Book Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Part the Fourth – Verily A New Hope
I like Shakespeare. While certainly presentation can mean a lot when it comes to a play, a good cast and some good staging can take some of the Bards more “meh” plays and make them enjoyable (such as with Henry VI), and his work can be adapted to a variety of other settings.
So, when I found out about the adaptations of the Star Wars Original Trilogy (and, later, the Prequel Trilogy), to something similar to the work of the Bard, my interest was piqued. However, plays are best when they are performed instead of simply being read off of the page – as anyone who has had to silently read Shakespeare for High School English class will tell you. That is, in part, why most English teachers worth their salt will have the class read the play aloud.
Consequently, when I found said trilogy was also available as audiobooks from Audible, I was now much more interested in picking them up. The audiobooks imagine them as a (mostly) full cast play, with a few of the readers playing multiple parts. For example, the reader who voices Leia also reads the Stage Directions, and I think that the reader who does Obi-Wan also voices the Chorus.
As with the Bard’s plays that featured dialog in other languages (like French in Henry V), dialog in the various constructed languages – like Huttese, Shyriiwook, or R2-D2’s beeps – are not translated, though it’s still rendered in iambic pentameter. R2-D2 does have asides in regular English, which gives him some more explicit character depth. This makes sense as while he had some character depth in the films, it was more implicit, drawn from the sound design by Ben Burtt and the operation by Kenny Baker.
The text of the play has a mix of modifications of the dialog of the films, and some original dialog. Well, original-ish. The play on multiple occasions cribs heavily from Shakespeare’s other work. Luke is possibly the worst offender in this regard, though C-3P0 has a bit that weirdly cribs from Richard III at the start of the play. It’s something that causes a problem with the flow of the story – things are moving along at a nice clip, and your mind’s eye has you both in the midst of the film, and with how the imagined play is performed, before you run into something cribbed from another work of Skakespeare’s canon, and you’re bounced right out of your groove.
Some work better than others though – after getting out of the Stormtrooper armor when they’ve escaped from the Trash Compactor, Luke gives a variant of the “Alas, poor Yorick” speech, while examining the Stormtrooper’s helmet. This works a little better than some of the other speeches, because while Luke has seen death prior to this part of the story – the troopers who boarded the Falcon would make for the first time he’s actually killed anyone, and everyone else he’d shot after that point had clearly been in self defense instead of in cold blood, so it makes sense for him to get reflective.
I really enjoyed listening to the play, and given the choice between either just reading it or listening to the audiobook, I prefer the audiobook – though reading along while listening to it wouldn’t hurt as well. The publisher also put together teaching resources to go with the book, and I could see this being really useful for teaching a High School English class about Iambic pentameter and how Shakespeare’s plays were structured, through presenting a story that the class is already intimately familiar with in addition to Shakespeare’s plays.
I’ve already picked up the rest of the original Trilogy, and will review the rest of those as I come to them. Sadly, the Prequel Trilogy version have not gotten an audio book adaptations, so I’ll have to go with the written versions once I get to those.
Shakespeare’s Star Wars is available from Amazon.com, and purchasing the book through that link will get me a commission based on your purchase.