William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, by Ian Doescher
A short while ago at a desk not far from here, Ian Doescher created one of the cleverest pop culture and literature mashups of the modern era. In all seriousness, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a comical, tongue-in-cheek approach to a well-known story. Much of the tale will be familiar, even to readers who haven’t read Shakespeare, and while knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays is helpful, it’s not necessary to enjoy this book. Overall, this play handles its two subjects humorously and respectfully, entertaining readers of all backgrounds while preserving the integrity of its topic.
The play is an exact retelling of the film, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, so events are pretty straightforward for people who have seen it. Doescher trims here and there, but he stays true to the original plot. He also retains the dialogue from the film, adapting it to Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter; consequently, the characters’ lines are understandable yet slightly altered into a new form. It takes a few pages to grow accustomed to their presentation, but it becomes much easier as the story progresses.
Perhaps Doescher’s greatest achievement is his ability to balance the styles of Shakespeare and George Lucas. Readers who are acquainted with Shakespeare’s plays will easily recognize adaptations of famous lines and scenes. However, Doescher seamlessly blends those instances with the Star Wars environment of troubled characters, epic battles, and heroic speeches. Similarly impressive is his ability to make literally every character speak in iambic pentameter, including R2D2, the Jawas, and Jabba the Hutt. There’s also a Chorus (narrator), who serves as the prologue and assists by adding necessary detail later on, a technique Shakespeare often used in his plays. Of course, the story’s tone is slightly different from the original film since it’s told differently, but that only seems to improve it.
The characters also benefit from this union with Shakespearean storytelling, as Doescher’s play is highly insightful into their characteristics. While the character development in the film works, at times it seems a little jumbled and rushed. Doescher remedies that by drawing on asides and soliloquies, two classical theatrical techniques that allow the characters to speak their feelings directly to the audience. Readers witness the respective reasoning of Good and Evil in Obi-wan and Darth Vader. Luke and Leia have the opportunity to show how they cope with losing everything they hold dear. Even C-3PO’s and R2D2’s actions seem more sensible because they’re able to explain them. This use of Shakespearean techniques to improve upon Lucas’ script makes the characters smarter and better portrayed, and the story is stronger as a result.
On top of its fancy execution and presentation, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is downright funny. Readers familiar with the film saga are sure to chuckle at how Doescher playfully handles the story. The book is peppered with cheeky nods at controversies from the original movie (e.g. whether Han or Greedo shot first, etc.), and the characters’ dialogue frequently shines with humor. Like Shakespeare, Doescher spreads the comedy between believable slapstick and clever and artistic wordplay, so most every reader will find something to enjoy.
Speaking of art, the book’s artwork is fantastic. Nicolas Delort, the illustrator, does an excellent job of mixing the technology of Star Wars with the Elizabethan style of Shakespeare’s day. Even when there’s nothing particularly Shakespearean about the illustrations, they still look great.
This is normally the part where I would examine the book’s flaws, but there really aren’t any in Doescher’s work. In general, everything is well done. There are a few times where the rhyme scheme or part of the meter feels forced, but that’s forgivable since Doescher adapted the entirety of Star Wars to (occasionally rhymed) iambic pentameter.
It seems, then, that Doescher has created a nearly flawless marriage of Star Wars and the Shakespearean style. The story isn’t necessarily high art, but it’s an elegant retelling of an already fun tale. Readers who aren’t familiar with either Star Wars or Shakespeare’s plays will enjoy this book but miss some of the fun, while those who are acquainted with both will easily get a few hours of robust enjoyment. Clearly, Doescher has brilliantly combined two cultural titans, proving that he’s a capable bard in his own right.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
By Ian Doescher
Illustrated by Nicholas Delort
176 pp. Quirk Books, July 2013. $14.95