Monday, 28 October 2013

Book review, October 2013

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily a New Hope
By Ian Doescher
174pp. Quirk Books. $14.95. 978 1 59474 637 6

Review by Patrick West

Last year Ian Doescher read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, watched the Star Wars trilogy “for the millionth time” and saw an adaptation by Alison Carey of The Merry Wives of Windsor set in contemporary Iowa. He then woke up one day with the idea of retelling Star Wars in iambic pentameter in the style of the Bard.

Shakespeare and Star Wars actually have quite a lot in common, if you consider them in the light of The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) by the Jungian anthropologist Joseph Campbell. There Campbell explores the unifying themes found in all legends – among them good and evil, hubris and nemesis, fate and redemption. Campbell focused on Shakespeare when composing his study, and George Lucas in turn consciously drew from Campbell when creating his first Star Wars film of 1977. The difficult parent–child relationship represented between Darth Vadar and Luke Skywalker – and the mentor–learner relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker – echo themes in the First and Second Parts of King Henry the Fourth, The Tempest and Hamlet. In a different galaxy, Darth Vader would have been Iago from Othello or Edmund from King Lear. Obi-Wan is a wise Prospero in life and a haunting King Hamlet in ghost form. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the everyman commentators, re-emerge as C-3PO and R2-D2.

But, unsurprisingly, it’s the textual marriage of the two storytellers that makes this such an appealing project. Doescher went about his task by systematically applying Shakespearean locutions, references and literary devices to Star Wars dialoguem and the more familiar you are with each of them the more amused you will be.

Consider the Rebel attack on the Death Star, as valiant pilots perish:
"RED SIX Disaster at me strikes
BIGGS - Eject, forsooth!
RED SIX I yet may set it right.
BIGGS -Anon, pull up!
RED SIX Nay, nay, I’ll warrant that all shall be well-
                                          [Explosion. Red Six dies."

Soon after, the Chorus reappears.
“ 'Luke’s ship comes closer to the little port/
While Vader and his crew draw all too near.
Young Luke to his computer doth resort/
Until he hears the voice speak in his ear'

There are lighter passages. Han Solo becomes a loveable rogue worthy of a Comedy, concluding that impasse in the cantina with the bounty hunter thus: “HAN Aye, true, I’ll warrant thou has wish’d this day. [They shoot, Greedo dies.] [To innkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess. [Aside:] And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!”

Elsewhere, R2-D2’s inner dialogue is a delight:
“OBI-WAN [To R2-D2:] Well met, my little one. R2-D2 [aside:] – Almost I could My metal tongue release and speak to him. This man doth show sure signs of wisdom and Experience. [To Obi-Wan:] Beep, beep, meep, beep, meep, squeak.”
Had he been born in the 20th century, Shakespeare could have written Star Wars Episode IV instead of Henry The Fifth.

It is flawed. The “band of brothers” oration should really have been paraphrased before the attack on the Death Star, not by Luke during it, with an Imperial Starfighter on his tail. Some sections seem shoe-horned in: “Is this an ast’roid field I see before me”, “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears”. But these are only minor distractions in a funny, delightful and occasionally moving work.


A version of this review was commissioned but went unpublished

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