T. S. Eliot famously wrote that “April is the cruelest month”—and William Shakespeare may be apt to agree with him, as he died on April 23, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon shortly after his fifty-second birthday. However, though the Bard himself passed away, his work and his words have proven immortal. It’s impossible to know if Shakespeare was cognizant of the way in which his tragedies, comedies, and histories would persist throughout the centuries. Who knows? Maybe he wouldn’t have been surprised in the least that in the twenty-first century he still takes center stage in English classes across the globe (or that his plays are still performed at that other Globe). Still, could he, in all his wisdom and piercing insight into humanity, ever have predicted that someday there would be a Shakespearean retelling of Star Wars? Probably not.
Jabba the Hutt and iambic pentameter may at first glance not seem to be a match made in heaven, but as Shakespeare himself wrote in Sonnet 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / admit impediments.” After all, who is better suited for unlikely, star-crossed pairings than William Shakespeare? And the timing couldn’t be better: recently the Star Wars franchise has been reinvigorated by the release of The Force Awakens—which was a box office success and fan favorite—and with the announcement of additional movies, such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the appetite for all things Star Wars is approaching new highs.
Ian Doescher, the author of the six-book William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series published by Quirk Books—featuring titles such as The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return—reimagines one of our culture’s most beloved stories from the lens of our language’s most masterful writer. This feat has inspired educators to approach old material in a brand new way or to incorporate classic literature into units on science fiction and fantasy. Star Wars is itself an iteration of an immortal concept—The Hero’s Journey—and what better way to honor Shakespeare during the month of both his birth and his death than to explore the ways in which his use of language is still thriving and evolving in the classrooms of today?
Teachers such as Adam Watson, who incorporated Doescher’s adaptations into his English classes at South Oldham High School in Crestwood, KY, seem to agree. “I thought Doescher would rely on the clever premise, crack a few jokes, and be forgettable,” writes Watson, “I was wrong. As I read, I marveled at Doescher’s craftsmanship. With its meticulous iambic pentameter, sparkling allusions both Shakespearean and in-universe, and a hefty sense of wit, I became a fan.” William Shakespeare’s Star Wars proved the perfect introduction for students, Watson found, to the often difficult language used in common high school texts such as Romeo and Juliet. By employing a familiar story and tools such as this online Star Wars sonnet generator, students are immediately more engaged and willing to wade through all of the “thou”s and “wherefore”s that pepper Shakespearean plays. (Click here to access Adam Watson’s lesson plans and other resources for teaching William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.)
Though the words “science fiction,” “Chewbacca,” and “movies” likely meant nothing to Shakespeare back in the sixteenth century, these two facts remain true: Shakespeare contributed immeasurably to the creation of the modern English language and his plays were written to be accessible to his contemporary audiences regardless of their place in society. As such, the anniversary of the Bard’s death seems as good a time as any to shine the spotlight on the educational possibilities of this new project that serves the same purpose today, using language in new, creative ways and rendering the works of Shakespeare all the more accessible to the students of today as a result.