Q&A with Ian Doescher about Shakespeare on Star Wars
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope fuses the plot of George Lucas’s epic saga with the wit and words of Shakespeare. Even R2-D2’s chirps are in iambic pentameter! We talked to author novelist and native Portlander Ian Doescher and asked the burning question on everyone’s mind… Why?
For a sample of his prose, see our magazine preview.
Why did you decide to write this?
About a year ago, I rewatched the Star Wars trilogy with high school friends on a geek weekend together. Right after that, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then my family and I went to the Shakespeare festival in Ashland. It was while I was down there that I had the idea to do this,
I spent putting the first Act together and sent it over to my publisher. He started getting the wheels in motion with Lucasfilm to get it licensed. So I recognize how extraordinarily lucky I am to have this all happening so easily, and so quickly. I mean, the book will ultimately be published just under a year from when I first had the idea, which is kind of crazy.
How long did it take to write it?
I was writing it basically for around 3 months. I gave myself a goal of having 2-3 minutes of the movie done each night. Other times I would head down the rabbit hole with a soliloquy and that would take me longer.
How was writing in iambic pentameter?
I went to high school locally here and I had an English teacher who really loved Shakespeare and taught me what iambic pentameter is all about. It was definitely a challenge. It’s not as easy as writing normally when you’re trying to worry about where your syllables are and how many you have in the line. I did a lot of tapping out syllables on my computer with my fingers. Luckily, iambic pentameter has 10 syllables, and I have 10 fingers.
Why Shakespeare and Star Wars?
First of all, I love Shakespeare. When I was in 8th grade, my brother was reading Hamlet as a senior in high school. So I picked up a copy and started at least pretending to get through it. Reading Shakespeare as a freshman in highschool in English, and then through college I continued loving Shakespeare. I never really studied Shakespeare, which probably helped me to continue to love it more. It was more of a passion than something I was obligated to do.
Secondly, Star Wars is full of all these well-known archetypes which are in Shakespeare’s works also. Shakespeare told classic stories and Star Wars is a classic story. In some ways I think it is kind of a natural link between the two. And there’s also the simple thing that Shakespeare wrote things in 5 acts, about roughly 2-3 hours long total. Star Wars is a little over 2 hours long. It’s a very recognizable form.
Ian Doescher will read from Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope
Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing
July 2 at 7:00pm
How did you go about writing it?
I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. I grew up with the movies and know them backwards and forwards, but I’m not at the level beyond that where I know all the ins and outs of all the characters names and all the side material.
So I would watch a few seconds and see what the line was, and if I was unclear about the line I’d find it online. When I first started writing it, I kept very close to the original script because I thought George Lucas as someone who is pretty protective of his material. But after the book was first shown to LucasFilm, their first piece of feedback was “We like this and it’s fun, but we’d like to see Ian do more with it. Go ahead and have some more fun with it, and go out of bounds of movie itself.” To have that license to do that made this so much more fun for me—to be able to write soliloquies and write asides, and a scene or two that aren’t even in the movie, that was a lot of fun.
Did you draw from certain Shakespeare plays?
There’s a range. I think it ended up being 9 or 10 plays that are referenced directly or indirectly. Hamlet definitely is the one that got the most references, partially I know Hamlet the best of the plays and partially because of so many Hamlets lines are culturally well-known. I drew a fair amount from Henry V, especially the overall structure of having a chorus tell about what’s happening with the action. I also drew from a couple of Henry’s well known speeches before battles.
Do you plan on writing more books and working through other movies?
It’s being talked about right now, but it’s still up in the air. It’ll depend a lot of how first book does.