Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: William Shakspeare's Star Wars--Verily a New Hope by Ian Doescher

I’m sitting here looking at William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher and wondering how to start a review that sounds anything like objective. And, you know, I can’t. I loved this book. I loved the idea so much that the book sat unread for a while because I couldn’t be sure the text would live up to the concept, loved it so much that the minute I finished reading it, I called one friend to tell her she had to read it before she talked to me again and then got online so I could rhapsodize about it with another friend who had read it.

So, now you know. I'm not objective; I'm in love.

Much as I liked the idea, I was a little wary when it came to reading the actual book. How well good could a simple retelling of Star Wars really be, in the end? Very, as it happens. The book isn’t a “simple” retelling, not even “simply” in rhymed iambic pentameter. It incorporates ideas from the prequels (and does it well), comments on fan debate, adds an extra layer of character to everyone, and generally turns Star Wars into a quite respectable Shakespearean play. Vadar has some villainous monologues, R2D2 adds some scorching asides to the audience, Luke is given a thoughtfulness not always evident in the movie (and make no mistake; I like Luke), and Han has a couple of thoughtful monologues.

R2D2's asides are an unexpected addition. To the other characters, he still beeps and boops (iambically), but he gives frequent asides to the audience, commenting on events and character, at one point stating

Although with sounds oblique I speak to them,
I clearly see how I shall play my part,
And how a vast rebellion shall succeed
By wit and wisdom of a simple droid.

Doescher continues to play with words in a very Bard-like fashion, sometimes mixing in a an altered line or two from Shakespeare's (other?) plays, teasing with references to Star Trek, or adding playful references to fan controversies, as when Obi-wan muses about what to tell Luke about his father, or when Han and Greedo confront one another and Han leaves with the aside,

And whether I shot first, I'll ne'er confess!

The chorus, meanwhile, provides commentary on what is happening, effectively filling in for the visuals not present. It works very well, and I do still hope someone actually acts this play and films it so I can watch this and Lucas' version back to back.

My copy of the book is bristling with bookmarks indicating quotations I really have to share, except I probably had better not or there won't be much book left for you to read.

I can’t close without mentioning Nicolas Delort’s illustrations. I thought the Elizabethen ruff in the book trailer was a nice addition to Vadar’s costume. Delort’s elaborate chain-mail version of the outfit (see the cover) is even better. His reimaginings continue to enliven the book: There’s Luke musing on the storm trooper’s helmet, Han facing Jabba, and (another favorite), Vadar looking at the smoking ruins of a model Death Star.

Is this book worth reading? Yes, if you like Shakespeare, if you like Star Wars, if you like literature, or if you enjoy laughing, it’s worth reading. Now I can settle back happily to wait for The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return, next year!

Now, for the third time, here's the trailer!

Links of Interest
Victoria Irwin reviews Ian Doescher for The Geek Girl Project
Quirk Books' page for Star Wars: Verily a New Hope.
Ian Doescher's Page

Other Reviews
Victoria Irwin's review on The Geek Girl Project.
Bookin' with Bingo
In Bed with Books
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Did I miss a review I should have included? Let me know, either here in the comments section or by using the Contact Me link above.


  1. I would have never imagined a mesh of Shakespeare and Star Wars! But it sounds like it worked and is amusing as well.

    1. I wouldn't have thought of it either before I saw the trailer, and then I thought, "Well, of course!" And, yes, it is funny. There are a lot of Shakespearean lines rewritten for the Star Wars scene, famous Star Wars lines turned into iambic pentameter, plus in-jokes for fans. There's even a Star Trek line (at least one) slipped in there.