It is a period of civil war.
The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift
From base unseen, have gain’s a vict’ry o’er
the cruel Galactic Empire, now adrift.
Amidst the battle, rebel spies prevai’d
And stole the plans to a space station vast,
Whose pow’rful beams will later be unveil’d
And crush a planet: ’tis the DEATH STAR blast.
Pursu’d by agents sinister and cold,
Now Princess Leia to her home doth flee,
Deliv’ring plans and a new hope they hold:
Of bringing freedom to the galaxy.
In time so long ago begins our play,
In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.
— Chorus, Prologue, Star Wars, Verily, A New Hope
No this is not a fanfiction from the darkest, creepy corners of the internet. This is a legitimate publication by Ian Doescher.
But first, I am going to start talking about Joseph Campbell. Who is Joseph Campbell I hear you ask? Your geek card is revoked for not knowing this guy!
Joseph Campbell was an American writer, lecturer, and mythologist. One of his more famous publication is The Hero with a Thousand Faces which is considered a standard reading for many modern writers and artist (you get your geek card back after reading this work). Campbell did a lot of study on Shakespeare, especially for the aforementioned publication. George Lucas has said flat out in an interview that he use the theories and ideas taught by Campbell and use it for developing his own hero story with his character Luke Skywalker. (Later publications of the book included the self-same character on the cover) For his publication, Campbell did an extensive study on the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
From Shakespeare to Campbell to Lucas, we now come full circle in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher.
The picture on the dustcover is something that easily evokes something that could be found in a folio, with Darth Vader peering out to you and his armor styled with an Elizabethan flavor. Take the dustcover off and you find a new book that really wants to be an awesome old book with all the signs of being well worn and read. We are even provided with a Dramatis Personae that includes a chorus. Doescher divided the movie into five acts for his adaptation that surprised me with how well it worked.
But let’s get down to what everyone is asking about – what about the dialogue?
Doescher converted the dialogue of the movie into iambic pentameter, which is a great accomplishment in its own right. The archaic Elizabethan grammar and vocabulary are used without losing the space jargon of Star Wars: ‘Now lock thine S foils in attacking mode,’ or ‘E’ven now the princess in on Level 5/ Detention block of AA-23.’ Many of those lines from the movie that were just awkward (admit it!!) is brought to eleven with fantastic results that resulted in many a smile. R2D2’s beeps and whistles and the untranslated gibberish from alien characters are even put into the blank verse. I am not joking: ‘Beep, meep, beep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, meep/ beep, whee!’ (that is an actual quote!)
Not only is Star Wars well represented in the dialogue so is many of Shakespeare’s memorable lines. During the briefing where the Rebels lay out their plan of attack on the Death Star, Luke gives a paraphrase of Henry V’s band of brothers’ monologue, which includes reference to having hunted wompa rats which are not much more than two meters. We also get ‘What light from yonder flashing sensor breaks? / It marks the loss of yon deflector shield.’
What really sold me on this was the tongue-in-cheek jokes that only true Star Wars fans would get. I point to Han and his rhyming couplet: ‘I pray thee, sir, forgive me for the mess/And whether I shout first, I’ll not confess.’ Bam said the lady!! There is also a stormtrooper who, while searching of R2D2 and C3PO, orders ‘This door’s locked, move on to the next one,’ which then gets turned into this ridiculous grandiose explanation of how his father told him he could be absolutely certain that nothing of interest would ever be found behind a lock door and has made that his guiding principle through life. That brought to mind when Shakespeare would have these random comedic relief characters just show up say something funny then leave never to be heard from again.
Then there are the asides. Here is where we see the brilliance of Doescher shine through. It is here that he gets to delve more into the characters adding levels and depth that might have been lacking in the movie. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a good example of this: he alludes to events in Revenge of the Sith and uses it to explain why he is holding back most of the truth from Luke. He even anticipates his soon to come death and accepts it. This just adds to the final confrontation with Darth Vader on the Death Star making it a dramatic showdown. There is Han Solo’s aside in which we get a glimpse into his reasoning for helping the Rebels at the Death Star at the last minutes. The asides that really take the cake are the ones of R2D2. Yes, R2D2 speaks Basic, and that snarky little droid that we all know and love, shines through.
Though the question comes to mind with regards of making Star Wars into a stage play: how do display all the cool special effects and space battles? That question flashed through my mind as I read especially towards the fifth act. The answer (for at least the first book) – the Chorus!!! Not only do they recite the beginning text crawl (see opening sonnet), they also pop up every so often to provide linking narration between scenes and things that were shown in special effects are described by them. They also plead with the audience
‘As our scene to space, so deep and dark,
O’er your imagination we’ll hold sway.
For neither players nor the stage can mark
The great and mighty scene they must portray.
We ask you, let your keen mind’s eye be chief –
Think when we talk of starships, there they be.
If you can soon disbelief,
The Death Star ride the noble fleet.’
In the following books Doescher uses different methods besides the Chorus depending on the situation.
So overall, I do recommend this book. At this point of writing this review Doescher has ‘translated’ the Original Trilogy to Shakespeare and has recently published The Phantom Menace. I have read all of them. With each publication Doescher has added a lot of thought and consideration and has a better grasp on the whole thing in general. For example, when we meet Yoda in The Empire Striketh Back he speaks in haiku. In the contents of this seires it makes perfect sense.
May the Force be with you!
Et cum spiritu tuo!