I love Shakespeare. I love Star Wars. Pair the two and you get to witness my happy dance.
An hour ago, I finished reading William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher. My local comics shop recommended it to me, and it is well-worth your time!
I know, I know, it seems a bit ridiculous that the two would work together. But they do. Shakespeare’s plays include heroic action, the growth of heroes, twisted family dynamics, hidden motivations, greatly complicated villains, and, oh yeah — comic relief. All elements that are present in Star Wars. As the author points out, George Lucas studied mythology, including Joseph Campbell’s seminal work ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, when writing Star Wars; and in turn, Campbell had studied Shakespeare’s plays when formulating his theories.
So yes, Star Wars as a Shakespearean drama definitely works.
Doescher catches the wonderful cadence of Shakespeare’s plays, both the wording (in, of course, iambic pentameter) and the way in which such plays flow dramatically. I salute him — iambic pentameter is not easy to write, as I recall from my attempts during a high-school English class, and to carry it through for an entire book while remaining faithful to the source material is quite the feat. While you’ll recognize the paraphrasing of a number of Shakespeare’s well-known phrases (‘Now is the summer of our happiness’ ring a bell?), much of the dialogue deals with the expected terminology of my beloved Star Wars Universe — Death Stars, lighsabers and droids, plus the original languages of Jawas, Jabba and assorted aliens. Translating all these things to iambic pentameter cannot have been easy.
I am going to nit-pick one thing. I’m still trying to decide if the phrase ‘set to stun’ properly can be admitted to the Star Wars Universe. A friend who’s a devoted Trekkie objects to its inclusion — actually, the words used were ‘you stole it from us!’ Aside from that one point, though, I honestly just loved the entire book.
Doescher follows the script of the Original Movie “A New Hope” and sets out on the right foot by adhering to a typical device in plays. The action is advanced and explained by the words of the Chorus:
“It is a period of civil war.
The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift
From base unseen, have gain’d a vict’ry o’er
The cruel Galactic Empire now adrift.”
Can’t you just see this onstage? A mixed crowd of Stormtroopers, Rebels, Jawas, standing in the back of a dimly-lit and smoky stage, chanting the lines in unison. The author even catches the stage directions of Shakespeare, also as shown in the first Scene. “Enter REBELS. Many die. Enter STORMTROOPERS and DARTH VADER.” These directions, like those of Shakespeare, convey the events occurring onstage in just a few concise words.
The play — for that is, after all, what this is — features all the characters from the Movie. Luke, Leia and Han, R2-D2 and C-3P0, Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, enter and exit from the stage, uttering the (Elizabethanized) lines we all know from the Movie as well as expanded commentary representing the thoughts and emotions of the characters at key points in the play. Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, in particular, will break your heart with certain statements, the lines poignant and neatly tying back to events in the Prequel Trilogy.
But even more than these insights into the hearts and minds of the key players, setting Star Wars as a play offers the opportunity for the bit and background players to have expanded roles — rebels, troopers and all, they get the opportunity to offer their commentary, their insight, their complaints. (There’s one scene, on the Death Star, that brings instantly to my mind the squabbling of the watchmen in Much Ado About Nothing.)
The best lines of all, in my opinion, are reserved for R2-D2. Now, I love droids, perhaps unreasonably so, and R2 is tied with Dummy from Marvel Cineverse for my favorite. In the movie, C-3P0 and R2-D2 start off the action and true to the script, in the play C-3P0 enters seeking R2, whose first lines are:
Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!”
To which C-3P0 responds “We’re doomed.”
Picturing this in my head, I started laughing as I heard the distinctive tones George Lucas used for R2’s ‘voice’, and the lovely, modulated, but fussy, responses of C-3P0. And then, I didn’t stop laughing. Why? Because R2-D2 gets real lines!
“This golden droid has been a friend, ’tis true,
And yet I wish to stil his prating tongue!”
My inner fangirl is still squealing. We get to hear R2-D2’s viewpoint on the action, and his counterpart and companion C-3P0, rather than a mere ‘translation’ offered through the voices of other characters.
I won’t mention much more because while the play stays true to the Movie, there are new and unexpectedly enhanced scenes, the iambic pentameter twisting of the dialogue is beautiful, and you really must read this book. Need further incentive? There are lovely ‘woodcuts’ of movie scenes interspersed throughout (Jabba the Hutt. In an Elizabethan doublet and cap!) Although really, would it have killed them to give us one clear close-up of Obi-Wan? We get the back of his head, we get a distant view of his death — come on, what about that iconic scene where he lowers his hood and first meets Luke?
A quick bit of advice. Read the entire book through once. Then, read it again — aloud. Doing so helps you catch the rhythm of the scenes and, if you have a good imagination? Close your eyes and picture our actors walking upon the stage of Shakespeare’s venerable Globe Theater.
Although if you’re reading it aloud, I’d suggest checking whether anyone is around you. An audience of fellow geeks and sci-fi fans is appropriate. A gathering of those unfamiliar with either the Bard or Star Wars might get you, ah, questioned as to your mental health. Particularly if you’re combining words like ‘forsooth’ and ‘Death Star’ in the same phrase.
Upon second thought, that might not happen — the questioning of your sanity, that is. Between the popularity of Shakespeare and Star Wars, I don’t think there are many people around who haven’t heard of one or the other.
Now, go forth and expand upon thy geekly knowledge.