Tuesday, May 13, 2014

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (2013) Book Review

Author Ian Doescher has taken two of my passions and combined them in one book, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. Yes, it’s the original Star Wars tale presented in iambic pentameter. There are asides and soliloquys (even R2-D2 gets a soliloquy!) and rhyming couplets, and it’s divided into five acts. There are also illustrations by Nicolas Delort.

The opening crawl is done as a sonnet by the Chorus, as in The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet, and even includes the line, “In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.” There are references to Shakespeare’s works throughout the book. C-3PO speaks the first line of Act I Scene i, “Now is the summer of our happiness/Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!” (p. 10). That, of course, is a play on the first line of Richard The Third: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” The Chorus plays a part throughout the story, as it does in Henry The Fifth. There are actually quite a lot of references to Henry The Fifth in this book. By the way, early in the book C-3PO asks, “Pray, R2-D2, where art thou?” (p. 10), and I am so glad the author understands what “wherefore” means and didn’t use it here. A Captain on the Star Destroyer says, “All’s well that endeth well” (p. 16), a reference to one of Shakespeare’s later comedies.

This book certainly has a sense of humor about its task. I love the Captain’s response to Vader’s surmise that Leia hid the plans in the escape pod: “Woman vile!/Howe’er could she deceive my subtle mind?/The plans in the escape pod! O, most rare!” (p. 19). That’s great. And Darth Vader ends the scene with a rhyming couplet. Another bit that made me burst out laughing is when a Stormtrooper says to Luke (because Obi-Wan uses the Force on him), “Good lad, I prithee, go thy merry way!”

I was surprised to find that this book follows the Special Edition version of Star Wars. Most fans of Star Wars do their best to avoid and forget that version. There is a joke about it, though, when Han Solo says, as an aside, “And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!” (p. 77).

The Chorus brings to mind Henry The Fifth when he says, “Imagine sand and rocks within thy view./Prepare thy souls – we fly to Tatooine!” (p. 19). And again, much later, when he says: “As our scene shifts to space, so deep and dark,/O’er your imagination we’ll hold sway./For neither players nor the stage can mark/The great and might scene they must portray” (p. 150).

There are quite a lot of references to Hamlet. After being captured by the Jawas, C-3PO quotes (well, nearly) Hamlet’s most famous speech: “Aye, rather would I bear the ill I have,/Than fly to others that I know not of” (p. 24). Luke Skywalker also refers to Hamlet when he says, “Now cracks a hopeful heart” (p. 38), a reference to Horatio’s “Now cracks a noble heart.” Han solo later quotes Hamlet when Obi-Wan tells him they’re looking to avoid Imperial entanglements: “Aye, there’s the rub” (p. 74). Luke quotes Hamlet in an aside regarding the Force: “Aye: frailty, thy name – belike – is Force” (p. 91). Hamlet, of course, says, “Frailty, thy name is woman” in Act I Scene ii. There is another Hamlet reference when a stage direction says, “Enter Luke Skywalker, holding stormtrooper helmet,” and there is an illustration of Luke holding the helmet the way we are used to seeing Hamlet hold Yorick’s skull. Luke then says: “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not… What manner of a man wert thou?/A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?” (p. 124). Even Red Leader refers to Hamlet during the Death Star battle: “The time is here, good men, ‘tis not to come:/It will be now. The readiness is all” (p. 152). In Act V Hamlet says, “if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

There are also several reference to Romeo And Juliet. Luke quotes Romeo And Juliet when Uncle Owen tells him he needs him to remain on Tatooine for another season: “O, I am Fortune’s fool” (p. 39). In that same speech, he refers to Jacques’ famous speech from As You Like It when he says, “all the world’s a star” (p. 39). There is another Romeo And Juliet reference in the cantina scene, when one of the denizens says to Luke: “I do not like thy look. Indeed, young lad,/I bite my thumb at thee” (p. 71). Luke makes another Romeo And Juliet reference when they’re escaping from Mos Eisley in the Millennium Falcon: “What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?” (p. 85). R2-D2 speaks in asides, and refers to Romeo And Juliet when he says, “A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!” (p. 122).

Obi-Wan at one point says, “the rhyme/And reason” (p. 51). Shakespeare used that phrase in The Comedy Of Errors, when Dromio of Syracuse says, “When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason,” and in As You Like It, when Orlando says, “Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.” Governor Tarkin uses the phrase “pomp and circumstance” (p. 86), a phrase Shakespeare used in Act III Scene iii of Othello, when Othello says, “Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”

Han Solo refers to Macbeth when they come out of hyperspace to find Alderaan destroyed: “Is this an ast’roid field I see before me?” (p. 95). Han is questioning the reality of the asteroid field which isn’t on any of the charts, as Macbeth questions the reality of the dagger of the mind that appears before him.

Luke Skywalker borrows from Julius Caesar when he addresses the other rebels: “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears” (p. 144). Luke then immediately switches to Henry The Fifth: “Wish not we had a single fighter more,/If we are mark’d to die, we are enough/To make our planets proud./But should we win/We fewer rebels share the greater fame” (p. 144), borrowing from the famous Crispian speech of Act IV Scene iii. Luke continues with some more from that speech: “And citizens in Bespin now abed,/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” (p. 145). Though I doubt that Luke at this point has even heard of Bespin. Henry The Fifth says, “And gentlemen in England now abed/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.” (Later, Biggs mentions Naboo ale, but again I have to wonder if Biggs has heard of that planet.) Then when Luke leads the final attack on the Death Star, he turns again to Henry The Fifth: “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” (p. 160). In Act III Scene i, Henry says, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” Luke then goes to Act IV Scene vii when he says, “I was not angry since I came to space/Until this instant!” (p. 160). Of course, Henry says “France,” not “space.” Luke then returns to the Crispian speech when he says, “We three, we happy three, we band of brothers” (p. 161).

By the way, at one point, Leia sings (p. 87). Perhaps that’s a reference to The Star Wars Holiday Special. And there is even a Star Trek reference, when Han Solo says, “To boldly go where none hath gone is wild!” (p. 109).

The author includes an afterword, in which he talks about the connections between Shakespeare and Star Wars.

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