Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth’

Cover art by Nicolas Delort (C) 2020 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

The William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Saga Endeth!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

On July 28, 2020, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth, a retelling of director J.J. Abrams’ 2019 film Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker written in the style of a five-act play by none other than the Bard of Avon himself. It is the ninth and final volume in Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series, which first burst into the literary scene in 2013 with Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Verily A New Hope, and it concludes the saga of the Resistance (led by General Leia Organa) against the evil regime known as the First Order.

Poe Dameron and Rey argue after the Milllennium Falcon’s fiery return from a mission to the Sinta Glacier Colony. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2020 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Doescher begins The Merry Rise of Skywalker with the entrance upon the stage by the First Order’s Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, known to most of the galaxy as a fearsome warrior and leader of the mysterious Dark Side-using Knights of Ren. But Kylo was once known as Ben Solo, son of Rebel heroes Han Solo and Leia Organa, nephew to Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, and a promising – if perhaps conflicted – Jedi apprentice who – he believes – found his true destiny with a different mentor, the evil entity who calls himself Snoke.

In William Shakespeare’s Jedi the Last: Star Wars Part the Eighth, Kylo – whose greatest ambition is to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Anakin Skywalker’s Sith persona Darth Vader and rule the galaxy with the scavenger girl known as Rey at his side, betrayed Snoke and smote him with the Skywalker lightsaber, the same weapon wielded by Anakin and Luke Skywalker and an heirloom Kylo believes should be his. But when he invited Rey to join him and allow him to train her in the ways of the Dark Side, she refused and chose to rejoin the remains of the Resistance and follow the path of the Jedi.

(C) 2020 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

As in the film, Kylo goes to Mustafar (the volcanic planet where his infamous grandfather built a castle) and to Exegol (a planet in the Unknown Regions and the secret stronghold of a cult known as the Sith Eternal) to find the source of a mysterious galaxy-wide broadcast reportedly made by a tyrannical ruler thought to have died at the Battle of Endor three decades earlier.  

SCENE 1.

On Mustafar and Exegol.

Enter Kylo Ren.

KYLO Two rivals, both alike in dignity,

Among the planets, where we lay our scene—

Yet only one shall rule the galaxy.

Unto my solo voice of potency,

A voice was added—bygone Palpatine:

Two rivals, both alike in dignity.

Whate’er his purpose, he shall bend to me.

His bold revival cometh unforeseen,

Yet only one shall rule the galaxy.

And Rey, the young, prodigious Jedi she,

Hath talent like to mine, though she is green—

Two rivals, both alike in dignity.

The day will come when she shall bend the knee,

When we will reign in peace and might serene—

Yet only one shall rule the galaxy.

On both sides I am press’d most ardently,

But in my triumph none may intervene.

Two rivals, both alike in dignity—

Yet only one shall rule the galaxy.

Enter stormtroopers and several foes of the First Order.

Kylo Ren slays his foes until he is surrounded by the dead.

TROOPER 1 Your quest is punctuated by the dead.

Success in your endeavor, sir, is all.

KYLO Thou art dismiss’d, thou and the legion whole.

Just as Adam Driver’s character does in The Rise of Skywalker, Doescher’s Kylo finds a navigation aid called a Sith Wayfinder, hops into his TIE whisper starfighter, and flies across the galaxy to Exegol, a dark, cloud-shrouded world strong with the Dark Side of the Force.

As Kylo strides past statues of legendary Sith Lords who have been dead for millennia in search of the mysterious rival who claims to be Emperor Sheev Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious), the late leader of the fallen Galactic Empire, he hears an eerie yet familiar voice echoing in what looks to be a throne room/cloning facility:

Enter Emperor Palpatine, hidden.

PALPATINE At last, young Kylo Ren, thou hither com’st.

Snoke train’d thee well, ’tis certain.

KYLO —Yet Snoke died

By this, my hand, and thou shalt follow him.

PALPATINE My dearest boy, Snoke was a thing I made—

A valuable creation of the Sith,

With still more of his like available.

Kylo Ren walks past a tank of liquid holding many

bodies that resemble Supreme Leader Snoke. Enter

several Sith acolytes, working on the tank.

I have been ev’ry voice thou ever heard’st:

When I do speak, ’tis in the voice of Snoke

Or, when I wish, ’tis in Darth Vader’s voice—

Inside thy head, these voices echo round,

And I control the strings that move their mouths.

’Twas always I who led and guided thee

And now have brought thee here, my will to serve.

Thy vain First Order was an overture,

Preamble to profounder music still—

A mere beginning to my pure design.

Forsooth, I’ll proffer thee a greater gift.

KYLO Thou shalt die first—thine aspirations, too.

PALPATINE I died before, yet death retains me not—

The underworld is no match for the Sith.

The dark side of the Force unveils a path,

The road less travel’d by, which openeth

A world of wondrous, new abilities

That some consider most unnatural.

[Palpatine comes forward, connected

to an Ommin harness. Kylo Ren points

his lightsaber toward Palpatine.

KYLO Yet what couldst thou—unnatural, indeed,

Give me that I do not have?

PALPATINE —Ev’rything.

Behold my broken, chipp’d, and weaken’d hands,

And see therein the possibilities.

An Empire new shall from these ashes rise.

Around us even now my fleet doth rise—

Grim Star Destroyers waiting rank on rank,

In numbers such as none could comprehend.

This have I plann’d these many slumb’ring years.

Whilst some men dream, I have been at my work

Assembling this: the army thou shalt lead.

The Final Order’s might shall ready be,

And all is thine if thou dost what I ask—

Kill thou the girl, the Jedi line conclude.

Become, then, what thy grandfather could not—

Darth Vader: powerful, yet not enow.

Thou shalt rule o’er the galaxy entire,

The newfound Emperor who takes my place.

Beware, though—she is not whom thou believ’st.

KYLO Who is she? Tell me all that thou dost know,

And down this pathway gladly shall I go.

[Exeunt.

As Kylo Ren searches his fractured soul – he is tormented by the emotional effects of his heinous act of patricide at Starkiller Base, where he ran his father though with his fiery crimson-hued cross-bladed lightsaber in order to become stronger with the Dark Side – and the resurrected Emperor Palpatine prepares to get revenge against the forces of good that thwarted his bid to rule the galaxy, Rey trains with Leia Organa in the ways of the Jedi on the idyllic world Ajan Kloss.

The Ghost of Han Solo appears to Kylo Ren on Kef Bir, and General Hux shows his true colors in these two illustrations by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2020 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

In the year since the events of Jedi the Last, the earnest young woman from the desert world of Jakku has progressed in her training. Guided by Leia – who trained on Ajan Kloss years before with her twin brother Luke but quit before becoming a Jedi Knight after having dark premonitions about the fate of her son Ben – and the lore in the Jedi texts she retrieved from Luke Skywalker’s hut on Ach-To, Rey is skilled in the Force, though she fears a vein of darkness that coexists with the power of the light side of the Force.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, Rey’s friends Poe Dameron (ace pilot for the Resistance), Finn (a young First Order stormtrooper who deserted after his first battle on Jakku), Chewbacca (the late Han Solo’s Wookiee copilot and longtime best friend), R2-D2 (the plucky droid whose adventures, like those of his counterpart C-3PO, span the entire Skywalker Saga), Poe’s astromech droid BB-8, and the Resistance mechanic named Klaud are in the Millennium Falcon, en route to the Sinta Glacier Colony. There, the small band of rebels hope to contact Boolio, a Resistance sympathizer who has valuable information from a highly-placed traitor within the evil First Order.

Poe and his motley crew – which normally would have included Rey, the best fighter in the tight-knit group of friends and comrades in arms – complete the rendezvous and retrieve the information from Boolio. The cocky Poe uses a dangerous and seldom-used technique called lightspeed skipping to escape a swarm of First Order TIE fighters, and the Millennium Falcon makes it – albeit on fire and in need of repairs – to the base on Ajan Kloss.

Eventually, Poe reveals to the Resistance leadership that the information provided by the mole within the enemy camp confirms the rumors that have swept the galaxy for some time: the Emperor who was thought to be dead still lives, and that a new entity – the Final Order – seeks to restore his dictatorial rule by force. Now, the aging Leia, Rey, and the small band of Resistance fighters are all that stand in Palpatine’s plans to reconquer the war-torn galaxy…..

From the Dust Jacket

THE VERSE WILL BE WITH YOU…ALWAYS

Parting is such sweet sorrow! In the epic conclusion to the Skywalker saga, can Rey, Poe, Finn, and their allies overcome toil and trouble and find their way to Emperor Palpatine’s lair? Shall Kylo Ren be proven fortune’s fool or master of his fate? And will the House of Skywalker rise or fall?

Complete your collection of the William Shakespeare’s Star Warsseries with the blockbuster finale, reimagined as though it had been written by the Bard of Avon himself. Authentic meter and rhyme, stage directions, woodcut-style illustrations, and Easter eggs throughout will delight fans of the Bard and BB-8 alike. All’s well that ends well – but how will this tale end?

My Take

Although The Merry Rise of Skywalker borrows from many of the Bard’s works, the most obvious influence is Romeo and Juliet. Watch for rhyming couplets between these two! Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2020 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

William Shakespeare’s The Merry Rise of Skywalker is a mashup of the 2019 space fantasy film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). It sticks closely to the script by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio and the treatment by Abrams, Terrio, Derek Connolly, and Colin Trevorrow, but adds elements from Shakespeare’s histories (Henry V, Richard III, etc.), comedies (As You Like It), and tragedies, most notably the one about star-cross’d lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

Although The Merry Rise of Skywalker – like the other eight books in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series – is classified as a parody or “spoof,” Ian Doescher – who was born 45 days after George Lucas’s original Star Wars movie hit theaters in 1977 and first ventured to that galaxy far, far away to see Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi when he was six – takes his tasks as an adapter seriously.

You see, not only is Doescher a Star Wars nerd (he lists Return of the Jedi as his favorite film in the Skywalker Saga) par excellence, but he is a long-time Shakespeare aficionado. Doescher became fascinated with the poetry and insightful storytelling of perhaps the greatest dramatist in the English language when he was in the eighth grade, a passion that shows in the skill in which he uses iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets, monologues, soliloquies, asides, and sparse stage directions in the style that Shakespeare used back in the days of England’s Queen Elizabeth I (aka Good Queen Bess).

In The Merry Rise of Skywalker, Doescher – per his comments in the Afterword – challenged himself to be almost as strict with iambic pentameter as he was in Star Wars, Verily A New Hope, the first play in this series. He was particularly interested in avoiding weak endings (an eleventh syllable at the end of a line; in iambic pentameter each line should have a maximum of ten syllables from start to finish). As he writes in the Afterword, “As a result – not that I expect you to have noticed – there are fewer than ten weak endings in this book.”

Doescher also used every convention he created in the previous eight books to give the large cast of characters from the Star Wars ennealogy distinctive traits:

Rey has acrostic speeches, Finn uses fs and ns in every line, Poe borrows from Edgar Allan Poe in each of his lines, the villains deliver villanelles, R2-D2 addresses the audience in asides, Chewbacca’s grunts and growls are translated, BB-8 uses a skip code, the voice of Yoda has two haiku, Mace Windu references the title of a Samuel L. Jackson movie. Aftab Ackbar inherits his father’s –ap endings, and we even get brief lines from Ewoks and porgs.

The book’s “Easter eggs” include callbacks to other “plays” in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars saga, lines borrowed from various writers, and a tribute to the late Peter Mayhew (1944-2019), the seven-foot-tall hospital porter-turned-actor who played Chewbacca in five Star Wars films (including Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and served as the Lucasfilm “Chewbacca consultant” for Star Wars: The Last Jedi . Fittingly, composer John Williams – who appears briefly as the surly bartender Oma Tres in The Rise of Skywalker – gets a lovely Easter egg that incorporates the notes of his Star Wars main theme in a speech by Oma Tres.

The saga is complete! Promotional image of the William Shakespeare Star Wars series. including the Royal Imperial Box set with the Original William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy. (C) 2020 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Does Star Wars – a modern film ennealogy made from 1977 to 2019 with state-of-the-art special effects and told in the movie vernacular of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries – translate well when its reimagined as a series of plays written in the style of Shakespeare?

Absolutely!

Consider this. Many Star Wars fans, including Ian Doescher, know that when George Lucas was working on what is now called the Original Trilogy, [1] he was a devotee of Joseph Campbell, a respected professor of literature who specialized in comparative mythology and comparative religion. Campbell’s best-known book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, talks about his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths.

To create Star Wars and its follow-on Episodes, Lucas, based on Campbell’s studies about the monomyth, found that there are common threads that run through all the world’s literature, and that a lot of the human elements that are found in Greco-Roman mythology – dysfunctional families, ambitious seekers of power, insidious plotting villains, altruistic young heroes, virtuous damsels, and dashing rogues – recur not just in non-Western myths and literature, but also in the works of Elizabethan era playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Ben Jonson and Thomas Dekker.

And of course, because Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets, and poetry have universal themes that tap into the human experience, their basic plots and characters lend themselves to being borrowed – as Star Wars does in the Skywalker Saga – or adapted directly into films such as West Side Story (a modern-day take on Romeo and Juliet) and Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989).

Since Star Wars already has Shakespearean themes in its DNA (Palpatine is a cunning conniver like Othello’s Iago, while Anakin Skywalker can be considered to be based on a combination of tragic characters like Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet), it is therefore a ready-made ennealogy ripe for a reimagining as a 16th Century-style five-act plays.  

The Merry Rise of Skywalker is in turns a Shakespearean history (it covers the culmination of the Sith-Jedi struggles), a tragedy (a wannabe-villain, Kylo, struggles to define his identity as the heir to the two legacies of his grandfather Anakin/Darth Vader), and a comedy (it’s no spoiler to say, “All’s well that ends well,” after all). Even Star Wars fans who don’t like the Sequel Trilogy films have said that Doescher’s The Force Doth Awaken (2017) and Jedi the Last (2019) have added depth and heft to the movies that those books are based on. The Merry Rise of Skywalker does the same for the final Episode of the Skywalker Saga.

As a writer, reader, and Star Wars fan, I give this book my highest recommendation. Ian Doescher clearly did his homework as far as blending Shakespeare’s style with the lore created by George Lucas and his creative heirs at Lucasfilm. If reading be the food of life, read on…and may the verse be with you.


[1] Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983).

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.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Merry Rise of Skywalker: Star Wars Part the Ninth’

  1. Wow, that’s interesting, I never thought of Shakespeare and Star Wars being a thing. What did I miss? Of course I’m totally behind with SW. Can you believe I JUST saw The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi last night on tbs? They were pretty good. I want to see The Rise of Skywalker now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The whole William Shakespeare Star Wars series is great. I started getting the books in 2014 (during my mom’s last months) when I bought the Royal Imperial Box Set, then got the individual books for each Prequel and Sequel Trilogy film on pre-order. They’re well done and lots of fun to read, too.

      If you have a Kindle or the Kindle app, there are e-book editions in case you want to check them out without having to buy more stuff to lug about during a stressful move.

      Liked by 1 person

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