The first Star Wars film that I watched was Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. It’s generally accepted that this is one of the weakest films in the franchise but I loved it! I was blown away in the cinema by the car chase on the city planet, I cheered when the Jesus looking Jedi performed a flying kick on some guy with a flamethrower and jet pack and I was literally opened mouthed when the little green crazy frog man started flipping and spinning against the evil posh person at the end of the film. Forgive me, I was only nine! By the time Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005 I considered myself a Jedi Master on my knowledge of the Star Wars universe.
My knowledge of Shakespeare, in comparison, is lacking. I have great respect for the Bard and I have enjoyed many of his plays (see my Shakespeare reviews here, here and here) but I couldn’t tell you the name of Juliet’s nurse where as I could tell what every button does on Darth Vader’s chest. I had just finished watching a gender reversed performance of Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe when I spotted this in the gift shop.
I bought the book on a whim and didn’t consider reviewing it on my website. It was just a silly novelty, something you might receive as a Christmas present. The following morning, as I read the book on my commute to work I was pleasently suprised at how masterfully well written it was. I was so impressed that I ordered Book Five: The Empire Striketh Back and Book Six: The Jedi Doth Return and afterwards Book One: The Panthom of Mence, Book Two: The Clone Army Attacketh and Book Three: Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge. Book Seven: The Force Doth Awaken and Book Eight: Jedi the Last have also been ordered.
As the title suggests, the books are re-tellings of the Star Wars films by George Lucas but written in a play format with the dialogue in Shakespearean English. Although the plays do poke fun at several iconic moments from the Star Wars franchise, as a whole they do respect the source material and in some cases they even improve upon the story! One of the elements of the prequel fans like to attack (and for good reason) is the romantic relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. In the films Anakin comes off as whiny and desperate, even predatory at times. Although this problem isn’t resolved in the plays, the dialogue and the use of Anakin’s soliloquies in which he discusses his emotions does improve this plot thread.
Another great improvment is bestowed upon the character Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar Binks has become a scapegoat of everything wrong with the sequel trilogy. The fans say he is too childish, he could be seen as a stereotype of Jamaicans and he doesn’t serve a purpose aside from comic relief. There is a theory among Star Wars fans that Jar Jar was the intended villain of the prequel trilogy. The evidence for this comes from various scenes in which Jar Jar “accidently” goofs his way out of trouble and waves his hands and mimes other character’s lines in a similar style to a Jedi mind trick. The plays takes the Darth Jar Jar theory and makes it fact. Jar Jar monologues to the audience admitting that his accent is just a hoax and that he is actually the most powerful force wielder among the cast. Although Darth Jar Jar’s plans don’t come to fruition I love this nod to the fans.
The plays are not perfect, then against neither are the films. As this was written in play format I imagined actors moving around a stage as they spoke their lines. The front cover implies that the characters would be in their normal attire with a Shakespearen twist which was fun to imagine. What confused me was how the scenes in space, such as the dog fights and the Death Star trench run would be performed. Would the characters…. wear something that resembled a X Wing or Tie Fighter? Another question I found myself wondering was how would the fight scenes would be performed? In episode two the fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett is one of my favourite scenes of the film. I couldn’t see how that would be translated to stage, especially when you consider Jango is using a jetpack for a part of the fight.
One thing that did feel out of place was the singing. At several points in the play the cast would break out into song. After Han has been frozen in carbonite, Leia is held captive by the Empire along with several droids and she begins to sing. It reminded me of the infamous Star Wars holiday special. There were songs at the end of some Shakespeare performances to keep the audience happy but it felt very out of place in Star Wars.
My only other issue is that some of the vehicles that aren’t sentient in the films are living things, capable of speech (and song) in the play. The reason for this is to move the plot along when there are no characters on stage. During the Battle of Hoth in Episode Five there’s an iconic scene where two ATAT’s march through the snow. In the play these ATAT’s talk to each other and cry out as they are defeated.
The plays are a joy to read and I recommend you do so. I’ll award the plays nine lightsabers out of ten!
Just to end this review, here are some of my favourite quotes from the plays:
“True it is,/ That these are not the droids for which thou search’st.”
“I pray thee, sir, forgive me for the mess/And whether I shot first, I’ll not confess.”
“[Luke, holding stormtrooper helmet.] Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not,/ yet have I taken both uniform and life/ From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?/ A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?/ A man with helpmate and with children too?/ A man who hath his Empire serv’d with pride?/ A man, perhaps, who wish’d for perfect peace?/ What’er thou wert, goodman, thy pardon grant/ Unto the one who took thy place: e’en me.”
“LUKE —But O, what now? What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?”
“Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!”
Thank you for reading and I’ll see you next time.
May the force be with you… always.