Friday, May 7, 2010

Canon Poodoo

We are big fans of the Star Wars radio drama in our house... er, well, the kiddo and I are. Tracy tolerates it in very small doses. Over the last four or five years, the kiddo and I have listened to the thirteen-and-a-half hours that make up the Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi serials dozens of times.

I vaguely remember listening to the original Star Wars radio drama when it was first broadcast on NPR back in 1981 (at least I think I did). Everything about the drama felt familiar when I listened to it as an adult a few years ago, and everything points to me hearing this back when it originally aired: I was as much a Star Wars fan as all the other 10-year-olds in my circle of friends. My parents were (and still are) regular lis
teners of all the programming on our local NPR station. I remember listening to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio drama, which aired in the US around the same time as the first Star Wars drama.

Before we started listening to Marvel Noise on our afternoon drives home from work and school together a few years ago, the kiddo and I would regularly become wrapped up in the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Darth Vader and his minions, Jabba, R2, and the whole gang over and over. I treasure the memories of cycling through the thirteen installments of Star Wars, the ten episodes of Empire, and the six chapters of Jedi with the kiddo, and still enjoy it when we have exhausted our Marvel Noise episode backlog or he just wants a break from the comic talk and asks to listen to an episode of the radio drama.

I’ve listened to the radio drama so much that I find
the voice talent perfectly natural in their respective roles (something that still bothers Tracy on those few and far between occasions where she does listen to the drama with us). In fact, there are characterizations and scenes in the radio drama that I think rival or surpass their counterparts in the movies. There are moments in Return of the Jedi, in particular, that I think really capture the fun spirit of the story without veering into the camp territory the movie sometimes tread.

For Christm
as this past year, the Number One With a Bullet item on the kiddo’s list was an mp3 player. When we asked him what he needed one for, he told us so he could listen to the Star Wars radio drama any time he wants instead of only when we’re in my car. Hard to argue with sound reasoning like that.

The radio dramas are just about the only part of the extended Star Wars Universe I have dabbled in. I read a handful of the Marvel run back in the day (and have reread portions of it over the last few years), and I have read Timothy Zahn’s exceptional Thrawn Trilogy (loved the books, thought the Dark Horse comic adaptation was less than stellar). Among Dark Horse’s current offerings, I pick up the Clone Wars books for the kiddo, and have been inexplicably drawn to the Purge one-shots featuring Darth Vader, but otherwise have largely steered clear because of how daunting that Universe is.

A few months ago, I saw the Shadows of the Empire omnibus solicited in Previews. I had heard about it from
John, and (although I recall him not recommending it) I was intrigued by the concept – not the story itself, because I didn’t know exactly what it was about other than that it takes place between Empire and Jedi, but the fact that it was a book, comic series, toy line, video game, trading card line, and even had a soundtrack. So I ordered the omnibus and then noticed the mass paperback on the shelf in our library, realizing Tracy had picked it up at some point in her garage saleing over the years.

On the advice of my buddy Michael, I decided to read the book before the omnibus. And I’m enjoying Steve Perry’s storytelling so far (although it’s not as good as Zahn’s trilogy), but have been put off by a certain passage in the book: The third chapter opens with Luke at Ben Kenobi’s old home on the edge of the Western Dune Sea, struggling to make his own lightsaber following instructions found in an old journal Ben had left behind for him. What bothers me about this scene is that the first episode of the Return of the Jedi radio drama, “Tatooine Haunts”, features a scene with Luke and R2-D2 at Ben’s home on the edge of the Western Dune Sea where he struggles to make his own lightsaber following instructions found in an old journal Ben left behind for him.

So I wonder what hard-core Star Wars fans think of this. Which scene is canon: The radio drama one taking place at the beginning of Jedi with R2 present (and obviously created/produced before Shadows), or the Shadows one taking place after Empire yet clearly well-before Jedi on the overall timeline? And why the hell didn’t one of the purveyors of Lucas’ empire notice this gaffe when Shadows was being vetted?

I consider everything about the radio dramas canon in the Star Wars Universe, so this has been nagging at me since I read chapter three a few nights ago. And I suspect I picked up on this discrepancy because I’m both a comic book fan and an editor, so I probably have a heightened sense of continuity. Or maybe I’m just over thinking things.


johnbooth said...

Hm. Don't have the ROTJ radio script in front of me, but I suppose - if one absolutely must reconcile the discrepancy - that in the moment after the lightsaber building scene, you could imagine, "TheEntireShadowsoftheEmpireStoryGoesHere" and then ROTJ picks up as usual.

johnbooth said...

I have returned from the West Coast with an answer from a reliable SW source: The Radio Drama essentially gets the "canon" nod by default because "Shadows of the Empire" is NOT considered canon at all.