William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back

  • William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back
  • by Ian Doescher
  • published by Quirk Books (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Following on the success of the first adaptation—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars—we are treated to the inevitable adaption of The Empire Strikes Back. The second film in the trilogy is beloved by most and usually regarded as the best Star Wars movie ever made (and one of the finest examples of adventure science fiction on film in general).

So how does The Empire Striketh Back compare? Quite well, thank you very much.

Ian Doescher continues to do what he did so well the first time around. The entire story is retold in iambic pentameter (with one notable exception) and has a genuine Shakespearean feel to it. Again, this feels like something Shakespeare could have actually written…if his imagination had conjured up wampa snow creatures and diminutive green warriors.

Speaking of the wampa, he actually gets a speaking role here. And he’s the third character to speak in the entire book. Talk about a coup.

Pray know that I a wampa simple am,
And take no pleasure in my angry mood.
Though with great force this young one’s face I slam,
I prithee know I strike but for my food.

One of the minor issues I have with these books is that, after a while, all of the characters begin to sound like Yoda with unconventional grammar and word order. I was curious to see how the actual character of Yoda would speak.

As it turns out, this is also something that occurred to Doescher (obviously). To further separate Yoda’s speech from everyone else, he has Yoda speak in haiku. Doescher describes his thought process and rationale for this in the Afterword, which I highly recommend reading.

Long have I watch’d him.
All his life looking away
To the future, hmm,

To the horizon.
Ne’er his mind on where he was,
What he was doing!

For the most part, this works remarkably well. And it’s somewhat fitting that Yoda, our ancient Jedi master who is more than a bit zen, should speak in an ancient form of Japanese poetry.

The shoehorning of existing dialogue into iambic pentameter works a little more unevenly here than it did in the first book. Some lines work better with the brevity from the films. For example, compare Han’s pithy (and perfectly executed) “I thought they smelled bad on the outside” with:

                                                O, vile!
These tauntauns have an awful stench outside,
But nothing did I know of wretchedness,
Disgusting rot, and sick’ning filth till this
New smell hath made attack upon my nose.

By contrast, sometimes the opposite is true. The flowery language Doescher conjures can work to great effect:

Leia:
Thou arrogant half-wit,
Thou oversized child, thou friend of slime,
Thou man of scruffy looks, thou who herd’st nerfs,
Thou fool-born wimpled roughhewn waste of flesh!

Han:
What scruffy? Scruffy, how? Whose scruffiness?
How am I all bescruff’d?

In addition to the wampa, the AT-ATs and the space slug all get speaking lines, which is delightful.

Again, there are prequel references, though far fewer than in the first book. Leia mentions Gungans at one point, which completely removed me from the story, but it was but a slight irritation.

Again, Nicolas Delort delivers some fantastic illustrations, and his contributions are criminally unrecognized.

Again, this will likely not be received well by young children, but older kids (and those of us who are the true audience) will eat it up.

Verdict? Well worth reading, if you’re a fan. The novelty of the Shakespearean language begins to wear off a bit, but it’s still a remarkable effort. This sequel was inevitable, as was the completion of the trilogy. (Quirk published Empire and Jedi within months of each other this year.) Keep an eye on this space for our review of the final book in the trilogy.

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