Star Wars: Blue Harvest [Pendant Productions] (Radio Play)


My Set Up: My preferred way to listen to this is through XMMS and headphones, with the EQ set low on the far ends of the sound spectrum. The voice-to-SFX ratio is too far off to work any other way.


I don't know much about the Extended Universe besides that it is the sort of thing that Lucas will ignore if he wants, there is a guy named Thrawn, and there has been some serioius debate about whether Luke gets laid and whether Chewie gets to stay alive. Star Wars is as much a fandom enterprise as a commercial one, as well those projects somewhere in between, and the two canons are right at the verge of conflict. The reason is simple: Star Wars is mostly about the effect of a few extraordinary individuals. Fan fiction will need to posit as of yet unheard of characters, as of yet unexperienced episodes, or twist the balance around to shimmy in a few scenes here or there. Star Wars: Blue Harvest (SWBH from now own) does a bit of all three. Deak Starkiller (based on early character designs from Lucas's original) is a young Jedi who finds out he will have to fulfill a great destiny. He is not the most willing of fate's puppets, and things go from bad to good to worse and then worse as the plot thickens (the major events have already been estabalished, with Deak largely just mentioning them. On to the top of his list of issues is he is a Jedi in love (a no-no). Early episodes present this relationship, and start moving the plot to a point where Deak must face his destiny.

Narratively, SWBH fits in behind the scenes of the movies and the various fan fictions and extended novels. Somewhat bit characters make appearances, with some fleshing, and then die or run away as they were supposed to in the original storylines. The effect is something similar to Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead, but not quite as intrigued by its own metaplot potential, which I just no cosider a bad thing since I realized how cool a bit of metaplot could be in a Force drenched universe. Instead, we get snippets of "such and so are dead!" which refers to the third book of the second series of five year old young adult Star Wars novels. Nothing quite loses you, it does not assume you have read the entirety of canon, but there are places where the impact diminishes. It also puts forth a couple of fan-v.-Lucas suggestions on the side of the fans.

Perhaps most intriguing about the plot are the fact that Neal Bailey (writer, director, assumed sound editor and others) actually turns the term Blue Harvest (the fake name used to hide filming of Return of the Jedi) into an actual object or event, as of yet not fleshed out by episode 11, and the fact that Bailey intends this to be a multi-generational story which parrallels at least the run of the movies. This latter effect which he accomplishes by having skips in the storyline that pick up later on. It isn't too jarring, but it can leave you feeling a tad confused. You have just spent two ours of audio drama getting off a single planet and then two minutes navigating a decade. The breaks, though give the storyline a different sort of potential than most Star Wars works, and do not break it too bad as long as you catch on right away, meaning this is overall a good thing.

SWBH has all the problems and issues I would imagine any fandom audio might feature. Sound effects ripped from the original audio (or close impersonations of original audio) dominate scenes instead of acting as background noise. Characters, established over multiple movies, speak in a new voice, with a new delivery (Bill Young's Anakin and Vader are excellently close, though). The story is saturated with the unabashed fandom which created it, sometimes overriding the needs of the current narrative with a requirement to fit into the old (considering this is an established universe, there isn't really much you can do). The desire to be more Star Wars than Star Wars is also there. Part of the prophecy, unless I missed this, was that Starkiller will succeed where Skywalker will fail. That's a ballsy choice, and one that might be hard to deliver on.

The worst bit is the balance between voice and SFX. It hurts. If you turn the volume up, every laser blast will be a step towards deafness. If you turn the volume down, you get to miss the dialogue. You end up having to tweak the knob to get it to play out just right. Not insurmountable, but annoying. Since SFX are a tad generic, they can sometimes leave quite a few questions open. Light saber battles, for instance, are random clashes of noise in which the outcome can be quite up in the air. In the somewhat early battle with Darth Tenetus (one of the few entirely original characters in the series, along with Terra Kel, with most of the others at least suggested by something else), you know the outcome because the characters discuss it, and you know a tree is cut down, but a good amount of the middle bits are obscured by screams pitched too high, speaker crippling crashes, and explosion effects. There is dialogue in the middle of it that you have to dig for to undertand on top of the other sounds. Finally, when it is done, and you know what is done, you still have to guess at some of the events that occurred. You know the important bits, but can feel a little left out. Audio drama has different sorts of needs than visual or written drama, and this is one of those places where I felt the needs were overlooked.

The actors playing Deak (Page and Young) are good stuff. Terra is also well played. Where I am at, there hasn't been much of Thrawn (played by Michael King) but he is nicely done so far. I have not liked any of the Yoda/Yaddle stuff. The character is something of a vernacular joke to begin with (talk with funny word patterns you will), and with the strange old and squeaky voice pattern needed, it just adds up to the sort of stuff Star Wars fans do while drinking and chuckling. The best Yoda impersonations are still at the edge of a joke. Nothing against the voice actors, I'm kind of holding this one against Bailey himself, who saddles all the Yoda-esque voices with much the same characterization. Jason Hackett, as the narrator, often sort of deadpans lines as though he is trying out the lack of emotion things. These two vocal problems show up a lot toward the beginning of the run (eps 1 through 5) and are downplayed or non-existent later, but do not help you to get through the series formative moments and kind of inspire you to skip ahead a tad.

It is kind of hard to get through those early episodes, even outside of the voice acting issues. Characters aren't established. The narrative has a few breaks in coherency (that might be due to my lack of knowing much of the Extended Universe stuff). A few scenes struck me as contradictory, or at least a poor follow-up to their build-up scenes. These are not univeral problems, but are strongly present in several of the episdoes. For instance, by episode three, I was sure I was going to like it, but the ones (episodes four through six or so) following put me off. Around eight, there is a something of a nadir. Most things felt a tad bit off, with a storyline moving forward past its stability, and I came close to losing interest. The show wasn't bottom of the barrel, but it had enough issues that I wasn't sure I wanted to stick with it. However, it starts to get better. The show stars to involve older characters and the plot starts getting more concrete with real tension sustained by the storyline. Episode eleven, the last episode currently out, is the definite higlight of the series,and so makes me think good things are about to come out. The show may have finally gotten it's feet on the ground and be ready to build up a good head of steam. I think the next couple of episodes will determine whether or not I stick with it.


From Blech (worse) to Eh (median) to Great (best)

Pros: a Jedi-in-love plot stronger than the Anakin one, series of cameos from all over the Star Wars universe, generational story has promise

Cons: imbalanced sound, SFX become inconclusive at times, characters start blending together, a jerk and stop narrative

Final Summation: for a show based around a fake title, it's not all bad, and entertaining in places, but very unrefined and amateur with noises that crack open headphones and drown out any speech. Some of the cameos work, some induce a groan. Might be a better investment of time to skip around for the first eight or so episodes and then play from nine to the end. Starting to strengthen, but may lose you before you get to this point if you try and catch up.

Some Random, Fun Facts

The name "Deak Starkiller" shows up in early draft notes of the Star Wars universe and then went through some changes before resurfacing (I suppose as just Deak or Deacon) as a friend of Biggs and Luke. You can read some more here on the Star Wars Wiki. Interestingly, Deak was to be the younger brother of Annakin, a similar age difference as the SWBH Deak has to Anakin Skywalker.

Since Blue Harvest was the fake name of Return of the Jedi, and each year of the story will take up a rough generation (this is somewhat assumed based on commentary), and "The Blue Harvest" will be exposed November 2009 (based on website notes), this means that SWBH will likely be close to time of Jedi when it gets to it's titular moment.

The original, excellent, Star Wars Radio Drama is a good example of the Extended Universe that hasn't been overwritten by later additions. Many of the additions are somewhat minor, but effective, looks into the world. More information can be had at Wikipedia.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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