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Interview: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Author Ian Doescher

shakespeare star wars lukeOn July 2, author Ian Doescher released his tour de force debut novel, the clever and accessible mash-up William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. The title speaks for itself, but just in case you’re missing a few chromosomes, this Quirk Books publication is George Lucas’ Star Wars as told with through the epic stage direction and stacked wit of the Bard of Avon. My recent review of the book glowed brighter than a lightsaber, as the depth of Doescher’s work transcends novelty and will sit at the left hand of its spiritual predecessor, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Luckily, I was able to talk to the author himself about the book’s background and where its future may take it.

Oh, but first. We’re giving away three copies of the book, which reached No. 12 in Hardcover Fiction on this week’s New York Times Bestseller List, along with an accompanying poster. Want to know how to get it? Read on.

Did Francis Bacon actually write this book?
Doescher: Mmm, you said bacon. I’m sorry, what was the question? Oh yeah, Francis Bacon. Possibly. Or maybe my evil twin Naido Escher.

(cue dramatic music)

In the novel’s afterword, you connect Shakespeare and Star Wars by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Was this connection a real inspiration in conceiving this book, or was it something you strengthened your concept with after the fact? If it’s the latter, what sparked the idea?
It was after the fact, honestly, but I do think Campbell is the natural link between Shakespeare and George Lucas. The idea came to me when three things happened in the course of about two months — I re-watched the Star Wars trilogy with some friends, read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my family. My subconscious was thinking about Star Wars, mashups and Shakespeare, and the idea surfaced while I was at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. That was about one year ago.

How many times have you seen Star Wars? And how many times were you holding a Shakespeare play in your hands while you watched?
At a guess, I’ll say 40 or 50 times. I lost count a long, long time ago. I never held a Shakespeare play in my hand until the last few times, while I was writing the book!

I absolutely loved the fact that R2-D2 was given a real voice in the book. Do you have some kind of droid translator, or are you just naturally attuned to understanding a bot’s sense of place?
Some of my best friends are robots, actually, so I’m really attuned to their emotions and quirks. Actually, I was always impressed at how much personality the Star Wars movies gave R2, even though he only spoke in beeps and squeaks. Putting his words into English was relatively easy — I mean, we all know he’s a little snarky and a lot heroic, right?

Has anyone from the Star Wars camp reached out to give you a tauntaun-sized pat on the back for your work?
The publications people from Lucasfilm have been great, and have all been really excited for the book, so that’s good enough for me. I haven’t gotten the phone call from George yet, but I’ll let you know.

What other pieces of science fiction are you a fan of?
I’ve always been a Star Trek fan (though Star Wars was my first love). Beyond that and other occasional movies here and there, I’m going to be really honest and tell you I’m pretty poorly versed in sci-fi. Shameful, I know, particularly for a guy who has a sci-fi book out right now.

[It's worth noting here that, though he's a first-time author, Doescher holds a B.A. in Music from Yale, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Ethics from Union Theological Seminary.]

Did your background in music, divinity, and ethics offer any guidance in this project, or did pure passion serve as your muse?
It really was just the passion. In fact, it was probably because I’ve never done any formal study of Shakespeare or Star Wars that this project was so fun. If anything, my music background helps me with the rhythm of iambic pentameter, and there is one scene in the book (Luke training with Obi-Wan on the Millennium Falcon, chatting with Han) where they have a little theological discussion about what Han does or doesn’t believe. But that’s about it.

I realize this is a question somehow less original than “Where do you get your ideas?” But are there any plans for the Bard to strike back within the trilogy, or was this a one-shot? Also, what are the chances of a nationwide off-Broadway production coming to a town near me in the future?
Well, I have a lot of hopes around that question… I’m hopeful about the rest of the trilogy will happen — I think it would be fun to figure out how the heck Yoda talks when everyone in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars already sounds a little like him. And several theater companies have approached us about staging a production, but right now Lucasfilm is saying that only a few scenes at a time can be performed, and those in service of promoting the book. But I’m hopeful we’ll see a full performance at some point!

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Nick here again. I can’t imagine it being too long before Lucasfilm figures out a way to make the most money off of putting this on a stage. I’d watch a theatrical release of this performed on Broadway easily. You owe it to yourself to read the book and agree with me. Maybe you can win one.

To win a copy of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and an accompanying poster, leave a comment on this post explaining what else you’d like to see mashed up with Star Wars, and why. We’ll pick our three favorite responses as the winners!

Comments

  • Joe Freitas

    I’d love to see the prequels put to Shakespeare. I mean the Galactic/Roman senate squabbling sounds right in the bard’s wheelhouse. Plus it might actually make them good; Qui Gon Jinn a classically tragic figure, Anakin Skywalker a troubled Hamlet kind of character, Amidala the queen loosing her grip, Jara Jar a court jester/fool… And Senator/Emperor Palpatine as Richard III. “My Kingdom for a Tie Fighter!” I’d read that!

  • Joe Blanda

    There’s plenty of good material in the American political arena right now, where Stars Wars type characters and plots abound. Starting with Pres. Obama, as Luke Skywalker, who wrestles control of the Empire from the forces of the Dark Side (i.e. the Republican Party), only to be tempted to abuse the power he now wields. Hilary Clinton as Princess Leia? Bill Clinton as Han Solo? Plenty of amusing robots on both sides. And lots and lots of fancy weaponry, even one named “Star Wars” . . .

  • Mazzy

    When fandoms collide, Harry Potter vs Star Wars.

    Harry Potter and the Jedi’s Apprentice:

    Harry as Luke, Hermione has Leia, Ron as Han Solo, Lord Voldermort as Darth Vader – it writes itself!