A Jedi Knight In Queen Elizabeth's Court

Originally published on July 10, 2013 12:50 pm

What if William Shakespeare had written Star Wars? Well now we know!

Ian Doescher, author of “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope” pulls back curtain on the eternal question: what does a wookie sound like in Elizabethan English?

Book Excerpt: ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars’

By: Ian Doescher

BIGGS: Make haste, O Luke. Methinks they do approach

E’en faster than before. I shall not hold

Them back for long!

LUKE: —Now, R2, straight increase

The pow’r.

R2-D2 —Beep, whee.

BIGGS: —Make haste, Luke. O, alas!

[Darth Vader shoots. Explosion. Biggs dies.

LUKE: That ever I should see this day, O woe!

My childhood friend from Tatooine now slain

Protecting me from harm. Thou ow’dst a life— 285

Dear Biggs, sweet Biggs—and thou hast paid. And now

’Tis down to me: the boy turn’d warrior.

Be still, my errant heart, and seek the Force.

VADER: The leader now is mine.

R2-D2: —Meep, beep.

C-3PO: —Take care

Sweet R2-D2! Come thou back, I pray! 290

CHORUS: Luke’s ship comes closer to the little port

While Vader and his crew draw all too near.

Young Luke to his computer doth resort

Until he hears the voice speak in his ear.

Enter Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

GHOST: O use the Force, dear Luke. Let go and trust! 295

VADER: I sense the Force in this one here, almost

As if I did my younger self espy.

GHOST: I prithee, trust me, Luke. All shall be well.

LUKE: The hearing of these words is like a balm

Unto my soul. So shall I trust the Force 300

And not this fallible computer here.

[Luke turns off computer.

COMPUTER: What is this, Luke? Thy targeting machine

Hath been turn’d off. What can be wrong? Pray tell!

LUKE: Nay, all is well. Fear not, good friends.

R2-D:2 —Beep, squeak.

[Darth Vader shoots. R2-D2 is hit.

Ahh hoo!

LUKE: —Small R2-D2 hath been lost! 305

COMPUTER: The Death Star now has come within our range.

TARKIN: Commander, thou may’st fire when thou hast made

All goodly preparation thereunto.

VADER: Now face thy death, thou rebel.

PILOT: —Sir, take heed!

CHORUS: Now in a trice brave Han is on the scene! 310

The smuggler hath return’d on errand kind.

With sly approach he makes his way unseen

And slays th’Imperi’l pilots from behind.

[Enter Han Solo with Chewbacca, firing on

Darth Vader and Imperial Pilots. Explosion.

Imperial Pilots 1 and 2 die.

VADER: But how?—

[Darth Vader exits in confusion, his ship spinning

out of control.

HAN: —Thy path is clear, young Luke. Now do

Thy deed and let us all make way back home. 315

LUKE: I stretch my feelings out and use the Force,

And on the instant seems the porthole vast—

Not small or difficult to strike, but large.

The ship is arm’d, and now I take the chance—

The blast’s away, and with it all our hopes! 320

[Luke shoots and hits the target.

CHORUS: The laser hits its mark with certain aim,

And as the Death Star arms to strike the base

The chain reaction sets the orb aflame:

The Death Star hath exploded into space.

HAN: Thy timely blast hath hit the perfect mark— 325

One in a million was thy Force-fill’d shot!

GHOST: Remember me, O Luke, remember me,

And ever shall the Force remain with thee.


Excerpted from the book WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S STAR WARS. Copyright © 2013 by Ian Doescher. Reprinted with permission of Quirk Books.

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What if you took two cultural touchstones, both with devoted followings, and mash them together, say, Shakespeare and "Star Wars"?


DANNY DAUPHIN: (as Darth Vader) In time, thy powers have weak become, old man.

JON W SPARKS: (as Obi-Wan Kenobi) And yet thou canst not win, I'll warrant, Darth. For if thou strike me down, e'en now, e'en here, I shall more great and powerful become than e'er thou hast imagine possible.

HOBSON: That's a clip from the book trailer for "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope." Ian Doescher is the author. The plot is pretty straightforward. It's "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," the first of the "Star Wars" films to be released, written in Shakespearean English. Ian joins us from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting. And, Ian, where did this idea come from?

IAN DOESCHER: It was really a combination of events that happened last year. I read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and I re-watched the "Star Wars" trilogy with a group of friends, then went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my family. And it was while I was at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that I sort of had this idea to combine "Star Wars" and Shakespeare.

HOBSON: All right. So just to give people a sense of what you're doing here, let's hear how things translate from the movie. This is the famous scene where Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca are being chased and shot at by Stormtroopers while they were trying to rescue Leia, and then they jumped into the rash compactor. Here is how it plays out in the movie.


HARRISON FORD: (as Han Solo) Let's get out of here. Get away from there.

MARK HAMILL: (as Luke Skywalker) No, wait.


HAMILL: (as Luke Skywalker) Will you forget it? I already tried it. It's magnetically sealed.

CARRIE FISHER: (as Princess Leia) Put that thing away. You're going to get us all killed.

FORD: (as Han Solo) Absolutely, your worship. Look, I had everything under control until you led us down here. You know, it's not going to take them long to figure out what happened to us.

FISHER: (as Princess Leia) It could be worse.

FORD: (as Han Solo) It's worse.

HOBSON: All right. So that's the scene from the movie, 1977, "A New Hope." Now, this is the trash compactor scene as you have rewritten it.

DOESCHER: (Reading) I'll blast the door. Swift get thee hence.

HOBSON: (Reading) Nay, prithee, shoot thou not.


HOBSON: (Reading) Thou arrant knave, wouldst thou undo us all? I have already tried to exit thus, but lo, as thou now plainly seest, thou brute, the passageway is sealed magnetically.


(Reading) Now rid us of that blaster, quickly too, else shall thine edgy trigger finger mean the certain death of all of us herein.

DOESCHER: (Reading) O, aye, thy Worship. Ha. 'Twas all in my control till thou'st didst lead us to this heap, nor shall the Stormtroopers need any time to calculate where all of us have flown.

YOUNG: (Reading) And yet, I say to you, it could be worse.

DOESCHER: (Reading) 'Tis worse. I'll warrant, something lives in here.


HOBSON: So how did you do that?


DOESCHER: I spent the better part of three months with the movie, going through sort of a minute or two at a time. And it was really almost like a translation job. Translating it into iambic pentameter and into something that at least sounds a little more like Shakespeare's idiom.

HOBSON: Were there things that were hard to translate that it just took you a while to figure out what exactly Shakespeare would say?

DOESCHER: The hardest things to translate have sort of become part of "Star Wars" lore, you know, things that I knew that people would be turning to first thing to see how I handled it. So things like whether or not Han shot Greedo first, for instance, that moment or things like Luke's sort of whiny line about going to Toshi Station to pick up power converters.

All of those things played on my mind heaviest because I knew that there are a lot of people out there who were going to be concerned about how I handled them.

HOBSON: Now, you're exploring two different worlds here that have fanatics, both of them. I mean, there are "Star Wars" fanatics who know everything about every episode of "Star Wars," and there are Shakespeare-ophiles who know everything about every work of William Shakespeare. Which did you find would be harder to please as you did this?

DOESCHER: I think the "Star Wars" fans probably have more sort of invested. I think it's easier for the people who love Shakespeare to sort of laugh and write this off although, ultimately, I hope that won't be the case once they take a look at it. It's the "Star Wars" fans who are going to, you know, call you bad names in the street, you know, for messing something up. They're the ones who are harder to please.

HOBSON: Now, for most of the book, you're rewriting the script in Elizabethan English, but sometimes you create these scenes that are Shakespearean. And I want to listen to one. This is an example of Luke Skywalker giving what feels like a riff on the Yorick speech from Hamlet. Let's listen.


ANDREW CRIGLER: (as Luke Skywalker) Alas, poor Stormtrooper, I knew ye not. Yet have I ta'en both uniform and life from thee. What manner of a man wert thou? A man of inf'nite jest or cruelty? A man with helpmate and children too? A man who hath his Empire serv'd with pride? A man, perhaps, who wish'd for perfect peace? Whate'er thou wert, good man, thy pardon grant unto the one who took thy place: e'en me.

HOBSON: So tell us about that.

DOESCHER: Visually, when we think about Shakespeare, the image that sort of culturally brings Shakespeare right to mind is a person standing there, holding a skull. And so I wanted to have that same scene, and it works really well into the storyline of "A New Hope" because there is that scene. Actually right after the trash compactor scene, they've been dressed up as Stormtroopers and then they're changing out of those clothes. And so it seemed a perfect time for Luke to sort of wax poetical about who the Stormtrooper might have been.

There are different references to Shakespeare throughout the book. Some of them are crystal clear. Some of them are just sort of using literary devices, but that, obviously, is a - it's a pretty clear one.

HOBSON: What do you think Shakespeare would make of what you've done?

DOESCHER: I think he would think it's fun emulation. I think he'd probably look at it and say, well, you know, don't quit your day job.


DOESCHER: He'd say, you're no Shakespeare. But I do think he would enjoy it. Shakespeare had a great sense of humor and I think would have enjoyed sort of the spirit behind this book and also just some of the ways in which I played with the movie.

HOBSON: Shakespeare is difficult for many people just to read and understand. You have to read it at a sort of slower pace than you would read anything else because the words are so different. Could you have picked another author that would have made it even more difficult for you to translate it?

DOESCHER: I suppose you could try Chaucer. I think Shakespeare in middle - I'm sorry - "Star Wars" in Middle English would be a lot more difficult than Shakespearean "Star Wars." There is this sort of idea in our culture that Shakespeare is hard to get into. And I think a lot of students actually come up against a brick wall mentally when they are about to be studying Shakespeare because they just assumed that they won't be able to get it because of the vocabulary, because of this weird thing called iambic pentameter, whatever that is.

I really ultimately hope that this book will maybe even help kids get into Shakespeare some. Maybe it'll be sort of a bridge by which they can get into Shakespeare, not be so intimated by Shakespeare. If they've been exposed to the meter, have been exposed at least to a little bit of the language and some of the devices that Shakespeare uses, then maybe it'll be easier when they move into "Romeo and Juliet" or "Hamlet" to follow along.

HOBSON: Ian Doescher is the author of "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope." Ian, thank you so much.

DOESCHER: Thank you.


HOBSON: And now, because you deserve it, one last reading from "Verily, A New Hope." Here's Ian, reading his version of the opening text from the beginning of the movie.

DOESCHER: (Reading) It is a period of civil war. The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift from base unseen, have gain'd a vict'ry o'er the cruel Galactic Empire, now adrift. Amidst the battle, Rebel spies prevail'd and stole the plans to a space station vast, whose pow'rful beams will later be unveil'd and crush a planet: 'tis the DEATH STAR blast. Pursu'd by agents sinister and cold, now Princess Leia to her home doth flee, delivering plans and a new hope they hold: Of bringing the freedom to the galaxy. In time so long ago begins our play, in star-crossed galaxy far, far away.

HOBSON: And special thanks, Robin, to our HERE AND NOW players Jonathan Peck, Emiko Tamagawa and Jack Lepiarz.

YOUNG: You know, we haven't heard from the players since "Downton Abbey," the video game...


YOUNG: ...which was also completely ridiculous, and I bought it.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.