Book Review: ‘The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem’

(C) 2021 Abrams Image and Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem

Written by: Jack Mitchell

Illustrated by: Jessica Benhar

Publisher: Abrams Image, an imprint of Henry N. Abrams

Publishing Date: September 28, 2021

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
(C) 2021 Abrams Image and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Spirit of learning, angel of the Force,

In grief, in longing for your tender touch,

I call you to my side: let sorrow cease,

Let not my singing stagger in despair:

For Alderaan is lost, but we remain

To learn from loss. Instead provoke my thought

With tales of reckless daring, how Luke came

To search the Death Star, how the Princess fought,

How both beheld your servant’s sacrifice. – Invocation to Book II: The Death Star, The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem

Three archetypes from classic myth are seen in this still from Star Wars: the helpful sidekick, the hero on the quest, and the wise mentor. Image credit and (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corporation/Lucasfilm.

On Tuesday, September 28, 2021, Abrams Image published The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem, a Homeric-style retelling of the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Yoda, Artoo Detoo (R2-D2) and See Threepio (C-3PO)  during the Rebel Alliance’s valiant struggle to topple the evil Galactic Empire and its Sith Lord leaders, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Darth Vader.

Written by Canadian poet, scholar, and Star Wars fan Jack Mitchell in the style of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as Virgil’s The Aeneid, The Odyssey of Star Wars reimagines the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as a classic retelling of one of the 20th Century’s most popular modern myths in a different medium – classical Greco-Roman poetry.

A statue of Homer, the legendary author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Image by VIVIANE MONCONDUIT from Pixabay 

From the Publisher

(C) 2021 Abrams Image and Lucasfilm Ltd.

A thrilling retelling of the Star Wars saga in the style of classic epic poetry

“I look not to myself but to the Force,
In which all things arise and fall away.”

Journey to a galaxy far, far away like never before—through lyrical verse and meter. Like the tales of Odysseus and Beowulf, the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Jyn Erso, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and the Emperor are fraught with legendary battles, iconic heroes, fearsome warriors, sleek ships, and dangerous monsters. Beginning with Rogue One’s rebel heist on Scarif to secure the plans to the Death Star and continuing through the climax of Return of the Jedi, author Jack Mitchell uses the ancient literary form of epic poetry to put a new spin on the Star Wars saga.

Punctuated with stunning illustrations inspired by the terracotta art of Greek antiquity, The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem presents the greatest myth of the 20th century as it would have been told nearly 3,000 years ago. – Publisher’s Website

Between the Covers

The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem is a compact-sized (5.95 x 0.85 x 8.65 inches) hardcover book. It is 224 pages in length – about the same page count of Del Rey Books’ paperback edition of 1977’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the novelization of George Lucas’ original Star Wars film.

Like the Homeric epic poems it pays an homage to, The Odyssey of Star Wars is divided into separate parts called “books.” They are:

  • Book I: Tatooine
  • Book II: The Death Star
  • Book III: Yavin
  • Book IV: Hoth
  • Book V: Dagobah
  • Book VI: The Pursuit of the Falcon
  • Book VII: Cloud City
  • Book VIII: The Rescue of Han Solo
  • Book IX: Endor
  • Book X: The Choice of Vader
  • Acknowledgments

Following the structure of Homeric poetry – as exemplified in The Iliad and The Odyssey – each “book” begins with an invocation to…well, not the Muse of Homer’s Bronze Age era but to the Force.

In an interview with Lucasfilm’s StarWars.com website, Jack Mitchell explains how he came to adapt the Star Wars saga in a different medium and style than that used by Star Wars creator George Lucas:

The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem, a new book by Jack Mitchell, owes its genesis to the unique combination of Mitchell’s scholarly background and his children’s taste in bedtime stories.

“I was reading Homer and Vergil in the daytime, then Star Wars books to my kids at night,” the Stanford-educated poet tells StarWars.com. “And I realized this was our modern mythology, which I was already passing on.”

In that same interview, Mitchell explains how a story made for one medium – film, in the case of Star Wars – can successfully be retold in a radically different one.

“What I like about poetry is it’s portable — a trilogy in your pocket,” Mitchell says. “I think the movies turn us all into poets.  We weave the stories together as we watch, we hear echoes and allusions: that’s why they’re always fresh.  This long poem is just me putting into words the way I watch them.”

My Take

“What pride is this, that flows from mere machine?

The power to liquidate, explode, or rend,

To smash a planet or to break a seed,

Is nothing next to the power of the Force

Which may crush death itself. Knowledge alone

Reveals the future, wherein present deeds

Are judged. Therefore have faith, for faithless men

Must learn the lesson of a sorcerer.” – Darth Vader, Book II: The Death Star, The Odyssey of Star Wars

A mentor faces off against a former apprentice in 1977’s Star Wars. Image credit and (C) 1977 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Since its inception as a screenplay written mainly by George Lucas (Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck reworked some of the material, especially the banter between Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia) in the late 1970s, Star Wars and its two sequels have been adapted into media other than the movies. Noted science-fiction novelist Alan Dean Foster ghostwrote the novelization to the first film in 1976. That same year, Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin created a six-issue Marvel Comics adaptation. A half-decade later, another SF writer, Brian Daley, reworked the same film into a 13-part radio series directed by future Academy Award winning director John Madden.

Hey, if Ian Doescher can mix the Bard of Avon with the Maker of Modesto…..(C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Even more recently, Shakespeare aficionado and Star Wars fan Ian Doescher reimagined Star Wars (all nine Episodes of the Skywalker Saga) as a nine-play series of works written by William Shakespeare. Starting with 2013’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, Doescher presented Lucas’s modern monomyth set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” as stage-bound Elizabethan era five-act plays, complete with stirring soliloquies, clever asides, minimal stage direction, and moving exchanges between characters, all in authentic Shakespearean meter and “glorious iambic pentameter.”

Poet Jack Mitchell pulls off the same hat trick as Doescher, only instead of using the styles of the late 16th and early 17th Century of Shakespeare’s England, he borrows the meter and form of ancient Greco-Roman epic poetry, especially that of Greek poet Homer, who took pre-existing stories about legendary heroes Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Helen of Troy, and Odysseus and retold them in Western literature’s first major epics.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on Homer or classical Greek poetry. I have read translations of both The Iliad and The Odyssey in English and Spanish, but in prose rather than in the original meter and verse forms used by Homer. But based on what I remember from a quick perusal of an “epic poem” edition I saw at a friend’s house many years ago, Mitchell manages to successfully meld the Original Trilogy’s story (augmented with that of 2016’s Rogue One) and the style of Homer.

(C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Here, for instance, is Mitchell’s version of an iconic scene from 1980’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, as he depicts it in Book VII: Cloud City:

Along the narrow scaffolding Luke reels;

Below, the broad reactor shaft descends

Beyond the reach of sight, a yawning pit.

He staggers through a doorway: there inside

Vader awaits, whose ruthless swordsmanship,

The best in all the galaxy, is loosed

Upon the boy, remorseless, unrestrained,

His saber thrusts precise, his slashes swift,

Cutting the doorway and the rail beyond

To bits, his power the greater, Luke’s the less:

Before the towering shadow and the mask

The boy is beaten backward step by step.

Too late he recollects wise Yoda’s words

That counseled prudence, warning of the risk

Of facing Vader unprepared. He falls

Backward upon the path, his foe’s red sword

Before his throat, the chasm black below.

And there Darth Vader warned him of his doom:

“Now you are beaten. I was beaten too,

On Mustafar, by Obi-Wan’s bright blade,

Before I wore the mask. But in the dark

I won my victory; Obi-Wan I’ve slain,

Who like a fool preferred to be destroyed.

Choose not the path of such futility.

There’s no escape. From me accept your life.”

In answer, Luke, through bruised and swollen eyes,

Looks for his chance, and plucks it: with a whirl

He springs to slash the shoulder of the foe,

Who, quick recovered, with a mighty sweep

Cleaves through the jutting sensory array

Between them, and then slides the crimson blade

’Neath Luke’s, and spins his wrist: the fiery edge

Severs Luke’s hand, which with his sword is sent

Into oblivion. With a cry Luke grasps

His empty limb, retreating to the tip,

The pinnacle above the precipice,

A crushed and lonely figure, whipped by wind.

Then once again there came Darth Vader’s voice:

“You do not realize your importance, Luke.

Your power is in its infancy. Join me,

Whom you may equal, whom you may surpass;

I will complete what Obi-Wan began.

Together we may end the age of war,

Bring order to the restless galaxy.

You will not join? You do not guess the power

Of life lived far beyond the dread of death.

Let not the Jedi prejudice your soul

Against ambition, which aligns the wise

Beside the Force itself. Do I not know?

None knew the Jedi better: I was one,

Indeed I was the best. Did Obi-Wan

Not tell you of your father’s destiny?”

So Vader spoke; but Luke replied in pain:

“I know that Anakin was best, not you;

And, what is better still, that he was good.

Aye, Ben and others told me you destroyed

That prince of pilots, prince of duelists

By means of some foul trick, on Mustafar.

O father, if my dying voice can reach

To death, the hidden kingdom of the Force,

In which, perhaps, your steady soul persists,

See that I die in fighting for revenge!”

So Luke replied, but Vader laughed, and spoke:

“O son of Skywalker, you are deceived.

You father did not die on Mustafar.

Your wish is granted: he has heard your prayer.

I am your father, Anakin the Just,

Enlightened by the dark, death’s conqueror,

The Jedi’s bane, and mighty in the Force,

Whose infant son Kenobi stole away.

You doubt me? Search your feelings for the truth!”

Then Luke, like one who rises in the night

From half-forgotten visions, damp with sweat,

To find worse ruin – murder, suicide –

In his own home – Luke saw inside himself

A truth as horrible as stark, the truth

He could not face and yet could not deny.

His staring eyes shed tears of black despair,

His mouth is twisted and his face is white,

The contradiction dies inside his throat.[1]

Although The Odyssey of Star Wars focuses on the original three films – Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – and the Anthology film Rogue One, Mitchell does not forget – or ignore – The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The narrative of the Prequel Trilogy is interwoven with Luke Skywalker’s hero’s journey, its threads – including callbacks to scenes and characters seen in Episodes I, II, and III – are carefully weaved into the tapestry of Episodes IV, V, and VI.

Mitchell knows his Homer well, but as someone who grew up watching the Skywalker Saga in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, he is also deeply steeped in the lore of Lucas. As a result, he can wed two different storytellers, separated by a chasm in time 3,500 years wide, to produce a version of Star Wars that blends a modern cinematic tale with the timeless traditions of classical Greek literature.

This combination of Star Wars and epic poetry Homeric tradition works – just as other media adaptations of Lucas’ works have done – because the original screenplays were influenced by Joseph Campbell’s work on the universality of mythical archetypes. The hero’s journey, the coming-of-age drama, the various character types – the hero on a quest, the wise mentor, the lady in distress, the powerful and evil antagonists, the conflict between good and evil – and recurring themes appear, in different forms and guises, in the works of Homer, Shakespeare, John Ford, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas.

As Mitchell tells StarWars.com in an interview with the site:

“Myth and poetry are natural allies,” Mitchell says. “Give a hero a sword and a monster to fight, and you’re halfway to epic already.  Or better yet a lightsaber and a wampa.”

(C) 2021 Abrams Image and Lucasfilm Ltd.

[1] © 2021 Jack Mitchell, Abrams Image, and Lucasfilm Ltd.

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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