- William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
- by Ian Doescher
- published by Quirk Books (2013)
- Roar Score: 5/5
My patience runneth quickly out much like
The sands across the dunes of Tatooine.
So tell me, else thou diest quick; where shall
We find transmissions thou didst intercept?
What has thou done, say, with those plans?
I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to these. I first saw this book about a year ago when it first came out. I may have uttered the word genius when I read the description. And it really is. It’s fair to say that this first installment in the series lived up to my expectations.
Let’s get something out of the way, first, though. This is the Special Edition of Star Wars, complete with scenes of Jabba and Biggs. But I won’t hold that against the book. I promise. Those scenes are more a distraction than a flaw, though I do wonder why Doescher chose to include them.
Ian Doescher has done incredible work here. Some might say genius. He’s retold the entire movie, nearly line for line, not only in iambic pentameter but also with a genuine Shakespearean sensibility. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s…well…Star Wars, this feels like something Shakespeare could actually have written.
Thou truly art in jest. Art thou not small
Of stature, it thou art a stormtrooper?
Does Empire shrink for want of taller troops?
The Empire’s evil ways, I’ll grant, are grand,
But must its soldiers want for fear of height?
Special Edition nonsense notwithstanding, Doescher takes a few liberties in his retelling. And most of them work quite effectively. He uses a Chorus to function as a narrator, propelling the plot when necessary, and he gives several characters extended monologues that have no spoken equivalent in the film but serve to reveal deep insights into their feelings and motivations.
Many of the monologues use famous Shakespearean monologues (from Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Henry V, and others) as a jumping-off point. These, along with various asides in which the characters speak to the audience, are used to great effect to show motivations that are only implied in the film or shown through actions.
Most amusingly, he gives R2-D2 a speaking role. R2 still primarily speaks in (rhythmic) beeps and whistles, but he is allowed asides where he speaks to himself or the audience. Our insight into the character of that lovable little droid has never been more touching.
R2 and C-3PO are mostly comedy relief (not unlike their portrayal in the film) and are very reminiscent of Hamlet’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They have almost all of the laugh-out-loud lines.
—Thou shalt not label me
A mindless, brute philosopher! Nay, nay,
Thou overladen glob of grease, thou imp,
Thou rubbish bucket fit for scrap, thou blue
And silver pile of bantha dung! Now, come,
And get thee hence away lest someone sees.
The book is also peppered with lovely illustrations (by Nicolas Delort, who should be given more credit than a single mention on the copyright page) in which most of the characters are dressed in typical Shakespearean costumes. Vader’s is the best by far. I mean, come on, just look at that.
The Star Wars nerd in me bristled at some of the anachronisms included throughout. Why would Stormtroopers on Vader’s Star Destroyer know about Mos Eisley Cantina? Why would Luke talk about Bespin? Why does Biggs mention Naboo? Why would Ugnaughts or the moon of Endor come up in conversation?
Obviously, I’m nitpicking here. I realize that.
Will kids like this? That’s a tough one. Most young kids won’t be able to parse the language, even if it’s read aloud. Older kids who are familiar with Shakespearean language will likely enjoy the heck out of it. Like most of Shakespeare, however, the unconventional grammar and syntax will probably be the biggest roadblock.
Though, to be fair, kids aren’t really the target audience here. For big kid geeks like me? It’s an unqualified success. Bravo.
Verdict? If pressed, I might still use the word genius here. After 37 years, it feels like Star Wars has already been given every treatment imaginable. Kudos to Doescher for offering up something fresh and—better yet—wholly enjoyable.
But unto Tosche Station would I go,
And there obtain some pow’r converters. Fie!