Shakespeare’s Star Wars and Other Thoughts: An Interview with Ian Doescher

Ian_Doescher_Shakespeares_Star_WarsIan Doescher is the author of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily a New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and the upcoming The Jedi Doth Return. He is also a song-writer who once spent a year writing geeky songs about his home town, Portland, Oregon. Here, he takes time to discuss his work with FanboyNation’s Jessica Greenlee.

Jessica Greenlee When did you decide to write a Shakespearean Star Wars?

Ian Doescher In the middle of 2012, three things happened in close succession: I rewatched the entire Star Wars trilogy with good friends of mine, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (one of the first in the mash-up genre of literature), and my family and I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. So I attribute the idea for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars to those three things colliding in my brain.

J. G.When did you first encounter Shakespeare’s work?

I.D. When I was in eighth grade, my brother Erik was a senior in high school and was reading Hamlet. I thought he was cool so I bought a copy of Hamlet myself, so I could be reading it with him. I hardly touched it, but from that point on I at least told myself I was into Shakespeare. The next year, as a freshman in high school, we read Othello in English class and I was hooked. I had been very involved in theater, so reading something for English class that was also something that was meant to be performed was fun. I was the nerd who would memorize the soliloquys and then perform them standing on my desk in English class. I had patient teachers.

J. G.How do you prepare for writing the books on the Star Wars side?

Star-Wars-Shakespeare-Verily-a-New-HopeI.D. The writing process was a matter of sitting down with my computer with the DVD of whichever movie I was working on in it, and the online script (thank you, blueharvest.net!) open. Then, I would watch a few seconds of the movie, remind myself of the exact dialogue, look to the script in case there were details I needed (minor characters’ names, for instance), and then see how those lines might translate into something approximating Elizabethan English. I usually would try to get two or three minutes of the movie finished each night when I sat down to write.

J. G.What about the Shakespeare side of things? Do you reread a lot of plays? Watch them? Memorize speeches?

I.D. I’ve found myself reading through snippets of plays, and I’ve seen a handful of plays performed since I started writing the Star Wars books, but I haven’t actually read through a whole play in a few years. I’d like to go back through and reread the complete works (something I did back in 1999), but I haven’t made the time for it yet.

J. G.You have mentioned elsewhere that Return of the Jedi is your favorite Star Wars movie. Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? Do you have any favorite movie or stage versions of any play or plays?

I.D. I think my favorite Shakespeare play overall is Hamlet, though I’m also a big fan of The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. That list is heavily influenced by the fact that I was in high school and college when Kenneth Branagh made Much Ado and Hamlet. I love Julie Taymor’s Tempest, and I also saw an amazing production of The Tempest in college that was staged around the college’s Olympic-quality pool. Great concept.

J. G.You draw from both Romeo and Juliet and Beatrice and Benedick for Han and Leia. Which couple do you think they are most like?

I.D. Definitely Beatrice and Benedick—I think Han and Leia enjoy the parrying back and forth they do with each other. Romeo and Juliet had passion, but didn’t use their wits on each other, and Han and Leia definitely do.

J. G. What made you decide that the Wampa needed a monologue in The Empire Striketh Back?

I.D. When I sat down to start writing Empire, I knew I wanted the second book to be even more “out there” in terms of the choices I made, even more unexpected surprises for people who knows the movies backward and forward and maybe had already read William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. The wampa presented that opportunity early on in Empire, hopefully a way to signal to readers, “Hey, we’re going to have a lot of fun here.”

J. G What is something you are particularly looking forward to presenting in The Jedi Doth Return? Is there a particular character or relationship we should be watching for?

I.D. As I’ve worked on Jedi, it has been fun finding something new to do with the Ewok speech. I’ve already played around with non-English dialogue in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and The Empire Striketh Back, so I wanted to find something totally new to do with the Ewoks. Also, it has been fun getting inside Darth Vader’s head as he transforms from someone who is totally evil into someone who can imagine saving his son from the clutches of the Emperor.

J. G.Is there any character that you especially like or that gave you extra difficulty?

I.D. Writing Luke has been surprisingly fun, because I never loved him that much in the movies (particularly Star Wars). I’ve enjoyed giving voice to characters who don’t otherwise get to talk much—like the Wampa—because that has been a fun exercise in imagination: “What would that character say?”

J. G. Do you have any plans for future Shakespearean works other than Star Wars?

I.D. Possibly. But nothing is certain yet!

empire striketh backJ. G. You’re also a song-writer with four albums out. Are there more albums to come? Do you tend to stick to one particular style or vary your approach? Is there a song or songs you think we should listen to to get an idea of what you write?  And, is this why the Ugnaughts sing in Cloud City?

I.D. Music has been a passion for me since high school—just like Shakespeare—so I will always keep writing music and singing. In terms of something that exemplifies my songwriting, “The Elephant Swing” or “Mr. Zamboni Man” probably come pretty close. They’re a cappella, they’re totally ridiculous. After writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and adding in a song for Leia when Alderaan is destroyed, I knew I wanted to add more songs to the subsequent books. Hence the Ugnaughts. (And yes, I’ve definitely imagined how their song would sound!)

J. G. How much do your musical interests influence your written work? Is there music you tend to listen to when you write?

I.D. Honestly, I think the answer is there’s not a lot of crossover, except for the fact that lots of lyric writing over the years has helped me be more fluid (and more picky) with meter and rhyme. And that definitely helped. I almost never listen to music when I write. Anything with words distracts me too much, so if I listen to anything, it’s classical (Bach is a particular favorite).

J.G. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this!

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