Forsooth! A Death Star.

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,
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.

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Go and see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

If you have the opportunity, go and see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

We caught one of the last showings tonight at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, and it was well worth it. As usual, Joss stocked his cast with some of his regular actors — familiar faces from Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers . . . the list goes on.

The play this time has a modern setting, but except for a few antiquated phrases, the actors treatment of the lines as just everyday dialogue works. And those few phrases that stick out — well, they provoked amusement when juxtaposed with the visual of those scenes. It’s black and white, which actually I liked, as it seemed to lend a greater depth to the whole movie.

It was lovely to see Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff (my favorite doomed pairing from Angel) as Beatrice and Benedict (you have to see their pratfall stuntwork). Clark Gregg was hilarious as Leonato (especially the scene where his daughter’s getting engaged). Reed Diamond (I loved him in Homicide) is a wonderful Don Pedro, slipping from a playful levity when planning Benedict’s ensnarement into marriage into a grave seriousness at certain scenes when the play descends into Hero’s disparagement and apparent death). And speaking of Hero, I truly enjoyed Jillian Morgese’s Hero, who exhibited more spine at the play’s end than in many other productions.

Altogether a lovely film, the whole audience really responded — and it was great to see half the audience was probably college age or slightly above, as Shakespeare needs to be rediscovered by that generation. A quick review, sorry, but I’ve got work early tomorrow. Go and see it when it comes to your area!

Is Hawkeye in Avengers 2?!?

From an article on the BBC app announcing that Robert Downey Jr. will return for Avengers 2 and 3:

Downey, 48, was one of the main stars of 2012’s Avengers Assemble, which united superhero characters Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor and the Black Widow, as played by Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson respectively.

All four of the stars are expected to join Downey Jr in the forthcoming films.

A statement on the Marvel website said Avengers 2 will feature “favourites from the first Avengers film and new Marvel characters never before seen on the big screen.”

Okay. First, there were SIX superheroes in Avengers — and Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, was the sixth. Suddenly, no mention of him — which is either sloppy journalism or a reason for me to become very annoyed and/or concerned.

Because, second, I’m a Hawkeye fan since forever, and if they add in some new characters and leave him out — well, I’m going to be extremely annoyed, maybe even to the point of NOT seeing the film. Or seeing it only once, on the regular screen, instead of the marathon IMAX, 3D, multiple viewings. And under my new rules of life — possibly not even buying merchandise from the film. Because seriously, life is too short to waste on things that annoy me.

Monstrous Thursdays

I love TCM’s Monstrous Thursdays. Tonight’s features are just what I needed after this crazy week, although one still has to be digitized!

I just finished watching the original Godzilla. The Americanized version, with Raymond Burr, not the Japanese classic of Gojira. I’ve seen this movie so very many times (I’m a bit of a Godzilla fanatic) — and in fact, I can (and did tonight) recite the dialogue by heart for most of the scenes. As usual, when watching the film, I found myself contrasting the American version with the Japanese original and speculating what the lost scenes, cut from the Japanese film, might have looked like and what they might have added to the story. Or would they have have slowed down the pacing, and ruined the film? Since the cuts have never been found, we’ll probably never know.

The second feature has just started — The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I positively love this film. Yes, the opening is a bit hokey. Yes, as the commentator pointed out, I, you, and the audiences of the 1950’s all know that the monster is nothing more than a man in a good rubber suit. And yet, it’s a truly scary movie — a combination of clever lighting, eerie music and an almost-Hitchcockian suspense in the timing of the creature’s attacks.

The water of the lagoon always seems to be murky, yet the innocent swimmers weave their way through the fronds of seaweed. They swim along, and nothing happens, They go back in the water and nothing happens. And then, suddenly, with no warning, the creature strikes.

Reminds me of scenes from Jaws, and makes me wonder if the creators of Jaws were inspired by Creature?

Later tonight, we get the third movie — It Came From Beneath the Sea. A giant octopus attacks San Francisco. A Ray Harryhausen monster — an octopus with only six arms, well, six that can move, thanks to the limitations the budget imposed on Mr. Harryhausen. And you get a bit of comedy in the movie as well, watching a woman scientist shoot down her interested suitor because he’s interfering with her ability to do Science!

Perfect movies to watch on a stormy night and relax from the week’s stresses! All three being shown on TCM are available digitally, too, and ultimately I’ll add them to my collection. However, the Japanese Gojira is not digitally released — and that one should, and must be, digitized!

Surfing the Star Wars Universe

The wonderful worlds of George Lucas’ Star Wars are a total jumble in my head.

Star Wars, and in particular the Jedi, are a bit of an obsession for me. George Lucas created a world that is ever-expanding at an ever-increasing pace. Fans were sucked into this universe with the first trilogy, accompanied by comics from Marvel and a couple of books, but once the trilogy completed itself, things — stopped. The story seemed over and then, almost tentatively, a book was released that picked up after Return of the Jedi. And then another book, and another, and next things fans knew we were being run over by a veritable onslaught of novels to read. Not just single books, but trilogies, and linked stories, books for adults and for children.

George made another three movies, chronicling the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Empire which Luke and Leia and Han defeated. I know that some people hate the new movies; others love them more than the originals. Me? I’m an equal opportunity fan — I adore the classic simplicity and design of the original movies, while cheering the ornateness and broad range of aliens in the prequels. Truth be told, I may be slightly more fond of the prequels — heresy, I know, to many, but hey! There’s a lot more Jedi swinging lightsabers during the romanticized Old Republic era — and as you can tell from the name of this blog, I love pointy things and romance.

Now, of course, with Disney taking the helm of Lucasfilm, fans are promised six or more new movies, another TV show, and yet another expansion of the Star Wars Universe. While I decry the slowdown in the creation of new action figures (hey, Hasbro, I want more Jedi!), I cannot wait to see where Star Wars goes from here.

Meanwhile, as I said, I am a devoted Star Wars fan. In my hunger for new stories, I read fan fiction — there are some lovely, epic-length sagas out there. I have even been known to write the occasional story of my own, in a genre that can only be described as ‘crack’ or ‘cracked’ (how else to classify a story in which Ewoks drive — and crash — a Senatorial pod?).

My desks and computers are guarded by Jedi action figures, while I not-so-secretly plan how to turn my somewhat unartistic talents to making figures of the Jedi who have yet to be modeled by Hasbro. And yes, I am one of those fans who lobbied for an action figure of Jocasta Nu. Gotta love the librarian.

Most importantly, I’ve read all the books and most of the graphic novels that expand on, and fill in the gaps of, the existing movies and the Clone Wars TV shows, so that the narrative created by Mr. Lucas never ends. It seems a new novel comes out every couple of months. Fortunately, I’m a fast reader.

I am, though, also a bit of a confused reader. I’ve read the comics and books as I got to them, not as they came out — and not in any particular chronological order. So I jumped from Luke wandering the galaxy with his son in search of the lost Sith tribe back to the pre-Republic era of Revan and then forward to the adventures of Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi. I cruised through the rise of the Empire with Darth Maul and then surfed back and forth between the battles of the Clone Wars and the battles against the Yuuzhon Vong.

My head is a giant bin filled with names, places, events and relationships, and while I know who goes where and why, I feel like I’ve missed something in my scattershot approach to reading the novels. So, for relaxation, I’ve decided to start re-reading the novels in chronological order. Fortunately, there’s a list so I don’t have to go crazy trying to figure out what juvenile book fits where between the adult and graphic novels.

I’m in no particular hurry; I’m doing this because I want to savor, slowly, a world I fell in love with years ago. I’ve started all the way back at the beginning with, fittingly, the latest book, “Into the Void.” I plan to read for at least 30 minutes a night, just to relax. Thirty minutes, for me, can translate into several chapters. Wonder if I’ll reach the end of the Universe before the end of the year?

Santa TCM grants half a wish . . .

A month or so ago, I requested that The Glass Key and several other movies, long unavailable on DVD, be released digitally.  TCM has given me half my wish — and released them on DVD this week.

The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett’s commentary on election corruption, which starred Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, is part of a 3-movie compilation released by TCM.   Dark Crimes gives us The Glass Key, another Ladd-Lake film noir, The Blue Dahlia, and Phantom Lady, a wonderful old classic about a man accused of murdering his wife, whose alibi witness cannot be found as he does not know her name.  Filled with  twists and turns, it’s a movie I’ve not seen for close to a decade, and one which I cannot wait to watch again!  However, I can’t help wondering why TCM didn’t include the third Ladd-Lake film, This Gun for Hire, instead of Lady.

I still want TCM to partner with iTunes/Amazon and release these movies digitually, or go off on their own and provide an MP4-type service so those of us who love classic Hollywood films can have them on our laptops.   But I am extremely grateful to TCM for finally releasing them on DVD.   Now if some of my other (obscure) favorites would receive the same treatment!