Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope (Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2013), 174pp
This book had me feeling giddy throughout. I read it with a constant smile on my face, loving it even more than I thought I would. But don't think that William Shakespeare's Star Wars is just another mash-up, which are all the rage at the moment with the likes of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This isn't a tired facsimile of the Star Wars script with the odd 'forsooth' or 'alas' thrown in - it is a genuinely clever and affectionate homage to both the works of William Shakespeare and to Star Wars, rendered in an authentic, flowing iambic pentameter that does the legacies of both the Bard and George Lucas proud.
You see, the advantage William Shakespeare's Star Wars has over other mash-ups is that, as writer Ian Doescher ably demonstrates in his Afterword with reference to Joseph Campbell, the two fall within the same populist story-telling tradition. Doescher identifies the common elements, of which there are many, and brings them together in perfect harmony. The heady Shakespearean prose lends itself well to Lucas' iconic dialogue, succeeding in etching a gigantic and immovable grin on my face. Doescher also adds his own ideas which makes it very much his own work. The Star Wars characters now have their own delightful Shakespearean inner monologues (think Hamlet's "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."), with R2-D2's being particularly interesting. He also handles the action scenes well without breaking the immersion in this Elizabethan simulation.
I have no doubt Star Wars nerds will relish it all, as I did. Aside from the cleverly re-imagined dialogue and the dignity of Shakespearean tragedy given to the characters (perhaps Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, might have revised his opinions on the "banal lines" and "mumbo-jumbo" if Doescher had been around to demonstrate their true depth), Doescher also amusingly addresses fan sticking-points such as whether Han shot Greedo first and foreshadows the later Luke/Leia relationship reveal on page 33. There's also a highly amusing lampshading of the dumb, faceless mook trope on pp102-4, as two Imperial Stormtroopers question the wisdom of their superiors. And has there ever been a better description of Han Solo's beloved Millennium Falcon than as "a rough-hewn wayward scut" (pg. 82)? There's also a number of hidden gems for the Bard's fans; I noticed references to As You Like It (pg. 39), Macbeth (pp12, 95), Hamlet (pg. 124), Richard III (pg. 143) and numerous references to Henry V and Julius Caesar in Luke's rather badass final battle speeches à la the "band of brothers" (well, that wasn't in the original!). And I'm not even much of a Shakespeare aficionado; no doubt there are more that I missed.
There will be some who won't give this a chance; those who don't like Star Wars, perhaps (who are you people?) or those who have had an aversion to Shakespeare since high school. But those people are missing out on this amazingly well-executed and loving homage. If you are in two minds, then screw your courage to the sticking-place and give it a try. Like me, you'll be counting the days until the second book, The Empire Striketh Back. And for those of you worried about whether you'll be able to untangle the Shakespearean prose, rest assured that it flows very well. Consider, finally, the following passage which re-imagines the famous "let the Wookiee win" scene, after Chewbacca is frustrated at a move R2-D2 has made in a game of chess:
- Be thou wise, droid, mark well what
As it is said: black holes are worth thy fear,
But fear thou more a Wookiee's deadly wrath.
But Sir, no proverb warns the galaxy
Of how a droid may hotly anger'd be.
Aye, marry, 'tis because no droid hath e'er
Torn out of joint another being's arms
Upon a lesser insult e'en than this -
But Wookiees, golden droid, are not so tame.
Thy meaning, Sir, doth prick my circuit board.
'Tis best to play the fool, and not the sage,
To say it brief: pray let the Wookiee win.