This is just a brilliant adaptation of Star Wars into the style of Shakespeare. Those two things are so different that my first reaction was "This is some kind of joke, right?" But while there's a great deal of humor to be found here, the project is not a parody. Not at all. It's a celebration of two hitherto separate but equally great triumphs of storytelling.
The first step was converting the dialogue of A New Hope into iambic pentameter. This is a great accomplishment in its own right: archaic sixteenth-century grammar and vocabulary are used, giving this writing a very authentically Shakespearean feel; at the same time, Star Wars jargon is faithfully represented: "Now lock thine S foils in attacking mode," for instance, or "E'en now the princess is on Level 5/Detention block of AA-23." Deliberately awkward dialogue from Star Wars is dialed up to eleven, with side-splittingly entertaining results; read the reinterpretation of Han's attempts to convince security that everything is fine in the detention block after his fire fight with the guards there. Unintentionally awkward dialogue, of which Lucas wrote a fair amount, is smoothed over and expanded upon to the point of eloquence; see Wedge's "Look at the size of that thing!" and Red Leader's response of "Cut the chatter." R2-D2's beeps and whistles and untranslated gibberish from alien characters are sometimes used as needed to get a tricky line into blank verse, which didn't bother me any. While contractions like "Millen'um Falcon" and "th'Imper'al Senate" look awful on paper, calling to mind some cotton-mouthed Mississippi redneck, there really is no way around it, given the nature of iambic pentameter.
At any rate, the conversion to blank verse is just the beginning. The dialogue is just so rich. It makes good use of Shakespearean cribs, great and small: 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. One-liners are also in abundance: During the Falcon's desperate flight from Tatooine past a star destroyer, we hear "What light from yonder flashing sensor breaks?/It marks the loss of yon deflector shield." There are also inside jokes for Star Wars lovers; my favorite was Han's rhyming couplet after his confrontation with Greedo: "I pray thee, sir, forgive me for the mess/And whether I shot first, I'll not confess." As for the stormtrooper who, while searching for R2-D2 and C-3P0, ordered his mates "This door's locked, move on to the next one," his one line is transformed into an absurdly grandiose explanation of how his father told him he could be absolutely certain that nothing of interest would ever be found behind a locked door, and he's made that a guiding principle of his life ever since.
More seriously, the use of Shakespearean conventions adds so much texture to this version of the story. Liberal use of asides which create original dialogue not based on anything from Lucas's text give characterization to characters whose motives are a bit obscure in A New Hope: Obi-Wan alludes to the events of Revenge of the Sith and explains why he is concealing most of the truth from Luke at this point. He also indicates that he anticipates and is prepared to accept his fate. Darth Vader, meanwhile, uses his asides to acknowledge the bitterness and resentment which cuts so deep to his core and continues to corrupt Anakin Skywalker (without ever acknowledging that he is Anakin, of course). The combination of these two side-characterizations gives the duel between Vader and Obi-Wan the sense of being a climactic showdown many years in the making that it deserves. (In A New Hope proper, I've always thought it felt terribly anti-climactic, even more so after seeing the circumstances under which the two men had previously parted ways.) Han Solo uses his frequent asides to paint himself as a man who feels drawn to a nobler existence than his life of ruthless self-interest has provided, but who cannot heed that internal calling because of the burden of his debt to Jabba the Hutt. In the culmination of this journey he walks us through his decision to join the attack on the Death Star and save Luke from Vader's TIE fighter, rather than just showing up out of nowhere as he does in the movie.
R2-D2 also gets plenty of asides, and they are intelligible; in the first of these he explains to the audience that he only beeps and whistles where other characters can hear him because he's decided to play the fool so no one will suspect he knows more about the situation than he's letting on. This is a stroke of genius; I'm certain that that is exactly what Shakespeare would have done with the character. Subsequent asides are used to provide exposition to the audience.
Asides also give development to characters who are just nameless extras in the movie, mostly stormtroopers reflecting on their station before getting shot. And of course the asides provide humor: After being interrupted by C-3P0, Obi-wan asks in annoyance "Why speaks't he here when 'tis my time to speak?/These droids of protocol are e'er uncouth/Of etiquette they know but little, troth!"
One small complaint I have about the asides is that the word "aside" is often misused in the text, identifying as an aside a line that is directed at another character, or being absent from a line that should be described as such. Hopefully that's one of those typos that crops up in an uncorrected proof and will be caught before the finished product goes to print.
Another smart innovation is the use of a chorus to advance the action. They recite the famous trapezoidal crawl of text at the beginning of the movie--recast as a sonnet--then crop up throughout the book to provide linking narration between scenes or within a scene via rhyming quatrains. Mostly they're describing or summarizing scenes which in the movie were shown entirely by visual effects, effects which could not possibly be duplicated in a stage production. They really come into their own during the climactic Rebel attack on the Death Star, explaining what's going on while the various characters supply dialogue. In the Globe Theater this is how it would have to be done; it would not be practical to have the pilots give elaborate descriptions of what they're supposed to be seeing. (By the way, the chorus opens that scene with an appeal to the audience to use their imaginations to picture what's described rather than to insist on having everything presented as sensory stimuli. I couldn't help wondering if this was a gentle mockery of the special effects saturation of the prequel trilogy and recent rereleases of the original trilogy.) Not many Shakespearean plays include a chorus, but it's necessary here and really is the best way to reconcile elements of a story written for a visual medium with the new literary medium in which it's being recast.
One final feature which makes this book even more enjoyable is the illustrations. They're no masterpieces, to be sure, but there's a real level of enjoyment to see familiar characters represented via sixteenth century drawing methods, including some very stylized costumes which give recognizably science fiction outfits an Elizabethan flair.
All in all, what sounds like an amusing gag gift when you read the product description turns out to be a very sophisticated merging of two great storytelling styles. I do hope that this is not a one-time thing; I hope it's a great success that inspires the adaptation of the other Star Wars films in the same style, and similar projects for Doctor Who or Harry Potter or whatever. It's intelligent, it's enjoyable on countless levels, and its brilliance cannot be overstated.
Coincidentally I just finished reading How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, which used actual text from the Bard. After having a dose of Shakespeare and learning to memorize his works, when I got my hands on this I had one immediate response. . .
Ha. Ha. Ha!
I got a good laugh, as the timely classic story we all know so well is put into the form of a stage play with a lot of Thee's, Thou's and the like.
Not nearly as skilled writing as the Bard's trademark rhyming and other fantastic uses of the English language. Now I'm still unfamiliar with recognizing iambic pentameter, but that's supposed to play a big part in this retelling.
Here is an excerpt that folks should be able to place:
HAN: Pray tell, what shall the cargo be?
The boy, two droids, and ne're a question ask'd.
HAN 'Tis what, a touch of local trouble here?
OBI-WAN Nay, let us simply say it thus: we would
Imperial entanglements avoid
HAN Aye, there's the rub, so shalt though further pay.
Ten thousand is the cost, and ev'ry bit
Shalt though deliver ere we leave the dock.
LUKE Ten thousand? Fie! We could our own ship buy
For such a sum as this.
HAN -A goodly jest!
For who should pilot such a ship -- shouldst thou?
LUKE Thou knave, I could indeed!. . .
As you can see, this is how the entire book reads. It makes the Shakespearean fan have a good laugh and enjoy the Star Wars in a different light.
Also note there are some illustrations throughout that are kinda cool.
on July 7, 2013
I got a copy of this book to review from the Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review. When I saw this book was releasing I really wanted to read it, I love Shakespeare and Star Wars and was eager to see what would happen when the two are put together. The result was very pleasant; I enjoyed the dramatic way Star Wars is done in play form and the wonderful illustrations throughout. I really enjoyed reading this.
This book covers Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in a very Shakespearean format. The book is broken down into Acts and Scenes. Each line is prefaced by who is speaking it (just like in a play). There is a Chorus that covers action scenes too. The whole thing is written in very Shakespeare like language. The book is also interspersed with some wonderful drawings of our heros in their Shakespeare-modified gear.
The only bad part about this book is that I already know how the story goes and ends. So given that, there weren't a lot of surprises here...but there were some. One of my favorite additions were R2D2's soliloquies. Sure he may speak in squeaks and beeps when others are on stage with him, but as soon as he is alone then the soliloquies start. R2D2 does elaborate asides on C3PO's annoying personality and on his own sneaky plans. These are hilarious, add a lot of depth to R2D2, and are just perfect for him.
There are some other additions to the story as well. For example in an aside Obi-Wan debates what and what not to tell Luke about his father. These little asides actually add a lot of humor and thoughtfulness to the story. I thought they actually even improved the story some and made it more complex and interesting.
The language is very Shakespearean, but I still found it easy to read. I absolutely love reading Shakespeare and love the way it sounds. As with all Shakespeare it is best if read out loud, or at least out loud in your head. The banter between Han Solo and Princess Leia in this Shakespearean style is especially amusing. The only thing I would caution is that if you have historically really disliked or had trouble reading Shakespeare then you may not enjoy reading this.
The illustrations throughout added a lot to the story too. Some of them are pretty funny, for example Jabba the Hut in an Elizabethan Collar...or the picture on the back of the book where Vader realizes the Death Star has been blown up. I enjoyed the etch-like quality to them and thought they matched the tone of the story well.
Overall I approached this genre mish-mash with skepticism and a bit of tentative excitement and ended up very pleasantly surprised. I loved the way this was put together and thought it was incredibly well done. Doescher does an excellent job of blending the drama and wonder of Star Wars with the dramatic qualities of a good Shakespearean play. In fact Star Wars kind of lends itself to this type of reinvention. The additions Doescher have made (such as R2D2's asides) have added a lot of depth and interest to the story as well. Highly recommended to Star Wars fans...and especially Star Wars fans who love Shakespeare.
on July 13, 2013
The author tells the story of the first Star Wars movie in iambic pentameter, in the style of Shakespeare. It is divided into acts and scenes, and contains soliloquies and asides (the one Obi Wan uses when he's trying to decide whether to tell Luke the truth about his father is actually pretty moving.) R2 D2 takes on the role of the fool, and speaks English in his asides, but in beeps and whistles (in iambic pentameter) to the other characters. There are lines from Shakespeare worked in pretty often. Here's the beginning of Act I scene 1:
C-3PO: Now is the summer of our happiness
Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!
Our ship is under siege, I know not how.
O hast thou heard? The main reactor fails!
We shall most surely be destroy'd by this.
I'll warrant madness likes herein!
R2-D2: --Beep beep,
Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!
C3-PO: We're doomed.
There are beautiful woodcut illustrations. If you look closely, you will see that some of the characters, like Jabba the Hutt, are dressed in Elizabethan clothing.
I do want to mention that I got both the hardback (which is physically yummy as well as fun to read) and the Kindle edition. The Kindle edition has some formatting problems. The speakers are listed on the left, and the dialog only appears on the right half of the screen, which means when you use a font any larger than middle sized, some of the words get stretched down the side of the screen. The hardback is formatted much better.
on August 29, 2013
Star Wars and Shakespeare are two subjects I'm quite keen on. The be honest, I would imagine most people who are crazy about one are very likely to be crazy about the other. As the author notes in his Afterword, the two are linked. Whether or not the two should be tossed together like a portmanteau is a matter of opinion, but the result was enjoyable enough.
I think I read through this one in the same way any Star Wars nerd would read through it: excitedly waiting for my favorite moments in anticipation of how Doescher would transform them with a Shakespearian treatment. And when it worked, it was laugh out loud funny. My favorite moment had to come when Leia's classic quip of "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" was transformed to:
"Thou truly art in jest. Art thou not small
Of stature, if 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?"
There are more than a handful of terrific gems like that here.
My difficulty with "William Shakespeare's Star Wars" came from the constant nudges to the reader. I'm aware of the fact that the very *existence* of a book with this title implies that there will be a few winks to the audience here and there, but by the time Luke is contemplating a downed storm trooper's helmet in parody of Hamlet's "To Be Or Not To Be" speech, I was shouting "For god's sake, I GET IT". These not-so-subtle allusions start with C3PO aping Richard III, and continue with Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. Hell, Doescher even throws in a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner". The nerdisms, like Han's confession that "...whether I shot first, I'll ne'er confess!" go the same route: It's a cute idea, but the execution is a little hamfisted.
Doescher does a good job with the meter, which would have been a flaw I was prepared to forgive. However, his constant use of the Chorus (which isn't really something Shakespeare was known for) and his liberal application of asides to the audience feel like unnecessary padding. There are, however, exceptions to this rule, such as Obi-Wan's touching monologue before being cut down by Vader.
All in all, I had a fun time with this book. I expect that Ian Doescher will continue the trilogy, and can only hope that he'll learn from one of the men that inspired this book: "Brevity is the soul of wit."
William Shakespeare's Star Wars is the gift for the Star Wars geek in your life. It serves no other purpose. It is the script for the original Star wars movie- "A New Hope" as if written by Shakespeare in iambic pentameter.
To be fair it follows the plot exactly-though of Lucas re-released version form the 1990's with scenes with Jabba the Hutt added in. The fact I can recognize that probably says something about me but let's not go there.
On the downside the text relies too much on `thee' and `thy' the more fruity language we think of for Shakespeare; "I find thy lack of fail disturbing" or "A student was I when I left thee last" but in some of the more earthy plays like "Henry V" and "Julius Caesar" would have allowed a straight delivery of the lines. The lines of Obiwan and Vader would seem to fit more easily into the meter without needing to be mixed.
In the end this is a darn silly book but not really for the average reader or even the average fan. It is for the hard core Star Wars geek who upon being presented with it will run off into a corner and chortle happily for hours. I know who I'm giving my copy to.
Oh and the one line delivered straight in this book and the film? "Let the wookie win" I guess some things don't need to be translated.
on August 27, 2013
Somebody please produce this play! It needs to been seen. When I first came across this book I was very intrigued. Star Wars and Shakespeare rolled into one. I think Ian Doescher did a phenomenal job turning the science fiction class into another classic all of its own. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Star Wars fit as a Shakespearean play. My favorite part of reading this book was looking for the iconic scenes in Star Wars and reading how well Doescher reworded them.
OBI-WAN: Alas-I sense the game, and we're the pawns. That is no moon, 'Tis a space station there.
Also, like many of Shakespeare's plays, there is inner dialog, and for the first time we get to hear R2-D2's inner thoughts. That robot it deep! This is a great book for people of all ages. While I was reading I had several people ask to borrow this book when I was done. The idea of Shakespeare and Star Wars together certainly captures the attention of many people. I think this idea should be applied to many books. It would introduce people to Shakespeare in a way that's not so foreign to them and make the reading experience more enjoyable.
on July 16, 2013
As a long-time Star Wars fan, and someone who considers herself appreciative of Shakespeare's writing, this book caught my eye the moment Amazon suggested it to me (probably due to me reading and liking Jeffrey Brown's "Darth Vader and Son" comic book). Star Wars written in the style of the Bard? The idea was so absurd I couldn't pass it up -- if done right, it would be an entertaining mash-up, and even if done wrong it would at least be good for a chuckle, right?
I give author Ian Doescher credit -- he does a fair job of imitating Shakespeare's signature style, even down to maintaining the iambic meter throughout. But the premise, while entertaining at first, wears thin by the midpoint of the book, and falls short of truly emulating the Bard.
The book is basically exactly what it says on the cover -- the plot of 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope" retold as a Shakespearean play, complete with stage directions, a Greek Chorus, and all the flowery language one comes to expect from William's work. Those who have seen the movie won't find much new here, though there are a few funny surprises -- R2D2 actually having lines beyond his trademark beeps (and he's quite the snarker, one comes to find out), Luke Skywalker's Hamlet-esque soliloquy to a stormtrooper's helmet, etc. And the illustrations are a treat, emulating the engraving-style look of the era and giving Shakespearean twists to the costumes, props, and settings of the films. Who knew Darth Vader would look so good with a collar on his cape?
The book has its flaws, however. I found the Chorus largely unnecessary, as they did little more than narrate what's going on "onscreen" -- that could have been handled via the stage directions. Also, Doescher seems to think that all it takes to imitate the Bard is to use flowery language, substitute "thou" for "you," and set everything in iambic meter. What he fails to realize -- and a LOT of Shakespeare's imitators fall into this trap, actually -- is that the Bard didn't just fall back on pretty language and meter. He had a remarkable gift with words, weaving sly references to mythology, history, and contemporary (at the time) events into his plays, and including clever wordplay and words with double and even triple meanings to make jokes and barbs for the audience to catch. Sadly, this book has little such wordplay, and simply reading page after page of "thee" and "thou" and purple prose soon gets tedious.
All that said, while the book might not be the best thing to read for entertainment purposes, I think it could be a great teaching tool. I can see teachers using it to interest their students in Shakespeare's writing, and to show them the similarities between the epic saga of "Star Wars" and the great historical epics, tragedies, and even comedies of Shakespeare's work. And even if it's not a true imitation of the Bard's work, it can at least get students used to the meter and basic style of the plays, so that they're better prepared for Shakespeare's actual work. Perhaps the book can be expanded at a future date, and include a teaching guide and a more expansive comparison between the works of Shakespeare and the works of Lucas? (There's about two pages of comparison in the back, but I'm sure an in-depth comparison of these two storytellers' works could fill an entire book.)
I don't hate this book. I don't even dislike it. I just think it falls a bit shy of its goal. But I can see it becoming an invaluable teaching tool, and a good way for a young Star Wars enthusiast to be introduced to the works of a classic playwright. That, and I'm perversely interested in seeing a group of fans re-enact this as a play. Fighting 501st, is this for you?
on June 25, 2014
The concept for this series (there's 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'The Jedi Doth return') is ingenious. This book is fun to read. I am giving it 3 stars and not 4 because the Shakespearean language of the author though admirable, does not match that of the Bard. It is an unfair comparison perhaps, but I thought that the reader should not expect too much. Here's an example of the text from Scene 8:
Han: Now dropping out of light speed's frantic rush
We enter swift unto the area
Where should there be great Alderaan in view.
But pray what madness meets the Falcon's flight?
Is this an ast'roid field I see before me?
The ship hath wrought a course direct and true,
Yet no Alderaan may here be found.
O errand vile, O portents of great ill!
What shall it mean, when planets are no more,
For those who make their wages by the stars?
Luke: What news good Han?
Han: - The ship's position hits
The mark, and yet no Alderaan there is.
Luke: I pray thee, marry, say: what canst thou mean?
"William Shakespeare's Star Wars"
Written by Ian Doescher
(With a little help from The Bard)
(Quirk Books, 2013)
This is a brilliantly inventive, densely crafted hybrid/spoof, taking the plot of the original "Star Wars" movie and reinterpreting it as a Shakespearean stage play, complete with iambic pentameter and everything. There are numerous clever touches, such as having the squeaky droid R2D2 go, "week-bip-deet-doot" when speaking to the other characters, but speak in long, poetic asides to the audience, or giving lines to alien races such as the Jawas that are written entirely in their alien language, albeit still in rhyming form. A common reaction seems to be, "this is for hardcore fans only," but methinks thou protest too much. I'm sure this would be a real hoot if staged live. Remember: the real Shakespeare plays don't always "read" that well, and things that seem incomprehensible on the printed page are a delight when in the hands of a skilled actor. Anyway, I applaud Ian Doescher for his hard work and divine inspiration... and look forward to seeing this onstage in Ashland some year. (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain children's book reviews)