Experience the Star Wars saga reimagined as an Elizabethan drama penned by William Shakespeare himself, complete with authentic meter and verse, and theatrical monologues and dialog by everyone from Luke Skywalker to Rose Tico.
The Star Wars saga continues, with Bard of Avon providing some of the biggest shocks yet! Alack, the valiant Resistance must flee from the scoundrels of the First Order, and it falls to Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and BB-8 to take up arms against sea of troubles. Can they bring Snoke’s schemes to woe, destruction, ruin, and decay? Will Luke Skywalker take the stage once more, and aid General Leia in the winter of her discontent?
Authentic meter, stage directions, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout will entertain and impress fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike. Every scene and character from the film appears in the play, along with twenty woodcut-style illustrations that depict an Elizabethan version of the Star Wars galaxy.
Note: I proceed with this review assuming that the reader has seen The Last Jedi. If not, I issue, now, a SPOILER ALERT for The Last Jedi plot and a SPOILER ALERT for the delightful Shakespearean treats Doescher infused.
For those who did not enjoy studying Shakespeare in school, don’t let the Bard-i-fication of Star Wars deter you. Maybe your dislikes of Shakespeare might dissipate by using his lens to re-see The Last Jedi, reading how the remnants of the Resistance try desperately to survive a crushing First Order, as Rey fails to bring the legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker to defend them against such destruction. Biased, as an English professor (much out of practice with my Shakespeare reading, skills, though) and Star Wars fanatic, it’s difficult for me to find anything I dislike in bringing Shakespeare and Star Wars together.
Just like one finds when reading the novelization of a book or comparing a novel to its film adaptation, imposing Shakespeare’s style and play format give the characters depth that is not often conveyed well visually or perhaps conveyed too subtly for all viewers to notice, or it’s details that a reader did not want in that character.
Surprisingly, the minor film dislikes I had become likable through the further depth this book provides, particularly the Canto Bight sub-plot. I by no means hated that sub-plot, but I take more delight through the choruses provided, that the police are less Keystone-cop-ish, and that we’re privvy to Fathiers’ thoughts.
The Master Codebreaker, for me, in the film was too much of a parody, like Bruce Campbell acting like James Bond, and it seemed out of place in the tone of the film. The Codebreaker’s soliloquy plays up that feeling for me so much that it becomes a cheeky touch to the story. In Act II, Scene 4, Doescher plays upon the James Bond-esque-ness of this character, and that he seems to belong to another franchise, by presenting a brilliant passage as homage to Mr. Bond. The codebreaker expresses his thoughts using titles of 007 films:
These skill’d gold fingers mine are us’d to crack
Encryptions strong as thunder, balls of lightning.
Right it is said: one one liveth twice:
Not once upon her maj’sty’s secret service.
In addition to soliloquies, tasty grammatical constructs, and puzzles one expects from Shakespeare’s works, so many other little treasures reside in here. Monologues, choruses, translations, and asides from humanoids creatures, droids and weapons alike add more emotion and humor.
If you’ve read the previous Shakespearean adaptations of the films, you know that R2-D2 has eloquent asides, like this, in addition to his beeps:
[aside:] My master, Luke, come hither to the ship!
Joy fills my droidly spirit at the sight
[To Luke:] Beep, meep, beep, squeak! (Act II, Scene 1)
R2-D2 has been characterized so well through the films, and we know him well, that we likely know his feelings and thoughts even if the beeps are not translated in the film for us. But having his words as an “aside,” tells us that these are things he actually says in private, implying that he can speak the vernacular to others but chooses not to — that’s so R2!
Chewbacca’s dialogue is translated in editor footnotes:
Expresses this lamentation:
Halfway across the galaxy we’ve come,
And thou canst no e’en open wide thy door?
Is hospitality in short supply?
This is not how I remember’d thee. (Act II, Scene 1)
The author also has fun in taking liberties with subtle details like Poe’s feelings for BB-8:
O’ercome I am with joy to see thee, friend!
I’d cover all they droidly pate with kisses,
Except so many people survey us. (Act V, Scene 1)
But BB-8s bleeps, buzzes, and whizzes are not translated. I was curious as why that was. Does he feel the same about Poe or does that creep him out? Even the Porgs get to speak. Well, one repeated line throughout, “Porg!”
A delightful addition was dialogue between an AT-AT and two AT-M6s, in Act V, Scene 1, borrowed as Doescher explains in the Afterword from Richard III. They are having second thoughts about the orders set out in front of them from Hux, not because they have been ordered to kill but because they fear what others may think of them.
AT-M6 2: Art thou afeard?
AT-M6 1: –Nay, not to kill them, for
Such is our order, but to be damn’d for it.
AT-AT: I thought thou hast been resolute, my friend.
Giving these walkers feelings and a conscience adds another level to these machines that we may assume have no thoughts or morality. It emphasizes the fact that this is indeed a galaxy unlike ours. Perhaps they are massive droids with feelings, anxieties, neuroses as we’ve seen other droids in the galaxy do possess.
Even troopers aren’t as daft as sometimes their bad aim implies. In Act IV, Scene 2, two execution troopers are talking on the Finalizer just before Holdo crashes the cruiser into them. They discuss the methods in which Jedi have to project themselves in other places:
TROOPER 2: ….They could project an image of themselves,
To make all think they’re somewhere they are not.
TROOPER 1: O strange ability, and passing rate!
The implications, though–
TROOPER 2: —Are Massive, aye.
What if ‘twere only Qui-Gon Jinn’s appearance
Which Darth Maul did defeat upon Naboo?
TROOPER 1: Indeed! What if Obi-Wan Kenobi
Still liveth, never was by Vader slain?
Oh my! That prospect fuels my imagination. Alive? Could they all still be alive? Oh the twists and turns this saga could take! Anyways, these troopers decide that they are going to tell Hux and Kylo Ren of this Jedi power right after they execute Finn and Rose — but, of course, that moment never comes. Imagine if they had the chance to share that speculation with Hux and Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren may not have been suckered by Luke. Although, wouldn’t Kylo Ren know of this Jedi ability? Well, alas, maybe not; he did burn down the academy before he completed his Jedi training.
Oh, Kylo Ren. I cling to evidence that there will be no “Reylo.” I am opposed to Kylo Ren and Rey having a romantic entanglement 1) because it seems too obvious of a direction to go in and 2) Kylo Ren is my dark side cupcake (who we get to read in Act III, Scene 3, when he connects with Rey, “sans doublet”) and I would be so jealous if he hooked up with Rey. So when she says:
Ne’er shall I, though, be so naive as to
Envision we two on the side of light.
What path thou takest is thine own decision,
For I shall ne’ermore worry o’er thy soul. (Act V, Scene 1)
I cheer: Yes! Go on, Rey. Think no more of him — I got that. I am heartened because this means that she will no longer try to connect with him to try to redeem him. Although, just because she says it, doesn’t mean she won’t change her mind. But I grasp it as my assurance that there is no romantic interest between these two very lonely, young, attractive Force-strong people.
And, sweet sigh. Leia’s monologue in Act V, Scene 1, where she stands at the open door of the Rebel base on Crait compelled tears and chills as she recalls the adventures she took from the beginning of the saga to that point, ending with these lines that suit so many feelings we will have upon Leia’s death (that may match those felt with the loss of Carrie Fisher):
If ‘tis my final act, my epitaph,
Let it be this: upon her shoulders strong,
She did the hopes of generations carry.
Enough of dismal thoughts of loss and death…
As much as it happens in my life, I am still surprised when the careful assemblage of words on a page can shock me or make me laugh out loud, or cheer, weep, or break my heart.
The cover, like the illustrations inside, transport the reader to a bygone era, appearing like a woodcut print with intricate scrolls and columns to take us to our favorite galaxy far, far away. A framed, hooded Luke in an elaborately embroidered doublet stares at the reader. Under the frame to the left, a tiny Kylo Ren and Rey stare across the cover at a tiny Snoke.
The illustrations inside the book also remind us that this is meant to be a theatrical production. For example, in Act V, they show the ropes that hold up stones that Rey is levitating to allow the resistance to escape the base on Crait. Many are comical, as well, like Chewbacca wearing a flat cap and BB-9E looking like a pirate in black cap, tattered scarf, with a sheathed dagger strapped to him. Admiral Holdo is pictured with fringy epaulets on her sleeves wearing in a bicorne with a Rebel symbol on the side, and, in the background, is a parchment map not the digital version from the film. Snoke appears in seemingly Tudor royal garb on his Tudor-esque throne.
I am sad to admit that I did not notice some of the little language treasures that Doescher points out in the afterword, like Yoda speaking only in Haiku, “Finn using Fs and Ns in each of his lines, Poe’s Edgar Allan Poe references…”
And one, in particular, absolutely blew my mind. Doescher explains: “…when Rey is in the cave at Ahch-To, I wanted to give a sense of the remarkable scene in the movie in which we see a long row of Reys. Instead of trying to recreate this effect visually on the stage, I did it with language…the letter r occurs exactly once per line, in sequence. In the first line it’s the first letter, in the second line r is the second letter, and so on until the thirty-sixth line, in which the final letter is r.” Putting constraints such as this can lead one writing to such creative heights! Brilliant!
Doescher sums up the connection between Star Wars and Shakespeare best in his Afterword, “I ever I needed a reason to think Shakespeare and Star Wars belong together, seeing people in the movie theater react to the living myths in front of them–like groundlings at the Globe–was all the proof I needed.” Reading these adaptations makes me want to read more Shakespeare, and I certainly will consult the guides as described in the sonnet on the last page of the book for my exploration and so that I can further compare and delight in this Shakespearean transposition of the Star Wars universe.
Shakespeare intended for his creations to be performed not read. I was fortunate enough to attend Star Wars Celebration when it came close by, to Anaheim, and I saw actors perform Shakespearean readings of the original trilogy — a wonderful opportunity to hear the words by talented performers. Now, after reading this latest installment, I so wish for a theatrical production of all of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books, to entertain us groundlings at the Globe and around the world.