Most people associate the role of Boba Fett with Temuera Morrison, the actor who portrayed the character in the Disney+ Star Wars series The Book of Boba Fett. Hardcore fans might bring up Jeremy Bulloch, the actor who portrayed Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, but what if we were to tell you that Jango Fett’s little boy was once played by none other than Clifford Main himself? That’s right, Better Call Saul fans, Ed Bagely Jr. was playing the masked Mandalorian with the rocket-launching kneepads over a decade before he was making trouble for Slippin’ Jimmy McGill.
Ed Begley Jr. of Better Call Saul fame voiced Boba Fett for the NPR radio drama adaptation of Return of the Jedi.
In the early ’80s, National Public Radio got the brilliant idea to bring back the radio drama format in order to attract new listeners. NPR went against its highbrow sensibilities and chose the most mainstream, popular fluff entertainment to adapt. What symbol of mass consumption with no redeeming social values whatsoever did NPR pick for its first radio drama? Star Wars, of course!
We exaggerate, but the above description isn’t too far off from how the stodgy NPR crowd viewed the popular space opera, considering that adapting Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope was seen internally at NPR as a”scandal” and “selling out to Hollywood.” On the other hand, if they were selling out, it wasn’t for much. George Lucas, a fan of NPR, sold them the radio rights to Star Wars for a single, solitary dollar.
Unsurprisingly, NPR’s ’81 adaptation of A New Hope was a smash hit and led to a follow-up dramatization of Star Wars: Episode V–The Empire Strikes Back featuring Alan Rosenberg as Boba Fett in 1983. Unfortunately, public funding for NPR dried up before they could produce an adaptation of the third Star Wars movie, and fans would have to wait 13 years to hear the radio version of Return of the Jedi.
NPR wouldn’t complete its series of radio dramas until 1996. The large gap between Star Wars productions meant that many roles had to be recast, including the above-mentioned Boba Fett. While Ed Begley Jr. as Boba Fett seems like an odd choice—especially in hindsight now that we know that Fett speaks in a New Zealand accent—it’s far from the weirdest casting decision made in regard to the radio version of Return of the Jedi.
George Lucas, a fan of NPR, sold them the radio rights to Star Wars for a single, solitary dollar.
Other Surprising NPR Casting Choices
If you think Clifford Main as a ruthless bounty hunter is awkward, how about Carl from Up as a giant frog-eating slug?
Not only did the late Ed Asner lend his gruff vocals to Jabba the Hutt, but he did so speaking only in Huttese. One casting choice that hasn’t aged well is the white actor Arye Gross as Lando Calrissian.
With long-running shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy recasting their major black characters with actual black actors, it’s pretty likely that if NPR were to cast the Star Wars radio plays now, they would choose someone different for Lando, possibly Boba Fett as well seeing as how Ed Begley Jr. isn’t an indigenous Maori actor.
The Star Wars radio adaptations are worth checking out for more than just the novelty of hearing John Lithgow play Yoda. To pad out the runtimes, several new scenes and backstories were written by Brian Daley, author of some of the earliest Legends books, the Han Solo trilogy. These original parts feature Star Wars characters like Boba Fett in situations we never see in the films, making them a fun bit of archival history for fans.
Today, the radio plays are a largely forgotten footnote in Star Wars history. Luckily, NPR’s Star Wars audio dramas have been preserved on YouTube by several sources.