The Phantom Of Menace

I had mentioned in earlier articles how I had seen Shakespearean adaptations of Episodes IV-VI and was appalled that the author would start there as opposed to I-III, which by themselves are truly Shakespearean epics in their own right.

Well, apparently enough people agreed with me in order to change the author’s mind on the subject. After doubting he would address them, Ian Doescher announced that he was indeed working on them – partially due to fan demand and partially due to his kids’ love of the entire saga. While I was happy, I was also worried about how they would be handled by someone who had been admittedly less than thrilled with I-III.

I had not read his other adaptations yet, so I picked up “The Jedi Doth Return” (I could only afford one, and me being the rebel that I am I picked up the last one – hey, it was the first one I saw as a toddler, so it seemed appropriate). Though I did have a few minor issues that I will address later, I enjoyed the book thoroughly, and it’s the kind of thing that, as an actor, I’d love to stage – or at least do a dramatic reading of.

And so, last month William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace was released. I got my hands on a copy as quickly as I could – not quickly enough for the most topical of reviews but quick enough for Phantom’s 16th anniversary next week.

I am very happy to report that, by and large, this is one of the most faithful, fun, and respectful adaptations I’ve seen of this film. It was a joy to read, and it was beautifully put together in script form with illustration of how it might have been performed.

Now, speaking as someone who has a degree in theatre, if I were to stage this (and believe me, if nobody else has one that I can get in on, I most certainly will one way or another), there would definitely be some…edits.

First and foremost, Act IV Scene 5 needs some MAJOR re-writes, as it makes it clear that Doescher does not understand midichlorians at all, nor does he expect anyone else to. Furthermore, the scene starts with two Jedi discussing the aesthetics of I-III and reinforcing the false “advanced technology” criticism. Once again, for the record, the technology in I-III is NOT more advanced than that of IV-VI. It is just prettier because people could afford to make things pretty when there wasn’t a major war followed by a despotic regime. Things were new before they were used, people, why is this so hard to understand?!

 

At any rate, I’m not sure I would completely strike the two Jedi, as some of the dialogue could be re-worked to make the Jedi Dooku and Syfo-Dias talking about Syfo-Dias’ vision of the future leading to the creation of the Clone Army, but I would not feel comfortable putting that part up the way it’s written and would leave it out before I did that. As for the midichlorian scene, the only real issue is a jab Anakin has after the conversation, where he says “If I have heard aright, it seems to me the midichlorians make a tough cell.” Clearly the pun is “tough sell,” and is unnecessary and ignorant, and Qui-Gon’s insistence that “Thou art not alone, if thou canst not the midichlorians yet understand” is reference enough to the confusion some people had.

Frankly, that’s the only part that I took issue with as a fan. As a performer, I also have issue with the use of Huttese that other characters have to translate – especially when some of the subtitled lines are so memorable and thus completely omitted as it is currently. This is the major criticism I had carrying over from “Jedi”. In a staging, had I free artistic license of course, I would omit the Huttese in favor of iambic pentameter versions of the subtitles.

I would also love to pick Doescher’s brain as to the inclusion of Rumor as a Chorus-style character opening some scenes, and his giving lines to Naboo’s aquafauna to try and connect the planet core journey to the schemes of Sidious. As it stands, my first instinct would be to omit them as unnecessary and weird, but in this case I would allow the author to convince me of his intention before making a final judgement.

Everything else is gold. Even what he does with Jar Jar – in this version, Jar Jar’s bumbling and innocent personality is merely a mask for a cynical yet equality-minded revolutionary that he dons to use humans’ prejudices against them. While I disagree wholeheartedly with the reasoning behind such a change – Jar Jar is fine the way he is and makes a good symbol on his own – the execution is just too perfect and enjoyable.

 

The true testament as to how great an adaptation this is, is that as I was reading along I found myself getting the thrills I get whenever I sit down to watch the movie proper, and I felt giddy as my favorite lines were reimagined as Shakespearean text in ways where the spirit is still very much intact.

Other highlights include:

  • Watto constantly talks in malapropisms, a nod to Dogberry from “Much Ado About Nothing.”
  • The Podrace is portrayed through Padmé and Jar Jar reporting back to Qui-Gon and Shmi like battlefield messengers, intercut with Fode and Bede’s commentary.
  • Maul actually gets some decent speeches.
  • Before the Theed Hanger fight, Qui-Gon gives Maul a Shakespearean version of Liam Neeson’s infamous speech from “Taken.” Yes, it’s an obvious and done-to-death reference and totally doesn’t fit with either Qui-Gon or the setting, but I got a chuckle out of it.

If you’re a Saga fan who is hesitant to pick this up, don’t be. Aside from Act IV Scene 5, this is a beautiful and lovingly created adaptation that will delight most fans of Shakespeare, Star Wars, or both. While you’re at it, pick up the IV-VI ones as well (I hope to procure “Verily, A New Hope” and “The Empire Striketh Back” soon).

I eagerly await “The Clone Army Attacketh” in July and “The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge” in September. And you can bet Disney will tap Doescher to cover VII-IX eventually too.

For more of Adam’s articles click here.

Adam lives with his wife in Providence, Rhode Island USA (a wife who was gracious enough to allow “Across the Stars” as their wedding processional). Adam plays World of Warcraft, writes and manages the self-indulgent blog “Nilbog’s Storybook Land”, and attempts (often in vain) to complete his novel. He secretly hopes that the production of the new Star Wars films will lead to open auditions.