empire striketh backReviewed by Cal Cleary

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

For some reason, those words captures America’s imagination in a way that few other pieces of entertainment every have (or will). One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas was the way that Star Wars, for some reason, ignited the creativity of a generation. There have been countless fan recreations, mash-ups, fan edits, costume mods, and much, much more as fans took something created by Lucas, threw it in a bag with all their other passions, and tried to turn it into something new. One of the most interesting examples of that in the last few years was Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a book that rewrote Star Wars as a Shakespearean play, borrowing the Bard’s language and structure. Now, Doescher returns with William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back.

Ian Doescher’s love of Shakespeare and Star Wars is clear from page one. Some of the jokes are subtle – an early callback to The Winter Tale’s infamous ‘Exit Pursued by a Bear’ went completely over my head when I first read it, for example – but for the most point, Doescher plays things admirably straight. This is an elaborate work of fan-love for a franchise, one that’s thorough enough, for example, to note that Shakespeare’s language varied by the class of his characters and put that into play by having Boba Fett speak in prose, indicating a lower class. Little touches like this make the book feel more complete, and more interesting.

The book’s biggest flaw comes in its overcrowding. The Empire Strikes Back is an epic adventure film, spanning multiple worlds and introducing a large number of tertiary characters to lend drama to its battle scenes. But rather than taking the opportunity to streamline, Doescher goes largely for accuracy, which makes the book too heavy on stage direction and too crowded with unnecessary characters. And while Doescher makes some interesting choices in adapting the work – Yoda, for instance, speaks exclusively in haiku, an excellent choice and one the author struggled with mightily according to his afterword – few are terribly insightful or interesting beneath the surface.

But while it is a gimmick, it’s a gimmick that works, at least. Doescher may not have the Bard’s sense of rhythm, immaculate pacing, or gift with wordplay, but William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back offers a reasonable facsimile – and, more importantly, a good time. While I can’t imagine the book being of much interest to the average public, Star Wars diehards can (and have) done worse when it comes to adapted or spun-off material, and fans of Shakespeare’s work should enjoy the care Doescher’s taken to combine the two. As a novelty, it’s more than worthy, but I’m not sure it succeeds as anything else.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Cal is a librarian, critic, and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his writing at his blog, The Comical Librarian, or follow him on Twitter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Quirk Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.