William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

Return of the Jedi is by far the weakest of the Star Wars Trilogy, and it has nothing to do with the words ‘incest’ or ‘teddy bears.’ “But wait!” I hear you choke out as you spit out your C-3P O’s and shimmy out your plastic lightsaber. “It’s the Holy Trilogy! They’re all great!” Note how I didn’t dispute Episode VI’s greatness. All I’m saying is that we wouldn’t remember it with such fond keyboard banging if it weren’t for, you know, that other trilogy to become the yang to the chocolate-covered yin that popular culture ceases to exist without. Even the movie’s original reception wasn’t that good: if Rotten Tomatoes existed in 1986, the movie would’ve scored 33%. The Jedi Doth Return (Verily A New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back discussed here and here) knows the flaws of its material and seeks to correct them. How well does it do?

Oh, and also nothing to do with Fett's punk-ass death. Stop crying.
Oh, and also nothing to do with Fett’s punk-ass death. Stop crying.

The main problem with Return of the Jedi stems from Luke’s costume, while also about something else altogether. Why is Luke dressed in all black? To show his slippage towards the dark side, right? He’s conflicted, he’s desperate, he might be going through a bit of an emo poet phase. A logical step from the end of Empire, where he doesn’t know who to trust anymore and the Dark Side seems more like a well-worn hammer than the ultimate do-not-go-here evil. Let’s recap. What happens a year after Luke-oh-what-a-bother? He finds and rescues his friend from spending eternity as a modern arts project. He visits Yoda and learns more truths from Old Ben. He goes to Endor, alerting Vader to the Rebels by his mere presence. He engages in a speeder chase. He’s captured by Ewoks and cons his way out of it. He turns himself in, saving his friends’ mission by surrendering to Vader. We’re at the end of Act 2 now, and when has Luke ever fell into or been tempted by the Dark Side of the Force? I don’t mind the Ewoks, and even don’t think the sister revelation is the worst twist ever, but this lack of development really separates Part 6 from Parts 5 and 4. It’s a lighthearted ending (for now) of the saga. I get that. The last third of the movie finally tries to talk about to Dark Side and what it means to Luke, and that doesn’t damper the mood so much as add a tasteful touch of vinegar to it. In an already crammed finale, Lucas jams the entire temptation arc inside, and we’re left with vague notions about what the Dark Side is and how Luke will fall for it. The entire running time up to this point, Luke’s self-sacrificing and noble and just as good as he was in The Empire Strikes Back– appealing for a hero, but not what the story needs.

To be fair, Obi-Wan does talk about the Dark Side winning if Luke doesn’t give into the Dark Side by killing Vader- a fun conflict, just that it took salutatorian-speaking role to the basic Rebels Yay Empire Boo. The Jedi Doth Return doesn’t add much to this problem. In a way, it kind of makes it worst. The lightsaber duel- its sudden beginning, turbulent middle, and triumphant end- is to me the best fight in the saga, and enough to redeem the film for me. The majority of that scene’s strengths derives from what’s not said: Luke’s turmoil, Vader’s conflict, Palpatine’s- actually, the scene would be a lot better if Palpatine shut up a bit. But, since this is Shakespeare, Vader’s big silent moment is over punctuated by him monologuing about who he is and what he’s becoming and what he must do, and oh god this was so much better when done in silence (on that note: seek any special edition but the 2011 Blu-Ray version). This interpretation at least talks about the big issues, but at the exact wrong time.

I will understand if you say this movie jump-started your puberty, fanboys.
I will understand if you say this movie jump-started your puberty, fanboys.

The book addresses more fan complaints about the trilogy than the others. Luke calls out Kenobi’s “from a certain point of view” B.S. right away, and sharp or dull readers will notice how Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar ends all his lines. There’s even a monologue after Luke finds out about his sister where he compares his revelation to Oedipus’s (ok, an unnamed Tusken Raider of legend, but it’s Oedipus). Now there’s an interesting comparison, connecting himself to a tragic hero he most certainly is not because, as we established, Luke’s as pure as extra virgin olive oil. Still, this installment remains the most self-aware of the books, for whatever that’s worth.

I didn’t get any particular new insights or revelations from these books. But then again, I consider myself well versed (pun intended, not sorry) in Star Wars, so I’m not sure what could provide anything like that. This book trilogy is a dance remix of Star Wars- fun to play around with, enjoyable for the parts we recognize, but not going to unseat either original. Don’t downplay the tremendous research, rewatching, and revision required to make something that moves without effort or without needing footnotes. I’d love to read a prequel trilogy by this guy- provide, of course, that he takes the same critical eye and pen he did when revising the holiest of trilogies.

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William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back

The Wampa talks.

The WAMPA. TALKS.

EVERYBODY talks in this book. The AT-ATs talk. The Exogorth (betcha don’t even know what that is, do ya?) talks. The Ugnaughts? They SING. I’m actually ok with the singing part: Shakespeare featured plenty of breaks for songs, and music is an essential part of any culture, real or fictional. No, it’s a LATER singing part that’ll cause me to cringe like a crumpled-up bag of chips when I describe it to you. And everybody knows how much Shakespeare like to humanize his villains (even the ones who aren’t apparent villains, cough Romeo cough). But ysalamiri on a cracker, do we really need the Wampa to ask the audience to pity his base desire for food? “Hath not a Wampa eyes? If you cut off our arm, will we not disappear from the story entirely?”

Ok, the tauntaun doesn't talk. I think it's because she's shy.
Ok, the tauntaun doesn’t talk. I think it’s because she’s shy.

Anyways, this is part 2 in what I guess is a miniseries of mine where I explore Ian Doescher’s printing of a production of Star Wars in the Globe Theater. Or is this William Shakespeare in the 1970s, writing this screenplay in his usual style? I don’t know. The presence of a chorus in Verily, A New Hope hints that this is taking place on stage, but how do you stage Yoda moving the X-Wing, or really any scene involving several locations at once? You really would need a globe to fit all of this in! Ha, ha, Shakespeare humor. Although this does give me hope that somewhere in the Star Wars Universe, there’s a Globe Theater in the sense of an entire planet that you can watch stage the most epic and long-reaching of dramas, or even comedies. Folks would pay tickets to see a story that spans the scope of a biosphere from their spaceship’s video feed. If your play called for a massive forest fire, your audience can watch half the planet burn from space, then not watch as you bioengineer the replacement forest for next week’s show. Talk about all the world’s a stage. Ok, I’ll stop with the puns. Really.

Where was I? I could check the last paragraph, but screw it, let’s just keep moving. Last time, I asked whether this work is more Shakespeare than Star Wars. I’d argue this book is Bard to a fault. Knowing about the plot of one of Shakespeare’s plays doesn’t hinder your enjoyment of it (unless you’re already committed to hate him because he’s, like, SO boring), meaning that that aspect of his art is barely talked about. This book, too, considers plot a waxing of an already perfectly functional car. Everybody talks, and everyone foreshadows. Even if you were stuck in carbon freezing for the past 50 years and didn’t know the big twist, it’s foreshadowed in the same way a murderer pointing a knife at you foreshadows a murderer stabbing you with said knife. And yes, Shakespeare often ended scenes with couplets. But I’ve never seen a work of his that ended every single scene with couplets, or had lovers talk in sonnets every other scene while Romeo and Juliet only had the one. (Side note: He messed it up! Sonnet rhyme scheme goes ABABCDCDEFEFGG, yet the big scene with Han and Leia’s first kiss reads ABABCDCDEFEFGHGH. This guy studied more Shakespeare than I and writes sonnets at the back of each book to advertise his website HOW DID HE SCREW THIS I’m ok now).

Yes, I know, comedy and exaggeration are two fun things paired like a good night on the town and vehicular homicide. But sometimes exaggeration risks separating yourself from the thing you’re making fun of, like what happened with Dana Carvey’s impersonation of George Bush the Elder after a while. And exaggeration of form isn’t the main thing I want to see when I see a Shakespeare parody: I want to see epic monologues pondering life and brilliant descriptions of beautiful things and for everyone to die. You’ll get those first two aspects from this book, but they’re delivered rather straight as a whole. And yet, despite my continued apprehension over how the final product is presented, I’d say this is my favorite book of an entirely fun series. The text delivers the tension from the original story, the characters remain interesting and flawed, and the way Doescher writes Yoda-speak in a world where everyone talks like Yoda already is diamond-encrusted excellence, especially if you know what influenced Lucas’ writings. If I forgot to recommend this box set in the last review, consider this your chance to snatch a copy from the nerdiest youngster you can find. There are even some ways this adaptation improves on the original trilogy, which we’ll discuss when The Jedi Doth Return…

But before we go, I promised you the most cringe-worthy part of this story. Han is frozen, the Empire controls Cloud City, and Chewbacca… Chewbacca sings. I think Doescher took influence for this scene from the classic Star Wars Holiday Special.

Why not sing along? Don't answer that.
Why not sing along? Don’t answer that.

CHEWBAC.: [sings]Auugh, egh, auugh, auugh egh. Auugh, muh muh,

Egh, egh, auugh, egh, egh, muh, muh.

Auugh, auugh, egh, auugh, muh, egh, muh, muh,

Muh, wroshyr, wroshyr, wroshyr.

Enjoy getting that mental scarring out of your ear, friend!

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Writers tend to pay lip service, then head service, then outlawed-outside-of-Nevada service to William Shakespeare. The man, the legend, the bane of middle schoolers. And while I wouldn’t say he’s the best English writer (I wouldn’t know who is), I would say he’s the most interesting. Any discussion I’ve been in regarding any of his plays never reached its end, because the guy puts enough character, intrigue, poetry, and questions in his works to fill a sarlacc pit. He’s worth discussing, is what I’m getting at.

And now that I think about it, Star Wars is opposite in every way except for the acclaim. The depth of Star Wars comes from its setting and mythology details, since its characters are archetypes and its dialogue is, well, it’s Lucas. Unlike the weak and usually stolen stories of Shakespeare, the plot of Star Wars (ok, that story was also stolen, shut up) is one of its strongest elements. And people don’t tend to talk about Star Wars in my experience because it’s obviously and rightfully one of the best film trilogies ever, and putting it on a Best Films list is like putting oxygen on a Best Things to Intake list.

An elegant costume for a more civilized age...
An elegant costume for a more civilized age…

Which brings us to the book in question, written by Ian Doescher. I received the trilogy as a Christmas gift, which is good, because it’s one of those joke-sounding gifts that I never would’ve bought for myself, and I would’ve missed out on a fun, interesting journey. They know what I like, what can I say.

I say ‘fun’ because the book is fun, though I’m not sure how much Doescher wants me to have fun. Han teases the reader about whether he shot Greedo first or not, and there’s a hilarious (and quite Shakespearean) conversation between stormtroopers about whether or why the Millinieum Falcon is empty or not. And it’s hard not to smile, or roll your eyes, or just skim over it entirely when you read a line like “R2-D2: Beep beep, beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!”, or the simple and elegant “Chewbacca: Egh.” Yet Luke soliloquizes (that’s right! I know fancy Shakespeare words! What of it?) eloquently about the nature of adventure and R2-D2 even talks when no one’s around, in order to say that he’s going to save the day. No, I’m not kidding. It seems weird to have such earnest dialogues and faithful recreations of classic scenes in a title as ridiculous as William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Then again, perhaps that’s part of the joke. Any bad movie aficionado will tell you that a movie isn’t as fun to laugh at if it knows it’s awful and tries on purpose to be awful. Sharknado suffers from this, though not to the point where it’s unbearably self-aware. The more earnest someone is when she presents you with a sewer gunk and polish sausage sandwich, the more embarrassing it is for her, and the funnier it becomes, because we as a species love human suffering and just need to accept that fact. Doescher’s work isn’t bad at all, but I think it’s operating on the same control board. The more seriously committed he is to emulating Shakespeare, the funnier the whole picture becomes when viewed from a distance. The other bits of intentional comedy don’t distract from this goal, since Shakespeare would be all too happy to poke fun at the lower class and the simple-minded.

But something’s missing from this book that seperates The Holy Trilogy and the Bard like a thin, electrified fence: there’s no sex jokes.

But paraphrasing Shakespeare quotes in, no matter how awkward? HOO BOY...
But paraphrasing Shakespeare quotes in, no matter how awkward? They “have more than they show.”

Remember when I said that combining Shakespeare and Star Wars seems like a study in contrasts? Keep in mind that Lucas’ opus, aside from one slave outfit, is really chaste and sexless, mostly because it barely represents one sex. Shakespeare could oil Jabba for days using the sleezy, grimy sex puns he engages in. Maybe it’s because I’m bad at picking up these things, but this book seems to lean towards the Lucas approach to the nasty rather than the love sonnet approach. You can’t do half an entradre (“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and buy a whistle from a Toys R Us…”), so maybe one side has to win out in the end. But we’ll discuss whether this project is more Shakespeare than Star Wars when The Empire Striketh Back.