wing fighter as the Battle of Hoth comes to its tragic end; however, instead of heading for the Rebel fleet's rendezvous point, young Skywalker leaves his comrades behind and heads off for the Dagobah system.


Aboard the battered Millennium Falcon, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and See-Threepio are being chased by elements of the Imperial starfleet, including the Star Destroyer Avenger and its wing of TIE fighters. Eager to elude their Imperial pursuers, Han and Chewie try to take the Falcon to the relative safety of hyperspace - only to find out the ship's hyperdrive is damaged. As Threepio says, "It's impossible to go to light speed!"

Meanwhile, an angry and obsessed Lord Darth Vader, convinced that Luke is aboard the Falcon, orders his fleet to pursue the fleeing starship no matter what the cost - or face his lethal fury!


My Take

Once again, the creative team behind Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The Radio Drama proves that the power of good storytelling is almost limitless. Writer Brian Daley, who penned all three of the Star Wars radio dramas, clearly understood that George Lucas's modern space-fantasy saga transcends its origins as an extremely visual movie; Luke Skywalker's hero's journey from humble farmboy to Jedi apprentice is a tale that can be told well in books, comics, and radio dramas.


Daley - who got the radio drama gig because one of Lucasfilm's vice presidents had approved of the way he treated Star Wars material in a trilogy of Han Solo novels set before the events of A New Hope - also had a great love for the characters and situations created by George Lucas. Not surprisingly, his favorite character is the cocky Corellian captain of the Millennium Falcon; Perry King's Han Solo is given many of the best - and funniest - lines in the 10-part radio serial.



TV and film actor Perry King played Han Solo in the Star Wars Radio Drama trilogy. 

Interestingly, King was one of the many young actors who auditioned for the role of Han Solo when George Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz were casting the original Star Wars film in 1976. Of course, Harrison Ford ended up getting the part, but the future Riptide co-star earned a chance to show fans how he would have played the iconic character when Ford was unavailable for the first radio drama. King gives his version of Han a slightly edgier personality - more rough around the edges and quicker with a sardonic quip - than Ford's take on the space pirate with the heart of gold.

Of course, The Empire Strikes Back features the Star Wars saga's best romantic subplot - the love story of the Princess and the scoundrel - and no retelling of it in the Radio Drama trilogy would be complete without the chemistry between King and actress Ann Sachs, who plays Princess Leia Organa.

Arye Gross, Ann Sachs, and Perry King in a 1996 photo taken during the recording sessions for HighBridge Audio's Return of the Jedi radio serial for NPR. (C) 1996 Del Rey Books
Sachs is a stage actress and drama coach based in New York City. In 1981, when she played Princess Leia in NPR's first Star Wars radio adaptation, she was best known for her performance in the play Dracula. Her voice is similar but not identical to Carrie Fisher's, but she plays a very sassy, take-charge Rebel freedom fighter who despite herself shows a sweet, feminine side as she slowly comes to terms that she is in love with Han. The Millennium Falcon Pursuit explores this aspect of the saga in a way that will please most Han-and-Leia fans.


Concept art for the "Gone with the Wind" A-poster for The Empire Strikes Back by Ralph McQuarrie. (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli's Mandolin) also gets great performances from Star Wars film vets Mark Hamill (Luke) and Anthony Daniels (See-Threepio), as well as the Radio Drama's Darth Vader, the late (and great) Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird) and various guest voices, including David Rasche. Jay Sanders, Dan Scardino, and Gordon Gould.

The finishing touches, of course, were added in post-production by Tom Voegeli, the sound mixer and post-production engineer responsible for the radio drama's sound mix. Voegeli and his team spent months in the editing room mixing the voice actors' tracks with Ben Burtt's sound effects from The Empire Strikes Back and the musical score composed and conducted by John Williams.

The result? A thrilling, chilling audio adventure that takes listeners to a galaxy far, far away that is perhaps more vivid than the familiar and more visual version fans know from the films.

So if you haven't yet heard The Millennium Falcon Pursuit or any of the other episodes in this landmark radio series, you haven't fully explored The Empire Strikes Back. As the radio series' creative team liked to say, if you think you've seen the movie, wait till you hear it!  



Friday, September 15, 2017

'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The Radio Drama' Episode Review: 'Fire and Ice'

"We have Imperial walkers on the north ridge." (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Fire and Ice

Cast: 



  • Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)

  • Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs)

  • Han Solo (Perry King)

  • Chewbacca

  • See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels)

  • Artoo-Detoo

  • Darth Vader (Brock Peters)

  • General Carlist Rieekan (Merwin Goldsmith)

  • Too-Onebee (Russell Horton)

  • First Rebel

  • P.A. System

  • Second Rebel

  • Hobbie

  • Third Rebel

  • Controller (James Hurdle)

  • Beta

  • Technician

  • Janson

  • Zev, aka Rogue Two

  • Dak (Peter Friedman)

  • General Veers (Gordon Gould)

  • Captain (later Admiral) Piett (David Rasche)

  • Admiral Ozzel (Peter Michael Goetz)

  • Imperial Technician

  • Imperial Pilot (Jay Sanders)

  • Narrator (Ken Hiller)



Reviewer's Note: All quoted material is from the 1995 Del Rey book Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - The National Public Radio Dramatization. This edition contains Brian Daley's complete radio play, which differs slightly from the version of the Radio Drama which aired on National Public Radio in 1983 and the original 1990s HighBridge Audio cassette and compact disc editions. The version in Daley's script was recorded, but as with the original 1981 Star Wars Radio Drama, edits were made at the request of NPR due to the needs of the radio format. The longer version is 
available in HighBridge Audio's more expensive Limited Edition CD collection of Star Wars: The Complete Radio Drama Trilogy.


Announcer: OPENING CREDITS


Music: Opening theme.


Narrator: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there came a time of revolution, when Rebels united to challenge a tyrannical Empire. Now, it is a dark time for the Rebellion. Its one major base, on the ice planet Hoth, has been located by an Imperial starfleet commanded by Darth Vader. 


SCENE 4-1   DESTROYER BRIDGE


Sound: The bridge of Vader's mega-dreadnaught Star Destroyer. WILD LINES, BATTLE STATIONS, ETC. Vader's mask-breathing sounds come up. 



"Com-scan has detected an energy shield protecting Hoth, where our probe droid was destroyed. (C) Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Vader: General Veers, what has happened? Something is wrong. Answer me!

Veers: Lord Vader, the starfleet has moved out of lightspeed. All our ships made the transition without incident, but - that is . . .

Vader: You will pay a terrible price for your next hesitation, General! 

Veers: Com-scan has detected an energy shield protecting Hoth, where our probe droid was destroyed. It is a defensive shield, strong enough to deflect any bombardment the starfleet can deliver.  

Vader: Such a shield demands huge amounts of power. The Rebels can't possibly operate it constantly. So: They are now alerted to our arrival. Admiral Ozzel has brought the starfleet out of lightspeed too close to Hoth.


Veers: He - he felt that the advantages of surprise and a close striking distance were more vital. There is a give and take in any battle plan, My Lord, and - 

Vader:Admiral Ozzel is as clumsy as he is stupid! This will be no easy victory. 


Veers: No, Lord Vader. The Rebels are too well entrenched - in ice caverns; they've turned that part of Hoth into a fortress. But we have the troops and the ships. In the end, we will crush them. 


Vader: But at what idiotic waste of Imperial resources? A simple act of conquest now becomes a needless and costly battle. And tell me, Veers, do you regard that as wisdom?

Veers: My Lord, Admiral Ozzel is my superior. Admiral Ozzel is - 


Vader: Finished, General! Have him and Captain Piett contacted instantly. I wish to see their faces on the main communications screen.

Veers: Very good, sir! (TO OFF) Communications section! Lord Vader will speak to Admiral Ozzel and Captain Piett at once!


Fire and Ice is the fourth episode of National Public Radio's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, a 10-part radio series adapted by Brian Daley from the screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. It was directed by film, stage, and radio dramatization veteran John Madden, who also helmed NPR's 1981 Star Wars: The Radio Drama for the network's NPR Playhouse program. 


In contrast to the hopeful beginning of A Question of Survival, this episode opens on an ominous note aboard the Super Star Destroyer Executor, the massive Imperial flagship commanded by Lord Darth Vader (Brock Peters). 

At the conclusion of Episode Three, Han Solo (Perry King) and Chewbacca destroyed an Imperial probe droid which was skulking just beyond the perimeter of Echo Base, but not before it sent out video and audio signals revealing the Rebels presence on Hoth to its Imperial masters. Although fleet commander Admiral Ozzel (Peter Michael Goetz) theorizes that the scans show a smugglers' camp, Lord Vader insists that this is not the case. ("That is the star system!" Vader tells his senior officers. "The Force tells me so. The Rebels are there, and Skywalker is with them.")


Now, Vader is furious. His ground forces commander, General Veers (Gordon Gould) has just informed him that an energy field is protecting the site of the suspected Rebel base and that the fleet has come out of lightspeed - perilously close to Hoth. Overriding Veers' lukewarm defense of his immediate superior, the Dark Lord says that Ozzel "is as clumsy as he is stupid" and tells the general that he wishes to speak to the admiral and the Executor's skipper, Captain Piett (David Rasche). 



"You have failed me for the last time, Admiral!" (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

After Veers reports that the preparations for a ground assault are complete, Vader invites the general to join him to watch a video conference in his meditation chamber.


Vader: This is your opportunity to prove your value to me, Veers.


Imperial Technician: (FROM OFF) Lord Vader, Admiral Ozzel and Captain Piett await your pleasure!

Vader: Watch the main viewscreen, General. What you will see there, you would be well advised to remember. 

Sound: As Ozzel and Piett's images appear on the screen.

Ozzel: (ON SCREEN, OVER COMLINK) Greetings, Lord Vader.

Piett: (ON SCREEN, OVER COMLINK) I salute you, My Lord Vader.

Ozzel: My Lord, the starfleet has moved out of lightspeed, as I'm sure you're aware. Tactically, we're in a good - (BEGINS TO CHOKE)

Piett: Admiral Ozzel!

"You are in command, Admiral Piett." (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) 

Vader: Stand where you are, Captain Piett! Admiral Ozzel, the power that closes in about your throat is the Force. It is my anger, reaching forth to end your life.




Ozzel: (CHOKING) Lord Vader - please! No . . .



Vader: It is pointless to merely punish someone so useless. You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.



Ozzel: UNINTELLIGIBLE, AS OZZEL CHOKES



Vader: Captain Piett!

Piett: Yes! Yes, My Lord?

Vader: Make ready for an assault landing beyond the Rebels' energy field, and deploy the fleet so that nothing gets off the planet Hoth. 

Piett: I - I - as you command, Lord Vader.

Sound: Ozzel hits the deck, still choking out his last moments.

Vader: You are in command, Admiral Piett.


(C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Meanwhile, Echo Base is like a hornet's nest that some giant has kicked and stirred its occupants into a frenzy of activity. In Scene 3-2, Daley depicts a scene that was not in the original movie script by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan - a poignant farewell between the Star Wars saga's Laurel-and-Hardy robotic duo, Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels) in the Rebel hangar.

Sound: Rebel hangar sounds come up in the background. 

First Rebel: (FROM OFF) Is that Artoo unit ready? Let's get him up there. 

Threepio: (TO OFF) Just a moment longer, please! (TO ARTOO-DETOO) Now pay attention, Artoo-Detoo. Just because you're going to be flying in Master Luke's X-wing fighter is no reason to - to "get cocky," as Captain Solo might put it!

Artoo: POOH-POOH's HIM.

Threepio: Just you listen to me! I don't want you getting our Master into trouble, something for which you have an uncanny gift!

Artoo: STILL UNCONCERNED.

Threepio: Just take good care of him, do you understand?

Artoo: BEEPS.

First Rebel: (FROM OFF) Okay, hoist that Artoo unit up here!

Sound: Hoist lifting Artoo.

Threepio: And. . . do take care of yourself, too, you silly little plumber!

Artoo: (MOVING OFF - UPWARD) WHISTLES GOOD-BYE. 

Threepio: Oh dear, oh dear; it's begun again.

Sound: Hangar fades. 

"Go for their legs; it's our only chance of stopping them." Art by Ralph McQuarrie (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As the episode title implies, Fire and Ice is an expanded version of the Battle of Hoth, beginning with the Empire's arrival in the Hoth system and ending with the Rebels' brave but futile attempts to stop Darth Vader's formidable ground assault led by All Terrain Armored Transports (walkers) and a legion of arctic-equipped snowtroopers.

As in director Irvin Kershner's 1980 film version of Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) discovers that the T-47 snowspeeders' blaster cannon are not strong enough to penetrate the walkers' thick armor plating. And even when the former farm boy from Tatooine comes up with a way to knock the Imperials' behemoths, his Rogue Squadron suffers too many losses and must concede the field of battle to the Empire in order to flee - and live to fight another day.

Fire and Ice also sees the dispersion of the five main Rebel characters. Luke is shot down by an Imperial walker, which he then uses his rudimentary Jedi skills to destroy before joining Artoo aboard his X-wing.

In the meantime, as Chewbacca waits aboard the balky Millennium Falcon, Han Solo (Perry King) is in the Rebel command center, hoping to get Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs) and See-Threepio aboard one of the Rebel transports before it's too late. The walkers have destroyed the shield generators, and the ice caves in and around Echo Base are crumbling due to the effects of the battle. Can the cocky Corellian smuggler get the Princess to safety before Vader's troops overrun the base defenses, or will the power of the Empire ensnare the small band of freedom fighters in its deadly trap?  Stay tuned!

My Take

This is where Darth Vader is at the beginning of Fire and Ice, not the bridge of the Executor. (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL))



Because it is an audio-only depiction of The Empire Strikes Back's big "set-piece battle" on Hoth, Fire and Ice is one of the Radio Drama's most complicated episodes. Like Star Wars' Force and Counterforce, it covers a desperate fight between Rebels and Imperials, has a large cast of characters (25 in all), and often shifts from one side of the conflict's viewpoint to the other in 10 fast-paced scenes.

Although the script (as published for the general public) has one minor goof (Scene 4-1 is supposedly set on Vader's Star Destroyer bridge, when it should actually indicate that the action takes place in Darth Vader's meditation chamber), writer Brian Daley gets all the beats of the movie's darker tone and cliffhanger-filled plot just right. 


A gifted and witty novelist, the late author manages to give Fire and Ice a balanced combination of action, suspense, and a cleverly-written (and touching) moment of comic relief in an episode where everything goes wrong for our heroes. Daley's affection for the characters (especially Han Solo) and situations created by George Lucas is evident in all three of the Radio Dramas, and it shows up clearly in this episode of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone, including Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, gets a moment or two to shine here, especially everyone's favorite villain, Lord Darth Vader.


From left to right: Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Bernard Behrens (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Perry King (Han Solo), and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) at a recording session of the radio series. (C) 1983 National Public Radio


Of course, Daley's script needs a great cast of actors to make his adaptation of the Brackett-Kasdan screenplay come to life, and The Empire Strikes Back has it. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels (See-Threepio) reprised their iconic movie roles once again for an NPR series. They were joined by Star Wars: The Radio Drama veterans Ann Sachs (Princess Leia), Perry King (Han Solo), and Brock Peters (Darth Vader), all of whom were well-known actors of live theater, television, and theatrical films. 


Brock Peters (Darth Vader)




Director John Madden is perhaps now best known for helming 1998's Academy Award-winning (Best Picture) Shakespeare in Love. However, he also has worked on stage productions ("Wings") and radio dramas both in his native England for the BBC and all three Star Wars series for NPR and HighBridge Audio (the company that produced the 1996 Return of the Jedi adaptation). His skills as a director, as well as his respect for the source material, allowed Madden to bring that galaxy far, far away to Earth-bound radio sets in the 1980s and late 1990s. 

Madden was aided in this challenging endeavor by sound mixer and post-production editor Tom Voegeli. It was Voegeli and his team of editors and sound recording engineers who took the recordings made with the cast members at the studio in New York, blended them with Star Wars' sound designer Ben Burtt's Academy Award-winning effects and John Williams' spellbinding Grammy-winning score, and brought Daley's script to vivid life. 

The effect? Pure storytelling magic that can whisk listeners onto Darth Vader's Executor, the cockpit of Luke Skywalker's T-47 snowspeeder, or the dangerous crumbling ice corridors of Hoth's Echo Base. 

As the behind-the scenes promotional brochure that comes with HighBridge Audio's 1993 CD set (which is still in print 24 years later) says:

[T]hanks to the dedication of the dedication and skill of the Empire radio team, we can all experience that wondrous sense of transformation  - simply by listening and letting our imaginations run free.