Top positive review
211 people found this helpful
on June 8, 2013
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.