The Bard is Strong with This One

You might have heard someone giggle on the subway recently, utterly immersed in a small, unassuming-looking book. You might have then snuck a peek to see what book this person found so amusing, and upon glimpsing the word “Shakespeare” on the cover, you would then have scoffed and judged this person to be insufferably pretentious, both for reading Shakespeare on the subway and for understanding it well enough to laugh at the centuries-old jokes.

But you wouldn’t be able to look away from this unusual sight, so you’d steal another glimpse at the book’s title, under the pretense of discovering which of the Bard’s masterpieces this young woman was enjoying. It is then that you’d notice the next two words of the title: Star Wars.

‘Tis true. And ‘tis most glorious indeed! (I’ll have you know that I seriously considered composing this blog post in iambic pentameter, but decided to leave it to the poets and the PhDs. I know, I know. Try to reign in your disappointment.)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope is the project taken on by Ian Doescher, the intrepid, delightfully creative mind behind the most fantastic, most exciting, most unbelievably geektastic mashup in mashup history. It’s the book I never knew I needed until I learned of its existence. As one Goodreads user aptly pointed out, it’s the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of nerd culture literature; why have chocolate and peanut butter separately when you can enjoy them together in a single, delicious, unforgettable treat?

When you cross George Lucas’ sweeping Star Wars saga with the brilliant prose of William Shakespeare, a Reese’s Cup is exactly what you get.

My first thought upon picking up Shakespeare’s Star Wars was, of course, lolwtfbbq? And after it dawned upon me that this creation combined two of my favorite things in the galaxy (“Raindrops on roses and Shakespeare on Star Wars…”), I wondered how many other people counted Shakespeare and Star Wars among their favorite cultural pleasures, and I was shocked to learn that the number is apparently more than, say, three.

I discovered my appreciation for the Bard only recently, while sitting through the 8:40 AM Shakespeare class of Peter Platt (with whom every Barnard woman who took this course is in love) and actually enjoying it. I now consider myself something of a Shakespeare aficionado, having read (/dirt off shoulders) nine and 1/5 of Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten Greatest Shakespeare plays– along with a number of others. As for my Star Wars obsession, well, refer to this post of mine for a primer.

While highly unconventional, Doescher’s masterpiece actually works. As the author points out in his afterword, Shakespeare’s works and George Lucas’ series are much more tightly intertwined than you might think. For one, Wikipedia (hail!) classifies Star Wars as an “epic space opera,” which, for me, calls to mind an absurdly amusing image of Dark Helmet belting out a duet with Rocky Horror on an abandoned space station, but it just goes to show that pairing the scifi classic with an artist whose plays reflect many of the same themes is not completely out of left field.

Doescher reimagines the iconic Star Wars characters as sixteenth-century heroes, heroines, villains, and clowns, and the lyrical prose that flows from their lips marks one of the only glaring differences between the Bard’s Star Wars characters and those of Mr. Lucas. Princess Leia thrives as particularly strong-willed Shakespearean heroine, akin to the quick-witted princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost, while stage directions such as “Enter Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi” immediately call to mind the many other-worldly beings who have haunted Shakespeare’s plays—most notably, the late King Hamlet. Beloved droids R2-D2 and C-3PO slot in seamlessly as a futuristic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while R2 is written as a Puck-ish character who sneakily moves along the plot, revealing to no one but the audience that he can, in fact, speak English. (Though it must be said: R2-D2’s iambic pentameter beep-whistle-squeaking is priceless.)

Darth Vader, of course, takes center stage as a Shylock-esque villain (with notable Othello overtones) whose hardened exterior may reveal just a brief spark of humanity. And when Luke waxes philosophical about the stormtrooper he has killed while clutching that fallen soldier’s helmet in his hands, I could practically see the mirror image of Hamlet addressing Yorick’s skull, spewing the same existential angst.  (However, I’m pretty sure that Hamlet’s words were “Alas, poor Yorick,” rather than “Alas, poor stormtrooper.” Details, details.)

The interconnected themes of tragedy, sacrifice, and budding romance loom large over this sweeping enterprise of a play, merging Shakespearean staples with the modern-day characters that audiences know and love. But, unsurprisingly, my favorite lines in the play were the famous Shakespeare quotes swapped with scifi terminology, and the the well-known Star Wars quotes rewritten in sixteenth century English iambic pentameter.

Alas! Some samples of the first category: (Feel free to test yourself and brag to me about how many you knew offhand)

C-3PO: Now is the summer of our happiness / Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack! (1.1.1-2) [Real quote]

LUKE: –But O, what now? / What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks? (3.5. 45-46) [Real quote]

R2-D2: [aside] A plague on both our circuit boards, I say! (4.4.122) [Real quote]

LUKE: Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears. (5.4.65) [Real quote]

…And some shining examples of the second:

LEIA: –O help me, Obi-Wan /Kenobi, help. Thou art mine only hope. (1.6.77-78) [Real quote]

OBI-WAN: –True it is, / That these are not the droids for which thou search’st. (3.1.22-23) [Real quote]

OBI-Wan: The Force, it shall be with thee always, Luke. (4.2. 55) (Um, do I really have to link this one?)

If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, this is a wondrous work of fiction that contains thumb-biting, fortune’s fools, and rousing soliloquies along with blaster fights, lightsaber duels, and droid yard sales. And I personally think that the celebrated Han-Leia banter is even more enjoyable in old English. (“Thou sweatheart of ingratitude!” “Thine edgy trigger finger!” Oh snap.)

Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the perfect blend of these two cherished classics. I was so enthused by this book that I was suddenly inspired to tackle another Shakespeare play (see: the tab on my computer with the entire text of Much Ado About Nothing) and revisit the world of Star Wars (see: the boxed set of the original trilogy currently residing on my desk). This quirky, unconventional combination of two cultural behemoths is truly a Force to be reckoned with.


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