Monday, May 23, 2016

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Of Menace: Star Wars Part The First by Ian Doescher (2015) Book Review

I’m still trying to get that bad taste out of my mouth left from being subjected to The Force Awakens. So it’s time to go back – way back – all the way back to William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Of Menace: Star Wars Part The First. As with Ian Doescher’s versions of the original trilogy’s films, The Phantom Of Menace is divided into five acts, is presented in iambic pentameter, and is illustrated. A list of characters is provided at the beginning, and Jar Jar Binks is identified as “a Gungan clown.” That sort of makes him more palatable, don’t you think?

The Chorus opens the play with a sonnet, which ends with the couplet, “In time so long ago begins our play,/In troubl’d galaxy far, far away” (p. 7). Throughout the book are references to specific Shakespeare plays. For example, when Rune Haako expresses anxiety over their course of action with the blockade, Nute Gunray says, “What’s done can’t be undone.” That is a reference to Lady Macbeth’s line, “What’s done cannot be undone.” And when Anakin meets Padme, he says, of her, “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright” (p. 53), a line straight out of Romeo And Juliet, when Romeo first meets Juliet. Before the podrace, Anakin says, “How all occasions do inform toward me/To spur my action here!” (p. 80), a play on Hamlet’s “How all occasions do inform against me,/And spur my dull revenge.” Oddly, that reference is followed by a reference to Casablanca: “Of all the junk shops in all towns in all/Of Tatooine, he walketh into mine” (p. 80). (The line from Casablanca is, of course, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”) Panaka plays on the famous speech from Henry The Fifth when he says, “We few, we happy few, are but too few” (p. 135). After Darth Maul stabs Qui-Gon with his lightsaber, Qui-Gon quotes Julius Caesar, saying “Et tu, Sith? Then fall, Qui-Gon Jinn!” (p. 160). This is not really appropriate, as Julius Caesar is surprised by what he sees as Brutus’ betrayal, whereas Qui-Gon knows in advance that Darth Maul is trying to kill him.

Jar Jar, by the way, speaks eloquently in soliloquies and asides, then deliberately takes on the simple speech of a clown, as a sort of disguise, to talk with others. “Put on thy simple wits now, Jar Jar Binks:/Thus play the role of clown to stroke his pride” (p. 25). In Jar Jar’s second soliloquy, he echoes some of Polonius’ advice to Laertes: “To thine own kind be true, so say I e’er./Give ev’ry man thine ear, but few thy voice – /At least the voice that speaketh with wise words./Let them hear only speech of ruffian” (pages 27-28). In Hamlet, Polonius tells Laertes, “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” And then later in the same speech, he says, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” Jar Jar also plays on A Midsummer Night’s Dream when, in another soliloquy he says, “The course of justice never did run smooth.”

As with the other adaptations, in this book even minor characters are given speeches. Even characters that did not speak at all in the movie. For example, in this book the Opee (the fish that attacks the Gungan submarine) gets a speech, saying he was sent to kill the Jedi by Darth Sidious. And the larger creature, the Sando Aqua Monster, tells us in his own speech that he was sent by the Jedi council.

This book isn’t quite as good as the first three. But then again, The Phantom Menace wasn’t as good as the films of the original trilogy. William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Of Menace: Star Wars Part The First was published in 2015. By the way, at the very end of the book there is a sonnet urging readers to go online for more information.

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