Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third’

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The boy is nearly now within my grasp,

And I shall make him mine with this next move.

I shall devise a play to pull him in,

Some tale that pricks his heart with grief and woe.

Come players, to the list, ye are engag’d! – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Act II, Scene 4, William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third

On September 8, 2015, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third by Ian Doescher. It is a clever and fun-to-read pastiche that retells writer-director George Lucas’s 2005 space-fantasy film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as an Elizabethan era play written by none other than the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. The sixth book in what will be a nine part cycle of plays – The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth will be published this summer – Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge concludes the Prequel Trilogy with a tale of love gone wrong amidst the fall of the Galactic Republic and the rise of a tyrannical Empire.

Promotional illustration for the e-book and print editions of William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third. (C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Set three years after the events of Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second, we come into the story at a pivot point in galactic history. The Clone Wars between Count Dooku’s Confederacy of Independent Systems (aka “the Separatists”) and the nominally-democratic Galactic Republic led by the increasingly autocratic Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who is supported by the Jedi Order and the clones of the Grand Army of the Republic.

As the play begins, things look bleak for the once-great Republic:

Prologue.

Outer space.

Enter CHORUS.

CHORUS: “War!” is the cry that doth through space resound:

The good Republic faces bold attack

From Dooku, he whose evil doth abound.

Yet heroes rise as each side fighteth back.

Droid leader Gen’ral Grievous, he most vile,

Hath enter’d – a new player on the scene.

With movement swift and unexpected guile

He hath made bold to kidnap Palpatine.

Whilst o’er the capital, e’en Coruscant,

The Sep’ratist droid army tries to flee,

Two Jedi are dispatch’ d upon a jaunt

To set the hostage Palpatine full free.

In time so long ago begins our play,

In vengeful galaxy far, far away.

[Exit.

Between the Covers

Premonitions, hmm?
Thou hast had signs of future?
What, pray, have you seen?
Illustration Credit: Nicolas Delort. (C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Like Doescher’s five previous William Shakespeare’s Star Wars pastiches, Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge takes the characters and situations from George Lucas’s 2005 space-fantasy and reworks it as a five-act stage drama from Shakespeare’s era (late 16th Century and early 17th). Scenes written by Lucas (and several script doctors, including Tom Stoppard and the late Carrie Fisher) in modern American vernacular are now presented in iambic pentameter, sonnets, soliloquies, prose (the clones speak in this style, just as their DNA donor Jango Fett and his son Boba do), and even songs.

Experience the Star Wars saga reimagined as an Elizabethan drama penned by William Shakespeare himself, complete with authentic meter and verse, and theatrical monologues and dialog by everyone from Bail Organa to Count Dooku.

Something is rotten in the state of Coruscant! The schemes of Emperor Palpatine come to fruition as Padmé Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and the other Jedi duel against the clone troopers of General Grievous and the nascent Empire.

Authentic meter, stage directions, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout will entertain and impress fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike. Every scene and character from the film appears in the play, along with twenty woodcut-style illustrations that depict an Elizabethan version of the Star Wars galaxy. – From the publisher’s website

Illustration Credit: Nicolas Delort, (C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Doescher, writing as Shakespeare, sticks to Lucas’s narrative line in Revenge of the Sith to tell the tragic story of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side and his assumption of the Sith name “Darth Vader.” It’s a story full of betrayals both real and imagined, the clever manipulations of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine as he pulls everyone’s strings like a puppet master, and the price paid by the once-wise Jedi Order for their hubris as the Dark Side rises and their ancient enemies, the Sith, ascend to power and exact a long-awaited revenge.

As in the film, Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge depicts a Hamlet-like Anakin at a turning point in the Republic’s history. Three years after the Battle of Geonosis, young Skywalker is perhaps one of the Jedi Order’s best-known heroes. Fighting alongside his friend and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi and leading some of the best clone troopers in the Republic’s Army, Anakin is still an accomplished Jedi Knight and among the best pilots in the galaxy. Thanks to his connection with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Anakin is a popular figure in the Loyalist pantheon of heroes.

But he’s also a tragically-flawed hero. He has good intentions, but he also wants more of everything: more power, a seat on the Jedi Council as one of its 12 Masters, and acclaim as the Order’s long-prophesied Chosen One – the Jedi who is destined to destroy the Sith and restore balance to the Force.

And he has a secret that he has not shared with anyone, not even his best friend Obi-Wan: he is the husband of Naboo Senator Padmé Amidala, who he married in a private ceremony witnessed only by the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 at the end of The Clone Army Attacketh.  (Careful viewings of Revenge of the Sith and Lucasfilm Animation’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars leave me with the impression that Kenobi knows Anakin and Padmé’s secret but hides this knowledge for his friend’s sake.)

Make that two secrets, actually: as Palpatine reminds Anakin early on in Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge after a fateful duel with Count Dooku:

PALPATINE: ‘Tis but the call of nature in thine heart:

He did unarm thee once; thou didst demand

A valid recompense for what he ow’d.

If reasons such as these give neither balm

Nor succor to thy soul, do thou recall:

‘Twas not the first time thou hast sought revenge.

Remember what thou didst relate to me

About thy visit to the sand people,

How thou didst slay their settlement entire

For to avenge your mother innocent….

In the 168 pages of Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge – the darkest story of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series – Ian Doescher “Shakespearizes” such iconic moments from Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith as:

  • The thrilling bid by Anakin and Obi-Wan to rescue the “kidnapped” Chancellor Palpatine from the clutches of Count Dooku and the cyborg General Grievous
  • Padmé’s reunion with her Jedi husband and her revelation that she’s expecting Anakin’s child
  • The rising tensions between Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and the Jedi Council
  • Padmé’s efforts to persuade Anakin to talk Palpatine into entering into negotiations with the Separatists
  • Anakin’s premonitions of Padmé’s death in childbirth, and his pledge that he will not let them come to pass
  • Palpatine’s calculated maneuvers to drive a wedge between Anakin and his Jedi comrades
  • Anakin’s frustration when he is not granted the rank of Jedi Master after his appointment as Palpatine’s personal representative on the Jedi Council
  • A reimagined version of Palpatine and Anakin’s Galactic Opera scene, where the Chancellor beguiles the troubled young Jedi with the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis

Up Front: The Cover

(C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Series artist Nicolas Delort is back again to illustrate the book and give it a striking cover that blends the Star Wars look with an Elizabethan era aesthetic. This time around, the central character is the dastardly cyborg General Grievous, the leader of Count Dooku’s droid army.

The central illustration of Grievous is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) Anakin’s Jedi starfighter, the unfinished first Death Star, the varactyl lizard called Boga, clone troopers, Anakin (as Darth Vader), and facing off against him across a stage, Obi-Wan. Like all of the characters in this series, Grievous, Anakin, and Obi-Wan wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from Revenge of the Sith.

The Book

To Thine Own Sith Be True.

Lend us your ears and comlinks for a Shakespearean retelling of Star Wars Episode III! A once-heroic knight becomes the darkest of villains. The Jedi suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The Republic falls, an Empire rises, and so begins the long wait for a New Hope.

Something is rotten in the state of Coruscant! Don’t miss this final chapter in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, presented Shakespeare-style with masterful meter, stirring soliloquies, and intricate Elizabethan illustrations. It’s a perfect melding of classic literature and epic pop culture. – Publisher’s dustjacket blurb, William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third

The hardcover edition of William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge is not a massive tome; the book is only 168 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword (in which Doescher explains some of the techniques he used to adapt Lucas’s 2005 film into a Shakespearean tragedy and some comparisons to the plays he borrowed material from. (For instance, Anakin uses lines spoken by many of the Bard’s tragic heroes, including Hamlet and Macbeth, just to name two of the inspirations for the man who becomes Darth Vader in this story.)  It measures 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches and weighs less than 1 lb.

My Take

Anakin: Nay, thou for thine own beauty art the cause,

 For thou art both the flower and the sun,

Which bringeth light, sans hesitance or pause,

And makes thee flourish such that thou dost stun.

My love is but the witness to this growth,

Mine heart is but observer to your beauty.

This love, this heart, they are for thee, yea both—

Thou mayst command them unto any duty.

A fan-made film of a scene from William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge.

I’ve owned William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third since its publication almost five years ago. Like of author Ian Doescher’s six William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books based on the Tragedy of Darth Vader, I bought them online from Amazon during my mother’s final months; this was the first to arrive at my old Miami home after she passed.

Because I was overwhelmed with the minutiae of closing out my mother’s estate and the hassles of a fight over said estate in Miami-Dade’s probate court, I only leafed through its pages from time to time; not until the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic did I have enough time to actually read William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge.

So, what can I say about this book? Well, even though it is a non-canonical take on George Lucas’s final Star Wars film (in release order, at any rate), it is licensed by Lucasfilm and based on a canonical source. On that level, it is very much a Star Wars book that most fans would enjoy.

And even though it is a “parody” in the same vein as the publisher’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – which is one of several inspirations for Doescher’s pastiches of pop culture told from a Shakespearean point of view – the “play” isn’t a simplistic spoof that disrespects either the works of the Bard of Avon or George “The Maker” Lucas.

For instance, viewers know that Lucas himself called the Prequel Trilogy the Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. And Revenge of the Sith is the most tragic of the three Episodes in that cycle of films. Doescher not only acknowledges this in the “play’s title, but he also sticks to Lucas’s intent as a storyteller by keeping the main narrative tragic; Sheev Palpatine is still Darth Sidious, Anakin still falls from grace by betraying his Jedi comrades and joining the evil Sith, Obi-Wan still attempts to dissuade his friend (now Darth Vader) from taking a path to darkness, and Padmé still meets a sad fate, just like Shakespeare’s tragic heroine Juliet.

And yet, just like Shakespeare did in his dramas, Doescher lightens up this tale of interstellar Sturm und Drang with moments of sheer hilarity. Jedi 1 and Jedi 2, his stand-ins for Rosencrantz and Guilderstein (two minor characters from Hamlet), are back again in a hilarious scene that revolves around one Knight’s discovery that one of the codes in the clone army’s book of Orders is nowhere to be seen: the one betwixt Order 65 and Order 67. This perplexes Jedi 1, who is the more serious-minded of the two, while Jedi 2 seems to have a jovial “hakuna matata” attitude about this Order 66. They spend several minutes in the Jedi Temple in an effort to divine what Order 66 might entail, until finally Jedi 2 convinces his friend that it’s probably nothing to worry about.

You don’t have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to enjoy this book, even though you’ll enjoy it more if you are a buff. The author – who loves all of the Bard’s works – includes a lot of references to various plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar, and of course Romeo and Juliet. Most of Shakespeare’s Tragedies are borrowed from, which is fitting for any adaptation of Revenge of the Sith.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who thinks Star Wars is just a movie with lots of space battles but nothing notable as far as storytelling is concerned, then reading the William Shakespeare Star Wars series may change your mind. For Doescher is not just a Star Wars fan trying to get on the genre mashup literary train, but he also loves good literature and the theatricality of Shakespeare’s works.

I wish we had had books like this when I was younger and had to study Shakespeare in English class during my senior year in high school. My English teacher, Ms. DeWitt, made the “Shakespeare Unit”in her class interesting and even fun; so much so that when I graduated in June of 1983, I kept the two paperbacks of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew that I bought at Waldenbooks for class. (I also kept my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird; I bought that in 10th grade when we were assigned to read Harper Lee’s novel in Ms. Brock’s class.)

I didn’t hate the Shakespeare Unit that we students were required to learn, but I think if William Shakespeare’s Star Wars had existed back then, I would have enjoyed it a bit more than I did in the 1982-83 school year.

Bottom line: This is a fun and entertaining read for anyone who loves a story well-told. It is well-written, witty, and chock-full of Easter eggs, puns, jokes, and exciting action, told in glorious iambic pentameter.

So if you want to see for yourself how Star Wars and Shakespeare mesh together, reading the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series is a good way to find out.

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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