Being both a literary geek and pop culture fanboy, JUICE caught up with the author behind the ingenious idea of combining Star Wars stories with Shakespearian language when he was down for this year’s iteration of The Cooler Lumpur Festival. Unsurprisingly, our time with the man is spent on discussing the possibility of a Star Trek parody and whether he believes Star Wars to be the greatest sci-fi series of all time.
Disclaimer: You may want to have tissue papers nearby if you are a diehard fan.
What was the initial idea behind combining Shakespeare with Star Wars?
Three things happened around the same time the idea came about; I rewatched the Star Wars trilogy with some friends and not long after that I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was one the first mash-up books I’d read, then I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my family. And while we were at the festival, we saw a play called The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa, which was a modern take of The Merry Wives of Windsor, and so I had Shakespeare and Star Wars mash-ups running around in my head and it was at the festival that I had the idea to do this.
Do you believe that Star Wars is the greatest sci-fi franchise of all time?
I grew up loving the franchise but whether I would say [they’re] the greatest movie[s] of all time? Probably not. I think what makes a great movie is when it tells a great story, it has characters that are compelling and makes some sort of emotional impact on me. Schindler’s List was one that completely struck me. I watched it while I was in college, I was weeping at the end and my two Jewish roommates were like, “What’s wrong?” And I’m sobbing and telling them that I had just watched the movie and I started to say “It’s not like…” and I stopped myself and one of the more sarcastic of the two Jewish roommates said, “What? It’s not like anybody died!” And I started apologising. It’s movies like that that I feel are great.
Why the use of Shakespearean language as opposed to any other theme?
Shakespeare has a very identifiable voice and it’s what I know — I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare and thought I could pull off not just a cheap Shakespeare parody but something that was hopefully doing Shakespeare honour. Also knowing that Star Wars and Shakespeare are two very culturally popular entities and to be able to combine them — I knew that if it were something that was going to be published, it had a chance of being popular.
Would there be a Star Trek series in the works by any chance?
It would sure be fun. I’ve thought about it and the big question is “What would you do?” The shows? Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan? — one of the best of the movies — and maybe it would be fun to write a Shakespeare play with Star Trek characters. Like Captain Kirk as Prospero from The Tempest.
If you could stop people from associating Star Wars with something, what would it be?
Partially I feel there’s a dislike and criticism that gets heaved on to George Lucas. I wish we could remove that only because Star Wars fans at their core tend to be nice and optimistic, and I feel like this sort of hatred for our ‘creator’ brings us down a notch.
How did you learn to write in this style?
When I was a freshman in high school and we started learning about rhythm and meter, it sorta just clicked with me and it made sense. Writing in that rhythm took some time and my writing process was I’d have the DVD of the movie on my computer and the script online, I’d watch a few seconds and hear a line of dialogue to remind myself what the line was, and if I needed, look something up in the script (i.e. a minor character name) and then I’d think, “Okay, how can I translate this to Shakespeare?” Putting all those elements in one by one, then giving certain characters specific rules (like Yoda speaks in haiku), I had to observe those as I went through. That was the overall process — I would give myself a goal everyday; three minutes of the movie tonight and if you do that enough, eventually you’d have completed the whole thing.
Were you one of those kids that were constantly reading?
When I was a kid I was always a good reader but I didn’t take off with a passion for books until after college, and it was not until after college that I started writing well and I link those things in my mind: The more you read, the more you’d pick up on how other people use language and different styles that people have and from that figure out what your style is. But you have to try out different things, I still maintain a vicious schedule of reading – I read four to five books a month. I just feel like it’s so necessary to read if you want to be a good writer.
What are the biggest misconceptions of Shakespeare? People usually think the language is very intimidating…
Yes, that’s number one for me. He has this reputation of not only being great but also being for ‘the elite people’ – in the US anyway. But when he was writing, he was writing popular entertainment of his day. It’s getting past that fear is what it takes to get into Shakespeare and that’s one of the things that I hope to do with my books — hope they become a bridge to Shakespeare for kids. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about how hard and inaccessible Shakespeare is.
Do you think the internet serves as a good platform for aspiring writers?
It’s equally as bad as it is good. It’s funny ‘cos when you first asked that question I was like, “Gosh, I’m not sure,” [but] then immediately I thought that that’s how I published my book! What happened was I had the idea and I looked to see who published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – it’s Quirk Books in Philadelphia – I looked them up online and there was their editor’s email address and I used my free email account to write to him. So yeah, the internet absolutely made it possible. It put so many resources at your fingertips and even during the writing process — finding the script online and discovering Wookiepedia and being able to access that and acquiring deeper Star Wars knowledge, it’s absolutely a good platform.
As a writer, how do you determine whether your body of work is good enough to be published?
You finish the entire process, the book comes out, you’re reading it and you think, “I should’ve written that better.” I think there are always things you wish you’d done differently and there are always people telling you not to read the reviews. If the first book had come out and people said “This sucks! This is a terrible parody!” Then I would’ve felt really bad about myself and thankfully that didn’t happen. My agent and editor will tell me when I’m having an idea that’s not a good one and so I just hope that over time I’m writing stuff that people are having fun with and I’m adding some sort of goodness into the world because of it.
Is there a particular Shakespeare quote that resonates with you?
There’s a line from Hamlet that I’ve held with me since I was a senior in high school and it’s “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” You just have to be ready for what’s coming next.
The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2015’s Star Wars and Shakespeare: A Conversation with Ian Doescher talk went down on Sunday 14 June ’15.