Skip the poetry, go to the Full review
A Review of This Fine Tale, in Blank Verse and A Heroic Couplet
An entertaining thing the drama is
that Doescher has devised in this small play.
He writes English so fine, the Bard to please
and compliment in every word and way.
You might think Shakespeare’s boring to the hilt
but nothing could be further from the truth.
Suspenseful as what’s under Macbeth’s kilt
is the wooing of Leia, so aloof.
Doescher even writes ‘asides’ for robots:
R2-D2 and C-3PO speak
in character, amusingly and lots,
(though also going beep, whirr, meep and squeak.)
Characters ‘exeunt’, heroic couplets
end each scene, with nicely rhyming phrases,
while rhyming choruses relate the parts
complex, like the Death Star war, in stages.
With language so spontaneous and smart
Doescher revives the work of Shakespeare so,
and with characters, true to life and art,
honours the Star Wars that we love and know.
To buy this book methinks would be quite wise,
to give your brain a bit of exercise.
Ian Doescher decided there were more similarities than differences between the plots of “Star Wars” and most of the William Shakespeare’s plays. (Consider Hamlet with his father issues, and Luke and Darth Vader.) And because he loves Elizabethan literature, he wrote the “Star Wars” story in iambic pentameter, with the blessings of Lucasfilm, no less. You might think that would end up being a dreadful bore, but it’s not. It combines the beauty of the form of Elizabethan verse, its rhythm, formal structure and lyricism, with the comforting familiarity of the “Star Wars” plot and characters (and without the extended complicated metaphors employed by Shakespeare).
Commonalities between periods
This mental leap was possible because Shakespeare’s plays have a number of features in common with George Lucas’ “Star Wars” script:
- Subjects such as historical events, reinterpreted, and romances (here we have the history of the Empire, and Luke’s passion for Princess Leia)
- Slapstick comedy (the equivalent is C-3PO literally losing his head and having panic attacks)
- Metaphors of typical cultural references, everything from Adders to Zephyrs, with Knells, Rogues and Tapers in-between (no less foreign than the invented words in “Star Wars”)
- New, ordered forms of writing, with specific verses and rhyming sequences (the characters in Star Wars speak a number of new languages, including the almost Early Modern English, measured, formal Jedi way, and R2-D2’s blips and beeps)
- The introduction of fantasy, pure imagination, and social criticism (essentially that is “Star Wars”)
Forms employed by Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s dramas are most clearly identified by their use of form, which, in the case of plays, are prose and verse. Prose is in plain, not versed form. The verse parts are either blank verse (unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter), or rhymed lines (in various metres or patterns.) The standard blank verse line is an iambic pentameter. Pentameter refers to pent, or five, sets of alternately unstressed and stressed syllables (or iambs), for instance: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. (like “Luke HEARS the VOICE of Obi-WAN inSIDE.” (p.133)
Doescher followed suit and most of the play is in blank verse, but the choir (the narrators) are in rhymed verse, and the two last lines of each scene are rhymed couplets. “Vader: Why would I care for those on Alderaan, / When I have murder’d innocents as they? / ‘Tis my dark calling, which I do embrace. / To Alderaan we fly on course direct, / And to this feast of death I’ll not object.” (p.78, end of Scene 2) Go on, you try it. Easy it ain’t. Now try writing 3,076 lines of this, like Doescher did.
Variations on the form
To employ such a regular format would be boring to listen to and read, and Shakespeare employed endless variations so that his lines would sound better in a theatre, being bellowed out by actors over the noises or eating, cheering and booing from the commoners in the audience. Doescher also varies his form to make this, actually, a very easy read and quite a musical experience.
Every so often he cleverly works a famous line from Shakespeare into the text, like on the last page, “Sonnet 1138 –“To the Interwebs We Go”:
“Our rebels are now ended, but fear not –
The book is over, true, but not th’event…
All this, and more, aye, surely thou shalt find,
When thou dost visit good Quirk Books online.”
He is referencing Prospero’s words from “The Tempest”, Act 4, Scene 1, 148–158:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air…”
Character development and death
If I have small criticisms of this adaptation, is it that Doescher kills off characters with expediency during the final battle with the Death Star, for instance: line 77, “Explosion. Red Six dies”; line 92, “Explosion, Red Seven dies”; line 159, “Darth Vader shoots. Explosion. Gold Leader dies”; line 164, “Darth Vader shoots. Explosion. Gold Five dies”, and so on. Got the idea? And Princess Leia has an unfortunate singing turn on p. 87, when she is being held captive by Tarkin and Vader:
“My friend and I stood by the river; / Then sang we songs of nonny, / But I could not her soul deliver, / Sing hey and lack-a-day”.
Well, that’s not much of a lament.
Let me not go into other the forms employed by Shakespeare such as iambs, anapaests, ictic syllables, and the variations of contractions. Entire magna opera have been written by experts on these and Shakespeare’s “versification” as a whole. Suffice to say, Doescher knows his Shakespeare and is no mean poet. If you need to get over your mental block to reading Shakespearian verse, skipping through this little treat should do it.
PS Here’s a coincidence
George Lucas based “Star Wars – A New Hope” partly on the plot outline on Akira Kurosawa‘s “The Hidden Fortress” (1958). Of course, the influence of William Shakespeare on art and literature has been pervasive, particularly from the 19th century, but, interestingly, Japanese film-maker Kurosawa was also inspired by Shakespeare’s works and used features of Shakespeare’s plays in his own screenplays.
“‘The Hidden Fortress’ in particular exemplifies Shakespeare’s influence on Kurosawa, as well as serving as one of Kurosawa’s most influential films. It may not be a straightforward Shakespearean adaptation, but it contains several elements Kurosawa derived from Shakespeare that became staples of his [Kurosawa’s] oeuvre, such as the use of common citizens to relate an aristocratic morality tale in an entertaining fashion…Its moral and historical nature is familiar to Shakespeare’s own—fictionalized characters encounter actual historical events, allowing the author to critique social mores such as greed (material and political), loyalty (to one’s beliefs and friends), class and the role of women. Kurosawa even revisits some Shakespearean imagery in the forest in which the protagonists become entangled, demonstrating the frequently confusing nature of man’s purpose.” (From: “West By East By West: The Influence of Kurosawa on the West and Vice Versa“, by Dave Charpentier, 12 October 2010)
This goes some way towards explaining why the “Star Wars” screenplay proved to be so particularly amenable to adaptation into Shakespearian format, doesn’t it?
Ian Doescher lives in Portland with his spouse and two children. He has a B.A. in Music from Yale University, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary. He is currently the Creative Director at Pivot Group LLC. The New York Times bestseller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will be joined by two sequels by Ian Doescher in 2014: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return. (Well, obviously!)