William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher – Book Review [Bellarius]
In the absence of a new episode of Scars, Bellarius turns to Iam Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.
“The best book set in a Galaxy Far, Far Away I’ve read in years!” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
You know, when you put your mind to it this actually makes a kind of sense. For all it’s been analysed over the years as being a fantasy story in space, Expanded Universe excluded, Star Wars shares a good number of elements with Shakespearean tropes. It features figures of magic manipulating characters and assisting a hero, tragic, fallen figures who succumbed to their own vices, political intrigue, war and a saga which stretches generations. One where a son must battle a father who failed in his mission and brought doom to those he sought to protect. Ian Doescher really struck gold with this idea as it manages to largely work.
The overall story is well known enough to skip, so let me instead focus upon the book’s gimmick of being written in the style of Shakespeare. The characters speak in the exact manner you’d imagine they would and details such as events are delivered via chorus, especially during many of the more vehicle focused moments.
Naturally, being written in script format and with all the ye olde England language you can imagine, reading from cover to cover is extremely difficult. However, this is where the advantage of adapting Star Wars works so well in its favour. The films are extremely well known, through pop culture if not repeated viewings and many moments have become extremely iconic. As such you can pick up the book and flip to whatever page you want, and be amused at seeing the familiar redone in a new style. For example, Tarkin reacting to Leia lying about the Rebellion’s location:
TARKIN: “The wench hath lied! Deceiving, cut-throat girl,
Most cunning princess born of Hell’s own heart!”
VADER: “I knew full well she never would betray
Her priz’d Rebellion whilst in her right mind.
And thus I said: she ne’er should have our trust.”
Or how about the incident which allows R2-D2 to follow C-3PO:
LUKE “Behold! This R2 hath a foul
And smoking motivator!”
OWEN “ – Vicious knave!
Say in what manner dost thou try upon
Our goodly wills to ply thy thievery?”
It’s got one joke admittedly, but the book does it with such an apparently genuine style that it never fails to be amusing. The Death Star trench run alone justifies buying the book, just to see how it’s pulled off and the many illustrations are a great bonus. Yes, there are illustrations peppered throughout, with the characters done in the same style as Vader on the cover.
If there is a flaw it’s that the actual style doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny from those well versed in plays of Shakespeare’s time. It fails to really match up with his style and elements such as the chorus are overused by comparison, a potential necessity given many scenes the book features. Furthermore the uses of “thou” and the like turn up far more than they actually would by Shakespeare himself. Furthermore, the book itself works the best when it’s playing its “joke” straight faced. The moments when Doescher openly winks at the audience to show awareness of its gimmick are easily the weakest, such as taking an entire speech from Hamlet. Those moments are fun at first, but can easily become tedious even when just flicking through the pages.
There’s really not much more to talk about beyond that. It’s A New Hope as done in the style (at least to the untrained eye) of William Shakespeare. As an adaptation it works perfectly fine, and any storytelling flaws are put down to the original film over the actual novel. Besides which, if you weren’t a fan of the original you’d probably not going to bother giving this a second glance. If you are though, definitely take a look for this one. It has long lasting entertainment value and, while not as substantial as a traditional novel, has far more longevity as a result of its gimmick. You could definitely do far worse when it comes to Star Wars literature.