“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Apparently this is even true in galaxies far, far away. Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope is a masterpiece and succulent fusion of two very different genres. Contrary to what one might think, it is not simply Star Wars written in Shakespearean dialogue, but its own separate piece of art generating flawless finesse in taking our boy from Tatooine and re-imagining his story told in Victorian England by the Bard himself.
It may be fruitful to compare this style to something akin to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame Smith. However, I find it very different. Smith simply took the original writing of Jane Austin and had fun playing with the words by changing out words like “love” with “brains.” Doescher doesn’t do this at all. Apparently, Lucasfilm gave him all sorts of freedom to do pretty much anything he wanted. So this book is best described as a Star Wars and Shakespeare fan’s attempt to blend the two genres into something equally as beautiful. If you’re asking me, he succeeded. Now to the good stuff. What makes it awesome?
Anyone who paid attention in High School English remembers that William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest writer/storyteller/poet/Renaissance man of all time. They will also remember that the reasons he is recognized as this is by his impeccably unique writing style. He pretty much invented the English Sonnet for crying out loud, not to mention modern story telling. The man was a genius to put it lightly. So, like myself, when hearing that this book existed, you most likely asked yourself, how can someone pretend to match the elegance, craftsmanship, and artistry of the The Bard? it’s simply impossible. Call me a little obsessed with the guy, but It is virtually impossible to match Shakespeare’s talent. Doescher doesn’t quite make it there, but he’s pretty dang close. Here were the main pieces of Shakespeare’s writing style that Doescher nailed on the head.
- Iambic Pentameter. Once again, for those of you who paid attention in school, this word is familiar. But to those who didn’t, you’re very confused at what I may be getting at. An overwhelming amount of Shakespeare’s work is written in iambic pentameter. I would go as far as to say that around 95% of it is, making this the most essential thing for Doescher to excel in. Quick English lesson to aid the confused: most people in school are taught that iambic pentameter is simply ten syllables per line. However, it is far more complex than that. It follows five (penta) pairs of iambs (one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) to create a cohesive rhythm. If you would like to learn more about this in detail, follow the link here for a great TED video explaining it in depth. Doescher does this without breaking a sweat. It seems, flows, and sounds nearly exactly like Shakespeare. In fact, he even uses it with characters speaking different languages, like Chewbacca with Shyriiwook, Greedo with Rodese, Jabba with Huttese and even R2D2’s beeps and squeaks. Here’s an example from Verily, A New Hope next to a selection from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare so you can get the idea of what this looks like in action.
- “How LONG, now, ERE thou CANS’T aCHIEVE lightSPEED” -Obi Wan (Act III, Scene 4)
- “if MUsic BE the FOOD of LOVE, play ON” -Duke Orsino (Act I, Scene 1)
- Puns: Shakespeare is truthfully the King of Puns. One of my favorites comes from Romeo and Juliet in a conversations between Sampson and Gregory in Act I, “Sampson: I will show myself a tyrant. When I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads. Gregory: The heads of the maids? Sampson: Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt.” Doescher includes several puns throughout, but most of them are a play on what us Star Wars fans expect to see vs. what he actually does. So I’ll let them be a surprise.
- Asides and Soliloquies: One of the most common ways that Shakespeare develops his characters is by allowing them to talk privately to themselves. It’s a well known proverb that “a man is really only himself when he is alone.” Shakespeare utilizes this truth in every play he wrote in order for the audience to fully understand his characters better. He does this with two different methods, either an aside (character talks only to him/herself and no one else can hear) or in a soliloquy (a monologue or long speech when the character is the only one on stage). These mediums are especially helpful to aid the audience to see development in the most difficult characters. In Hamlet, the main character with the same name has, over the years, been labeled the most difficult character. This is why Shakespeare awards this character with 4 of the 5 soliloquies in the play, one of them carrying some of the most famous lines in history, “To be or not be, that is the question,” and “Aye, there’s the rub.” There are two characters in particular who are given multiple asides and a few soliloquies to gain our understanding. Han Solo and R2-D2. The latter is most interesting, because, when speaking to others, R2 uses his beeps and squeaks, but, when speaking to himself or the audience, he speaks good old Galactic Basic Standard, or what we call English.
- Songs: Shakespeare loves to write lyrics to songs to express deep emotion with his characters and allow them to pour out their feelings. Two of the most famous songs are sung by Ophelia in Hamlet and Ariel in the Tempest. Doescher gifts this wonderful blessing to none other than Princess Leia after the destruction of her home planet Alderaan, and it is beautifully written as well.
The Art of Re-Imagination
As hinted above, this story is not simply a carbon copy of Star Wars. It’s a beautiful merger of two different genres in a new re-imagination of a well known story. Doescher takes some liberties, and includes some scenes I may not have. Namely the discussion between Jabba and Han. Deoscher also sheds some light on some arguments and where he stands on them. So you should read it and see where he stands and keep your eye out for my review of The Empire Striketh Back.
Are you a Shakespeare enthusiast? Have you read this book? Let us know what you think in the comments.