William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: A Terrifying Hope

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Veril, A New HopeQuirk Classics seems to be monopolizing on nerds everywhere. Their notable past publications, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which became a New York Times Best Seller), have accomplished widespread success by surfing on the fringe of pop culture and classic literature. Their new release, William Shakespeare’s Star-Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher has had book vendors (and fans alike) waiting with baited breath.

And, much to my pleasure I found a solidly knowledgeable, witty, and melodic voice present throughout all 169 iambic-laden pages of New Hope. That Doescher is capable not only of retaining archaic language, but that he renders it something understandable and relatable is no slight task. I certainly appreciated the Super-Nerd references (e.g: the cantina members who swear by “Mos Eisley”) deposited in select passages where we would expect 17th century inside-jokes requiring diligent footnote.

Still, in other passages, classic scenes and characters are reworked slightly to flesh out the “play’s” structure. For example, R2-D2’s altered personification invokes a classic Shakespearean archetype—the presentation of “man” as an “idiot savant”.

R2D2:        Beep, meep, beep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, meep

                   beep, whee!

C-3PO:      What secret mission? And what plans? What dost

    Thou talk about? I’ll surely not get in!

                                [Sound of blast.

      I warrant I’ll regret this. So say I!

                                [Exit C-3PO into escape pod.

R2-D2:        This golden droid has been a friend, ’tis true,

     And yet I wish to still his prating tongue!

     An imp, he calleth me? I’ll be reveng’d,

     And merry pranks aplenty I shall play

     Upon this pompous droid C-3PO!

     Yet not in language shall my pranks be done:

     Around both humans and droids I must

     Be seen to make such errant beeps and squeaks

     That they shall think me simple. Truly, though,

     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.

                                     [Exit R2-D2 into escape pod.

Often, dystopian worlds mirror this selfsame ideology that common man is the fallible, ignorant (though plucky) underdog who must stand against an evil that threatens to destroy the world or universe “as we know it”. The fact that the weight of this revolution is lain on the shoulders of an overconfident savant figure serves to highlight the instability of The Rebel Alliance and Republic. And quite simply, that “Republic” is the very real manifestation of our notions surrounding modern day liberty. Ultimately, these scaffolds (that of Star Wars and of Shakespeare) remain relevant in their ability to juxtapose our fears surrounding severe and unrelenting forces of “pure evil” (as symbolized by Darth Vader and other Sith Lords).

Darth Vader Sith LordNot surprisingly, this conflict between the securities of government and the tyranny of men extends far beyond early and post-modern works. America and other nations of Anglo-Saxon descent, specifically, have long integrated these fears into text as a fundamental meditation on their societal structure. Monsters, violent aberrations, and other singly-motivated evil beings exist (as they have since the advent of Beowulf) because of the crowning way in which we codify our experience with “the other” and “the unknown”. In this way, Darth Vader remains, much like Richard III, a conglomeration of our dystopic society’s worst fears.

This may be why other recent renditions of Shakespeare, like “The Last Goodbye” (currently being performed at San Diego’s Old Globe), remain as steadfastly popular as Doescher’s book is expected to be. That selfsame notion of impending doom that inspires feverish, reckless love and adventure is what stands as the pinnacle of our engagement (as either readers or viewers).

But what leaves me most unsettled about this relationship between New Hope and our modern society is the fact that not only does it appear to be geared toward high school students (as Sonnet 1138 includes referrals to a study guide designed for this audience), but it appears to stand as the by-product of a marketing campaign that’s rather notorious for targeting this age group. In fact, as I was purchasing the book, the kindly clerk at Barnes & Noble spent some length telling me about New Hope’s expected popularity at large, commercial book-vendors. Not because of the merits of the publishing house, but rather, because the book carries the indelible “Lucas Books” stamp.

Luke as Hamlet

Dear reader, allow me for a moment to digress: Now, a nerd knows she’s easy prey for marketers, merchandisers, and advertisers—what with all the collectible items and special edition sets we throw our money at regularly. But, something very different occurs when we’re talking about literature being manufactured as a commodity—as a supplement to the profitability of a series. That for me, and others who genuinely enjoy reading, is very nearly disturbing. One doesn’t have to go far to find “spinoffs” (books transmogrified into collectable consumables). I think all of nerdom can come together to agree that series like: Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering, and Starcraft, World of Warcraft or Diablo Books (part of the Blizzard merchandising campaign), are examples of just that—but one rarely expects “Shakespeare” and “lucrative enterprise engineering” to go hand in hand.

But alas, a work is a work is a work and by any other name is still capable of furnishing a good read. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to get younger readers familiar with, and excited about, classic styles of writing—we all know (yes, even us more experienced and learned readers) that iambic pentameter can be a chore to untangle. And, if these books serve to validate their original counterparts—so much the better.

All in all, I recommend this book if you have an inward fire by which to light these pages. If you love iambic pentameter with a passion, or if you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan—you’ll be able to swallow this book in one sitting. Or, if, as the plentiful faux-woodcut illustrations seem to suggest, you find the prose hard to digest—it still remains an interesting purchase for the easygoing coffeetablerian.

Authored by your friendly neighborhood cyborg: Stephanie D’Adamo

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