On this date in 1977 the original Star Wars movie was released. John Landecker was on WLS Radio at the time, and had incredible access to the stars. This story comes from the book "Records Truly Is My Middle Name"
RADIO STAR WARS
When Star Wars came out, it was an ever bigger phenomenon. In fact, it was on the cover of Time Magazine the day we got a few of the movie’s stars to appear on our station.
The WLS morning man was on vacation, so Bob Sirott was filling in for him that day. Bob had a phone interview scheduled with Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia). I was filling in for Bob on the afternoon show, and had Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) scheduled as an in-studio guest. Since we had access to two of the biggest stars from the movie, I came up with an idea for a bit, and wrote a script featuring all of us. Everyone agreed to participate.
I showed up at the station early in the morning and recorded Bob and Carrie Fisher reading their lines. Then I spent all day with the production guy, adding R2D2 sound effects, a Darth Vader voice (mine), music from the movie, and timing everything out. All of the pre-recorded segments were ready to go when I got on the air that day. The plan was to do the last part of the script, my interaction with Mark Hamill, live on the air. I really thought it would be easy to do. I don’t know how many times I told the engineer the cue. All he had to do was hit a button at the right time, but when the time came, he messed it up.
We tried it again. He messed it up again.
It was messed up so many times I had to beg Mark Hamill to stay for an extra twenty minutes. We finally got it right and did a perfect take of the bit, and afterwards I edited it down even further, and it came out great. It was played on the air many times, and became a well-known bit. It really does feature the real actors from the movie, but if you hear the perfectly edited version, keep in mind that while we were actually doing the bit live on the air, it was a complete train wreck.
This is the full transcript of Radio Star Wars from 1977. The newsman in the bit was Jack Swanson, who was later named the best program director in America at KGO-San Francisco. I played the part of Darth Vader. The remastered version of this, which we redid twenty years later for the rerelease of Star Wars, can be found on CD.
John: Mark Hamill is our guest this afternoon.
Newsman: John, John, I hate interrupt...
John: What are you doing here, I’m trying to interview Mark Hamill
Newsman: Look, I’m sorry to interrupt, but this is important.
(Star Wars music in and under)
John: Judging by the music, it’s very important.
Newsman: Yes, listen. There’s a guy on the phone here. He’s says he’s Darth Vader.
Mark Hamill: Hey! Wait a minute. He’s the villain from Star Wars. Stay away! He’s evil.
Newsman: Oh God, it’s terrible.
John: Relax, relax. What line is he on?
Newsman: Pick up Line 2.
John: Think it’s alright if I talk to him, Mark?
Mark Hamill: Well, I don’t know. He is the most evil force in the universe, but he is deathly afraid of ducks. John, please be careful.
John: OK. Hello?
(Sfx: Helicopter sound effects, heavy breathing)
Darth Vader: Hello, this is Darth Vader. Is this John Landecker on WLS?
John: Yes it is. Yes.
Darth Vader: Are you there with Luke Skywalker?
Mark Hamill: Oh yeah, I’m here, Darth.
Darth Vader: Listen to my demands. I have kidnapped Bob Sirott and the Princess Leia.
Bob Sirott: Help, John, Help!
Carrie Fisher: Luke, save us!
Darth Vader: I have stolen the WGN Traffic helicopter. Bob and the Princess are inside. We are flying over the Dan Ryan. If I am not given full control of WLS, Bob and the Princess will be dropped into the rush hour traffic below me. They will die!
John: Great googly moogly, what to do?
Mark Hamill: John, I think my experience as Luke Skywalker can really be of some help here.
John: How’s that?
Mark Hamill: Well, I’ve got the Millennium Falcon, the starship from the movie. It’s parked right outside the station. I’ve got my droid R2D2. I’d be willing to give it a shot.
John: You don’t mean?
Mark Hamill: That’s right, John. RESCUE!
(Star Wars music swells)
Darth Vader: Rescue is futile! Turn over the station to me now or Bob and the Princess are dead meat.
Bob: John, don’t do it.
Carrie Fisher: Oh Luke, be careful.
John: Wow, this starship is bigger than it looked in the movie.
Mark Hamill: Well, strap in, and be careful now while I program R2D2 for our flight. R2, set a course for the WGN traffic helicopter over the Dan Ryan and take off.
(R2D2 sound effects)
(Dramatic music kicks in, the battle is underway)
Darth Vader: You have thirty seconds.
John: Luke, shoot him down!
Mark Hamill: I can’t, John. My ray guns are too powerful. They’re designed for other galaxies. If I fire, all of Chicago will be destroyed.
John: Wait. Didn’t you say that Darth Vader had a deathly fear of ducks?
Mark Hamill: Yeah.
John: Well, I think I’ve got the answer. We’ve got an open radio channel directly into the copter.
Mark Hamill: Right.
John: I’ve got a cassette of the song “Disco Duck” right here.
Mark Hamill: And you want to blast that song right into the copter? Great! Give the song to R2D2 and he’ll program the song directly into the copter’s communication system.
John: OK. R2D2, take it!
(R2D2 sound effects)
(The song “Disco Ducks” begins)
Darth Vader: Oh no, not that duck record! NOOOOO!
Bob Sirott: John, John, can you hear me? Darth Vader’s body exploded. I’ve got control of the copter. We’re all right.
Carrie Fisher: Oh John, THANK YOU!
(Star Wars theme kicks in)