Ian Doescher Returneth to a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The PDX author of NYT-bestseller "William Shakespeare’s Star Wars" talks about the sequel, being surrounded by Storm Troopers, and giving the space worm a soliloquy. "The Empire Striketh Back" comes out today.

By Peter Holmstrom March 18, 2014

We have to admit: when Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a novel that retells the cult movie’s story in Shakespearean iambic pentameter, came in the mail, there were some in our office who were skeptical. Seems they were idiots: the book quickly soared onto the New York TimesBest Seller List. Within a matter of weeks, Doescher’s publisher asked him to complete the trilogy.

We interviewed Doescher last July prior to the first book’s release, and now with The Empire Striketh Back scheduled to be released today, we decided to check back in to see how this strange interplanetary, inter-genre adventure was treating him. Also, read on for the soliloquy he wrote for the lonely Exogorth space slug.

On the Town: How surprised were you by the instant success of Star Wars?
Ian Doescher: I had no idea what to expect—whether people were going to like the idea or not. I knew that I was picking two popular things to combine together. I was nervous because when you have fans that are as fervent as Star Wars fans are, and you start messing around with their beloved things… But what I’ve found was that by and large Star Wars fans have just been hugely supportive.

Give us the Venn Diagram of your readers. Are most Star Wars fans, or are an equal part Shakespeare fans, and what’s the crossover?
I’d say the Star Wars ones, if nothing else, are the more vocal ones. I think they outnumber the ones that are super passoniate about Shakespeare. That being said, I received a really nice note from one of the actors of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Do you know if George Lucas or anybody higher up in the Star Wars universe has read it?
I haven’t gotten the phone call from George, unfortunately. But I think there’s a chance, because of stuff that I can’t really talk about, that Mark Hamill has read it, but I don’t know that for sure.

Are people coming to your readings in costume?
Absolutely, there’s a whole organization that I had never heard of before. We had done a reading for the day the first book came out back in July, and the publicity person from Quirkbooks wrote to me and said there’s a chance the 501st Legion was going to be there. I was picturing a handful of retired military guys. In fact, the 501st Legion are a worldwide organization where people dress up in Star Wars costumes and go to various public events, children’s hospitals, school’s or things like that. And so, I’ve gotten to know various chapters through various readings. It’s super fun to be surrounded by Stormtroopers wherever you go.

What have been some of the standout responses you’ve had because of this book?
Hearing from parents who’ve said that their children had no interest in Shakespeare, then this book helped them get into Shakespeare. That sort of thing is really moving for me.

Is there any talk of doing a stage adaptation?
We have had, literally, hundreds of requests. The way all book rights relate to Lucasfilm is that Lucasfilm retains the copyright, so it’s their call, and right now they are saying no. I hope that changes one day. Random House had the ability to make a great full cast audiobook, and is planning on doing the other two books as well, which is really exciting.

Did you take a different approach with the Empire Striketh Out, now that you have an idea how this works?
Early on in writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I had sent the finished first act over to Lucasfilm, and they wrote back and said “Well, we really like what you’ve done, but go ahead and have some fun with it. Take the movies as a guide, but play around a bit.”

So with the second and third ones I really started to take more chances, and have a lot more fun with it. The Wampa [the ice monster on Hoth] and the Exogorth, which is the space monster that comes out of the asteroid and tries to eat the Millennium Falcon—they both get soliloquies, where they talk about their character and their motivations. And the Ugnaughts [the little creatures on cloud city], they almost become like the Seven Dwarfs. In the film they don’t speak, they’re just sort of there, so I thought it would be cool to give them personality.

Are there any future books on the horizon?
There’s always the possibility of the prequels happening. One idea that I found was pretty compelling was to do the prequels as a single play that told the whole prequel history, but that’s sort of an unknown. 

Monologue for Exogorth, the giant space slug that emerges from an asteroid to try to eat the Millenium Falcon:

Alas, another meal hath fled and gone,
And in the process I am sorely hurt.
These travelers who have escap’d my reach
Us’d me past the endurance of a block!
My stomach they did injure mightily 
With jabs and pricks, as though a needle were
A’bouncing in my belly. O cruel Fate!
To be a space slug is a lonely lot,
With no one on this rock to share my life,
No true companion here to mark my days. 
And now my meals do from my body fly—
Was e’er a beast by supper so abus’d?
Was e’er a creature’s case so pitiful?
Was e’er an exogorth as sad as I?
Was e’er a tragedy as deep as mine?
I shall with weeping crawl back to my cave,
Which shall, sans food, belike become my grave.

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