Book Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are times in life when things just line up. Maybe it’s the stars. Maybe it’s the planets. Maybe it’s a herd of cats (although, I think the last one signals the beginning of Ragnarok). Call it what you will, there are just moments when the disparate parts of your life, through no effort of your own, form a perfect harmony. This is one of those moments for me.
In case the absurd effusiveness of that lead didn’t make it clear enough, I am Doescher’s target audience. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Star Wars, and I read Shakespeare between innings of baseball games and during football timeouts. So, after I got past my double fanboy geek-out, I settled down to actually read the thing. What I found was an esoteric little tome which was a pleasure to read and not nearly so contrived as you might expect.
This has a great deal to do with Doescher’s equal commitment to both sides of the mashup. Rather than simply shoehorn Lucas’ script into a Shakespearian style and format, the author has imagined the film from the Bard’s point of view. That’s not to say that this stands up to a real Shakespearian play. One glaring difference is that the audience knows more or less the same amount as the main characters. In Shakespeare, one of his hallmarks is that the audience always knows more than any single character. This is what creates the tension or comedy, as the story requires. That said, the effect of this book is as though Shakespeare were hired for a script rewrite. He can’t touch the characters or the plot, but rather has to present them in a better way. This, Doescher does convincingly.
His language was so authentic that I flagged particular lines, suspecting they were pulled whole from one play or another. Hamlet and Macbeth seemed the most likely suspects. But while there were some passages which were close, there was nothing which made me cry “plagiarism!” (or “Easter Egg!”, which would have been the more likely case). I was impressed, too, with Doescher’s use of asides and soliloquies. Star Wars doesn’t lend itself to such reflective dramatic tools, and yet the author not only worked them in, but used them to improve the character development. For those who are relative neophytes to the movie, passages like Tarkin’s reflection on Vader (II.iii.84-100, p. 61) or Luke’s lament after his Aunt and Uncle’s murder (II.iv.51-76, p. 64) provide a depth of understanding which only comes after countless viewings and endless debates in someone’s dingy basement. After some thought, I even came to appreciate that he gave R2-D2 real lines as asides & soliloquies. After all, just throwing in the occasional “meepeth” and “beepeth” (which Doescher never does, by the way) would have been a waste of everyone’s time.
In the end, reading this book was not unlike reading one of Shakespeare’s history plays, say Henry IV, part I. There’s plenty of action, involving memorable characters, rendered in eloquently energetic language. The further I read, the more I though, “Man! This needs to be staged!” Oh, wait…