Star Wars Book Review: The Phantom of Menace

  • Author: Ian Doescher
  • 168 Pages
  • Published in 2015

I’ve had my eye on these Shakespearean versions of Star Wars for a long time now. I’m no Shakespeare expert, but I did enjoy reading his plays in school, and later on my own. And I’ve long believed that Star Wars is just basically Shakespeare in space.

I decided to go chronologically and start with The Phantom of Menace, and perhaps work my way through all of them the rest of this year. They’re quick reads and immense fun, in my opinion (if you hated Shakespeare in school, you may have a different opinion, lol).

So of course it’s set up like any Shakespeare play, with a Dramatis Personae (list of characters); and the Chorus is there to set the stage and serves as the opening scroll we’re so used to seeing in Star Wars:

“Alack! What a dreadful turmoil hath beset

The strong Republic and its bonds of peace.

O’er distant trade routes all do sigh and fret

As fears of grim taxation do increase…”

The play is divided into five acts, often opened by “Rumor”, setting up the story or scene. The characters speak in the style of Shakespeare, of course, but are much easier to understand than the bard’s characters, who often used words in Middle English that we’re unfamiliar with. They often tell the story as they’re speaking, and use asides to reveal what they’re thinking. Like Shakespeare’s characters, they often begin or end a scene with a soliloquy, a long speech spoken to themselves and the audience, revealing what’s going on in their hearts and minds.

What really stood out to me in this story was the treatment of Jar Jar Binks. In the films he is portrayed as a foolish, naive character, akin to a clown or a fool in Shakespeare’s plays. But Doescher does something else here: Jar Jar does indeed play the fool to the other characters, but in numerous asides he reveals that he’s not as dumb as he appears or sounds–in fact, he’s quite intelligent, and only acts foolish to throw off the other characters. It’s simpy a ruse to hide his true intentions, which is to cause the Gungans and the Naboo to work together to defeat the Federation. He feels that if he simply comes out and says this, no one will listen, so he acts silly and brings about his desires in a roundabout way:

“A man approacheth, cloth’d in Jedi garb.

Belike this man brings aid unto Naboo

Such as will help my people and my land.

Mayhap this is the chance I have desir’d!

For I have wander’d lo these many months

A’thinking o’er this planet’s dreary fate:

Two peoples separated by their fear

And prejudice, which o’er doth make us shirk

From giving help unto each other. Aye,

It may be that the only hope for us

To be united is to realize

That our two fates are tightly knit as one.

Perchance this Jedi, follow’d by these droids,

Doth bring the words to break our deep mistrust.

I shall make introduction, in my way–

Portray the part that I have learn’d so well:

It doth befit the human prejudice

To think we Gungans simple, low, and rude.

I shall approach him thusly, yet shall bend

Him to the path that shall assist us all.

Put on thy simple wits now, Jar Jar Binks:

Thus play the role of clown to stoke his pride.

In the next moment, he’s falling all over Qui-Gon: “Oh moiee-moiee, I so luvee!” etc.

It thought this was a brilliant move on the part of the author; and he explains why he did this in an afterward. Jar Jar also was not banished because he was clumsy, but because of his radical ideas. This is a great redemption of Jar Jar, a character who has long been ridiculed and, perhaps, misunderstood.

I also love how the creatures of the deep that chase Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in Naboo’s sea are creatures of light and dark battling for the Jedi. The Opee is sent by Sidious to destroy the Jedi, while Sando the aqua monster is sent by the Jedi Council to guard them. Sando eats Opee, leading to Qui-Gon’s famous line, “There’s e’er a bigger fish,” although the lead-up to this line is a long philosophical speech.

Even R2D2 gets some lines here besides beeps and boops, with asides like:

“It is time to serve and prove my worth!

I would the brave Republic serve with pride,

For I do long for some advent’rous life,

With galaxies to see and quests to take,

And even more: I long to be inspir’d

And join a noble cause to which I may

Contribute all my strength and skill and wit.

Now, to it, R2, serve thy very best!

Even though it’s not really alluded to in the movies, I’ve seen many instances of fans “shipping” Qui-Gon and Shmi Skywalker; in other words, that they have romantic feelings for each other. Here, the idea is given credence:

Qui Gon: Thou knowest, I do hope, how much I wish

We could take thee withal. Some part of me

Remaineth here, with thee, on Tatooine.

Shmi: Indeed, I know. In taking my sweet boy,

You take with you my heart, and it is yours.

Pray, treat it well.

Qui-Gon: –‘Twil be my life’s pursuit.

And now farwell, dear lady. Be at peace.

One of the more curious entries in the play is a dialogue between two Jedi, simply labelled as Jedi 1 and Jedi 2. Jedi 1 has just been perusing the archives, and the other questions him about it. It seems Jedi 1 has found a pattern in the history of the galaxy wherein “There is a backward movement in the Force,” where the things that seem commonplace would in a few decades seem futuristic. Their ships will be duller, the Jedi will lose their skills, even fashion will regress.

Jedi 2 asks him what he’ll do with this discovery, and the other says that at first he thought he’d tell Yoda, but instead he’ll tell Palpatine:

Jedi 1: A noble sort of fellow, good and kind.

I shall inform him of the things to come.

Jedi 2: Art thou most sure thou shoudst not give this news

To one among the Jedi, worthy friend?

If it should be the Jedi are less skill’d,

Should not this news be shar’d among our own?

Jedi 1: Alas, we Jedi are becoming known

For our mistrust of others! Truth, this news

Shall show us ready for collaboration:

The Jedi and the politicians join’d

As one in mind, with peaceful harmony.

I’m not sure what to make of this exchange, except that perhaps a chance was missed to inform the Jedi of things to come (although it’s doubtful they would have put any stock in it; they seem to have a disdain for any prophecies, though in this case it’s a “pattern”); and that Palpatine was simply given more confirmation of his eventual success in destroying the Jedi. I thought it was a bit strange and perhaps unnecessary, but it does add to the foreshadowing of Order 66.

There’s also some great artwork by Nicolas Delort, with characters dressed in Elizabethan costumes.

I just love this different perspective on Star Wars, and can’t wait to read the next installment, The Clone Army Attacketh.

Have you read any of Ian Doescher’s Shakespeare’s Star Wars books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Check out my other blog Star Wars: My Point of View, for all things Star Wars!

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