As a bit of a special Valentine’s Day treat, the new Random House Worlds imprint (formerly Del Rey) made a move last Tuesday towards making one of the most engaging and interesting forms of Star Wars storytelling a bit more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing fans.
With all of the canon audio dramas released over the last few years, Random House has also published a printed script form of the drama, usually several months later. With the great audio release The Battle of Jedha, they’ve opened up one of these stories to more people by moving the release of its printed script up to only a month after the audio drama itself debuted.
Star Wars has a long history of audio presentations, from the classic radio drama adaptations of the original trilogy in the 80s and 90s through the latest original audio dramas that tell stories in the new canon. These latest audio dramas feature a full cast, music, and sound effects to tell an immersive story. Starting with Dooku: Jedi Lost in 2019, and with the releases of Doctor Aphra in 2020 and then the first High Republic audio drama Tempest Runner in 2021, these audio dramas present a unique way to experience the Star Wars universe.
But sadly this medium by definition is not accessible to everyone.
The inaccessibility of single-format releases
Audio dramas by nature completely exclude many deaf and hard of hearing fans, who simply can’t hear audio presentations at all or may just have difficulty hearing or processing them. When script forms of these dramas are released, it finally lets many of these fans in on these great stories, either to finally be able to read them visually, or even to read along with the audio version in order to better comprehend them.
why am i this excited for the accessibility when the doctor aphra audio drama script comes out this april. with all my ear issues i can’t always listen to the book but i’ll finally get to read it whenever i want. i know it isn’t a big deal to most but still pic.twitter.com/fIByIGEyN5— robin ∞ ⚫️〰️⚫️ (@mralisola) February 22, 2021
And the challenges of experiencing an audiobook can extend beyond just the ability to hear sound. Some listeners may have cognitive or processing impairments that also make it difficult to enjoy an audio-based story.
My trouble is audio processing, so I’ll have to listen with the hard copy in front of me.— Emma ✨💕 (@leiahuttslayer) January 2, 2023
Timing wise this can even be tough on reviewers, who might not be able to provide their timely take on a release they can’t experience at all, or that they may take longer to process. Like writer and editor Jordan Maison at Cinelinx:
Sadly I don’t have a review for the new #StarWars #TheHighRepublic audio drama. Not made it all the way through yet (audio only stuff is TOUGH for me due to being partially deaf in one ear), but I do know that @George_Mann doesn’t miss, so…. pic.twitter.com/fJrKwA4ICc— Jordan Maison (@JordanMaison) January 2, 2023
(Providing early copies of scripts to audio drama reviewers also seems like it would make a lot of sense, if that doesn’t happen already.)
I personally have significant cognition and brain fog issues that actually make me rely more heavily on audiobooks, as I struggle to read physical books or ebooks. But that can also make it difficult to follow and process the distinct audio drama format, which typically doesn’t use a narrator or descriptions of places or events, instead relying entirely on exposition from characters. The Battle of Jedha is a great audio drama and one I enjoyed a lot on first listen, but I still had to listen to it twice to make complete sense of everything that happened, who everyone was, and often who was speaking at a given time (I actually have trouble discerning voices and accents, which can be kinda crucial to following conversations).
The script version on the other hand provides character names with each line of dialogue, scene and setting information, and sometimes some “ATMOS” (atmosphere) stage direction for the recording:
I haven’t picked up the full script yet myself, but I look forward to reading it along with the audio for another pass at this story.
The Scheduling Challenge
The release timing of standalone audio dramas like Dooku: Jedi Lost and Doctor Aphra don’t have much impact because they’re fairly disconnected from any other canon media or releases. There’s not much of a problem with overlap, though that may not always be the case with other canon stories in the future.
On a side note, Doctor Aphra is a particularly interesting case, since it’s an adaptation of a comic run, which ironically is a medium that’s completely inaccessible to blind fans. The Doctor Aphra audio drama provided access to that storyline (and character) for some listeners for the first time. That doesn’t mean the availability of a script wasn’t important though, since the audio book adaptation was just that – an adapted version of the story. Even that script provided content not previously available or accessible to some fans of these characters.
i agree and i’m glad people with a multitude of different disabilities can experience it now!— robin ∞ ⚫️〰️⚫️ (@mralisola) January 9, 2023
the stories are just slightly different 🙂 i read the comic version first but i personally prefer the script/audio drama because of all the extra sana/aphra content
The High Republic is a different beast though, being a complex storyline across multiple media and involving multiple authors telling interweaving tales in that time period.
Although the Tempest Runner audio drama released in August 2021 was also mostly a side story, it did contain some pretty big developments for some of the Nihil characters going into the culmination of Phase I in The Fallen Star, including the fate of a major player (which I won’t spoil). But it definitely wasn’t required reading for The Fallen Star released in January 2022 in the same way as the other major adult novels were. So while the timing of the script version of Tempest Runner was made available two months after the Fallen Star in March of that year, it wasn’t ideal and was probably disappointing for some fans but it didn’t keep a lot of readers from being able to keep up with the major story points.
The Battle of Jedha, on the other hand, is much more essential. It’s a key part of Phase II of the High Republic, serving as the culmination of the first wave of that story arc, bringing various threads together from the earlier books. And most importantly in terms of timing, it sets up the basis for the Cataclysm novel by Lydia Kang coming in April, Cavan Scott’s Path of Deceit in May, and other media like the on-going High Republic comic from Marvel, also by Scott. (Battle of Jedha author George Mann talked about the complexity of coordinating this interweaving narrative between various authors – and Battle of Jedha‘s place in it – in this interview with Star Wars 7×7.)
This appears to be at least a factor in the decision to move up the release of the script for The Battle of Jedha, according to Random House Worlds Senior Editor Tom Hoeler:
We know folks have asked for that so we're trying it out here. It will also have some ramifications for Cataclysm so making it more available will help folks before April arrives, and some other reasons that aren't as important to elaborate on.— Tom (@DarthInternous) January 2, 2023
He went on to elaborate that there was no technical reason scripts couldn’t be released concurrently with audio dramas, but that keeping some space between them gave the audio a moment to shine first. That’s a point I can definitely understand, as the audio performance and production is such a large creative effort and the intended means of experiencing the story. And as we’ve stated, moving this script release much closer to the audio release is a huge improvement for equal access to these stories.
But I say – go all the way with it. Put out the script along with the audio drama, the way audiobooks are released concurrently with print and ebooks.
Don’t think of the script as an alternative to the audio. Think of it as a necessary component of the release. Like a transcript or closed captions on otherwise inaccessible audio experiences like videos or podcasts.
Publishing a script book at the same time as the audio release may confused audiences, who may think the audio drama is merely an audiobook adaptation of the print book like for most other book releases. Or if the releases are made too distinct, readers may even perceive them as complementary but separate parts of the same story. So there’s certainly a messaging challenge involved.
We’re curious if there might be some mixed format like video for releasing these stories that allow for both presentations together. Random House themselves actually did something along these lines with their posts and ads for the audio drama on Instagram and Twitter, displaying caption information for their audio excerpts:
It's time to return to a galaxy far, far away🌌— Penguin Random House Audio 🎧 📚 (@PRHAudio) January 20, 2023
STAR WARS: THE BATTLE OF JEDHA follows a Jedi master and Knight as they attempt to prevent the sacred moon's many factions from becoming more causalities of the "Forever War"
Listen on audio: https://t.co/lAh2gjIcjp pic.twitter.com/Z7IsRL6I2n
So ironically, Random House’s marketing for the audio drama was more accessible than the drama itself when it was released.
Unfortunately even these kinds of captions are only really useful to users who need supplemental visual versions of the text, but they still don’t create a great experience for purely deaf users, who are limited to reading at the slower pace of narration they can’t hear. Some kind of visuals like character concept art might help make it more engaging.
(We’re very interested to hear from deaf and hard of hearing readers about all this.)
We also know that many devices have built-in features to auto-transcribe audio, but these can be hard to follow for an extended period of time, also share those pacing issues, and are often flawed – especially when dealing with a lot of Star Wars-y proper nouns. For the best accessibility, edited transcriptions or the script format are really ideal.
One More Step To Go
There’s a big challenge when creating any kind of media that’s often overlooked, and that’s who will be able to experience it. Like any single-format release, audio dramas are both a wonderful means of storytelling and inherently available only to particular fans. Releasing multiple formats at the same time will mean that all fans will have the opportunity to be included in experiencing the most important part of the release – the story itself.
Because it’s important to keep in mind that while we’ve talked a lot about continuity and timing of releases as being a major aspect of concurrent releases, it’s also just a matter of equity and fairness. Deaf and hard of hearing fans deserve to experience and celebrate new releases along with the rest of the Star Wars readers and listeners that love and share these stories between themselves.
We’re really glad the team at Random House Worlds is looking forward and listening to their audience’s needs, and hope they’ll continue this trend with earlier script releases. And hopefully they can take that last step to really equalize the reading and listening experiences across the board for these great productions by releasing the scripts concurrently with the audiobooks.