Some excerpts from our interview with author Ian Doescher, which appeared in March’s State of the Thing.
Ian Doescher is currently the Creative Director at Pivot Group LLC in Portland, OR. He has B.A. in Music, a Master of Divinity, and a Ph.D. in Ethics. His first book was the New York Times best seller, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, released in July 2013, and its sequel, The Empire Striketh Back is out this month from Quirk Books.
Ian was kind enough to chat with me about the Bard, the Empire, and what we can expect to see from him next!
While it’s generally safe to assume that everybody and their kid brother knows the gist of the original Star Wars trilogy at this point, some of our readers may not be so familiar. What is the original trilogy about, in your mind?
Overall, I would say it’s the tale of how a group of rebels overthrew a mighty, power-hungry Empire. Within that, it’s the story of a man who has a transformation from innocence to pain to evil to redemption (Darth Vader), and other young people who are learning what destiny has in store for them (Luke, Leia, Han). Along the way we get to meet some interesting and hilarious characters. There’s my elevator pitch for the series!
You said in an earlier interview at Giant Freakin Robot that you’ve seen Star Wars 40–50 times at this point. How many times did you watch Episode V while writing this book?
It wasn’t so much a matter of watching it over and over as it was a matter of watching little bits at a time. I would watch a little snippet of the movie—a few seconds—to remind myself of the dialogue, then look at the script online if needed. After that, I would translate the lines into iambic pentameter, see if I could add any references or give a character an aside or soliloquy, and then move on. So I watched the movie once, very, very slowly.
After the success of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope, was it easier or harder to write The Empire Striketh Back? What was the hardest part of writing it?
It definitely was easier to write The Empire Striketh Back, if only because at this point iambic pentameter is much easier to write since I’ve had so much practice. I now have this strange (and useless) ability to recognize iambic pentameter when I hear it in normal everyday conversation, in a movie, and so on. The hardest part about writing Empire was that I had roughly half the time to write it than I did for Verily, A New Hope.
Yes, much more with Empire than with Verily, A New Hope. With the first book, I wasn’t really imagining it as something that would ever be performed or something people would want to perform. But after hearing from theater groups around the world who want to perform the first book, staging was very much on my mind the second time around. Consequently, I think I made better use of what you would actually find in an Elizabethan stage — a balcony, the overall breadth of the stage, etc.
You hinted in the afterword that Han and Leia’s dynamic turned toward being similar to that of Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Did you model Darth Vader off of any particular Shakespearean character(s)? You did a great job of giving him more depth than we see on the screen in the original movie.
I don’t know that Darth Vader is necessarily modeled after a particular character, but he’s definitely a sweeping tragic figure along the lines of King Lear or Othello—someone who is driven by external forces to push away those he loves, only to find out at the end of his life how wrong he was. I think the six-movie Star Wars story could easily be called The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.
In this book, we finally meet Yoda, and you had a very interesting way of dealing with his idiosyncratic speech patterns (Yoda speaks strictly in haiku). How did you come up with this idea, and was it harder to write Yoda’s lines than any of the other characters?
After the first book, many people said to me, “They all sound like Yoda now!” I knew I had my work cut out for the second book in terms of what to do with Yoda. None of my three original ideas—using modern speech, using his lines verbatim, or using even more antiquated speech (something like Chaucer)—really moved me. I was jogging one morning—always a good time to think—when the idea of haiku came to mind, and instantly felt right. Luckily, Quirk Books and Lucasfilm agreed! I don’t know that it was harder to write Yoda’s lines, just a different way of checking my work (5-7-5 syllable pattern instead of iambic pentameter).