Scribbler’s Saga #113 – Star Wars Part the First: The Phantom of Menace

Posted: May 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

Wow! Imagine reading Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the FirstBEFORE seeing the movie by George Lucas! I guess that covers the pull quote for this review. Anyway, I like Shakespeare and I like Star Wars, even the much-derided Episode One (well…in the sense of enjoying going to the dentist after the cleaning ends). Obviously, I’m all over the Shakespearean homage.

Truthfully, the play’s the play and nothing substantive changes (Mr. Doescher’s readers might get nasty in tragic ways if the plot changes…like that time I spent six months re-writing a three-hour version of The Return of the Jedi. Never mind). I have and will continue to savage the actual movie well into the future (see post). What I really like about this version that trades on the tropes and limitations of the Elizabethan stage for which Shakespeare and Marlowe dove in head first is how the union-mandated iambic pentameter, asides, soliloquies and verbal description of the action serves to make it very clear that perhaps we get to blame the movie a little bit more on decisions made after the script was locked.

The reader upon being told that a Shakespeare homage edition was contemplated might chuckle a little bit and ask many relevant questions.

How does the stage director depict the pod-race that eats up ten minutes in an otherwise lackluster movie that seems to hang its hat on the scene?

People run in and out reporting to Qui-Gon Jinn the results of the latest lap, while the pod racers occasionally run through in the foreground inside cardboard pods much like the hobby horses last seen in Monty Python’s: The Holy Grail.The Shakespearean battle scene that I thought it most reminded me of was Bosworth Field from Richard III (“Rescue, My Lord, Rescue!”), but there are other possibilities…Shakespeare liked him his battles and frequently did the same things over and over.

There’s a lot of people communicating across Galactic distances in holographic beams, so how do handle that, Buster?  

Guys, spotlights. A modern stage just flips the switch and there you are. If by some highly inexplicable time travel accident this script lands on Shakespeare’s desk and he, as was accused in movies like Anonymous, appropriates it as his own, the stagehands of the day had lanterns, mirrors and such. People can work it out.

Anyway, as I read the play, I couldn’t help but enjoy it far more than the movie that spawned it. Mostly, it was because Mr. Doescher dove in head first with the Jar-Jar Binks problem. In the movie, this amphibian Falstaff archetype either really pissed off the viewer as being too forced acting as the comedy relief. Too over the top with a mostly Jamaican (we think) patois that sparked some to go nuts trying to find hidden racial insensitivities in Star Wars. Or for the younger viewers for whom George Lucas always said the series was the primary audience, Jar-Jar was greater than sliced bread because kids tend to respond to people tripping over themselves to get a laugh.

 Doescher gives Jar-Jar one hell of a raison d’etre, to unify the Gungans and human Naboo in a vision of a shared planet that rises to meet all challenges together. Thus, he speaks the best possible rendition of his movie dialogue translated into iambic pentameter and then gives an aside to the audience delivered in what in the Star Wars galaxy is the local equivalent of Received Pronunciation (also in iambic pentameter). Jar-Jar doing things intentionally and telling the audience why goes a long way towards feeling better about the character.

Another character that gets a small amount of interesting of asides is Artoo. We just have to take it on trust that Threepio isn’t intentionally mistranslating our favorite astro-mech droid. In the play, Artoo reveals he might be the smartest character in the room sussing out Jar-Jar. Everybody else just talks over and around our least favorite Frog Clown.

All through the play, the dialogue plays out clever with a capital C. There are references to other Shakespeare lines and more importantly references to dialogue the actors played in other movies. Basically, Mr. Doescher has used his library card well.

Truthfully, I missed many of the promised Samuel L. Jackson-isms probably because I don’t know, brain freeze (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). However, I didn’t fail to miss some biggies posted thirty feet tall in neon. Qui-Gon Jinn picks the last fight (in the movie set to “Duel of the Fates”) with Darth Maul dropping in extra dialogue much like Kung Fu movie fighters pointing out the people with whom they’re going to mop the floor. 

Pay attention, just before the saber merge Qui-Gon says the words “I have skills.” If we could only have a daughter for the Jedi master to rescue from traffickers (and perhaps a more forgiving screenwriter), you think maybe he’d survive this one. And when Maul skewers the Jedi, the exit line is “et tu, Sith.” Perhaps not as rhyming as “et tu, Brute,” but I’ll take it.

This play, even starting from the hardest Star Wars movie to watch, is simply excellent fun for people who enjoy both Shakespeare and The Galaxy Far, Far Away and Long Ago. Now to see if Disney actually releases it onto the stage…    

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