Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh’

Cover illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Two trilogies are now behind us, dear reader….Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and may the Force be with you onward, into episodes 7, 8, and 9. – Ian Doescher, in his Afterword to William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third

Roll swiftly as thou canst, good BB-8 –

Kind solace in a dying hour thou art! Poe Dameron, Act I, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh

On October 3, 2017 – nearly two years after author Ian Doescher closed out the Prequel Trilogy of his William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series – Philadelphia-based Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, a witty and enthralling reimagining of director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Based on the screenplay by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt, The Force Doth Awaken is based on this premise: What if William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, were the author of the Skywalker Saga, and its nine Episodes were stage plays written in the times of Queen Elizabeth I?  

FN-2187 grieves over his fellow trooper’s corpse on Jakku. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Set 30 years after the events of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth, this delightful and inventive pastiche finds that all’s not well in that galaxy far, far away after the reported demise of Emperor Palpatine and his fearsome agent Darth Vader. The Empire is defeated, but the New Republic faces a new, deadly threat. Writing in the voice of Shakespeare, Doescher says through his omniscient narrator, the Chorus:

PROLOGUE.

Outer space.

Enter CHORUS.

CHORUS: Luke Skywalker hath sadly disappear’d.

And in his absence come most wicked foes.

The cruel First Order hath made all afeard –

Like phoenix from the Empire’s ash it grows.

They shall not rest till Skywalker is dead,

Yet others seek to rescue him from harm.

By Leia – General Organa – led,

Th’ Republic doth a brave Resistance arm.

Her brother she doth earnestly pursue,

Thus may he help bring peace to restoration.

She sends a daring pilot to Jakku,

Where one old friend perchance knows Luke’s location.

In time so long ago begins our play,

In yearning galaxy far, far away.

[Exit.

Banner ad for The Force Doth Awaken. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Between the Covers

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 Rey to Chewbacca.

As the noble Resistance clashes with the vile First Order, Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, and BB-8 are pulled into a galaxy-wide drama. The romance of Han Solo and Leia Organa takes a tragic turn that Shakespeare would approve of.

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.

Kylo Ren examines the misshapen remnants of Darth Vader’s helmet and breath mask, Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.(LFL)

Like J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken begins on the desert world of Jakku, far out in the galaxy’s Outer Rim Territories. In a small village, Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron meets with Lor San Tekka, an “old man of Jakku” who is a retired adventurer and long-time friend of General Leia Organa. An enemy of the fallen Empire and its new ideological heir, the First Order, Lor has something vital to the survival of the Resistance – a lead to the whereabouts of the missing Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker.

But before Poe and his faithful astromech droid BB-8 can depart from Jakku with the information Leia so desperately seeks, the First Order Star Destroyer Finalizer arrives in-system and dispatches a landing force commanded jointly by Kylo Ren – described in the Dramatis Personae as “a dastardly villain of the First Order” and Captain Phasma, head of the First Order’s stormtroopers. Its mission: to acquire the information that leads to Skywalker, the last Jedi, and kill anyone who stands in the way.

POE: Lo! Death hath rear’d himself a throne and doth

Approach with haste. We shall have company,

Thus you must hide.

LOR:               – And thou, my lad, must leave.

Get hence! Deliver my fond hope to her.

Enter a mighty battalion of STORMTROOPERS, including CAPTAIN PHASMA and FN-2187.

Enter several CITIZENS OF JAKKU severally, fighting in opposition.

POE: Roll swiftly as thou canst, good BB-8 –

Kind solace in a dying hour thou art!

BB-8: Flip flli zzwablic zilf blooblee zoom reej blee!

[Poe and BB-8 climb into Poe’s X-wing fighter. Stormtroopers fire at his ship.

The singing rahtar! Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Poe and BB-8 make a hasty exit from their badly-damaged starfighter just as the sinister masked figure of Kylo Ren enters the scene. Realizing that Leia’s search for Luke will fail if he is captured, Poe entrusts the chip with the information both sides want to find the missing Jedi Master to his faithful droid. And to distract the First Order long enough for BB-8 to make his escape, Poe joins the band of villagers who are fighting Ren and Phasma’s stormtroopers.

During the battle with the villagers, Stormtrooper FN-2187 has an epiphany when one of his fellow troopers is killed. In a rare act of compassion, the rookie FN-2187 tries to render assistance to his fallen comrade, but only succeeds on becoming a “marked” man. The dying trooper – FN-2003 – reaches out and leaves a bloody handprint on FN-2187’s helmet.

In a revealing soliloquy, the shocked young trooper states:

…Like womp rats in a nest we were fix’d fast

As we flew in the transport to Jakku.

Form’d into order’d, stately rows of white,

Prepar’d for years for battle on this night.

Each one of us a soldier, train’d and skill’d,

Ta’en from our families, and rais’d to kill.

The great First Order is our only kin,

Our chieftains hold the claim to parentage,

For we know naught of ties of family –

Our squadron is our first community.

Yet here, this night wherein I come to fight,

I find myself dismay’d by horrid sights:

My comrade bloody, fallen, dead, and gone,

As we make slaughter of these innocents.

I cannot fight – my mind hath shaken loose

Of what the strong First Order doth require.

The play, written in five acts as was the custom in Shakespeare’s day, follows the beats of the script by J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt: The young, powerful, and ambitious Kylo Ren slays Lor San Tekka when the old man refuses to hand over the map to Skywalker. Poe is captured by stormtroopers and brought before Ren, even as Captain Phasma, on Ren’s orders, destroys the village and all in it. FN-2187, in trouble with his superiors for not firing his blaster at the foes of the First Order, is girding himself to do the unthinkable – desert from the shadowy regime that seeks to impose its dark will upon the galaxy. Meanwhile, the astromech BB-8 makes his way across the desert wastes of Jakku, where his path will intersect with that of a young orphaned scavenger named Rey.

R2-D2 and BB-8 try to fit the puzzle that will reveal the whereabouts of the missing Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Up Front: The Cover

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. For William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, the coveted central spot is reserved for BB-8, the new “cute droid” counterpart to R2-D2.

The central illustration of BB-8 is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) Poe Dameron’s T-70 X-wing starfighter, the Starkiller Base, the Millennium Falcon, Kylo Ren, and facing off against him across a stage with the Skywalker lightsaber, Rey. Like all of the characters in this series, BB-8, Kylo, and Rey wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from The Force Awakens.

Setting the stage for William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last. Illustration by Nicolas Delort, (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Book

An excerpt from the audiobook.

TO BB-8 OR NOT TO BB-8? THAT IS THE QUESTION!

The curtain rises on a galaxy-wide drama! New players take the stage as Rey, Finn, BB-8, and Poe Dameron clash with Kylo Ren and the vile First Order. Star-crossed lovers reunite, a lost knight is found…and tragedy befalls the house of Solo.

THE FAULT, DEAR BRUTUS, is in our Starkiller…What’s past is prologue! A new chapter of Star Wars begins, with The Force Awakens reimagined as a stage play from the quill of William Shakespeare – featuring authentic rhyme and meter, woodcut style illustrations, and sly asides that will delight pop culture fanatics and classic literature lovers alike. Join the adventure in a galaxy far, far away, penned in the style of the Bard of Avon. There has been an awakening in the verse!

The hardcover edition of William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken is not a large or heavy volume; it is only 168 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword (in which Doescher explains some of the techniques he used to adapt Abrams’ 2015 film into a Shakespearean tragedy and some comparisons to the plays he borrowed material from. The author also tells readers about some new tweaks to his writing, such as translations of Chewbacca’s grunts and growls and how to interpret BB-8’s lines. All in all, the hardcover edition measures 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches and weighs less than 1 lb.

My Take

FN-2187, now renamed Finn, has a close encounter with a happabore in Niima Outpost, Jakku. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

KYLO REN:  Thou art alone, of leaving most afeard.

At night, thou art so desperate to sleep.

Within thy mind an ocean, and an isle

Plac’d in the ocean’s vast expanse—I seet.

Han Solo: he is in thy mind as well.

To thee he seemeth like the father whom

Thou ne’er didst know.

Hear thou my words most true:

 The man, I’ll warrant, would but disappoint.

This podcast was recorded before Ian Doescher’s The Force Doth Awaken was published, but here the author is interviewed by the Film Trooper and discusses the genesis of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series.

I’ve been reading the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series since 2015, which is when – purely by chance – I discovered the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Box Set whilst looking in Amazon for new and unusual books to review for the late, lamented Examiner.com website. I don’t know why, but the notion of reading Star Wars, my favorite franchise of all time, as a series of plays by William Shakespeare seemed interesting and fun to read.

Now, I am not the world’s biggest Shakespeare aficionado. I didn’t fret much about having to study several of his works when my 12th grade English teacher, Sallie DeWitt, taught the “Shakespeare Unit” during the 1982-1983 school year. In fact, I rather enjoyed it, and even kept the two paperback volumes of the two plays I bought at Waldenbooks to read and analyze in class – Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew – after I graduated,. (I didn’t read them often, but I still have them.)

(I also have two movies devoted to the Bard and his works: Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V, and John Madden’s delightful 1998 romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love. But that’s pretty much all that I have that could be considered true Shakespeariana.)

However, even if you are a casual visitor to A Certain Point of View, Too, you can tell that I am a Star Wars aficionado; I have been a fan of the space-fantasy series since the fall of 1977 (I was a reluctant viewer at first, you see…), and I have remained an enthusiastic fan for 43 years.

Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh works well because the author is well versed in the works of the Bard and George Lucas. He was born not long after the first Star Wars film debuted in 1977 and became a fan when he saw Return of the Jedi as a six-year-old in 1983. In eighth grade, young Ian fell in love with Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies, and sonnets, and his passion for them is reflected here.

Taking Star Wars: The Force Awakens and rewriting it in proper rhyme and meter and making it compelling and fun to read is a daunting task. You need to know the characters and situations created by George Lucas and his storytelling successors well in order to be able to reimagine them as if they were from the time of Shakespeare. In addition, you have to be in touch with American pop culture in order to add Easter eggs that will surprise and amuse readers of all ages,

Well, I’m happy to report that Doescher has once again succeeded in creating a wonderfully funny and insightful pastiche in William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken.

As a Star Wars fan who loves the entire Skywalker Saga but is partial to the Original Trilogy, I have to say that reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens through a Shakespearean perspective adds dramatic sweep to the story arcs of Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren; it also gives all the characters rich layers of human complexity, which is often difficult to discern in the source film.

As the reviewer for Brit + Co. wrote in a contemporary review: “With movie Easter eggs aplenty, Bard babes and Star Wars lovers will be equally enthused.”

This is a fun-to-read, laugh-out-loud, and extremely well-written work. It is full of drama, comedy, action, and – if you are new to the Star Wars saga – even some suspense. Moreover, since it is a pastiche, it is a good way to introduce younger readers – say, of high school age – to the style of William Shakespeare before tackling a play like Macbeth or The Merchant of Venice. And most of all,  Doescher adds lots of puns, clever wordplay – Shakespeare loved playing with the English language and added much needed humor in his works – and pop culture references (Easter eggs), some of which are not remotely related to either Shakespeare or Star Wars.

I really enjoyed William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, and I eagerly recommend it.

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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