Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth’

Cover Illustration: Nicolas Delort (C) 2014 Quirk Books

Emperor:
This lightsaber that resteth by my side–
Thou doest desire it hotly, doest thou not?
The hate doth swell within thee even now–
It hath an aura palpable. Take up
Thy Jedi weapon, use it. I–as thou
Canst see–am quite unarm’d. So strike me down
With all thy hatred, let thine anger stir
Each moment thou dost more become my slave.
William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth, Act IV, Scene 3

On July 1, 2014, less than four months after Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth hit bookstore shelves, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books (a Random House imprint) published the third volume of the series, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth. Inspired in part by Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 parody smashup novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Doescher reimagines director Richard Marquand’s Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi as a five-act Elizabethan era stage play written by the Bard of Avon.

The author, who became a Star Wars fan at age six after watching Return of the Jedi during its 1983 theatrical run and fell in love with the works and writing style of William Shakespeare in middle school, retells filmmaker George Lucas’s space-fantasy tale set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” using the conventions of dramatic presentation of Shakespeare’s time, including minimal stage direction, a “chorus” to indicate changes in setting (analogous to the “wipes” and “dissolves” in the Star Wars films) or comment on the travails of our heroes (and villains), and exclamations, dialogues, asides, and soliloquies presented in “glorious” iambic pentameter.

Official pre-release YouTube trailer for William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return.

The epic trilogy that began with William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and continued with The Empire Striketh Back concludes herein with the all-new, all-iambic The Jedi Doth Return — perchance the greatest adventure of them all.

Prithee, attend the tale so far: Han Solo entombed in carbonite, the princess taken captive, the Rebel Alliance besieged, and Jabba the Hutt engorged. Alack! Now Luke Skywalker and his Rebel band must seek fresh allies in their quest to thwart construction of a new Imperial Death Star. But whom can they trust to fight by their side in the great battle to come? Cry “Ewok” and let slip the dogs of war!

Frozen heroes! Furry creatures! Family secrets revealed! And a lightsaber duel to decide the fate of the Empire. In troth, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return has it all! – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, The Jedi Doth Return

“Aye, pull – a princess’ vengeance! Die, thou brute!” Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Between the Covers


Such enterprise of pith and moment…
– Leia Organa, Act IV, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth

Doescher’s mashup/parody book revisits the events of director Richard Marquand’s 1983 conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy and stages them as a five-act stage play written in the greatest dramatist in the English language.

Chorus:
O join us, friends and mortals, on the scene–
Another chapter of our cosmic tale.
Luke Skywalker returns to Tatooine,
To save his friend Han Solo from his jail
Within the grasp of Jabba of the Hutt.
But while Luke doth the timely rescue scheme,
The vile Galactic Empire now hath cut
New plans for a space station with a beam
More awful than the first fear’d Death Star’s blast.
This weapon ultimate shall, when complete,
Mean doom for those witin the rebel cast
Who fight to earn the taste of freedom sweet.
In time so long ago begins our play,
In hope-fill’d galaxy far, far away
.

It begins with Lord Darth Vader’s arrival at the Empire’s new Death Star battle station, under construction in orbit above the Sanctuary Moon of Endor. The Emperor, apparently, is not pleased with Moff Jerjerrod’s crew’s apparent sluggish pace in building the larger, more powerful replacement for the original Death Star destroyed by the Rebels at the Battle of Yavin.

Vader:

Cease to persuade, my grov’ling Jerjerrod,
Long-winded Moffs have ever sniv’ling wits.
‘Tis plain to me thy progress falls behind
And lacks the needed motivations. Thus,
I have arriv’d to set thy schedule right

Jerjerrod:


We are honor’d by your presence, Lord.
To have you here is unexpected joy.

Vader:


Thou mayst dispense with ev’ry pleasantry.
Thy fawning words no int’rest hold for me.
So cease thy prating over my arrival
And tell me how thou shalt correct thy faults.
– Act I, Scene 1, The Jedi Doth Return

The “play” – which was officially licensed by Lucasfilm but (obviously) is not a canonical work – follows the basic plot of the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas and Lucas’s original story from Luke Skywalker’s carefully-plotted infiltration of Jabba’s palace on Tatooine to begin the rescue of frozen-in -carbonite Han Solo, Luke’s return to Dagobah just in time to speak to haiku-spouting Master Yoda one last time, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s account of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side, and the preparations for the Battle of Endor, especially those on the part of the more-Machiavellian-than-Machiavelli Emperor Palpatine.

A reading from The Jedi Doth Return by the one-and-only Ian McDiarmid, who plays Emperor Palpatine in six of the nine Episodes of the Skywalker Saga, as well in episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels

Doescher borrows liberally from some of the Bard’s plays – Macbeth, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hamlet (which is the most-oft quoted work in The Jedi Doth Return), Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III, and Henry V – and tweaks Shakespeare’s words so they mesh seamlessly with the characters, situations, and dialogue from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

“That blast hath emanated from the Death Star. O! ‘Tis operational.” Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Doescher injects a great deal of humor into The Jedi Doth Return, using different methods that include witty asides by characters who break the “fourth wall” and address the audience directly, inside jokes that refer to the Prequel Trilogy (which in 1983 were still 16 years from being produced and released), puns, and straight-out farce. (There’s a long scene, late in the play, where two guards on the Death Star discuss the apparent capture of Luke Skywalker on Endor and discuss the possibility, however unlikely, that things may not go as planned for the Empire this time.)

As in the previous two books in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy, the author includes an Afterword. Here, Doescher explains how he adapted Return of the Jedi (his favorite film in the Skywalker Saga) from a late 20th Century space-fantasy film into a stage play written according to the tropes and style of Shakespeare’s time. He explains, in terms that readers who are not Shakespeare buffs, what iambic pentameter is and how it should properly be read aloud.

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth features 20 woodcut-style illustrations by artist Nicolas Delort, who also did the illustration of Jabba wearing a 16th Century style costume in the vein of a Henry VIII portrait for the cover.

Admiral Ackbar: “Fie! ‘Tis a trap!” Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The central illustration of Jabba is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) a speeder bike, the second Death Star, Jabba’s Sail Barge, and. dueling on a stage below the evil Hutt, Emperor Palpatine and Luke Skywalker. Like all of the characters in this series, Palpatine and Luke wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from Return of the Jedi, looking like personages from the late 1500s rather than movie characters from a 1983 blockbuster.

In the same vein, Delort’s depictions of scenes from the film, including Leia’s reunion with Han, the battle between Luke and Boba Fett near the Great Pit of Carkoon, the speeder bike chase on Endor, and the Luke-Vader duel on the Death Star are depicted in a way that suggests how the stage designers and theater employees might have staged a space opera with the techniques available in Shakespeare’s time.

The Book

An interview with author Ian Doescher with Portland’s CBS affiliate KOIN-TV.

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return is not a large hardcover doorstop of a volume; the book is only 168 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword, and the Acknowledgments page.  It measures 5 ¼ x 8 inches and weighs less than 1 lb., so it doesn’t take up a lot of shelf space.

Underneath the dust jacket with its Elizabethan-era Jabba the Hutt  illustration, the slim volume looks like a weathered vintage  hardcover edition of a Shakespeare play, such as the ones you might see in a public library or a serious aficionado’s book collection. The cover looks “aged” and the typography on the front is designed to look like a book from the 1930s or ‘40s.  Zounds, the attention to detail paid to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Quirk Books’ designer Doogie Horner is worthy of praise.

My Take

I bought The Jedi Doth Return, along with Star Wars, Verily A New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back in Quirk Books’ William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Box Set in April of 2015.

Promotional image of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Box Set, showing the beautifully-illustrated slipcover and a suitable-for-framing promotional poster depicting the heroes and villains as reimagined by artist Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

When I ordered this box set five years ago, it was a dark time for my family and me. My 86-year-old mother was in failing health and confined to a hospital-type bed in what had been our guest room until 2010. She had convinced herself that she could no longer walk, and dementia was taking an awful toll on her mental and emotional health. Everyone involved in her care knew that she probably wouldn’t see Christmas 2015, although my older half-sister stubbornly refused to accept that sad and harsh reality.

I am not sure why I bought the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books at that particular time. I don’t read the Bard’s works often (I have paperback copies of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew that I bought when I was a senior in high school and our English class studied those plays as part of the curriculum), and I only have two Shakespeare-based films in my Blu-ray & DVD collection (Henry V and West Side Story). So I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado like author Ian Doescher, although as a writer I am aware of his influence on drama, the English canon, and the English language as a whole.

I am, however, a Star Wars fan from as far back as 1977, and knowing that George Lucas was inspired by many stories and myths from around the world when he created the first two-thirds of the Skywalker Saga, I was aware of the connection between the works of Lucas and the Bard of Avon.

I suppose that the fact that the books are an intelligently-written parody of two different sets of creative works intrigued me. We tend to need humor even in our darkest times in order to cope with stress and fear, and believe me, there was plenty of stress and fear in my Miami home during the spring and summer of 2015.

The Jedi Doth Return is a clever and entertaining book that made me see Return of the Jedi in a new light. Seeing the struggle of Luke Skywalker to accept several unpalatable truths (his father Anakin is Darth Vader, and his first Jedi mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, told the story of Vader’s origins from “a certain point of view” that wasn’t exactly a lie, but distorted the truth like a pretzel) portrayed as a Shakespearean tragedy gives Return of the Jedi a new layer of depth and meaning.

And, let’s face it; it is cool to see a film that many fans deride as being the lesser of the Classic Trilogy reimagined as a play by Shakespeare. The evil Emperor Palpatine (played in the Star Wars movies by Ian McDiarmid, who has played many Shakespearean roles on stage and film) seems more menacing, cunning, and evil in The Jedi Doth Return; Doetscher’s version of “Darth Sidious” is on equal footing with such formidable Shakespeare villains as Measure for Measure’s Angelo, Othello’s Iago, the titular protagonist of Richard III, or Cassius in Julius Caesar.

As in a real Shakespeare play, all of the characters, whether Rebel or Imperial, are recognizable not just as film or mythical archetypes, but as people with human needs and emotions. Even Star Wars’ Laurel-and-Hardy duo, C-3PO and R2-D2, have human qualities and flaws, though they are droids and not organics.

Official trailer for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.

I wasn’t able to dive deeply into the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series when I started buying these books during my last year in South Florida. My mom died that July, and the months that followed were full of stress, legal and financial challenges, and many changes that affected every aspect of my life. It wasn’t until 2017 or so that I was able to sit down and really read this series, which grew from the original William Shakespeare‘s Star Wars Trilogy to an eight-play (soon to be nine) series that includes Shakespearean interpretations of both the Prequel and the Sequel Trilogies. (In July, Quirk Books is due to publish The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth.)

So, read on, McDuff. The Jedi Doth Return is a fun and entertaining take on Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. I enjoyed it immensely; so much so, in fact, that I bought the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy on audiobook. Hearing professional actors and author Ian Doescher perform The Jedi Doth Return is an experience that is truly out of this galaxy.

Truly, the Force is with this book.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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