Verily, This Doth Be Podracing!

Amidst all of "The Phantom Menace," I found the Podracing scene to be the hardest to endure.

Amidst all of “The Phantom Menace,” I found the Podracing scene to be the hardest to endure.

Yes…even harder to endure than Jar Jar Binks. The podracing scene was about ten solid minutes of race/chase, with stakes that were important to the “plot” but incomprehensibly stupid. Seriously, we are supposed to believe that a Jedi Master, responsible for maintaining peace in the Galaxy, is going to get involved in a byzantine gamble over a local race, with the fate of the entire planet Naboo hanging in the balance? Or that he is going to gamble, quite literally, with the freedom of two human beings? It’s an action sequence that makes Liam Neeson into a pretty shoddy good guy.

But…this post is not here to criticize or lambaste the Phantom Menace. Easily the WORST of all the Star Wars films, Phantom menace needs no further abuse from me. Critics have dismantled the film and its flaws for years….and I have nothing of real value to add to their lengthy and outspoken screeds. The art above is submitted for an entirely different, and more positive reason.

You see…I argued at length for the inclusion of a play by William Shakespeare in my course’s second semester this year. We settled on “Julius Caesar,” which I enjoy, but has a large number of challenges as course content. I like to perform Shakespeare;s plays in class, as sort of a performed “cold read,” with students assigned parts, and performing the blocking to the best of our improvised ability. It is tons of fun…but I have not been able to revisit this idea for a few years, for reasons endemic to my old school. Those reasons are gone with my change of venue, but one problem looms large.

Iambic pentameter. The very structure of Shakespeare’s language, even moreso than the vocabulary of the Elizabethan period, is intimidating to adults. If adults feel that it would be an impediment to understanding the story…young people feel that more keenly. They associate the name Shakespeare with HARD and INTIMIDATING, failing to grasp that he was the Michael Bey of his time period.

It was a problem that I needed to solve, and have been pondering all summer long. Finally, wandering the science fiction aisle of a Barnes and Noble, the answer (by author Ian Doescher) practically slapped me in the face.

It was actually facing me, cover out. “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Verily, A New Hope)” by Ian Doescher. The book is a retelling of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope as if it was penned by William Shakespeare. “The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify learners and masters alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.”

Except…it wasn’t.

Let’s be fair…it would have been the book that I was looking for, if I were looking for myself. Star Wars was released in 1977…I needed to stick to the prequel trilogy, I felt, to speak to my students. I’ve dealt with a large number of young people over the years, and this generation is more familiar, simply by being around for the big screen releases of the prequels, with those films and characters. What I needed was a story in iambic pentameter that was somewhat familiar, recognizable, and complete as a story on its own.

Then…I saw the book that I was looking for, a little to the right.

This...this was the book I needed.

This…this was the book I needed.

William Shakespeare’s “The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First” is also by Ian Doescher. The book was just released in April 2015. It is a retelling of “Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace,” the aforementioned worst of the Star Wars films, also as if written by William Shakespeare. Iambic pentameter and all. It met all of my criteria…complete story on its own, character familiarity, play style and structure…it was perfect for my purposes. I bought a copy to evaluate, thinking of setting up to get a class set donated to me if it met with expectations.

It far exceeded those expectations, and for that…I need to go back to the problem of Jar Jar Binks.

Jar Jar…a horrible, fan reviled character. So much wrong with the concept, from a character standpoint, that it isn’t worth going over. Doescher had to include him in the book…Lucasfilm expects a fairly on-point retelling. He also had an opportunity to “fix” some of that character’s problems, using the Shakespearean concept of the “aside.” Jar Jar’s awful speech pattern is replicated, but only when speaking to the CAST. When speaking to the audience in an aside, (in The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First) Jar Jar Binks is a savvy political operative who only plays the fool. His goal is to establish peace between his people, the Gungans and humans.

Wait what? I know….it’s a brilliant fix, using the style of the playwright. Check this dialogue in an aside, which explains all:

“I shall make introduction in my way, portray the part that I have learned so well. It doth befit the human prejudice to think we Gungans simple, low and rude. I shall approach him thusly. It shall bend him to the path that shall assist us all. Put on thy simple wits now, Jar Jar Binks; thus play the role of clown to stoke his pride.”

In case it slipped by, Jar Jar explains to the audience his plan to play the fool. By having Jar Jar address the audience, Ian Doescher gives him new depth. There’s still plenty of the dumb Jar Jar Binks that fans love to hate. But he’s given the character secret motivations worthy of the bard himself.

Add to that one of the central conceits of the film…when Natalie Portman changes her clothes, no one recognizes her. She can spend fully half the movie as “Padme,” masquerading as a commoner. This is exactly the same device used in the masque in “Romeo and Juliet,” or the confusion for comedy’s sake in “Twelfth Night.” It lends itself very strongly to an adaptation to Shakepearean theatre, to be sure.

Think of it as this summary: a tale in which a disguised queen, a young hero, and two fearless knights clash with a hidden, vengeful enemy. Fits very well with a fair number of the Bard’s plays, when said like that. Set it in star-crossed galaxy far away, this time revealing the tragedy, hubris, and doomed romance that will lead to the fall of the Republic and the rise of an Empire….and it adapts itself.

And let’s be fair…ALL of the dialogue is a direct improvement over Lucas’ script. It would have to be, iambic pentameter or not.

Also…the podracing scene is included….with actors periodically dashing across the stage, while reports of the daring race are provides to Qui-Gon by messengers, amidst character development of Shmi Skywalker. Much improved, because oddly, the second hand nature of the reports increases the urgency and tension, as we watch Shmi worry for her son’s safety. Straight up genius. It simply goes from a scene that is 100 percent effects and no character/dialogue, and reverses it…to no effects, and all character/dialogue.

The plan I have for this is simple. Education is fond of an idea called “Into, Through, and Beyond.” The “Into” segment is often used to explore prior knowledge of a subject, and generate interest in the study. “Phantom of Menace,” with its familiar plot and characters, is the “Into.” I want to spend a week in class, doing the play as a cold read with blocking, and discussing the events and divergences from the original, as they happen. It’s a pretty excellent way to disarm the language of Shakespeare’s time, while analyzing some of the storytelling elements as well.

Along the way, I’ve decided that in addition to the text, which I will need a class set of for scripts, it would be pretty excellent to have some costume pieces…an odd mishmosh of Star Wars costume parts and Elizabethan costuming elements. Certainly, a whole mess of neck ruffs, lightsabers, and tiaras. Thankfully, I have months to raise funds, and get a Donor’s Choose moving. I’m pretty sure the Force will be with that.

At this point, the podracing scene composition above should have explained itself. I’m not sure if the Hutts would let you enter a Flying Robot Pony in a podrace, but lets be fair…Tusken raiders shoot at the pods. The rules aren’t all that strict. Furthermore…I’m thinking she’s not a racer. I’m still pretty mad about the expectations/execution ratio of “Phantom Menace,” so it is entirely possible that the protagonist just plain has a beef with Toddler Darth. I know I still do.

I have a close friend who LOVES British tabloids, and perhaps a bit of tabloid journalism explains our hero’s motives somewhat. You see, this very summer, the actor who portrayed Toddler Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) was arrested after a Straight Up Crazy Car Chase. He was taken into custody after an insane car chase with police that ended when Jake plowed into some trees. Cops say Lloyd was driving in Charleston, South Carolina, when Sheriff’s deputies began pursuing him. The chase was underway and it went on for miles, into another COUNTY. Deputies say Jake began passing cars on the double yellow line and began driving recklessly, at high speeds. Eventually Jake lost control of his car, which ran off the road, through a fence and into a wooded area where it struck several trees.

The charges he was arrested for included reckless driving, failure to stop, resisting arrest and driving without a license.

Also…his mugshot is SCARY looking.

So first…someone should have told him “This is NOT podracing.” It’s entirely possible that he was having a flashback to one of the worst, most incoherent lines in the film, or six movie sequence, for that matter.

Secondly…it’s entirely possible that the protagonist is just chasing Jake Lloyd into another county, like other agents of the law in late June. It’s as good an explanation for the artwork as any.

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