“Star Wars” fans have Ian Doescher to thank for giving them another way to experience the original trilogy. As the author who transformed the scripts into Shakespearean plays, he could be considered the bard of Alderaan.
In rapid succession, Doescher published “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” (July 9, 2013), “The Empire Striketh Back” (March 18) and “The Jedi Doth Return” (July 1). The latter’s cover features a memorable illustration of Jabba the Hutt in full Elizabethan garb.
Doescher, 37, works for a marketing firm in Portland, Ore., where he lives with wife Jennifer and two young sons. One of the firm’s biggest clients is in Kingfisher. Doescher isn’t a Shakespearean scholar. He’d never written a book before. Yet he managed to write three best-selling plays in iambic pentameter — Shakespeare’s meter of choice — in about two years.
The plays, published by Quirk Books, are frankly absurd, but therein lies their merit. Conflating Shakespeare with George Lucas — infamous for his heavy-handed writing — is ridiculous on every level, yet Doescher’s tales cast the “Star Wars” films in a different light, more melodramatic in parts and yet overall far funnier and well worth the read.
Consider, for example, the famous battle at the Sarlacc Pit in “Return of the Jedi.” Luke, Han and others are on a floating skiff, about to be dumped into the pit to suffer the torment of being slowly devoured. Leia, still in her metal bikini, is chained to Jabba. Suddenly R2D2 fires a lightsaber from a hidden compartment, and Luke easily catches it, transforming from victim to predator. But Luke doesn’t know that Boba Fett is about to shoot him. Here’s how Doescher wrote what happens next.
FETT I have thee in my sights now, Jedi. Thou shalt
Feel the pow’r of my rockets, and be no more.
HAN — Boba Fett? What Boba Fett, and where?
(Han Solo moves and activates Boba Fett’s jets,
sending him flying into the pit.
FETT Alas! The greatest Fett shall not die like this!
O horrid Fate! Where is now my great reward?
Boba Fett falls into pit and dies.
Doescher will talk about his work and sign books from 2 to 3 p.m. July 20 in the Connor’s Cove room at the Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E 93rd St., Tulsa.
He spoke with The Oklahoman in advance of his visit. Here is an edited transcript.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to rewrite the “Star Wars” trilogy in Shakespearean language?
A: A couple years ago, I watched the “Star Wars” trilogy with some good friends of mine and then I read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” — one of those first mash-up books — and then right after that I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my family. So I sort of attribute it to having those three things all running through my head at once. It was at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that I had the idea to write it.
Q: I was going to mention that your books remind me of other Quirk books, specifically “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
A: It’s something that’s become this sort of mini-genre, mash-ups, and I knew that it was quirky, stuff like “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.” So I did a little research and came up with Quirk Books’ name, and a couple months after I looked them up and approached them about the idea.
Q: Obviously they were receptive.
A: What happened is the editor’s name is on the website, so I just wrote him and said I have this idea; what do you think about it? He said, “Well, it’s an interesting idea. Did you actually write any of it? Let me know, and I’ll take a look at it.” That was enough motivation for me to settle in and write the first act of the first book. I sent it off to him, and here we are.
Q: Is your background in English literature? It’s no mean feat to write three books in iambic pentameter.
A: It’s not. ... I studied religion in graduate school, but I always loved Shakespeare. It’s always been a passion of mine. I think it helped the whole thing out that I hadn’t studied Shakespeare more formally, because that way it could remain something that I love and not something I feel obligated to do.
Q: I remember growing up with the movies, going to see them in the theater. Was that your experience, too, or did you just get to see “Return of the Jedi” in the theater?
A: Exactly. I saw “Return of the Jedi” when it first came out. I was six years old at the time. But I remember growing up with the movies, and of course the action figures and all that. “Star Wars” has really been a part of my life since I had any clear memories. ... In fact, I now wish I hadn’t, but I got rid of my action figures at one point.
Q: Now that you’ve completed the original Star Wars trilogy, what’s next? Are you going to take on the prequels?
A: I don’t think so. We sort of talked about it, the publisher and I. I don’t think it’s ... people don’t really want three versions of “The Phantom Menace.” A friend of mine had the suggestion that I could take all three of the prequels and put them into a single play. I could see doing that, but I don’t think separate volumes are necessarily what people want. ... If it does happen, I think it’ll happen in some sort of different format.
Q: Has writing three best-selling books been lucrative? You mentioned you kept your day job.
A: The way it works when you do a “Star Wars” book is that Lucasfilm basically takes a pretty big chunk out of what would typically be royalties. It’s their intellectual property, so they get a piece of the pie. So I have made some dollars from this — I’m not complaining — but it has not at this point been a quit-your-day-job kind of venture.
Q: George Lucas has been notoriously protective of “Star Wars.” I wondered how that worked out for you.
A: The interesting thing, actually, was once I sent that portion of the mansucript to Jason at Quirk, he sent it on to Lucasfilm. They were the ones who came back — I had stayed very close to the original story and dialogue and that sort of thing; I was not embellishing or adding in elements. They came back and said, “We like where you’re going, you know, what it is so far, but we’d like you to do a little more, basically have fun with it, try to take it beyond the movie.” So I went back and revised it and started having R2D2 speak in English and things like that. So it was fascinating. Yes, they are protective, and yet if you’re going to do something with them, they want it to be kind of unique. It was also interesting to see during the editing process where their boundary lines were or weren’t. It was OK for me to have R2D2 speaking in English, but I had a soliloquy where Darth Vader was basically expressing a bit of remorse about going and killing innocent people on Alderaan, and they looked at that and said, “No, no. As of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV,’ Darth Vader has no remorse about doing that.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Working on a couple different things. A novel. Trying to find the right project. I do certainly hope that there’ll be other Ian Doescher books out there at some point. I don’t have any clear answers on what they’re going to be right now.