Yep. You did see that book cover image right. There is indeed a lost manuscript by Shakespeare that has recently been unearthed titled ‘Star Wars’, which seems to have been in the private collection of a one George Lucas (before he sold the work not to the Bodleian or the Library of Congress, but to Disney) and mercilessly plagiarised in order to make several moderately successful films… Okay, I jest. ‘Star Wars’ has been more than moderately successful…
I’m joking, obviously (…), but there is indeed a book out entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ by Ian Doescher, which reimagines Episode IV as if it were a play by The Bard. My wonderful partner bought me this when we were in Oxford for the Graduation last week, and I devoured it soon after due to the sheer brilliance of the concept, and my mutual love of ‘Star Wars’ and Shakespeare (although my love of the former is somewhat greater than that of the latter…). Indeed, the book is actually ridiculously good (and borders on the ridiculous), as the dialogue is highly convincing as Shakespeare whilst also being so ‘Star Wars’: for example, the famous line “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you are my only hope” is kept, becoming this:
“Oh help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help. / Thou art mine only hope.” Act I Scene 6, Line 73-74
I was also interested to see that several famous Shakespearean lines had been preserved in slightly modified form:
- “- that all the world’s a star.” Act I Scene 7, Line 98
- “I do not like thy look. Indeed, young lad, / I bite my thumb at thee.” Act III Scene 1, Line 57-58
- “What paradox! What fickle-natur’d power! / Aye: frailty, thy name – belike – is Force.” Act III Scene 6, Line 51-52
- “…We enter swift unto the area / Where should there be great Alderaan in view. / But pray, what madness meets the Falcon’s flight? / Is this an ast’roid field I see before me?” Act III Scene 8, Line 2-5
- “A plague on 3PO for action slow, / A plague upon my quest that led us here, / A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!” Act IV Scene 4, Line 120-122
- “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, / Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life / From thee. What manner of a man wert thou? / A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?” Act IV Scene 6, Line 1-4
- “It hath defenses ‘gainst a large assault, / But like a king who fell for want of horse / This station may be crush’d by smaller might.” Act V Scene 4, Line 29-31
- “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears.” Act V Scene 4, Line 65
- “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” Act V Scene 5, Line 231
- “So Biggs, stand with me now, and be my aide, / And Wedge, fly at my side to lead the charge- / We three, we happy three, we band of brothers, […]” Act V Scene 5, Line 248-250
There may be more, but those were the ones that I picked out. I also like the other Shakespearean devices that Doescher employs, such as the use of asides and soliloquy, the clever wordplay, and the way in which C-3PO and R2-D2 take on a role akin to that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in ‘Hamlet’. It is also clever that within this version of ‘Star Wars’, R2-D2 actually uses English in his asides to show that he is far more intelligent that many of the other characters, and allows us to actually see the droid as a character with proper emotions, thoughts and views. Also, this adds comic value to many of the exchanges between R2 and C-3PO, as the latter is unaware of much that the former thinks, making him seem somewhat stupid.
I quoted above Doescher’s interpretation of the line originally spoken by Hamlet when he is confronted with the skull of the jester Yorick, and just wanted to point out that here, we have an element to the play that is missing in the original film. In this soliloquy, we have Luke musing upon the helmet he had procured from a dead Stormtrooper as a means of disguise, imagining the person that once wore it. In the films, there is no sense of the ‘troopers as people; rather they are faceless soldiers, and so it is nice to see this extra flash of humanity added to make us think for a moment upon the true nature of those who make up the enemy side. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but it would be nice occasionally if this sort of thing was done- not just in film and literature, but in the current news and in our teaching of history (I’m thinking of the killing of insurgents in Afghanistan and the dehumanization of German soldiers in the two World Wars as two examples).
All-in-all, this is a remarkably good book, that doesn’t require prior knowledge of either ‘Star Wars’ or any of Shakespeare’s works (although knowledge of both does improve the enjoyment and the understanding greatly), and it is definitely something that I will come back to again and again.
Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine