Friday, June 30, 2017

From the Epinions Files: Electronics Review: Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray Player (written in 2011)

 Note to the Unwary Reader or Would-Be Buyer: 
  
Contrary to the product listing title provided by the Shopping.com or Epinions database, neither of the two models in Samsung’s BD-C5500 series (BD-C5500 and BD-C5500C) supports 3D video.  I figure this is worth mentioning to all interested parties to ensure the accuracy of this review.  

Even though I already own an older Samsung Blu-ray player, certain circumstances – my elderly mom’s failing health and inability to climb stairs –have compelled me to buy a second Blu-ray player so that I can (a) spend a bit of my free time with Mom and (b) not have to get DVD versions of movies I own on Blu-ray disc just so Mom could see them. 

I am a guy of very modest means, therefore I avoid getting the absolutely best of the best in electronics.  Our three HD TV sets are 720p instead of the top-of-the-line 1080i or 1080p (much less 3D models), and neither of our Samsung Blu-ray players have built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to the Internet. 

However, I don’t like buying cheap electronic devices; I already had one horrible experience with my first DVD player because I did not buy one from a more established brand name. Thus, I try to go for the high-middle ground and get the less high-end, without-all-the-bells-and-whistles models from such companies as Samsung and Sony. 


A look at the BD-C5500

To the casual observer, the player looks very much like a standard one-disc DVD player; the BD-C5500 sports the universal Blu-ray logo on the top surface of its glossy black exterior, but other than that, it resembles any of Samsung's newer DVD players. 
When you look at the BD-C5500 , you have your basic Open/Close Disc Tray button on the top left corner, the disc tray itself set to the left of the display panel, the Power On/Standby Button on the bottom right hand corner, the aforementioned display panel, and a cluster of function buttons on the upper right corner of the player.

The back of the unit has all the video/audio out jacks that all of us who own DVD players should be familiar with, most of them being the red, white and yellow "female" connectors that mate with the "male" plugs of standard RCA cables (one of which is included with the BD-C5500 model; owners of the BD-C5500C model get a HDMI cable that connects to the HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) socket of a LCD or plasma HDTV set).

Of course, the unit has a HDMI output jack where you can connect a HDMI cable; the BD-C5500 doesn’t come with one, whereas the –C550C variant does.  (Why Samsung insists on not including the HDMI cable with all its players is, in my view, a bit disconcerting; it’s the recommended connection method, so why not just pack one in the box for an extra $7.99?)

Other connections include a USB host port (for flash drives which contain software upgrades), a built-in Ethernet port and a  slot for an optional Wi-iFi adapter (which allows users to get Internet TV services and explore their Blu-ray discs’ BD Live features), and a "component video out" connection.  The USB port, incidentally, is only for software upgrades and can only be used with standard USB flash drives.  
  
Setting it up: If you don’t buy a HDMI cable……

The best way to do this, obviously, is to get a HDMI cable at the same time you get your BD-C5500 and hook it up to your HDTV set.  This is, perhaps, the best way to enjoy the full 1080p video and digital sound from your Blu-ray discs.  Thus, the following tip on setup applies only to consumers who want to try their BD-C5500s “out of the box” if they neglect to get a HDMI cable at the store or on the Internet. 

If you own any DVD player that doesn't require an S-Video cable - in other words, one with the standard RCA A/V input/output cables - connecting the BD-C5500 will not require a PhD in rocket science.  If your DVD player still works is still connected to your HDTV's AV1 I/O jacks, and you have room in your media center or TV stand, simply plug the RCA cables into the I/O jacks in the AV2 area (usually found on the side of the TV).

Once you connect the RCA cables to the TV and the Blu-ray player is in its desired spot in your media center, plug the power cord into your wall socket or, better yet, a surge-resistant power strip.  If the Samsung Blu-ray "Welcome" screen doesn't appear and no sound is heard, check your RCA cables and make sure the plugs are properly mated with their corresponding socket;  if any of your connections looks wrong (the red output plug is in the yellow socket, say), simply unplug the player from the power source, and  carefully disconnect the BD-C5500. 

Make sure your output plugs match the I/O jacks in either the AV1 or AV2 areas, and then carefully connect them.  Once this is done and you've set the player back in its place in your media center, plug the BD-C5500's power cord into the wall socket or power strip.  

Press the Power On button; you should now see your start up screen and hear a musical chime.

Now, although the BD-C5500 does have a quartet of function buttons off to the right of the display panel (Play/Pause, Stop, Search, and Skip), most of the time you'll be using your remote control, which has the aforementioned functions plus a baker's dozen of others, such as Pop Up Menu, TV/AV Device selection, a separate On/Off switch for your TV (if you own a Samsung TV, the remote is preset to work with it; the manual contains a page of  manufacturers' codes to program your remote to turn on/off sets made by most HDTV manufacturers, including Aiwa, Hitachi, LG, Magnavox, Philips, Sony and Zenith.  

There are also TV Channel Selection and Volume Up or Down keys,  a button that turns Subtitles On/Off, a numeric keypad,  an Info button, Audio buttons that activate sound options on Blu-ray or DVD discs, and a bunch of specialized buttons that work with specific Blu-ray discs.  In essence, the BD-C5500's remote can also be a basic, no-frills TV remote as well, especially when the player is connected to a Samsung TV or the remote is programmed with the proper manufacturer's code (provided in the manual).

First impressions 
  
When I bought my first Blu-ray player back in 2008, I hadn’t yet purchased any Blu-rays so I tested it with a few DVDs.  Those played nicely (and why wouldn’t they?) but I couldn’t really tell any measurable differences because I didn’t yet own a HDMI cable.

DVD Playback Observations

•·         The audio and video quality of DVDs - particularly those of feature films along the lines of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or The Longest Day  - are about the same on a Blu-ray player as they are on a standard DVD player…maybe a bit better if you have a HDMI cable. With regular RCA cable connections and without the benefits of the “up-converting effect of full HD video or audio, the quality of the sound and picture from the DVD is about as good as that of a standard analog TV channel on an HDTV: you can see and hear it all right, but it can't compare in clarity or crispness to a Hi-Def channel. 

This is to be expected, since the DVD was designed for sets with 435 lines of resolution, while the Blu-ray discs have resolutions of 1080 pixels.  (My TV can display 720 pixels, not quite the max but close enough.)

•·       On 16:9  TVs, when a DVD contains either an episode from a TV show or a pre-1954 feature film not shot in CinemaScope or any other "widescreen" format, the Blu-ray player will not stretch the image to fill the screen (unless you hit the Full Screen button on the BD-C5500’s remote).  Instead, it'll replicate the "curtain" or "vertical letterbox" effect HD channels use to make "full screen" 4:3 aspect TV images appear at their "proper" ratios, albeit without the fancy colors or effects most HD channels use on their curtains. 

Of course, how you set up your Blu-ray player determines all playback options, but that’s how my BD-C5500 does things in its present playback mode.

•·         When playing the DVDs which contain the original theatrical release versions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, the letterbox and curtain effect are combined and the movie images appear on the TV surrounded by a black "square."  

Apparently, the 1977, 1980, and 1983 versions of the Classic Trilogy were transferred to the DVD format from the laserdiscs rather than from a digital negative, so the 2006 discs lack the anamorphic widescreen format borne by their "updated Special Edition" 2004 counterparts (which are also included In the Limited Edition '06 two-disc packs).


Blu-ray Disc Playback:  The sound and picture quality of a 1080p Blu-ray disc, and I have about 15 0r so now are excellent.  Remember how sharp and clear movies looked and sounded on DVD in comparison to VHS videotape when "digital video discs" were the New Best Format?  

 Well, the Blu-ray disc's clarity and crispness are comparable to the difference between analog TV channels and Hi-Def ones.  The colors are more vivid, the image is much sharper, and on a TV with kick-butt speakers or a home theater sound system, the audio signals are clearer and more "movie-like."   (How much sharper is the image, you ask? According to one of those introductory presentations on a Walt Disney Pictures Blu-ray, Blu-ray discs boast an image that is six times as sharp as standard DVDs.  I’m no expert, of course, but I believe this is true.) 
  
Features 

BD Live™  
Category of Blu-ray Disc (BD) player. 2.0 (BD-Live) employs internet connectivity and more local storage. 

HDMI CEC 

High Definition MultiMedia Interface. CEC ensures HDMI components can be controlled by one remote. 

Progressive Scan 

Progressive scan depicts the lines within each frame sequentially for optimal, film-like picture clarity. 

Samsung Apps Platform

BD Wise™ 

Technology that automates the best resolution setting possible for viewing Blu-Ray or DVD products. 

Black Finish

AllShare™  


Audio 

Dolby Digital Decoder 

Decodes Dolby Digital data so that its dynamic stereo surround sound can be used. 

Dolby Digital Plus Decoder 

Decodes Dolby Digital Plus data so that its dynamic stereo surround sound can be used. 

Dolby True HD Decoder 

Decodes Dolby True HD data so that its dynamic stereo surround sound can be used. 

DTS Decoder   

Deciphers DTS data so that its dynamic stereo surround sound can be utilized. 

DTS HD Decoder 

Video 

HD Upconversion 1080p Full HD Picture QualityUltra-Fast Play 
  
  
Wireless Connectivity 
·         

Wi-Fi Ready (requires LinkStick™ adapter) 

Inputs and Outputs
 

2 Channel Audio Out 

Terminal used to send audio streams between components without interference. 

Component Video 

Jacks that accept analog video information along two or three separate signals. 

1 HDMI Output 

High-Definition Multimedia Interface. The industry standard for transmitting HD video for display. 

Optical Digital Audio Outputs 

Terminal used to send digital audio streams between components without interference. 

2 USB 2.0 

Compatibility
 

MPEG2, H.264, VC-1, AVCHD, DIVX HD, MKV, MP4, WMV9, 3GPP, HD JPEG 


Blu ray video, BD-R/RE, DVD video, DVD/DVD +/-R, DVD +/- RW, CD/CD-R/CD-RW, USB storage 

Dimensions (W x H x D)
 

17.1" x 1.7" x 8.1" 


Because I have not bought the LinkStick™ adapter, I don’t know anything (beyond what I saw on the Samsung website) about the player’s Wi-Fi capabilities. However, this is what Samsung says the player can do when it’s hooked up to the Internet. 

(From the official Samsung web site) 
  
Next generation entertainment comes home to roost. All the content on your PC can be directly streamed to your Blu-ray player (wirelessly or via ethernet) allowing you easy, plug and play access to your favorite videos and media files….. 

Enjoy music and videos On Demand. With BLOCKBUSTER On Demand, you can rent or buy movies and watch them instantly on your Internet-connected HDTV or Blu-ray player. Choose from thousands of titles, including the latest releases and favorite classics, with no monthly fee
 

Knowing my own attitudes about the Internet and TV, I am probably not going to bother getting a LinkStick adapter unless I get an irresistible urge to try any BD Live features on my movies.  However, it’s nice to know that the Wi-Fi capabilities are there in case I do change my mind and decide to hook up with Samsung’s Internet@TV service and get its various apps. 
  
A few…um…issues regarding playback 
  
Even though I can’t really complain too much about this player because it has only been here a week, I have noticed that it occasionally has a few little hiccups when it plays back discs of either the Blu-ray or DVD persuasion. 

Every so often, after the disc tray closes and the player starts to read the disc, it loads the content fairly quickly (10 seconds for a DVD, 15-20 for a Blu-ray), but the menu options don’t quite work. I will see the menu options, yes, but the little “cursor” thingies that one sees when using a remote control don’t show up, thus not allowing the remote to work properly. 

I get around this by simply rebooting the player, i.e., turning the BD-C5500 off and then turning it back on; this has worked each time the glitch has occurred, but I am going to try and see if a firmware upgrade will fix the problem. 

Addenda: I updated the firmware with the latest version (v.10.20.1 from December 2010) and it appears to have fixed the issue described above.

About firmware upgrades 
  
A word of advice to Blu-ray player newbies:  Get in the habit of checking the Samsung web site for firmware upgrades.  The movie studios that release their feature films on Blu-ray love pushing the new format’s performance envelope, so every so often they’ll pack more data into new discs that may not be compatible with the firmware that already exists in the players.  

Obviously, we consumers can’t be throwing perfectly good hardware into the trash and buy new players just so we can play such discs as the upcoming Complete Star Wars Saga (due out in September 2011), so Blu-ray player manufacturers offer free downloads of model-specific firmware that can be installed via network, USB devices or CD-ROMs.

Addenda: Regarding the USB port, I erred in reportiing that it is only good for firmware upgrades.  Obviously I didn't read my manual too closely, but according to fellow Epinions member Ames100, the USB port is good for "playing video, audio, or photo files from any external USB drive, including portable USB hard drives in FAT or NTFS format."

On the whole, we're happy with the BD-C5500.  It works well - except for that minor issue I mentioned earlier - and it is easy to use, set up and even upgrade.  Mom likes it because the video quality is so sharp that she can see all the details in a movie (even the subtitles) in spite of her weakened eyesight.  I like it because I now can share those movies I have in Blu-ray format only and can keep her company without having to buy more DVDs that I don't need to own.

Movie Review: 'Stand by Me'


“Stand by Me” is a moving coming-of-age comedy drama directed by Rob Reiner. Adapted from Stephen King’s novella The Body by screenwriter-producer Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, this 1986 comedy drama follows the misadventures of four pre-teen boys (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) who hike through the woods outside the small town of Castle Rock, Oregon to look for a missing teen’s corpse.

Like director Robert Mulligan’s “Summer of ‘42” and other coming-of-age movies, “Stand by Me” is not a plot-driven movie. It’s a character piece that focuses on Gordie (Wheaton), Chris (Phoenix), Teddy (Feldman) and Vern (O’Connell) during a weekend-long trek in the Oregon woods to find a dead kid’s body before a band of teenage hoodlums led by Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) does.

On the surface, “Stand by Me” is one of those “small” films that are better suited for after school television specials than the silver screen. But King’s well-written novella is emotionally charged and features four memorable characters – Gordie Lachance, a smart and gentle writer-in-the-making; Chris Chambers, the tough-but-sensitive peacemaker; Teddy Duchamp, an angry kid who adores his volatile World War II vet dad; and Vern Tessio, the overweight na├»ve boy who is always picked on by bullies.

Knowing that most child actors act best when they essentially play themselves, director Reiner cast the four boys based on their personal traits. This makes the performances in “Stand by Me” feel raw and authentic.

In addition, screenwriters Evans and Gideon do a good job of distilling Stephen King’s mixture of humor and drama. They give the boys meaty bits of comic dialogue, such as this series of observations and witticisms:

Gordie: Alright, alright, Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?

Vern: If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That's easy-Pez. Cherry-flavored Pez. No question about it.

Teddy: Goofy's a dog. He's definitely a dog.

Gordie: I knew the $64,000 question was fixed. There's no way anybody could know that much about opera!

Chris: He can't be a dog. He drives a car and wears a hat.

Gordie: Wagon Train's a really cool show, but did you notice they never get anywhere? They just keep wagon training.

Vern: Oh, God. That's weird. What the hell is Goofy?

But lest the viewer get the idea that “Stand by Me” is a silly comedy, Reiner and his writers also inject some serious material that adds weight to the movie. Thus as in many of the best Stephen King stories, each character carries heavy emotional baggage that shapes his personality. For instance, Gordie is heartbroken; his older brother died recently, and his grieving parents treat Gordie like “the invisible boy.”

Gordie: Why did he have to die, Chris? Why did Denny have to die?

Chris: I don't know.

Gordie: It should've been me.

Chris: Don't say that.

Gordie: It should've been me.

Chris: Don't say that, man!

Gordie: I'm no good. My dad said it. I'm no good.

Chris: He doesn't know you.

Although Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman turn in good performances, “Stand by Me” is a showcase for Wil Wheaton and the late River Phoenix. Their portrayal of the Stephen King-like Gordie and Chris, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, is what made Reiner’s 88-minute-long movie such an enduring classic.

Perhaps the best accolade ever given to “Stand by Me” is Stephen King’s comment in a “making of” documentary that is one of extras in the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of the movie. King said that Reiner had made the first successful translation to film of any of his works. (Reiner would later direct “Misery,” the 1990 adaptation of another King novel that made Kathy Bates a star.)

“Stand by Me” has long been a staple on home video since its release on videocassette in 1987. It was released on DVD in 2000 by Sony-owned Columbia-Tristar Home Video; Sony Home Entertainment has followed that release with the 2011 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray.

Blu-ray Specifications   

  

Video


Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (24.59 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio



English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: Mono (Original)
French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1


Subtitles



English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese


Discs


50GB Blu-ray Disc
Single disc (1 BD)
Bonus View (PiP)
BD-Live
movieIQ

Packaging

Slipcover in original pressing

Playback
Region free 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Movie Review: 'Platoon'

In the 42 years since the end of the war in Vietnam, Hollywood has produced a number of films about that "lost crusade," ranging from the grand yet surreal vision of Apocalypse Now to the very commercial and silly Missing in Action and Rambo.

In 1986, writer-director Oliver Stone (JFK, W.) took audiences into the frightening spectacle of jungle warfare in Platoon.

This film, based on Stone's combat experiences in Vietnam circa 1967, is the story of 19-year-old Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), an upper-middle class type, who has volunteered for combat duty.

His fellow GI's are from the slums and small towns of America.

They're the ones with little more than two years of high school - poor, unwanted and drafted to fight for "our society and our freedom," as Chris says in a letter to his grandmother.

Of course, the story of men in battle has been told before, and Vietnam War films all seem alike, with their helicopter assaults and seemingly endless search-and-destroy missions.

(C) 1986 Hemdale Film Corporation and Orion Pictures

But Stone's vision of combat is both gut-wrenching and frightening - nothing exhilarating or glorious about Platoon's battle sequences.

This is no Patton.

The enemy, usually depicted in Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris films as straw men barely able to shoot straight, appears here as shadows in the jungle, striking with cold accuracy at the most unexpected moments.

In one terrifying sequence, enemy soldiers - NVAs to the GIs - overrun the platoon's position, forcing the American commanding officer to call down artillery and air strikes on his own troops.

In what may be the most harrowing scene in Platoon, a battle-crazy sergeant leads Chris and his buddies into a small hamlet. They pick up the village chief's tiny daughter and threaten to blast her in the head unless he reveals where the local guerrillas are hiding.

It is here that Chris (and the audience) realizes that war is a dehumanizing and horrible thing which changes young men into warriors.

Sheen's Chris is well-developed, undergoing many changes - evolving from wide-eyed "cherry" into combat-weary vet - as the film winds inexorably to its violent end.

The platoon's other members are fascinating characters to observe, particularly the tough (and perhaps psychopathic) Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), a hideously scarred combat veteran who has been wounded seven times.

His antithesis, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) is a "soldier's soldier" type whose main concern is the well-being of the platoon.

Kevin Dillon (Matt's kid brother) Richard Edson, Forrest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and  Francesco Quinn give outstanding performances as Sheen's fellow "grunts." 

So, if you want to understand what Vietnam was really like to those who fought there, Platoon is a vivid and often painful recreation of a long and brutal war, told by one of the young men who fought it.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mini-Review (Music Album CD): 'Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls'





Once upon a time in America, player pianos -- which were modified pianos with internal mechanisms that read "piano rolls" very much like computers today read, say, CD-ROM discs -- were "the" big thing in popular American music. I first saw one at the Miami Museum of Science many years ago, and I was enthralled by what (to a 12-year-old boy) was a pretty neat sight -- a piano that played by itself! At the time, Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" rag was in vogue (The Sting was a big hit movie at the time), and I stayed at that part of the museum, listening to the melody from a long-gone era and watching the keyboard move as if a ghost had decided the museum was too darned quiet and wanted to hear some happy tunes of the past.

George Gershwin grew up in the early part of the 20th Century and thus had first-hand experience with player pianos, as the liner notes by Artis Woodhouse explain in "Gershwin Plays Gershwin," a 12-track collection of piano rolls arranged and performed by Gershwin, whose short life (he, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, died before reaching his 40th year) nevertheless left behind a rich musical legacy for lovers of American pop, jazz, and even classical music with such works as "Rhapsody in Blue," "An American in Paris," "Porgy and Bess," "Girl Crazy," and "Someone to Watch Over Me."


"Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris," which are normally performed by pianists accompanied by big orchestras, are perhaps the best known works to the general audience; they are often performed by symphony orchestras during "pops" concerts in the summer and, in the case of "Rhapsody in Blue," used in television commercials and movies. (To this day, I can't listen to "Rhapsody in Blue" without thinking of United Airlines' "Fly the friendly skies" ad campaign.) Heard as piano pieces only, these two jazz-classical fusions still capture the essence of Gershwin's Jazz Age joy for life and, by extension, America's pre-Great Depression jauntiness, optimism, and even naivete.


Other musical jewels include such songs as "Swanee" (made famous by Al Jolson), "When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em," "Sweet and Lowdown," "So Am I," "Kickin' The Clouds Away," and "On My Mind the Whole Night Long."


And because Gershwin himself had to do much of the piano rolls' "programming" (Mr. Woodhouse explains it better in the liner notes), listening to "Gershwin Plays Gershwin" is like going back to the first decades of the last century and being at one of the composer/pianist's live performances.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Star Wars: The Radio Drama' Episode Review: 'The Han Solo Solution'

(C) 1981 National Public Radio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Poster art by Celia Strain
The Han Solo Solution

Cast:



  • Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Bernard Behrens)
  • Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
  • See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels)
  • Artoo-Detoo
  • Han Solo (Perry King)
  • Chewbacca (Chewie)
  • Dealer
  • Heater (Joel Brooks)
  • Squeak
  • Proprietor
  • 1st Trooper
  • 2nd Trooper
  • Narrator (Ken Hiller)
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. In the most desperate crisis of that Rebellion, plans vital to the survival of the Rebel Alliance were secretly placed in the memory banks of the astrodroid Artoo-Detoo. An unlikely group has gathered together to undertake a journey to Alderaan, where Artoo-Detoo and his interpreter-counterpart, See-Threepio, must be safely delivered. Luke Skywalker, a young moisture farmer on the planet Tatooine, and Ben Kenobi. one of the last remaining Jedi Knights, have arranged for passage to Alderaan with a pair of reckless smuggler-pilots, Han Solo and his Wookiee first mate, Chewbacca, in their starship, the Millennium Falcon.

Sound: The streets of Mos Eisley up in background.

Narrator: But in Mos Eisley Spaceport, where the group is about to begin its journey, the streets are aswarm with Imperial stormtroopers and their spies and informers. 

Luke Skywalker sells his landspeeder to a used-speeder dealer in Mos Eisley. (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

"The Han Solo Solution" picks up the narrative thread of Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope where the previous episode of Brian Daley's adaptation, "The Millennium Falcon Deal," left off. As Han Solo (Perry King) and his copilot Chewbacca head out of the cantina after a deadly confrontation with a bounty hunter named Greedo, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Ben Kenobi (Bernard Behrens) search the streets and alleyways of Mos Eisley for a dealer that's willing to buy Luke's landspeeder. Ben, who was once known as Obi-Wan Kenobi, knows that the Rebellion will pay Han the bulk of his charter fee, but he doesn't have the promised 2,000-credit up-front payment on him, and neither does Luke. 
Luke Skywalker and Ben (Obi-Wan Kenobi. (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

As they make their way along the crowded streets and narrow passageways of the teeming spaceport, Ben's Jedi senses detect ominous signs that the old Knight and his new apprentice are being spied on.

BEN: (COMING ON) Well, Luke, if this Millennium Falcon is as fast as Captain Solo boasts it is, we should be able to reach Alderaan without further complication. I...stop a moment, Luke.

LUKE: Why? What is it?

BEN: I had a feeling I was under observation.

LUKE: I can't see anybody watching us.

BEN: Nor I.

LUKE: Do you think those stormtroopers are still after us?

BEN: No. The Imperials who followed us out the back door at the cantina went the other way.

LUKE: Then you're sure about this feeling?

BEN: The sensation was strong, but less so now.

LUKE: Then maybe whoever it was went away. I'm learning to trust your feelings, Ben. What should we do now?

BEN: We'd better hurry on. The sooner we get Captain Solo's money for him, the sooner we can get off Tatooine. 

LUKE: That suits me.

BEN: I promised the captain two thousand in cash, but I've none of my own. You'll have to sell your landspeeder. 

LUKE: Sure. I'm never coming back to this planet again. 

BEN: I am in your debt, Luke. But if I were you, I wouldn't be so sure about where the future will find me.

After a brief (and comical) reunion with Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels), Ben and Luke go for a final drive on the landspeeder as they search for a dealership in which to sell it. They talk about Han and Chewbacca. About the seemingly cocky spacer, Ben says, "There is something more to Solo than meets the eye. He's not just another Corellian smuggler or minor outlaw: I can sense that." The two also discuss Chewie; Luke says he had never seen a Wookiee before and seems fascinated by "the rifle-crossbow thing" - the bowcaster.

Brian Daley had an obvious affection for Chewie and Han, as listeners will discover in Star Wars: The Radio Drama. Photo (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

Meanwhile, as Luke, Ben, and the droids have their share of adventures selling the landspeeder and evading Imperial patrols, Han and Chewbacca rendezvous near Docking Bay 94, the dingy launch pit in Mos Eisley Spaceport where the Millennium Falcon is docked. The two friends discuss Han's fateful showdown with Greedo at the cantina and their troubles with Jabba the Hutt. The gangster is still angry with Solo "about that load of Kessel spice we had to dump" when Imperial inspectors boarded the Falcon in the dynamic duo's most recent smuggling run, Now "Jabba's put such a high price on our heads that every professional gun in this part of space'll be hunting for us."

Han tells Chewie that Heater, Jabba's capo in Mos Eisley, is looking for them and expresses his hopes that they can make this charter run to Alderaan and get the money they owe before  either Heater or Jabba catch up to them. 

And in an all-new scene created by Daley for Star Wars: The Radio Drama, Han's ethics are sorely tested when they run into an old acquaintance with an intriguing proposition:

Sound: Interrupted by the approach of Squeak, a nervous, fast-talking little nonhuman.

SQUEAK: (OFF, CALLING) Solo! Hey, Solo!

HAN: It's Squeak!

CHEWIE: GROWLS A QUESTION.

HAN: How d' I know what he wants? But get set.

SQUEAK: (APPROACHING) Solo, I've been looking all over for you and the Wook!

HAN: And I've noticed you've found us, Squeak. So?

SQUEAK: Big Bunji wants to see you. He's got a job for you. 

CHEWIE: LOWS.

HAN: Then why'd he wait until we're chartered?

SQUEAK: It came up all at once....

HAN: Tell Bunji I said, "Who the hell needs - "

SQUEAK: (INTERRUPTING) It pays ten thousand in advance....

HAN: ...an old man and a kid and two droids." Right, Chewie?

CHEWIE: WARBLES IRRITABLY.

HAN: Lead on, Squeak.

CHEWIE: OBJECTS WITH A GROWL.

SQUEAK: What's wrong with the Wook?

HAN: Nothing. Look, wait over there for a second, will you?

SQUEAK: (MOVING OFF) Sure, Han, sure.

HAN: (LOW AND CONFIDENTIAL) What's eating you?

CHEWIE: REPLIES BRIEFLY.

HAN: I don't care what happens to the old man. Or the kid, or the droids. This is real life, not some kinda game. (CALLING) Hey, Squeak!

SQUEAK: (COMING ON) Yeah, Han?

HAN: Tell Big Bunji he's got himself a starship. 

SQUEAK: Now you're talking!

HAN: What's the deal?

SQUEAK: A load of chak-root's due in tomorrow. You take it from here to -

CHEWIE: INTERRUPTS WITH A BARK.

HAN: Tomorrow? Look, we're hot and we're rapidly going critical!

CHEWIE: CONCURS.

HAN: Jabba and Heater are on our necks, and the stormtroopers are probably after us, too, by now. Tell Bunji to find someone else. Scram, Squeak. The nerve of some people.



The balance of "The Han Solo Solution" depicts several scenes based on the original fourth revised version of George Lucas's screenplay for Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope. These include:

  • Daley's version of the confrontation between Han and Jabba, in which Heater is a substitute for the vile Hutt crime lord. Most of the dialogue was adapted from Lucas's script for the deleted Jabba-Solo conference in Docking Bay 94 but spoken by Heater, a human enforcer played by Joel Brooks. 
  • Another comic relief scene that shows what the droids were doing to evade Imperial patrols while they waited for Ben and Luke.
  • An extended version of the "What a piece of junk!" scene in which Han tries to come across as just a "starpilot for hire" and nothing more.
  • The shootout between Han, Chewie, and Imperial stormtroopers, and the Millennium Falcon's last-minute escape from Docking Bay 94,
"What a piece of junk!" (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
My Take:

As I have mentioned in some of my previous Star Wars: The Radio Drama reviews. the late Brian Daley became a metaphrast when the series' executive producer Carol Titleman, then a vice president at Lucasfilm, hired the young novelist because she'd liked the way Daley had handled Star Wars material in his Han Solo trilogy. Thus it is not surprising that the author gives actor Perry King so many good lines in both "The Millennium Falcon Deal" and this episode. 

Because these episodes are now directly based on the screenplay by George Lucas - think of Star Wars: The Radio Drama as an expanded edition of the 1977 film - most of the scenes and dialogue are familiar to most fans. Certainly six of the main characters - Luke, Ben, Artoo, Threepio, Han, and Chewie are present, and most of the scenes they are in are longer and more detailed versions of the original film sequences. The situations are essentially the same, but because the radio drama has six times as much running time as Lucas's movie, listeners now get to hear how Luke got a better deal for his landspeeder from the used speeder dealer (hint, the insect-like alien was not a Toydarian). They also get to know the clever side of Threepio that the films and TV series never really get to show us. 
(C) 1993 HighBridge Audio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

But Daley (who died in 1996 of cancer on the same day that principal recording for the Return of the Jedi Radio Drama ended) is only one of the many talented individuals whose contributions made Star Wars: The Radio Drama such a big hit for National Public Radio when it originally aired in 1981. 

For instance, actors Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels did a magnificent job when they reprised their iconic film roles as Luke Skywalker and See-Threepio. Their performances are so good in this audio-only version of Star Wars that listeners can close their eyes and "see" the young farmboy from Tatooine and the prissy golden protocol droid in their minds' eyes. (Incidentally, Hamill later became a much in-demand voice actor; his best-known role beyond the Star Wars universe just may be the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series and various Warner Bros. Batman animated features.) 

Actors Perry King (Han) and Bernard Behrens (Ben Kenobi) stepped into roles that were created by other actors who were either unavailable (Harrison Ford was then filming Raiders of the Lost Ark) or unwilling (Sir Alec Guinness didn't want to be remembered solely for playing an old space warrior-wizard) to participate in the series. As I said in my previous review, it is ironic that King had auditioned for the part of everyone's favorite Corellian space pirate in 1976 and lost out to Ford; his Star Wars: The Radio Drama Han is so good that you wish that Perry King had gotten to play the movie version, too. 

In addition, credit must be given to director John Madden (who would later win a Best Director Oscar for Shakespeare in Love), who got his cast to give him outstanding performances that are still enjoyed by listeners 36 years later. Madden was already a well-known director of radio dramas in his native England, having helmed several outstanding productions for the British Broadcasting Corporation in the 1970s. He did a great job with Star Wars: The Radio Drama, which is available on CD and digital audiobook formats from Amazon and its  Audible channel service, or directly from HighBridge Audio.   

And many thanks are owed to Tom Voegeli, the project's sound mixer/post-production engineer. If Madden deserves praise for directing the voice talent, Voegeli earns kudos for blending the voice tracks with Ben Burtt's audio library of sound effects and John Williams' Academy Award-winning musical score. Voegeli's efforts paid off well; Star Wars: The Radio Drama became the most successful production of its type in National Public Radio history, and it set a standard for the genre that few audio-only adaptations of Star Wars material have ever matched.



As Madden says in the making-of liner notes for the CD presentation of the series, "A phrase has ome to mind in working on this project: You may think you've seen the movie; wait till you hear it.