Thursday, July 6, 2017

'Star Wars The Radio Drama' Episode Review: 'Death Star's Transit'

"This station is now the ultimate power in the Universe..." (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Death Star's Transit

  • Lord Darth Vader (Brock Peters)
  • Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs)
  • Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (Keene Curtis)
  • Imperial Star Destroyer Captain
  • Star Destroyer Navigator
  • Imperial Commander
  • 2nd Officer
  • Commander Tagge
  • Admiral Conan Antonio Motti (David Clennon)
  • Imperial Guard

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. The Princess Leia Organa, an Imperial Senator from the planet Alderaan, is also a leader in the secret councils of the Rebel Alliance. But her most daring mission, to deliver the plans for the Empire's most awesome weapon, the Death Star, has failed. In a last desperate bid to get the information into Rebel hands before being captured, she has placed it into the memory banks of the astrodroid Artoo Detoo. And though Princess Leia is unaware of it, Artoo has come into the possession of Luke Skywalker and the veteran Jedi Knight Ben Kenobi.

Sound: The control deck of an Imperial cruiser up in background.

Narrator: Taken prisoner by Darth Vader. the Dark Lord of the Sith, Leia Organa is aboard a cruiser of the Imperial Starfleet. being taken to the Death Star, a stupendous spacegoing battle station.

(C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

In the eighth episode of Star Wars: The Radio Drama, writer Brian Daley turns his attention away from the Rebel sextet of Luke Skywalker, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Chewbacca the Wookiee, Han Solo, Artoo Detoo and See Threepio and onto Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs) and her Imperial captors, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (Keene Curtis) and Darth Vader (Brock Peters). As the title "Death Star's Transit" implies, most of the action is set aboard the moon-sized planet killer with which the Empire hopes to crush the Rebellion. 

"Death Star's Transit" begins aboard the Star Destroyer Devastator, the same Imperial warship which chased Princess Leia's Tantive IV from Toprawa all the way to Tatooine in a bid to capture the Rebel leader and recover the Death Star plans before they reach the Alliance High Command. Leia was captured and the Tantive IV is now destroyed per Vader's orders, but the Death Star plans are safely ensconced in the memory banks of a seemingly insignificant droid named Artoo Detoo.

With the Devastator only 15 minutes away from the battle station, Vader summons a still defiant Leia to the bridge, hoping to confirm what he has already guessed: that the young Senator knows more about the Empire's new super-weapon than she lets on.

Commander: The prisoner will step forward!

Vader: Commander, you needn't be so curt with my...guest.

Leia: (APPROACHING) Guest! I'm warning you -

Vader: (INTERRUPTING) Commander, you and your men may post yourselves by the hatch.

Commander: Yes, sir.

Vader: And that will be all for now, Captain.

Captain: As you wish. Lord Vader.

Leia: (APPROACHING) Vader, by firing on my ship and taking me captive, you've overstepped yourself. The Imperial Senate -

Vader: - No longer presents any obstacle to me! They are being dealt with even now. You'd do better to worry about your own well-being, Princess Leia.

Leia: You won't succeed with this. You and those other -

Vader: I didn't have you brought here just to listen to more of your pointless ranting, Your Highness. You're so upset that you haven't taken time to glance out the main viewport at our destination.

Leia: What...the - the Death Star!

Vader: Quite right. And nearly ready, closer to completion than even your Rebel agents estimated. I thought the sight of it might shock you into revealing that you know of its existence.

Leia: I...I'd heard vague rumors in the Imperial Senate, nothing more. You've proved nothing, and you know it, Vader!

Vader:  You knew of the Death Star! You also intercepted the Rebel message transmitting the technical design data for it. I'm offering you one last chance to tell me what you did with those plans. Once we've docked in that battle station, more harsher and more direct means will be used to question you.

Leia, of course, doesn't break under pressure, and a frustrated Vader gives orders to his officers that she is to be taken to the Death Star's detention levels as soon as the Devastator docks.

Some time later, several senior Imperials, including Admiral Motti (David Clemmon) and General Tagge, are having a lively discussion in the Death Star conference room as they await the entrance of Wilhuff Tarkin (Keene Curtis) and Vader for their general staff meeting.

Tagge - who dislikes Vader and thinks the Dark Lord has gone too far with the abduction of Leia - is worried that the almost-operational Death Star is vulnerable and believes that the Rebels are a serious threat. Motti, the Death Star's chief military commander and Tarkin's executive officer, is confident in the Death Star's destructive power and urges its immediate use against the Rebellion. He has no patience for Tagge's frets about the Rebel Alliance or its growing support in the Imperial Senate. 

Neither does Tarkin, who arrives, with Vader in tow, with momentous news from the Emperor himself. 

Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin and Lord Darth Vader. (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Tarkin: (APPROACHING) The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently.

Sound: A buzz of quiet exclamation goes up.

Tarkin: The decree was carefully worded, of course, invoking the current emergency and the Rebel violence. But the last remains of the Old Republic have been swept away.

Tagge: But how will the Emperor maintain control?

Tarkin: Fear will keep the worlds of the Empire in line, fear of this battle station.

Tagge: And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have a complete technical readout of the Death Star, it's possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it. If it's destroyed or even severely damaged, our main deterrent power will be gone. 

Vader: The plans to which you refer will soon be back in our hands.

Motti: That is beside the point. Any attack made by the Rebels will be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. The Death Star is now the ultimate power in the universe. 

Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fort-...

Sound: Motti abruptly begins to choke.

Vader:  Are you having difficulty breathing, Motti? Is your throat though some force were at work?

Sound: The other officers murmur, amazed, among themselves. Motti's practically rattling his last.

Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing, Motti.

Tarkin: Enough of this! Vader, release him!

Vader: As you wish, Governor.

"And now, Your Highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden Rebel base."  (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation 
Tarkin closes the conference with two promises; Lord Vader will provide the Empire the location of the Rebel base, and the Death Star will show its full power and "crush the Rebellion with one swift stroke."

The balance of "Death Star's Transit" includes the following sequences:
  • A complete - and frightening - account of Vader's interrogation of Princess Leia
  • A conversation between Motti and Tarkin which hints that the Grand Moff may have ambitions to overthrow the Emperor once the Rebellion is crushed
  • A discussion between Vader and Tarkin about Leia's surprising resistance to the mind probes and torture robot, and Tarkin's "alternative means of persuasion."
  • Tarkin's confrontation with Leia and the destruction of Alderaan

My Take: 

"Death Star's Transit" is one of the best-written - and most controversial - episodes in National Public Radio's 13-part adaptation of George Lucas's 1977 space-fantasy film Star Wars, a.k.a. Episode IV: A New Hope. It has some of the best scenes that feature both Princess Leia Organa (Ann Sachs) and her nemesis Darth Vader, played in the radio series by the late, great Brock Peters. These include two new sequences that were only hinted at in Lucas's original film: the arrival of Vader's Star Destroyer at the Death Star (seen in a quick transition shot before the confrontation between Motti and Vader in the conference room) and Vader's interrogation of Leia in Cell 2187. 

Actor Brock Peters (seen here in a 1961 photo) plays the evil Darth Vader in Star Wars: The Radio Drama

According to author Brian Daley, "Brock did a magnificent job, especially in the extended interrogation scene....While the motion picture doesn't depict the encounter, I took it as a chance to show Vader and Leia clashing will-to-will. It was a nightmarish confrontation, and it got us our one and only letter of complaint - but since the Star Wars radio drama drew a lot of mail, I don't think that response is too damning."

Keene Curtis steps into the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, which was created by Peter Cushing in 1977's Star Wars

The episode also showcases fine performances by Keene Curtis (Wilhuff Tarkin) and David Clemmons as the smarmy and ambitious Motti. Their voice acting makes you forget that they are not Peter Cushing and Richard LeParmentier from the movie; the listener only "sees" the two powerful (and power-hungry) Imperials who are in charge of the Emperor's new battle station. 

Needless to say, Daley (who got the job due to the success of his trilogy of Han Solo adventures set before the events depicted in Star Wars) did a great job as a metaphrast with his Star Wars: The Radio Drama scripts. He treats Lucas's original material with respect and fidelity; most of the lines based on scenes from the actual film appear in the radio version almost word for word, with occasional tweaks or additional material here and there to fit the audio-only environment of radio.

Of course, radio dramas don't direct themselves, and production coordinator Mel Sahr found a superb director in John Madden. Madden was already well known in his native England as a stage and radio drama director (for the BBC), and he would later helm such films as Ethan Fromme, Mrs. Brown, Shakespeare in Love, and the more recent Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Here, Madden gets top-notch performances from his cast that, when wedded to Ben Burtt's Academy Award-winning sound effects and John Williams' amazing musical score (which also won an Academy Award) by sound mixer Tom Voegeli, sends listeners to George Lucas's galaxy far, far away in style.   

Source: Daley, Brian, Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization; New York: Del Rey, 1994