Last week's guest diary by Brecht about Literary Science Fiction reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years back about a C.S. Lewis essay on mythopoeia. Lewis argued that truly mythic stories are ones which the audience find powerful and moving no matter how they are told.
As it happens, this past week I received a birthday present which demonstrates this idea: a modern myth of sorts, or at least a story which has a mythic prominence in our popular culture, re-told in a peculilar manner. And it reminded me of some other verisons of that same story adapted to still other media.
It all begins A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...
Oddly enough, my first encounter with Star Wars came through an adaptation. My family lived in a rural area at the time, miles away from the nearest movie theater. I managed to miss the film on its initial release and so the first time I experienced the saga of Luke Skywalker was on my first day as a freshman in high school when this girl who played bass clarinet a couple rows in front of me in band loaned me her paperback copy of the movie novelization. Naturally, I married her, although that didn't come until many years later.
I was inspired by the book to attempt a cartoon adaptation of the story which, due to the fact that I hadn't actually seen it and had only a few movie stills from the book as reference, was pretty bad. I only did a page before I gave it up.
In high school I became interested in radio drama, due in part to a local station which played "Old Time Radio" programs and in greater part to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which ran on our NPR station. Public Radio ran a lot of very good radio drama during the '80s, including adaptations of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. (They also did one of Return of the Jedi, but that was some time later and I never caught it).
The radio dramatizations were done with co-operation of George Lucas, who allowed the use of the John Williams score and the Lucasfilm library of sound effects. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels and a couple other actors from the films also returned to voice their characters. The script was written by Brian Daley, who wrote a couple of decent early novels in what is now called the "Star Wars Expanded Universe", co-authored the novelizations of the ROBOTECH series, and wrote a fun space opera titled Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds. Daley's script expanded on the movie's plot, adding several bits, some of which I remembered from the novelization.
In the '90s Dark Horse Comics, which has published some very good Star Wars comics, released a series of volumes collecting a Japanese manga adaptation of the movie drawn by Hisao Tamaki. The spaceships and tech are rendered with the loving detail that the Japanese give to their mecha, and although the manga-style character design is an acquired taste, I found them appealing. The dialogue for the English version is taken directly from the movie rather than translating the Japanese version, so there are occasions where the words don't exactly match the images because the artist had inserted a joke or a character bit of his own. Reading the manga, I couldn't help but think "Wow! This would make a great movie! Oh. Yeah. That's right..."
Back in high school I came across a reference to the "still vex't Bermooths" in Shakepeare's play The Tempest and it occured to me that this might be the first reference in literature to the Bermuda Triangle. From this, I developed the idea that Shakespeare was the Father of Science Fiction. (Well, he certainly was the Father of Forbidden Planet.) I gnawed on this conceit far longer than it deserved. Later on in college I began drawing cartoons of scenes from the Star Wars movies captioned with quotes from Shakespeare. I actually got a grant to do this, largely because there weren't a lot of people applying for that grant program that year; but I lost interest in the project by the time I finished it. By that time I decided that a more interesting project would be to actually re-write Star Wars in the form of a Shakespearean play.
I never got far with that idea either; but I feel somewhat vindicated in that someone else has finally accomplished this. My Wacky Brother Steeve sent me a copy of William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher, a retelling of the original movie in iambic pentameter, just as the Bard would have done it.
Being a Shakespeare buff and weird, I enjoyed it. The pastiche is done quite well, and reads to me like Shakespeare. The story, of course, is George Lucas's, but the characterization and the asides are handled the way Shakespeare's characters might express themselves.
Doescher folds bits from the other movies into the play as well, and uses the Elizabethean convention of asides to reveal complexities to the characters that bald dialogue wouldn't. In Obi-Wan's debates with himself how much of the truth about Luke's father he should reveal and comes up with a piece of sophistry to justify his lie that would have made Polonius proud. Darth Vader's soliloquies have him reflect with bitter cynicism on the betrayal of family and of teachers and on his loyalty to the Emperor.
In a few places Doescher points out the improbablilty of a plot point by having a minor character comment on it. In one darkly humorous scene, for example, in which the Millenium Falcon has been taken aboard the Death Star, two Stormtroopers are talking and one ponders whether the rebels with the stolen plans they had been seeking might not be on board. His friend mocks his concern and convinces him that there is nothing to worry about. They exuent, and are promptly killed.
Occasionally there are also comments on Lucas's Enhanced Edition of the movie. The scene between Han and Jabba the Hut, filmed but not used in the first movie and replaced by the scene with Greedo, then inserted into the later Expanded version, contains roughly the same plot information as the scene with Greedo; and in the Doescher version he has Han comment that he has just had this conversation.
One of my favorite humorous touches from the play comes at the end of the scene where Han kills Greedo:
HAN: [To innkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess.There are some choices Doescher makes which I could quibble with. He frequently uses a Chorus to cover transition between scenes, which strike me as cumbersome. I'm not sure how he could have done it better, though. He also has Artoo occasionally address the audience directly in intelligible English, to explain what he is doing; which is the type of thing such a character in a Shakespeare play might do, but it just seems odd coming from Artoo.
[Aside:] And whether I shot first, I'll ne'er confess!
But I enjoyed the book. The use of language is fun and the characters well drawn. And speaking of drawing, the book features some very fine illustrations by Nicolas Delort depicting the characters in Elizabethan dress. In the end, as the fellow says, All's Well that Ends Well.
There let our heroes rest free from attack,
Till darkness rise and Empire striketh back.