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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 10:34 AM
Book Report - William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return
 by Fëanor

Author Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars trilogy comes to a close with this third entry, The Jedi Doth Return. It is perhaps too close an adaptation of the film, since I found it, like the original, to be the least interesting episode in the trilogy. But it's still entertaining and still worth a read for fans of either Star Wars or Shakespeare.

The book takes its time getting going, but some early highlights include the Max Rebo Band's song about how good it is to be a gangster, and the Rancor Keeper's moving lament after the violent death of his beast at the hands of Luke Skywalker.

Doescher had more difficult linguistic puzzles to solve in this book, but I'm less pleased with the way he handled them this time. The first problem is all the Huttese dialog spoken in Jabba's Palace. His solution is to simply transcribe it exactly as it's spoken in the film with no changes, which was a bit disappointing to me. I was also disappointed by his solution to the problem of the Ewok dialog. The idea of making every piece of Ewok speech a small poem is a good one, but composing the poems by mixing the dialog from the film with an embarrassing and childish pidgin English is... not.

There are plenty of moments of humor and brilliance, however. I enjoy Luke's awkward conversation with Obi-Wan's spirit on Dagobah, and Obi-Wan's aside about midi-chlorians. And as usual there are some great scenes featuring Imperial grunts, such as the boastful speech by a Biker Scout which ends in him crashing into a tree, and the hilarious conversation between two guards, one of whom worries about the possibility of the Rebels doing... exactly what they are doing.

Also as in the previous volumes, there are some really interesting soliloquies and asides that explore the inner life of the characters in more detail than the films ever do, and cleverly nudge at the fourth wall that separates us from the play. In the films, Luke and Leia never really get a chance to talk much about the fact that they are brother and sister, and how uncomfortable that is given their previous dalliances with romance. Also, Princess Leia never really deals (aloud, at least) with the fact that Darth Vader is her father. Here those gaps are filled in in dramatic fashion. Leia also takes the time to muse on the courage and fortitude of her Ewok allies, and the strange fate that has drawn them together. The Emperor gives us a manifesto on the primal importance of power. Wedge contemplates his part in all the major moments of the Rebellion's fight, and points out that he's been an observer of these great events, just as we have been, even while he's also acted in them. R2-D2 helps us visualize the battle of the Rebels and Ewoks against the Imperial troops on Endor by narrating it for us. And Darth Vader has a number of speeches that reveal the conflict and turmoil inside him, conflict that centers around and emanates from his discoveries of the existence of his son and, later, his daughter.

Some other highlights include the Shakespearean redesign of Admiral Ackbar's famous line ("Fie, 'tis a trap!") and Lando of Calrissian's rousing and very Shakespearean speech to rally the troops before they fly into the bowels of the second Death Star, in which he gives prominence to the theme of redemption that runs through all the various storylines of the play:
And finally, the third result of this
Great Death Star's fall shall be the rising up
Of all whose pasts conceal some awful guilt,
Some aspect of their lives that brings regret.
In this battle we fight not
To merely terminate an enemy—
Full many of us rebels seek the bliss,
The balm and healing of redemption's touch.
So let it be, my noble comrades all:
Fight now for the Rebellion, fight for all
Who dwell within our galaxy, and fight
Most ardently, indeed, for your own souls.
Thus shall we raise those who by Empire's might
Have died, and forth from their celestial graves
Shall they ascend and with a rebel's voice
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war!

Of course the central moment of redemption in the story is Vader's, and his transformation back into Anakin Skywalker, Luke's true father. As in the film, that moment is the most moving of the play, and Doescher plays up the drama and humanity of it without making it melodramatic.

Even though this entry is not my favorite in the series, the trilogy as a whole has been highly entertaining, and I would love to see it actually performed live on a stage. Even though this is clearly the end of this particular series of books, our Fool and narrator R2-D2 gives us some hope of a continuation in his final soliloquy, wherein he hints at some future story yet to be told. I have to admit I'm not quite sure what he's referring to. It doesn't sound like he's talking about the Prequels, as one might expect, as he mentions the Rebels and the Empire, neither of which existed during the timeline of those films. Maybe a Shakespearean adaptation of the forthcoming Episode VII? Or of one or more of the books set in the Extended Universe? I'm not sure, but I'll keep my eyes open for it!
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Shakespeare (Not), Star Wars (Not)
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Friday, March 28, 2014 03:30 PM
(Last updated on Friday, March 28, 2014 06:53 PM)
Book Report - William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back
 by Fëanor

Here's my review of William Shakespeare's Star Wars: A New Hope. I've now read the inevitable sequel, and just like with the movies, it's even better than the original. Author Ian Doescher has become even more skilled at melding the poetic language of Shakespeare with the story of Star Wars, and early on he shows his flair for invention and humor by giving the Wampa an illuminating soliloquy that's so well done it forces you to sympathize with a man-eating monster. Later on, he gives similarly clever speeches to a squad of AT-ATs, and the space worm that nearly consumes the Millenium Falcon.

And there's plenty more thoughtful twists in the text. Han and Leia's angry bickering is interspersed with asides that reveal their true, passionate feelings for each other. Artoo gets his own clever asides, revealing once again just how smart and aware he is, how strongly he feels about his comrades, and how integral his actions are to the story. In a contemplative moment, Vader asks:
—Hath not a Sith eyes?
Hath not a Sith such feelings, heart, and soul,
As any Jedi Knight did e'er possess?
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you
Blast us, shall we not injur'd be? If you
Assault with lightsaber, do we not die?
I have a body as do other men,
Though made, in part, of wires and steel.

Meanwhile, Admiral Piett muses about Vader's mask and whether it's not more honest to wear one openly, given that the rest of us wear them secretly. Luke speaks of his deep feelings for his friends, and the great conflict within him when he learns the terrible truth about his father.

There's an interesting Afterword in which Doescher speaks of some of the options he considered and the challenges he faced when writing the book, including how to handle Yoda's speech. In the films, of course, Yoda speaks with a kind of backwards grammar that's very distinctive. But everyone speaks a bit like that in a play that's written in iambic pentameter, so how to differentiate Yoda? Doescher's solution is to have Yoda speak entirely in haiku. It works quite well.

Another character with his own unique speech pattern is Boba Fett. Being of the lower class of bounty hunter scum, he gets to eschew the standard iambic pentameter for plain prose. Meanwhile, the Ugnaughts of Cloud City don't speak at all, but rather sing cheery little songs. Speaking of songs, Chewie and Leia get to sing a lament for Han after he's frozen in carbonite. Luke and Vader also have a kind of poetic duet as Luke rejects Vader's offer and falls into the endless pit.

And yes, Doescher does explore that oft joked-about absurdity of the Star Wars universe - that so many of the structures in it have gigantic chasms built into them that are completely lacking in safety precautions. A hilarious discussion between two guards in Cloud City reveals this is all according to the Empire's building standards, and is probably meant to impress us with the Empire's immensity, strength, and fearlessness.

One character who really opens up in Doescher's treatment is Lando. Through asides, Doescher is able to explore Lando's guilt, conflict, and eventual change of heart and redemption.

Another point Doescher makes in his Afterword is that he relied too heavily on the Chorus in his first book, and he tried to minimize his use of it in this one. I don't remember noticing that about the first book, but I feel like the decision was a good one and makes this a stronger play. (Although I appreciated, in the concluding speech by the Chorus, the use of the phrase "by George." By George, indeed.)

Doescher finishes things up with a sonnet that points you to the website for more content, and teases The Jedi Doth Return. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to it.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Movies (Not), Shakespeare (Not), Star Wars (Not)
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Friday, June 21, 2013 01:52 PM
(Last updated on Friday, March 28, 2014 03:33 PM)
Book Report - William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
 by Fëanor

[UPDATE: Check out the fun book trailer!]

Quirk Books is a Philadelphia publisher that puts out... different kinds of books. Books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which I reviewed on Phillyist ages ago) and How to Live with a Huge Penis (which I received a copy of but never read, because... I couldn't quite bring myself to carry it around places). Their upcoming, July 2nd release is no exception: it's William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher.

You can probably guess the premise just from the title. It's the story of the first Star Wars movie (that's Episode IV, people; we shall not speak of Episode I) retold using the language and format of a Shakespearean play. That's right: words like "marry," "prithee," and "knave"; five acts; iambic pentameter; rhyming couplets at the end of each scene - the whole nine yards.

This could easily have been a gimmicky thing that's amusing in concept, but boring and pointless in execution. But it is in fact not that at all. It is brilliant and funny. It is more than just two random things that someone has mashed awkwardly together because mash-ups are cool these days. The two things being mashed together have more in common than you might think (as Doescher himself points out in an Afterword), they've been carefully blended here, and the result is its own, new thing, more than the sum of its parts.

The book announces its intentions immediately on its jacket, which features an illustration of Darth Vader dressed in Elizabethan-era clothing; there are similar illustrations scattered throughout the text inside. Underneath the jacket is a plain brown cover that's been cleverly painted and distressed so the book appears old and well used.

Inside, we find a cast list full of the names of familiar characters, and then the famous opening crawl is spoken in alternately rhyming lines of iambic pentameter by the Chorus, who will return occasionally to explain the action that we're not seeing, or to elaborate on the terse stage directions. (I would love to see this play actually performed live.) Then the action begins with C-3PO declaiming, "Now is the summer of our happiness / Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!" These, of course, are the opening lines of Richard III, slightly altered. Because not only does Doescher use the general format and language of Shakespeare, he often references specific, famous speeches from the man's plays. Later on, Luke will recreate Prince Hamlet's speech to Yorick's skull while brooding on the helmet of a stormtrooper he's killed, and then raise the morale of the Rebel troops before the attack on the Death Star by copying Henry V's speech before the Battle of Agincourt.

But the text doesn't just include clever allusions to Shakespeare's work. There's also clever foreshadowing of secrets that will be revealed later on in the Star Wars saga (Vader mentions that Leia has a Jedi-like resistance to torture; in an aside, Obi-Wan tries to justify lying to Luke about his father), various amusing Star Wars in-jokes and commentary (more on that below), and even a knock at the saga's most famous rival, Star Trek (while arguing against staging a desperate rescue of Princess Leia from her cell on the Death Star, Han points out that, "To boldy go where none hath gone is wild!").

The book follows the Special Edition of the film, but after killing Greedo, Han refers to one of the more controversial changes made to that version in an aside: "And whether I shot first, I'll ne'er confess!" During the added scene with Jabba the Hutt (which was cut out and replaced by the Greedo scene in the original theatrical version and thus repeats much of the dialogue from that scene), Han says, "As I have said before—O verily, / 'Tis though I just have said thus..." and then continues in an aside, "Aye, true, / It sometimes seemeth I repeat myself."

Doescher's additions to the text aren't all jokes and pop culture references, however. Asides and soliloquies from C-3PO, Darth Vader, Luke, Obi-Wan, and R2-D2 give us deeper insight into these characters and their tortured hearts. Vader hints at his complex past and talks of the darkness that now fills him; Luke speaks of his dreams of adventure and his sadness at the loss of his Aunt and Uncle; Obi-Wan talks of old hopes and disappointments, and the possibility of his own redemption. R2 in particular blossoms under Doescher's pen, for although he speaks only in beeps and squeaks to the other characters, when he speaks to the audience, he does so in clear English, revealing that his schemes and manipulation are in many ways driving the plot.

Doescher even gives added depth to unnamed background characters. One of my favorite scenes is between the two stormtroopers guarding the Millenium Falcon while it sits trapped in the Death Star. Guard 1 summarizes the action so far to Guard 2 - at least, the action as they understand it, given what they've learned in "last week's briefing" - and posits that perhaps Luke and his droids are still hidden on board the ship behind them. Guard 2 scoffs at him and finally convinces him that he must be mistaken. Then they are called inside the ship and promptly killed by our heroes.

Doescher's attempts to force the dialogue of Star Wars into the format of a Shakespearean play occasionally result in language as tortured as any of Yoda's worst dialogue from the prequels (damn, I said I wouldn't talk about the prequels...). But more often he manages to inject real poetry and clever wordplay into Lucas' work, and even occasionally crafts a speech that's so moving and effective it caught me off-guard and choked me up a bit (such as Luke's speech to his fellow Rebels during the attack on the Death Star). Like most Shakespeare, the text definitely benefits from being read aloud, so I recommend you do that. Maybe not while you're on the train on the way to work, but you know, if you're alone with the book, or find yourself in the presence of a willing audience (or at least a captive audience; my three-year-old had no idea what I was talking about, but he's used to me babbling on, so he didn't mind too much). (UPDATE: I should mention, a couple days after I finished this, the kid requested that I read him more of "that R2-D2 book," so maybe he understood more than I thought. And he also liked it, so there you go!)

It's definitely true that people who already love both Shakespeare and Star Wars will get the most out of this book (and, being an English major in his 30s, I am definitely at the center of that Venn diagram; sometimes I feel like this thing was written specifically for me), but I think anybody with an appreciation for language and stories can find something to enjoy here. It's an entertaining book, and I hope to read William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back soon. (UPDATE: I have since done so! Check out my review of the next book.)
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Shakespeare (Not), Star Wars (Not)
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Thursday, August 11, 2011 03:28 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Art (Not), Batman (Not), Books (Not), Comic books (Not), Dinosaurs (Not), Frankenstein (Not), Fringe (Not), Homosexuality (Not), Indiana Jones (Not), Links (Not), Lovecraft (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), Music (Not), News (Not), Parenthood (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Shakespeare (Not), Space (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Prisoner (Not), TV (Not)
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011 01:15 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010 03:07 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010 12:46 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010 09:35 AM
On the Viewer - Twelfth Night (1996)
 by Fëanor

Poppy requested this film adaptation of Shakespeare's famous cross-dressing comedy from the library and we watched it the other day. It's got a great cast: Ben Kingsley as Feste, who is the wise Fool for this play (Shakespeare did love his wise Fools); Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia, the grieving lady who is the object of so many men's affections; Nigel Hawthorne as an actual fool, and the closest thing the play has to a villain, Malvolio; Mel Smith (the albino from The Princess Bride) as friend of the groundlings and notorious drunkard Sir Toby Belch; Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter) as the maid Maria; Richard E. Grant as the most ridiculous of Olivia's suitors, a gentleman named Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and Imogen Stubbs and Steven Mackintosh as Viola and Sebastian, the twin sister and brother at the heart of the play. These two very close siblings are split up by a shipwreck at the start of things. Shortly thereafter, for various reasons that don't bear explaining, Viola dons the garb of a man in order to enter the service of Duke Orsino, with whom she quickly falls in love. But Orsino has a desperate and unrequited love for Olivia, who promptly falls in love with Viola when she comes to woo her on the Duke's behalf. And when Sebastian finally makes it into town, looking exactly like Viola in her gentleman's disguise, the wackiness really gets started.

It's a really fun play. It's always surprising how well the humor in Shakespeare holds up, especially when it's acted well. When the truth is finally revealed at the end, and everybody's looking back and forth completely dumbfounded, and then everybody finally ends up with the person they're supposed to be with, it's really quite wonderful. Romantic comedy at its best!

The way the film plays with gender and sexuality is really quite interesting and even now rather provocative. Olivia falls in love with a man who is really a woman, and is constantly embracing her. Orsino and Viola nearly kiss when Viola is still dressed as a man, and it's only seconds after Viola is revealed to actually be a woman that Orsino proposes to her, suggesting that it was only convention that was holding him back before.

The film makes only one misstep. A comic subplot involves Sir Toby Belch and friends getting back at the stuck up butler, Malvolio, by tricking him into believing the lady of the house, Olivia, is in love with him, and that he must only smile and wear yellow garters (two things he never does, and which do not become him at all) to signal her that he feels the same. He falls for the scheme hook, line, and sinker, to the extent that his odd behavior is thought to be a symptom of insanity and he is locked in a dark cellar for his pains. Admittedly, Malvolio is tortured rather cruelly throughout this sequence, but this part of the story is clearly meant to be silly, and if it had been handled the right way, it could have been quite funny. Instead, director Trevor Nunn decides to interpret it in postmodern fashion, stressing the dark aspects, and turning the whole subplot into something quite unsettling and depressing. The conclusion of the Malvolio storyline puts a serious pall over what is supposed to be the very happy ending of the film.

Still, it's at least an interesting and vaguely valid interpretation, and the rest of the film is so good that it doesn't end up ruining the overall experience. If you're in the mood for a Shakespearean romantic comedy, the movie's definitely worth a look.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Shakespeare (Not)
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Monday, June 7, 2010 09:58 AM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010 07:23 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

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