Did you know that William Shakespeare wrote Star Wars? Despite that the first book was released in July 2013, I didn’t discover it until my husband gifted me a box set for my birthday about a year and a half ago. And to my surprise and delight, they kept coming. The most recent installment was released just in September 2015. The complete six part series includes (in order of publication):
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Strikes Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth
William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth
William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First
William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second
William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third
But what exactly is William Shakespeare’s Star Wars? Author Ian Doescher, through pure genius and literary ingenuity has taken the Star Wars films and, using Shakespeare’s language, reinvented each as a five act play written in the Bard’s own hand. This proves to be particularly brilliant as Star Wars’ plot structures and characters sync incredibly well with Shakespeare’s characters and style of storytelling. But while at first the concept may seem absurd, Doescher points out, there is a “surprising and very real connection” between Lucas’ Star Wars and Shakespeare’s work . Joseph Campbell, says Doescher, is the reason for the similarities in mythos and archetypes in both Star Wars and Shakespeare’s plays. Simply put, says Doescher, “Campbell studied Shakespeare to produce The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Lucas Studied Campbell to produce Star Wars” . The result is really quite amazing. Indeed, as a lover of both Shakespeare and Star Wars, this marriage of space opera and glorious poetry is like a dream come true for a nerd like myself.
Using Shakespearen Conventions
In recreating Shakespeare’s voice, Doescher naturally makes use of Shakespearean theatrical conventions such as using the Chorus for narration, using specialized syntax for certain characters to reveal more character depth, using the character “Rumor” to show the discord being sewn throughout the Galaxy, and using the play within a play to draw out character emotions (remember that pseudo-Cirque de Soleil show from Revenge of the Sith? It’s now a play about Darth Plagueis).
Even more basic conventions, such as asides and soliloquies are used to expand the characters or clue in the audience, usually to great effect. For example, Luke speaks at length after having discovered his murdered aunt and uncle, and for the first time we get to hear Luke’s thoughts and feelings in that moment. The effect is poignant, and does the character much credit. In the same way for all the characters, we get these brilliant insights about that which we are usually left to speculate (ever wanted to hear R2-D2 speak an aside to the audience? Now you can).
My favorite use of Shakespearean convention in Doescher’s work, however, is his treatment of Jar Jar Binks. While I don’t hate Jar Jar, as many do, I don’t particularly love him either. That is, until Doescher wrote The Phantom of Menace. Shakespeare, in plays such A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and many more, introduces a “fool.” This fool observes the events unfolding and uses his wit and humor to editorialize the actions of the other characters, reveal truth where it may otherwise go unnoticed, and at times, manipulate events to achieve some better outcome. In this, Shakespeare’s Jar Jar excels. Now instead of actually being a bumbling idiot, Jar Jar merely pretends to be so in order to subtly work for peace between the Gungans and humans of Naboo. He also points out the prejudice of Obi-Wan and Qui-gon in their attitudes toward him. Each of Jar Jar’s antics now has taken on a whole new tone, one that I enjoyed immensely.
Words, Glorious Words
In some ways, Doescher has it easy in his task; he continually paraphrases lines from the Bard’s work as well as repurposes unaltered lines to serve the new context. But while the most flattering form of plagiarism is Doescher’s goal, the skill with which he crafts and assembles each line, each couplet, each soliloquy is undeniable. And even though he is skilled at integrating Shakespeare’s existing work into his own, Doescher substantiates himself as a master wordsmith in his own right.
Doescher’s plays are written almost entirely in iambic pentameter, as was Shakespeare’s idiom. The exceptions he makes to this rule, however, are intentional and often quite clever. Characters who shirk the iambic pentameter rule include Boba Fett, Jar Jar Binks, and Yoda, to name a few. To elaborate, Boba Fett speaks in prose rather than meter. Doescher explains, “Shakespeare often used prose to separate the lower classes from the elite[…]who better to speak in prose than the basest of bounty hunters?” . Jar Jar Binks, in his asides to the audience, speaks in the traditional iambic pentameter. But when assuming the role of the fool, Jar Jar affects his speech (using “yousa,” “meesa,” etc.) and leaves off the final syllable of each line, falling just short of a full pentameter. The result is a slightly disjointed speech pattern which supports his role as the fool. Yoda, on the other hand, speaks in haiku. Doescher explains that he struggled to find a way to represent Yoda’s unusual speech patterns, but ultimately settled on haiku for this reason: “Yoda is a wise teacher, almost like a sensei—he has something of an eastern sensibility about him. Why not express that by making all of his lines haiku?” . Many other characters have particularities or peculiarities to their speech as well, and all are done intentionally and adroitly. I think anyone that’s tried their hand at metered poetry can especially appreciate what Ian Doescher has accomplished with his.
Should I Read Shakespeare’s Star Wars?
If you are someone who hated reading Shakespeare in school, you might be thinking, Why would I ever read that? Or perhaps I don’t understand Shakespeare, there’s no way I’d understand this. Well, in response I would tell you not to dismiss Shakespeare’s Star Wars so lightly. Part of the challenge of understanding Shakespeare is discerning the story. You have to extrapolate what is happening from a large array of characters speaking in archaic English. But the advantage with Shakespeare’s Star Wars is that you are already (presumably) familiar with the story.
Another hurdle in understanding Shakespeare is understanding the colloquialisms, references, and general context of his work. But here, too, we have an advantage. While this six book series emulates Shakespeare’s voice, the references and context are of our time. Indeed, especially in the Original Trilogy books, the language is fairly straightforward. Flowery and elegant, yes, but easily understood. Interestingly however, is that with every book, Doescher becomes more accomplished in his wordcraft and understanding of Shakespeare. Indeed, the Prequel Trilogy, much like its video counterparts, has a different feel than the Original Trilogy.
Much in the way that the maturation of the film industry and its technology allowed Lucas to do new things with Episodes I-III, so too does Doescher’s experience exhibit a literary maturation over the course of the six books. While the poetry of Verily, A New Hope remains elegant, yet forthright, The Clones Attacketh and Tragedy of Sith’s Revenge exhibit a more sophisticated representation of Shakespeare’s voice. Here, for example, the characters are more prone to extended metaphors. For instance, when Obi-Wan and Anakin discuss politicians and the Emperor outside Padme’s room in The Clones Attacketh, they use nautical imagery and terms to liken the political environment to stormy seas. Also used at length through The Clones Attacketh and Tragedy of Sith’s Revenge is the discussion of the character Fate. The traditional three “Fates” that “spin thread of destiny,” have been condensed to one Fate for Shakespeare’s Star Wars . And thus in discussions of Fate, there is much imagery and wording pertaining to weaving and spinning. While I personally enjoy the care with which Doescher has crafted these, and similar, lines and metaphors, I would admit that they are perhaps slightly more difficult to understand if the reader doesn’t pick up on the meaning or understand the vocabulary.
As a result, the final two books of the Prequel Trilogy exhibit slightly more sophisticated language than their predecessors.
However. That said, if you are a fan who disliked the prequels due to ‘bad dialogue’ or ‘bad acting,’ then I give you Shakespeare’s Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. You can now enjoy the prequels sans (what some consider) wooden acting and dialogue. The language is undeniably beautiful and evocative. And because they are in the medium of books/plays you can imagine whomever you want in any role. If you’ve always wanted to like the Prequel Trilogy, but couldn’t bring yourself to for whatever grievance, I encourage you to read this Prequel Trilogy. You may finally find that you can enjoy it too. (And naturally, for anyone who already loves both Shakespeare and Star Wars, read these books, you will love them.)
If your interest is peaked, and want to read these brilliant works, they can be found easily online on websites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Retail price for each book is $14.95 USD or $15.95 Canadian dollars. However, on Amazon (Prime Eligible also) and Barnes and Noble they can be found for $8.89 USD hardcover edition or $13.99 USD Kindle/Nook Edition. There is also the Royal Imperial Box Set (includes Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return, and an 8”x 34” color poster) for $29.40 USD for the hardcover edition, and $43.99 USD for the Kindle/Nook edition.
Are there performances? What about Episode VII?
Since these are plays, that means they can be performed, right? So why haven’t we seen any productions on Broadway or elsewhere? The answer is, sadly, for us nerds who would love to see a live production William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Lucasfilm has so far withheld the rights to do so. Any public readings or performances not given by Doescher himself are not authorized. Though, given the amount of interest in holding such performances, Doescher promises to update his website with that information should Lucasfilm agree to begin leasing the rights.
As for Episode VII, fear not, it shall be written! Though as of yet, I have been unable to find an estimated release date. But if you are interested in staying informed, you can check out quirkbooks.com, iandoescher.com, or follow Ian on Twitter @iandoescher.
In conclusion, I absolutely loved Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. The telling is beautiful and startlingly profound. Doescher proves himself as a most dexterous and clever wordsmith, and his work is well worth a read. And I would be remiss if I didn’t extol illustrator Nicolas Delort for his comical yet astounding visual contributions to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. But above all, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is just fun to read and imagine in this new medium. As Doescher says, “Remember, this isn’t scholarship; it’s fun” .
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!
Questions? Comments? Opinions? Comment below or feel free to hit me up at ErrantVenturer@gmail.com or on Twitter @ErrantVenturer. Until next time, fare thee well!
|||I. Doescher, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Verily, A New Hope: Star Wars Part the Fourth, Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2013.|
|||I. Doescher, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth, Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2014.|
|||I. Doescher, Shakespeare’s The Clones Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second, Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2015.|