(I have a feeling that Erica hasn’t published her review yet out of pity for me, to give me a chance to actually publish first for one damn thing. Although it is the holidays, and she’s been ill, so I don’t think that’s the case. But if it’s out of pity, I’ll take it.)
ANYWAY. (Drink!) Erica (of NYC Bookworm fame) and I finished William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher and I think we both agree that it was a wild success.
Now unfortunately, I wrote most of this up at work. (Shh don’t tell!) But that means I left my book at home. So if there were any quotes or things I wanted to reference, I’m probably going to have to skip it, or you’re going to have to take my word that it existed and I’m not making it up. Your call. [Now that I’m home, I might look it up. Maybe. I’m kind of sleepy.]
So what Mr. Doescher did was take the amazing film Star Wars: A New Hope and turn it into a play as if it were written by Shakespeare. It follows the traditional five-act structure that Shakespeare nearly created, plus there is a prologue and an epilogue that calls back to the prologue of Romeo and Juliet and the epilogue of The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The entire thing is written in iambic pentameter – and here’s where I might have a nitpick, but as a) I don’t have the book and b) I also don’t have an eidetic memory, I may have to fudge things a bit. Go with me.
Traditionally in Shakespeare’s plays, there are going to be one or two characters that speak in prose – not verse or iambic pentameter. Traditionally, the characters that speak in prose are comic relief, or non-essential characters, or non-‘regal’ characters. Occasionally, these characters import wisdom or give us some special meaning on the scene that we wouldn’t otherwise get. Some of these characters are: Trinculo and Stephano, the drunken members of Alonso’s party from The Tempest; the Porter in Macbeth; and apparently, if the mit.edu edition of Hamlet is to be believed, Hamlet for a while, therefore disproving all of the qualifications I gave above. Fuck you, Hamlet.
To bring my point back to Shakespeare’s Star Wars, the only characters who might speak in prose are Greedo, Jabba the Hutt, Chewbacca, and R2-D2. And the reason I say ‘might’ is because Mr. Doescher actually transcribes the language that they speak, rather than making them speak in English. So when Han is conversing with Greedo, you can understand what Han’s saying, but Greedo’s all, “Na koona t’chuta, Solo” – and again, here’s where I’d quote the thing, but the book’s on my desk back at home, so dear Star Wars nerds: please don’t be offended if I’m not quoting Greedo correctly. It could be prose, or it could be iambic pentameter. I’m not sure, I don’t speak … whatever the fuck it is that Greedo is.
Now, R2-D2 is another case all together, because Mr. Doescher gave R2-D2 the ability to speak English in aside or soliloquy. But if he’s around C-3PO or humans, he speaks in “beep, boop, squeak, whistles.” I loved this addition, and for a couple of different reasons.
Firstly, I remember watching the original Star Wars trilogy last year, and loving R2-D2. Did I make jokes about how he should stay in the TIE-Fighter, a la Chuck staying in the car in Chuck? Yes. Did I make jokes about how he’s impetuous and does things without thinking, under the guise of helping, but he sometimes makes things worse? Of course I did. But at the end of the day, R2 is a very important character. Without him – or without his personality, I guess I should say? – Leia would still –
Hold up. Dear Microsoft Word: why is Chewbacca a correctly-spelled word in your spell-check database, but Leia isn’t? That literally does not compute. What the fuck, guys?
Uh, anyway. (Drink!) Leia would still have found a droid on which to record her message to Obi-Wan Kenobi (those are okay too!? Microsoft Word is a sexist piece of shit!)
Okay, seriously, I just did this:
WHAT THE FUCK, MICROSOFT WORD?? Did George Lucas and his mommy issues pay you nerds off or something?
OKAY, AS I WAS SAYING. Leia would still have found another droid on which to record her message to Obi-Wan. Given that mission, R2 would still have separated himself from C-3PO upon crash-landing on Tattooine, but would C-3PO have been as determined to keep himself and that other droid together, leading Owen to purchase both of them? When they get to the Death Star (or the Imperial Cruiser, whatever it is they rescue Leia from), who was the one to scramble the circuits in the trash compactor, letting the heroes not die a stinky, squishy death? Who repaired Luke’s TIE-fighter en route to the Death Star? R2-D2 is a very important character.
Why am I touting R2 so much? Well, here’s where I’d point to a tweet from the Tweetversation Erica and I held on Saturday night, but my phone is even stupider than Microsoft Word’s spell-check and won’t let me see tweets I made on my computer? Whatever, Smoron (the name for my phone), I’ll just wait until I get home and have the power of the Interwebs:
I spent a while trying to formulate a counterpoint to this statement, but Twitter and I don’t always get along because I tend to ramble, and all I wanted to say was, “But — he is important,” but I’m well aware that sometimes my gentle fact-pointing can come across as bitchy, and that is not my intent. But then Erica mentioned later in our Tweetversation that she hadn’t watched the movie in almost two decades, and everything clicked and there was no longer a need to argue: one’s impression of a droid changes when you watch it when you’re ten as opposed to 29 (the year I first saw all of Star Wars all the way through in one sitting). Anyway. I guess what this was all leading towards was that I was prepared to defend R2’s honor to the death, but it’s been a while since you’ve seen it – I guarantee that when you watch the movies again, you’ll see that R2 is a vastly important character, and Mr. Doescher uses the dialogue to show that not only is R2 aware of his own importance, but the audience as well.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is full of little winks to the Star Wars audience. I tweeted to Erica that I groaned when I saw the scene where Han is discussing his debt to Jabba the Hutt, because that meant that it wasn’t Star Wars: A New Hope I was reading, but Star Wars: George Lucas’s Shitty New Hope. But Han’s first line of dialogue in the scene is:
“Now, marry, ’tis an unexpected scene.
Meaning that not only did Han the character not expect to see Jabba in the hangar, but we as die-hard Star Wars fans shouldn’t expect to see Jabba in the hangar, because Lucas threw it in after Mel Brooks stole Lucas’s idea of re-titling his movies Star Wars: The Redux: The Search for More Money. I won’t tell you how Mr. Doescher tackles the “Who Shot First” debate, but I will say that while I wasn’t one hundred percent satisfied, at least Greedo didn’t shoot first.
Something that Shakespeare did, Mr. Doescher does, and movies don’t really do anymore, is use soliloquies and asides to further characterization and motivation. In theatre, you have to “play to the balcony,” meaning all your movements and vocalizations must be amplified so everyone throughout the room can hear and understand you. In film, you don’t have to be so big – some of the best-acted scenes are minimalist in nature: a softening of the eyes, a curl to the lip; even a quick back-and-forth motion with your thumb under your nose can summon an army.
Shakespeare didn’t have the luxury of being able to be minimalist. That’s why there are so many speeches, and monologues, and huge blocks of text. A modern-day Hamlet would enter carrying his quandary in his eyebrows, and with a look we would be able to infer that he’s troubled with a decision. But the balcony at the Globe couldn’t see that; so he soliloquizes. Here, we actually hear from Luke his desire for adventure — him staring at the double sunset is no longer silent save for John Williams’s amazing score, now we hear him debate with himself whether he should search for adventure or stay and tend to the crops. We learn that Han truly has a heart of gold because we hear him tell us. Even Darth Vader soliloquizes some of his regrets in turning to the Dark Side.
When we first started reading it, Erica and I were joking about setting up auditions and getting a play produced. Unlike Shakespeare’s plays, I don’t think Star Wars would translate to the stage well. It’s too big — there are too many sets, too many set pieces, too much space to fit on a stage. Imagine, if you will, attending the theatre for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and once the curtain goes up, you see an empty stage. You have a Chorus — oh that reminds me, I’ll get back to them later — that tells us where we are because we don’t have the space to set up Uncle Owen’s farm, or the cantina at Mos Eisley. The best we can do is roll on a corner booth and a bar and have extras walking around in weird masks. And no matter what type of budget you have, there is no way we could recreate the battle for the Death Star. What makes Star Wars great was the spectacle of the thing — shrinking it down to fit on a stage would take some of that away, and we shouldn’t use theatre to minimize something.
A staged reading, on the other hand — that could work.
The Chorus: to help us set the scene, Mr. Doescher utilizes a Chorus. Shakespeare used a Chorus, as did the Greeks. I … It was one of my (few) nitpicks. I felt that having the Chorus interject and remind us what was going on was a bit interrupty. Now, as I said above, if one were to stage this as an actual play, one would need a timestamper, if you will (NO JOKES ABOUT GHOST HUNTERS, PLEASE). But in reading it, he just felt out of place. Sorry, Chorus.
Two final nitpicks and then we can put this (and myself) to bed:
1) Multiple times, Mr. Doescher used the word sans instead of without. It’s a perfectly appropriate word — sans is French for ‘without.’ But while it made the line scan correctly, it didn’t really sound like either Star Wars or Shakespeare. And I felt that he used it a lot. Not a lot-a lot, if you catch my meaning, but if the same word and usage shows up in at least each act, it stands out and detracts.
2) I am actually going to end up blaming George Lucas for this one. One of Shakespeare’s greatest elements is his use of wordplay. And since Mr. Doescher was interpreting a script, I felt that this version of Shakespeare lacked that interplay of words. There were humorous bits, but very few double entendres or playing with the language. I missed that from this. However, I don’t know if Lucas really allowed for a lot of wordplay in the source material, so … it’s probably a moot point, but I wanted to make it anyway.
So there. That’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. But before I grade it, here’s what I’m embarking upon over the next 26 hours:
– I finished Dracula; I finished Star Wars. Over the course of the holiday weekend I started and finished H is for Homicide. I’m still reading that stupid little romance novel. If I can finish that novel and read the entirety of one more book, I’ll have read the same amount of books this year as I did in 2012. So I picked out the shortest Dick Francis novel I have in my collection, and if I don’t end up working in the bakery tomorrow (and no one comes over for New Year’s, which is fine), I’m going to be doing a shit-ton of reading. Wish me luck!
Grade for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: 5 stars