Book review: Shakespearean rendition of 'The Empire Strikes Back' is as thrilling as the movie

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 6:18 p.m. MDT

"William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back: Stars Wars Part the Fifth" is by Ian Doescher. (Quirk Books)

"WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S THE EMPIRE STRIKETH BACK," by Ian Doescher, Quirk Books, $14.95, 172 pages (f)

"Do, or do not. There is no try."

"To be, or not to be: that is the question."

Two iconic quotes from two iconic stories. The first is from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” and the other from “Hamlet.”

Now, see them collide like a TIE fighter into an asteroid or like the blades of two lightsabers.

Eight months after the publication of “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars,” author Ian Doescher returns with a sequel, “William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back,” a retelling of the famed Episode V of the “Star Wars” saga. Though the book offers many of the same tricks in terms of translating the tale into Shakespearean English, there are some notable differences that make this book — much like the film version — better than its predecessor.

As the pace of the book is like that of the film, the story moves quickly. The book cuts out a lot of action sequences, which may seem jarring at first but is actually masterful and commendable because many of the action sequences are for seeing rather than reading. The author also does a nice job of rearranging the scenes into an order different from that of the movie, keeping the reader locked in one storyline without too much switching back and forth between plots.

There are some neat little treats in this rendition of “Empire.” Yoda — known cinematically and culturally for speaking in a tone not unlike that of a Shakespearean character — speaks in haiku as he teaches Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi. And Lando Calrissian, the suave Lothario, gets a bit more of a background story and depth than the film provides, giving us a sympathetic Calrissian; he normally suffers the brunt of criticism for his devious acts toward the story’s main characters.

Some disappointments are the lack of heavy action sequences and how little attention is given to R2-D2, who played a very sarcastic and manipulative role in the first volume of this Shakespeare series. And some of the film’s more moving scenes — such as when Leia Organa declares her undying love for Han Solo, who responds with a confident “I know” — go by in a blink, showing a lack of punch with some of the lines. Though the book does a nice job of keeping readers thrilled, there are some things that just can't be shown through the page.

For “Star Wars” fans, this latest Shakespeare translation will be interesting and give new insight to the film. Though it may not be as appealing as seeing Skywalker slay a wintry beast on the silver screen, the book does give families an opportunity to read more Shakespearean language in a tale as powerful and popular as “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“May the Force be with you.”

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: herbscribner

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