After my recent listen-through of the Star Wars NPR Radio Drama, I was eager to listen to the corresponding drama for The Empire Strikes Back. Considered by many (including myself) to be the best of the series, TESB improves upon the original movie in many ways. Listening to it, two things soon became apparent.
The first is that TESB is a much more visual film than ANH, in the sense that there are more scenes where the viewer is expected to be able to tell what’s going on just from the visuals. This is likely a combination of the change in directors between films and the fact that it’s a sequel, so the audience already knows about the characters and setting to a greater extent. But whatever the reason, the indirect result is that the radio adaptation suffers for it to some degree. Scenarios like Luke being trapped in the Wampa’s cave can be conveyed easily enough through soliloquy, but the frequent location changes of the Cloud City arc end up being harder to follow.
The second is that the adaptation of TESB sticks much more closely to the script than does the adaptation of ANH. It opens with an original scene of Rebel X-wings being destroyed by TIE fighters, and Princess Leia reacting to the news, but this was one of only a couple new scenes, the rest mostly taking place among the Rebels on Hoth. There are some expanded exchanges–between Lando and Boba Fett, for example–but on the whole, not much changes. There is a nice new bit of continuity that heavily implies that Luke found Dagobah through the Force itself, but I haven’t seen this idea referenced anywhere else.
The voice acting this time around isn’t overly remarkable. Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams all return to reprise their roles as Luke, C-3PO, and Lando, respectively. Yoda is voiced by John Lithgow, who somehow manages to make him sound even more like a Muppet. Listening to the asteroid field chase scene did end up being very entertaining to listen to while driving, as the cast reacted to unseen obstacles and TIE fighters.
Overall, I wouldn’t consider this one required listening to quite the same degree as the adaptation of ANH, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable take on The Empire Strikes Back and worth a listen if you liked the first one.