Ian Doescher is the author of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: An adaptation of Star Wars: Episode Four: A New Hope in the bard’s inimitable style.
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations–William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.
First of all, congratulations on this book. It’s simply charming. Could you tell me a little bit about how you came up with this idea?
Sure, and thank you. The idea came to me after three things happened — I watched the Star Wars trilogy for the first time in a few years (though I know it backward and forward), then I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and finally I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my family. I think my subconscious must have been playing around with those three things — Star Wars, mashup literature, Shakespeare — and I had the idea while I was at the Shakespeare Festival. That was almost exactly a year ago.
What are some of the most obvious similarities between Star Wars and Shakespeare’s plays? Are there thematic similarities? What about some of the characters? If you were to draw some direct comparisons between Star Wars‘ Characters and Shakespeare’s where would you start?
The obvious similarities are the themes that are prevalent in many great stories: good vs. evil, father/son conflicts, young people fulfilling their destinies, epic tales of battles both external and internal. In terms of direct character parallels, I think Luke is a lot like the character Prince Hal (from Henry IV Parts 1 and 2) who then becomes the King in Henry V. He’s this ruddy young guy learning to stop playing around with his friends and be a serious hero, all the while figuring out how his father’s legacy plays into it. Han Solo is a smuggler with a good heart — maybe Cassio in Othello or Marc Antony in Julius Caesar (at least as played by Brando). Princess Leia is a feisty female, like Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Darth Vader is almost a tragic figure like King Lear, especially if you take all six Star Wars movies as a single arc. C-3PO and R2-D2 are great comic relief, a lot like Trinculo and Stephano in The Tempest.
You’re obviously a Star Wars fan. How did you first get exposed to the saga? What’s your favorite memory in connection to it?
Star Wars has been with me from before I even have clear memories, but I think my favorite memory is sitting in the movie theater at age six watching Return of the Jedi. My uncle Norman lives in Japan and he was sitting in the row behind me, translating into Japanese for his wife so she could follow along. I remember even then thinking how cool that was, that somehow Star Wars was transcending cultural barriers like language.
I’ve got to be honest here: When I first heard the name “Shakespeare” I cringed a little bit. I’m a big reader, but I had some, shall we say, “traumatic” brushes with the bard in high school English class. I’m wondering what you would say to readers like me who might be hesitant to pick up the book?
I think that’s a really common reaction — Shakespeare is associated with the elite or super-educated in our culture, even though that was far from the case when he wrote. So to anyone who is worried, don’t be — first of all, I’m no Shakespeare (for better and worse) so the language isn’t as difficult as his. Second, since you already know the story, you’ll be able to follow along with no problem. Finally, I really do hope the book might be a bridge into Shakespeare for some people (especially students). Let William Shakespeare’s Star Wars get you into the rhythm of the language, some of the literary devices, etc., and then maybe you’ll be better equipped for the real thing.
I see that you’ve got a masters of Divinity from Yale and a PhD from Union Theological Seminary. How did a guy like you end up at an ad agency writing about Star Wars in your spare time?
Such a good question, I wish I could figure that out. I was the half-time pastor of a church for a while, and worked a second half-time job to pay the bills. Then I replaced job #2 and started working at the marketing agency my brother Erik worked for. After a long time doing two half-time jobs, I realized I would be less busy with one full-time job and I went on with the agency full-time. Then last year I had this idea to write a book about Star Wars and Shakespeare, and I stayed up late nights writing so I could be marketing theologian author guy. Definitely a journey.
Follow-up question: Are there any spiritual lessons one can learn from Star Wars and Shakespeare?
Because of this book, I’ve reflected some lately on what the Star Wars movies taught all of us who were raised on them. One of the movies’ most important lessons is that loss happens, and life sometimes stinks, but ultimately we figure out how to go on. Obi-Wan Kenobi dies, Alderaan is completely wiped out, Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite, Luke loses a hand, Yoda doesn’t get to see the rebellion succeed, Darth Vader dies just after redeeming himself. There’s a lot of hard stuff in these movies — just like there is in Shakespeare’s tragedies, his histories, and even some comedies. But (at least partially) we enjoy them because they help us make sense of our own losses and see a little hope even in dark times. That’s about as spiritual as I get on this topic!
Are you going to be doing any dramatic readings anywhere? Any chance of an actual stage performance?
I’ve been doing some readings on the east coast the last few weeks, and I will be in Seattle at the Northgate Mall Barnes & Noble on August 3. In terms of a stage performance, many theater companies have expressed interest. At this point, Lucasfilm is only allowing a few scenes to be performed at a time — and those in service of promoting the book — but I’m hopeful William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will see the stage at some point.