This second jaunt into Ian Doescher’s Shakespeare/Star Wars hybrid imaginary universe, entitled William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, only s...moreThis second jaunt into Ian Doescher’s Shakespeare/Star Wars hybrid imaginary universe, entitled William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, only solidifies my opinion that these adaptations are more than gags and novelties to be gifted to nerdy friends (although they can be used for that purpose as well).
I purposely use the word ‘adaptation’ here because Doescher’s attention to detail and his thoughtful approach to both the story and to Shakespeare’s forms and techniques clearly illustrate that although the results for us as readers may be fun and amusing (even hilarious in spots), this is a project Doescher is taking quite seriously. Not that he isn’t having fun with it, mind you, just that that fun isn’t coming at the expense of quality and attention to detail.
I mean, how could he NOT have fun with this, when he gets to do things like give wampas soliloquies, feature AT-ATs talking to each other during battle (one AT-AT has a particularly large ego), and have side characters wax metaphoric for 200 lines about the possible reasons their Empire might have built giant dangerous trenches into all their spaceships. Actually, I’m just going to quote you (almost) the whole sequence, because I love it:
GUARD 2: –Verily, but follow on: That they unto the code this city built Is not the thing that I found strange. Instead, It was the code’s requirements I did mark. For didst thou know the Empire doth require That any major structure shall include At least one chasm that’s deep and long and dark? Not only shall these chasms exist: the code Doth further specify that they shall be Abutting pathways where pedestrians May walk. The Death Star that was built some years Ago had, evidently, sev’ral of These holes, and our Cloud City has them, too. Is not this strange?
GUARD 1: –I know them well, and did Go walking past just such a gaping hole That led to nothingness but yesterday.
GUARD 2: It simply maketh little sense to put Such vast, deep holes in ev’ry structure next To well-worn paths. Could not a person, by Some simple misstep, fall most easily Down one of these great chasms? So wherefore place Such hazards into ev’ry structure built?
GUARD 1: I see your reasoning, but shall rebut: The Empire is the greatest strength e’er known, ‘Tis true?
GUARD 2: –Of course. I’d not say otherwise.
GUARD 1: And any great thing–person, beast, or realm– Doth put its greatness on display, agree?
GUARD 2: ‘Tis natural, I’ll warrant. Pray, say on.
GUARD 1: I posit that the Empire doth command That structures have these chasms immense because It is through their immensity that our Great Empire’s strength is shown. And since they are Vast holes that deadly are, should one fall in, They send a message strong and clear to all: The Empire is a proud and might pow’r And doth not fear sure death, but laughs at it. I’ faith, we are so full of life that we Walk by our certain passing daily–it Is but quotidian for us–and yet We have no fear.
GUARD 2: –Thy point is clearly made. But still, I think it strange that this is true: A structure is not whole till it hath holes. Such things lie far beyond my understanding, Yet do I trust there is a master plan.
GUARD 1: Shall we to supper, friend?
GUARD 2: –Forsooth, lead on!
It’s not as good as the scene from William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope where the two Stormtroopers have an intense philosophical discussion only to be murdered immediately afterwards in a rather perfunctory manner by Luke and Han so as to commandeer their uniforms, but it’s still pretty great.
Doescher did a great job twisting around the famous movie quotes in the first book, and that talent continues in this one. “I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain” becomes:
“I know not whence thy great delusions come, / Thou laser brain.”
“Never tell me the odds!” becomes:
“I tell thee, droid: assail me not with odds!”
And occasionally he takes a line or scene and either expands it, or twists it around and plays with it dramatically, like this scene that features so much Shakespearean punning and wordplay, I don’t even know what to do with myself:
LEIA: –We need thee, Han.
HAN: What “we”? Why speakest thou of “we”? Dost thou in royal terms speak here of “we”? Hast thou a rodent in thy pocket, such That thou and he are “we”? What meanest thou? What need is there that thou dost share with all? Speak not of “we,” but “I”. O princess, what Dost thou most need? Not “we,” not “they,” but “thou”?
Something that I didn’t mention in my last review is how gorgeous Nicolas Delort’s illustrations are (see yon Tauntaun below, and scroll down further for some quality Luke/Vader lightsaber action). They really add a nice flavor to the rest of it. They’re so lovely and detailed, it just ups the whole thing a little more.
Doescher also continues inserting references to Shakespeare’s works throughout, my favorite of which was Vader going all Shylock on us (“prick us do we not bleed?”), but there are a ton, and they are always really well integrated into the story. His dedication to utilizing the conventions of Renaissance drama makes me want to give the dude the highest of fives. As he explains in the afterword, in this one, he backed off of the chorus (although I did miss it a little bit), instead choosing to use the lines the characters speak themselves to illustrate events further, just as Shakespeare did. He also introdues the first prose speaking character in the form of Boba Fett, which is just so perfect, because Shakespeare used characters speaking prose to delineate between different classes of people, so of course Boba Fett, that eternal scamp, wouldn’t be good enough to speak in blank verse.
Probably the cleverest thing Doescher does in this one is with Yoda. He also discusses in the afterword the ways he almost went with the character (having Yoda be the only one speaking in a modern voice, as his normal speaking voice is Shakespearean anyway, simply transcribing Yoda’s lines verbatim from the films, etc.). But ultimately he chose to deviate a little bit from Shakespearean conventions and have Yoda speak entirely in haiku, despite that Shakespeare would have been largely unfamiliar with that form. Here’s Doescher’s Yoda speaking his version of “No. Do, or do not. There is no try”:
YODA: Nay, nay! Try thou not. But do thou or do thou not. For there is no “try”.
And here’s Yoda schooling Luke in the ways of the Jedi:
YODA: Nay, size matters not. Look thou at me, I prithee. Judge me by my size?
And where you should not. For my ally ’tis the Force. A pow’rful ally.
Life doth create it. Its energy surrounds us, Binds us together.
Luminous beings, We are, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force.
I noticed while reading the first one that the Star Wars oeuvre really lends itself to this kind of treatment, but this one especially with its tragic elements is perfectly suited to dramatic adaptation. Luke’s whole arc is just a tragedy waiting to happen, and the opportunities afforded in this medium as opposed to film actually lets us have some great moments with both Luke and Vader where we actually get inside their heads and see them reflecting on events.
"The Force is with thee now, young Skywalker, / In troth–but thou art not a Jedi yet."
Anyway, all this is to say, if you’re a Star Wars fan, seriously check these out, but if you like Shakespeare AND Star Wars, I honestly don’t know why you’re even reading this instead of going out to find a copy for yourself. The third volume, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, is sure to be just as fun as its predecessors, and we only have to wait until July 1st. I already have a reserved copy at my library (and hopefully will get my own copies sometime soon — these just beg to be re-read).
“Our story endeth, though your hearts do burn,/ And shall until the Jedi doth return.”
Holy shit. This is one of the nerdiest books I’ve ever read. It is glorious.
I was initially wary of yet another book that seemingly capitalized on mis...moreHoly shit. This is one of the nerdiest books I’ve ever read. It is glorious.
I was initially wary of yet another book that seemingly capitalized on mish-mashing two beloved cultural entities together (see: the shitstorm surrounding the release of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies), but a good review by someone I trust convinced me to give this a shot. So glad I did. Shakespeare and Star Wars, it turns out, go absurdly well together. Like cheese and crackers, cookies and milk, pizza and beer — the two things taste great on their own, but put them together and it’s just so right.
And this isn’t just some casual mish-mash, either. Ian Doescher – who is, I assume, a MASSIVE NERD and I want to best friends with him immediately – relates the full film script entirely in blank verse, iambic pentameter and all. For fuck’s sake, each of R2-D2′s beeps and boops even conform (I counted random lines at random intervals just to check, and they were all correct), with stresses perfectly on each iamb, messing with ellision and word order in the process, just like Shakespeare did. And he doesn’t just play it straight with the script, either. He takes full advantage of his new form, aping the conventions and techniques of renaissance drama with so much attitude that I couldn’t help but burst into giggles over the sheer absurdity of it all.
I mean it, he has characters do asides all the time, his soliloquies are ridiculous and actually help to build character (Darth Vader’s is my favorite). He alludes to famous Shakespearen lines from all over the canon, but twists them to suit his purpose. He uses a Chorus to make up for the lack of visual stimuli (which is really interesting to me as someone who studied Shakespeare — my academic brain (which is waking sleepily) kept asking questions like, isn’t it interesting to consider that Shakespeare’s plays were designed to be performed, not read, so that definitely affects the way we read it today, and alternatively, Doescher’s book was designed first and foremost as a book, so it would be really interesting to see how a director would ‘adapt’ it for the stage, and I will stop now because you’re all bored). He isn’t up to par with Shakespeare in terms of language. His phrasing fell a bit flat at times (and often read as too modern), and his imagery and use of metaphorical conceits isn’t anywhere near Shakespeare’s genius use of it, but dammit he tried. And I did notice that his imagery and control over the langage did improve, both as the book went on, and in certain situations (like when characters are being sassy with each other — this book has terminal amounts of sass).
Perhaps my favorite part about this book is its attention to detail. Like Shakespeare, you can’t rush through or you’ll miss things. Clever turns of phrase, innuendo, small jokes here and there. Probably my favorite example of this is the two and a half page conversation (which waxes very philosophical) between two Stormtrooper friends who are set to guard the Millennium Falcon aboard the Death Star. We spend just enough time with them for it to be fucking hilarious when the scene ends very abrubtly with Luke and Han shooting them both dead and stealing their uniforms.
There aren’t many quotes online from this yet, and I already had to return my copy to the library or I’d add them myself, so I’ll have to make do with some examples that are on Goodreads, so you can get a feel for this shit. Here’s Luke contemplating the Stormtrooper helmet of the man he’s just killed, in the style of Hamlet and the skull:
“[Luke, holding stormtrooper helmet.] Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, yet have I taken both uniform and life From thee. What manner of a man wert thou? A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty? A man with helpmate and with children too? A man who hath his Empire serv’d with pride? A man, perhaps, who wish’d for perfect peace? What’er thou wert, goodman, thy pardon grant Unto the one who took thy place: e’en me.”
Here’s Doescher’s answer to the whole Han shot first business:
“HAN: I pray thee, sir, forgive me for the mess/And whether I shot first, I’ll not confess.”
And here’s Doescher really having fun, playing on the line from the film (“Whose the more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?”) and engaging in some signature Shakespeare wordplay:
“OBI-WAN: Aye, say thou fool? Then fool, good Sir, am I. But when thou sayest fool remember well That fools do walk in foolish company. So if I am a fool, perhaps ’tis true That other fools around me may be found. For who is he who hath more foolish been— The fool or other fool who follows him?”
Anyway, this was super fun, and the sequel came out yesterday, and it’s totally waiting for me at the library right now. This time I will make sure to write down my favorite bits for your future pleasure.(less)
A lot of people have no patience for Alexander Pope, but I think he was a delightful smart ass, and he is my favorite poet almost solely because of it...moreA lot of people have no patience for Alexander Pope, but I think he was a delightful smart ass, and he is my favorite poet almost solely because of it. Also, I don't really like poets, so that might have something to do with it.(less)
Sidney's 'Apology for Poetry': A bunch of awesome stuff said in the most boring and overly long prose imaginable. If you have the patience to sift thr...moreSidney's 'Apology for Poetry': A bunch of awesome stuff said in the most boring and overly long prose imaginable. If you have the patience to sift through it for the main points, you'll be rewarded, but not many people have that sort of patience.
The last line is awesome, though. Basically, he's all - and I'm paraphrasing here - "For those of you who don't like fiction and poetry and think it worthless and harmful, I'm not going to pick a fight with you or anything, but I hope you fall in love a shit ton but never actually get any, because you need fucking poetry for that shit, but you won't have any because you're an idiot, and oh also, "may your memory die from the earth for want of epitaph."' That last part was a direct quote because it's so awesome and bad-ass I didn't even need to change it.
('Astrophil and Stella' and 'The Arcadia' are also mildly interesting, and his sonnets are okay, but I only had to re-read 'The Apology' for my exams, so that's what got reviewed.)
Nobody writes poetry like this anymore. (Except for that guy who tried to ask me out by writing me poetry like this, and I thought he was a freak, so...moreNobody writes poetry like this anymore. (Except for that guy who tried to ask me out by writing me poetry like this, and I thought he was a freak, so maybe I should eat my own words.)(less)
Every time I re-read something I read as an undergrad, I'm reminded of how stupid I must have been. Adding a star, because this was kind of awesome (o...moreEvery time I re-read something I read as an undergrad, I'm reminded of how stupid I must have been. Adding a star, because this was kind of awesome (once I got used to the Middle English).(less)
Sherman Alexie's first book is a little too esoteric for me. I have the same problems with it that I have with some of the stories in his other books,...moreSherman Alexie's first book is a little too esoteric for me. I have the same problems with it that I have with some of the stories in his other books, but as always, he's at the very least extremely engaging. Only read this if you are a fan, and I'd most definitely recommend that you read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World (which contains my favorite story of his, "Dear John Wayne").(less)