A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Shakespeare. Confused? That’s not an uncommon reaction. After all, there seems to be no connection between the 1977 Space Fantasy and the famous English playwright from the 1600s.
In an unprecedented move, Ian Doescher sets George Lucas’ Star Wars to iambic pentameter and employs early modern English vocabulary, the meter and vocabulary Shakespeare used. But William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is not just a Shakespearean translation: it is an entire transformation. Since nearly the entire story is told through speech, every character has far more lines than the movies—even R2D2!
There are two questions I believe I must answer about this strange juxtaposition of Shakespeare and Star Wars. The first is an obvious one: does it actually work? The idea, believe it or not, really does work. What Doescher points to is that Shakespeare’s legendary plays and George Lucas’ legendary films have similar characters. Why? It’s not that Lucas secretly time traveled and discussed character creation with Shakespeare—or even that Lucas studied Shakespeare in order to write Star Wars. Instead, they are connected by the humanity of their characters.
Much of the power of Shakespeare’s plays is in the ebb and flow of tragic and comic characters. His plays are not over-serious or flippantly comical, and Star Wars maintains this same balance. Most importantly, the protagonists are relatable “everyman” characters. We relate to them and, while doing so, go through situations with them that we never considered how we would respond to.
Sympathizing with Hamlet, we consider the tragedy of your uncle murdering your father, marrying your mother, and taking your throne. Alongside Luke Skywalker, we consider the tragedy of your father leaving your mother to die, murdering your “uncle” (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and committing atrocities alongside the evil emperor. Huh. To come to think about it, Luke and Hamlet are kind of similar.
As far as how Doescher executes the idea, for the most part it is fairly representative of Shakespeare, but the author seems to rely on individual “old words” or sometimes odd sentence inversion to make an entire sentence or section Shakespearean-sounding. But as a lover of Shakespeare, I recognize it is nearly impossible to replicate the playwright’s language with the same eloquence and power. Doescher gives it a valiant and convincing effort.
Secondly, as much as I love references to other Shakespeare plays, many almost seemed forced. Some work well, though, like this reference to Henry V within Luke’s speech in Act V, Scene 5:
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,
Shall fly unto the trench with throttles full!
So we know the idea works—but is it better than the movies? Though they are not necessarily comparable, I believe William Shakespeare’s Star Wars improves on the originals in one significant way: it amplifies every character’s inner struggle through monologues. My favorite example of this is a beautifully written monologue for Darth Vader at the end of Act I, Scene 2, after killing a rebel leader:
And so another dies by my own hand,
This hand, which now encas’d in blackness is.
O that the fingers of this wretched hand
Had not the pain of suff’ring ever known.
But now my path is join’d unto the dark,
And wicked men—whose hands and fingers move
To crush their foes–are now my company.
So shall my fingers ever undertake
To do more evil, aye, and this—my hand—
Shall do the Emp’ror’s bidding evermore.
And this we see how fingers presage death
And hands become the instrument of Fate.
These monologues give us a side of the characters we otherwise don’t get to see in the movies. Darth Vader is so consciously resolved in his evil that he seems almost conflicted—like he is trying to convince himself that he is evil. What we could only guess their thoughts to be in the film is articulately revealed in the Shakespeare play.
In short, Ian Doescher deftly takes the world of Star Wars and beautifies it with Shakespeare’s timeless methods. Who knew that Shakespeare and Star Wars would fit so well together? Not only that, but Shakespeare even improves upon Lucas—depending on who you ask, of course!
Featured Image via Amazon