Audiobook Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection’

(C) 2017 Random House Audio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL). Cover illustration by Nicolas Delort.

On February 14, 2017, Random House Audio released William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection, a 15-CD box set featuring the three audiobook editions of author Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy. It consists of dramatic readings of Doescher’s first three books in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series: Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return.

Originally published as hardcover books by Philadelphia’s Quirk Books (home of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) between July 2013 and July 2014, Doescher’s funny and inventive books reimagine the original Star Wars films as Elizabethan era stage plays written in iambic pentameter, authentically sparse stage direction, stirring soliloquies, and lots of puns and pop culture references.

The three books that are dramatized in this audiobook collection are:

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2013 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike.

“Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not!” Illustration credit: Nicolas Delort.

Discs 1-5 of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection present director Kevin Thomsen’s dramatization of Doescher’s first mashup of Star Wars and Shakespeare’s blend of drama and poetry. It recounts the Special Edition of George Lucas’s Star Wars: A New Hope presented in iambic pentameter that includes the face-off between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt in Mos Eisley’s Docking Bay 94. 

Cover art by Nicolas Delort (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Many a fortnight have passed since the destruction of the Death Star. Young Luke Skywalker and his friends have taken refuge on the ice planet of Hoth, where the evil Darth Vader has hatched a cold-blooded plan to capture them. Only with the help of a little green Jedi Master—and a swaggering rascal named Lando Calrissian—can our heroes escape the Empire’s wrath. And only then will Lord Vader learn how sharper than a tauntaun’s tooth it is to have a Jedi child.

Illustration by Nicolas Delort

Discs 6-10 contain director Thomsen’s audio production of Doescher’s Shakespearean version of Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Again, the author uses iambic pentameter, soliloquies, puns, and – to distinguish the 900-year-old Jedi Master Yoda from the rest of the characters – haikus to retell the story of what many fans consider to be the best of the Original Trilogy films. 

Doescher adheres to  Lucas’s revised version of Empire by adapting the scene in which Vader and Emperor Palpatine’s hologram discuss the Empire’s new enemy, Luke Skywalker, to match the 2004 DVD edition rather than the 1980 original. In addition, Doescher fleshes out Lando Calrissian’s character by giving him soliloquies and asides that serve to explain his motives vis a vis his betrayal of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca at Cloud City on Bespin. 

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Prithee, attend the tale so far: Han Solo entombed in carbonite, the princess taken captive, the Rebel Alliance besieged, and Jabba the Hutt engorged. 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!

Illustration by Nicolas Delort.

Discs 11-15 present Thomsen’s audio adaptation of Doescher’s third Shakespeare-meets-Lucas jaunt to a galaxy far, far away. The five-act play wraps up the tale of a farmboy-turned-Jedi who challenges a tyrannical Emperor Palpatine and attempts to redeem his fallen father, Darth Vader, and restore him to the light side of the Force. 

(C) 2017 Random House Audio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Each play in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection is divided into five acts, as was the custom in Shakespeare’s time, and Doescher uses many of the Bard’s techniques in adapting a late 20th Century space-fantasy saga into a 16th Century stage-bound production  worthy of the Globe Theater itself.

Consequently, each play takes up five compact discs, with one CD per act. 
To bring the audio version of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection to life, executive producer Aaron Blank assembled a creative team that included writer Ian Doescher and actors Danny Davis, Jonathan Davis, Jeff Gurner, January LaVoy, and Marc Thompson to perform the unabridged production of all three plays. In addition, composer Robert Lopez (Frozen, Avenue Q) supplements the music performed by the “Max Rebo Band” with an original song written for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. 

My Take

Publicity image for the Royal Imperial Box Set of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy, (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As a Star Wars fan and a lover of the written word, I was intrigued when I happened to find the print edition of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy half a decade ago. It was purely by chance; I was on Amazon one night, looking for new books to buy and read to escape, for a while anyway, the harsh realities of my life as the primary caregiver for my ailing elderly mother.

I had, of course, heard of literary mashups (I’d seen Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mentioned on social media) and pastiches (Nicholas Meyer’s Seven Percent Solution, a Sherlock Holmes adventure written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the one I was most aware of), but I’d never read one.

So when I saw the box set of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy, I decided to buy it purely on impulse: I have been a Star Wars devotee since 1977, and I guess I wanted to see how well the Original Trilogy – a product of the late Seventies and early Eighties – fares as a trio of Shakespearean dramas.

As it turns out, the concept works rather well; George Lucas, after all, had based Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on themes and archetypes that have appeared in world literature over thousands of years. Some of the sources that the Bard of Modesto used to develop the first six films of what we call the Skywalker Saga included the works of the Bard of Avon, including plays such as Henry V, Richard III, Coriolanus, Macbeth, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, just to name a few.

To be sure, at first sight, the notion of reimagining Star Wars as stage plays written by perhaps the greatest dramatist in the English canon seems crazy, even sacrilegious. But because Shakespeare’s dramas and comedies are full of insights about human nature that are as true today as they were in the 16th and 17th Centuries, this crazy idea works.

Of course, I bought the hardcover books at a particularly difficult time in my life: my mother was dying (there’s no gentle way to describe this reality), and I was preoccupied with many things between the time I purchased the print edition of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy and my decision to get the audiobooks, most of them either vexing or depressing.

The main reason I had for getting the 15-CD set (other than the price, which was rather attractive because unabridged audiobooks are usually more expensive than the original hardcover editions) is this: I rarely watch or listen to adaptations of Shakespeare’s real works. I have but one film adaptation of Henry V, and Shakespeare in Love is a fantasy/comedy not written by the Bard of Avon. And it’s been decades since I studied Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew, even though I kept the paperbacks of those plays instead of consigning them to the “donate these old books at Goodwill” box.

Basically, I wanted to hear professional actors performing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy. It’s one thing to read about iambic pentameter and how it works in Ian Doescher’s Afterword page in the originals; it’s quite another to hear real thespians who are familiar with Shakespeare’s works reading the lines as if they were acting on the stage at London’s Globe Theater.

Suffice it to say, Dear Reader, that listening to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection is quite the treat, especially if you have the print or ebook editions handy. It’s one thing to read the sonnets, soliloquies, asides, and dialogues whilst trying to figure out how they should sound in our heads – I still remember how odd we high school students sounded when we had to recite Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy for English 4 class.

Ah, but to hear William Shakespeare’s Star Wars performed by the pros…that’s a totally different – and mind-blowing – experience! After listening to the first audiobook version of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, I found myself wishing that Lucasfilm would greenlight a movie version of these whimsical, oft hilariously funny, and delightfully inventive pastiches.

On the printed page (and enhanced with Nicolas Delort’s Elizabethan-style art work), Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series is a loving tribute to the works of both Shakespeare and George Lucas. Readers familiar with both the Bard and Star Wars will find much to enjoy in the eight existing “parts” of the saga. 

In this audio presentation, though, Doescher’s Shakespeare “parody” truly comes to life. The soliloquies, rhymes, puns, and cultural references are more fun for the listener when they are performed by actors, especially those who are familiar with Shakespeare’s great plays and George Lucas’s Star Wars movies. Enhanced by excellent line readings by the cast and the listener’s imagination, Willliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection is an enjoyable journey to that famous galaxy far, far away. 

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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