Sunday, July 31, 2016

'The Hunt for Red October' novel review (Naval Institute Press hardcover edition)

(C) 1984 U.S. Naval Institute Press
In 1984, the Naval Institute Press published “The Hunt for Red October,” Tom Clancy’s Cold War-era novel about a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, Jack Ryan, who leads a group of Anglo-American naval officers on a classified mission in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Their task: to assist 26 disenchanted Soviet Navy officers commanded by Captain First Rank Marko Ramius in a mass defection to the West – and take possession of the Red Navy’s newest ballistic missile submarine.

Clancy, who at the time owned a successful insurance agency in Maryland, was one of the first writers to have a work of fiction published by the Naval Institute Press. The Annapolis-based publishing arm of the U.S. Naval Institute is best known for non-fiction books and reference guides about the military – with a special focus on naval warfare, technology, and history. In 1984, when Clancy submitted his manuscript for “The Hunt for Red October” to the Press after being rejected by traditional publishers, an editor read it, recommended that it be published.

The suggestion was approved, Clancy received a $5,000 advance, and “The Hunt for Red October” was published as a first edition hardcover.

Clancy hoped to sell around 5,000 copies; the first edition – which is still in print 32 years later – sold 45,000 copies. “The Hunt for Red October” was well-received by book critics (Reid Beddow of The Washington Post said the novel was “the most satisfactory novel of a sea chase since C.S. Forester perfected the form.”) and government officials like former CIA Director Stansfield Turner (“An action-packed, suspenseful story that’s fun to read.”)

But as many of Clancy’s die-hard fans know, the review that launched “The Hunt for Red October” onto the bestseller lists was President Ronald Reagan’s. Reagan, who was one of Clancy’s conservative heroes, called his novel “the perfect yarn” during a nationally-televised press conference.

“The Hunt for Red October” takes place over a period of 18 days in December circa 1986. It begins at the Soviet Navy’s Northern fleet’s submarine base at Polyarnyy, where the Typhoon-class missile boat “Red October” is about to set sail. Her commanding officer, Captain First Rank Marko Ramius, is one of the Red Navy’s best sub skippers; a master seaman, he was given command of the lead boat of every new class of Soviet submarines by his superiors. The son of a senior Communist Party official, Ramius is the living example of the New Soviet Man, dedicated to his profession and loyal to the Party.

But in the Soviet Union, appearances are often deceptive. Beneath his fa├žade of a true believer in Communism and a loyal servant of the State, Marko Ramius is a man with a grudge. He is ashamed of his father’s deeds as a loyal Stalinist in post-World War II Lithuania, where the older Ramius helped suppress resistance to Soviet rule in the Baltic country annexed by Russia in 1940. He also hates a system that deprives its citizens of basic human rights and often rewards or protects incompetents because they have connections in the Communist Party.

As in director John McTiernan’s 1990 film adaptation, Ramius enlists the help of like-minded officers to carry out a daring plan: to take control of the “Red October” without the crew realizing it, then sail the submarine to the West – and defect.

To prevent the smarmy political officer. Ivan Putin, from interfering, Ramius murders him in his cabin and makes his death look like an accident. (“He slipped on the deck where I spilled my tea,” Ramius says to the ship’s doctor after the murder. ”I tried to keep him from falling, but he hit his head on the table.”)

Clancy interweaves the plotline of the canny Ramius’ conspiracy with the efforts of CIA analyst Jack Ryan to discover why the Soviet Navy is mounting a sudden “all-hands” sortie in the North Atlantic.

 A former Marine officer, stockbroker, and naval historian, Ryan is a young, brilliant Agency official assigned to the London station as part of a joint Anglo-American intelligence group.

Initially assigned to brief Deputy Director (Intelligence) James Greer about the strange new features of the “Red October,” Ryan begins to fit the various pieces of the “Red October” puzzle together and suggests that the Americans assist Ramius in his daring bid for freedom.     

In this fusion of traditional military fiction, contemporary science fiction based on real-life technology, elements of spy novels, and observations based on the social reality of the era, Clancy not only launched a spectacular literary career that made him a brand name – he also created a new literary genre called the techno-thriller.  

Using the spare, no-frills style that characterize the 16 Jack Ryan novels he wrote or co-wrote before his death in October of 2013, Clancy describes the moments before “Red October” begins its maiden voyage to a nearby area to participate in scheduled naval exercises.

“Captain!” The bridge speaker had a metallic voice. “Message from fleet headquarters.”

“Read it.”

“‘Exercise area clear. No enemy vessels in vicinity. Proceed as per orders. Signed, Korov, Fleet Commander.’”

“Acknowledged,” Ramius said. The speaker clicked off. “So, no Amerikantsi about?”

“You doubt the fleet commander?” Putin inquired.

“I hope he is correct,” Ramius replied, more sincerely than his political officer would appreciate. “But you remember our briefings.”

Putin shifted on his feet. Perhaps he was feeling the cold.

“Those American 688-class submarines, Ivan, the Los Angeleses. Remember what one of their officers told our spy? That they could sneak up on a whale and bugger it before it knew they were there? I wonder how the KGB got that bit of information. A beautiful Soviet agent, trained in the ways of the decadent West, too skinny, the way the imperialists like their women, blond hair…” The captain grunted amusement. “Probably the American officer was a boastful boy, trying to find a way to do something similar to our agent, no? And feeling his liquor, like most sailors. Still. The American Los Angeles class, and the new British Trafalgars, those we must guard against. They are a threat to us.”

“The Americans are good technicians, Comrade Captain,” Putin said, “but they are not giants. Their technology is not so awesome. Nasha lutcha,” he concluded. Ours is better.

Ramius nodded thoughtfully, thinking to himself that zampoliti really ought to know something about the ships they supervised, as mandated by Party doctrine.

“Ivan, didn’t the farmers around Gorkiy tell you it is the wolf you do not see that you must fear? But don’t be overly concerned. With this ship we will teach them a lesson, I think.”

“As I told the Main Political Administration,” Putin clapped Ramius’ shoulder again, “Red October is in the best of hands!”

Ramius and Kamarov both smiled at that. You son of a bitch! the captain thought, saying in front of my men that you must pass on my fitness to command! A man who could not command a rubber raft on a calm day! A pity you will not live to eat those words, Comrade Political Officer, and spend the rest of your life in the gulag for that misjudgment. It would almost be worth leaving you alive.

A few minutes later the chop began to pick up, making the submarine roll. The movement was accentuated by their height above the deck, and Putin made excuses to go below. Still a weak-legged sailor. Ramius shared the observation silently with Kamarov, who smiled agreement. Their unspoken contempt for the zampolit was a most un-Soviet thought.

Clancy’s gift was his ability to tell a riveting story while at the same time sharing his conservative philosophies with the world. He detested Communism for its political and even spiritual oppressiveness and its dogmatic refusal to let individuals think for themselves.  He didn’t dislike Russians – in fact, some of his most compelling characters are citizens of the Soviet Union. But he did hate how Communism was a “political philosophy responsible for millions of deaths and untold misery.”

Another of Clancy’s talents was to create clearly-defined good guys and bad guys. In “The Hunt for Red October,” Marko Ramius and Jack Ryan are presented as decent men on a mission. Ramius wants to exorcise the memories of his father’s evil deeds in Lithuania and avenge a deeply personal wrong done to him by a callous State a few years earlier.

Ryan, for his part, is Clancy’s answer to Ian Fleming’s popular but fantastical James Bond. Unlike the iconic martini-drinking and womanizing superspy, Jack is a devoted family man and dependable “man in the gap” who uses his intellect rather than his gun hand to carry out his mission. (That’s not to say he doesn’t know how to handle himself in a gunfight; Ryan is a former Marine and is a good shot with a pistol.)

25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “The Hunt for Red October” may be a relic of the Cold War, especially for readers who have lived in a world with only one superpower – the United States. It is, of course, a product of the time in which Clancy wrote it. In 1984, many Americans questioned the Reagan Administration’s buildup of American military power as a response to the massive Soviet expansion of its conventional and nuclear forces in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world of the previous decade.

Also, this was a time in which the American military, intelligence and government communities were often portrayed as dark forces with a sinister agenda. In many novels and movies before “The Hunt for Red October” was published, the protagonists were disillusioned Vietnam veterans like Craig Thomas’s Mitchell Gant. In Thomas’s 1977 novel “Firefox,” Gant reluctantly assists the CIA and Britain’s MI6 in a mission to steal a new Soviet prototype fighter.

Though “The Hunt for Red October” also involves a joint CIA-MI6 effort to acquire a piece of advanced Soviet military equipment, Ryan is not an embittered, cynical loner with an ax to grind. He is a team player who believes in the ideals of the American dream even as he acknowledges some of his country’s flaws.

Clancy also respected and admired the men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces. “The Hunt for Red October” was one of the first works of American pop fiction to portray military personnel in a positive light. The author deplored the way that the public treated its veterans during and after the Vietnam War. In “The Hunt for Red October,” readers get a more nuanced and realistic look at America’s military professionals. Some literary and social observers credit Clancy’s novels – including 1986’s “Red Storm Rising” – as part of America’s newfound affection and respect for its military and intelligence communities. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

'The Boy in Striped Pajamas' movie review

(C) 2008 Miramax, Heyday Films, BBC Films
Writer-director Mark Herman’s 2008 film “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is a faithful but (necessarily) condensed adaptation of John Boyne’s 2007 novel about a German boy, Bruno (Asa Butterfield), who befriends Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), an eight-year-old inmate in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.  Like Boyne’s novel, the film is not a definitive history of the Holocaust. It’s not as graphic or historically accurate as Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic “Schindler’s List,” nor was it intended to be. (Indeed, Herman says in the behind-the-scenes featurette “Friendship Beyond the Fence” that he doesn’t consider “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to be a “Holocaust film.”)

Set in the early 1940s at the height of Nazi Germany’s power, the film follows Bruno on a journey that takes him and his family from Berlin to German-occupied Poland. His father Ralf (David Thewlis) is a newly-promoted SS officer with a new posting: commandant of a special camp out in the countryside far the familiar surroundings of Germany’s capital.

Although Bruno isn’t thrilled to leave his nice house and life-long friends behind, he knows Ralf is a soldier and that he must obey orders, so he joins Ralf, his mom (Vera Farmiga) and older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) on a train journey from the Reich to the East. There, they move into a large house not far from what Bruno thinks is a farm.

Despite having lived all his life in Adolf Hitler’s heavily propagandized Third Reich, Bruno doesn’t know what, exactly, his father does for a living. He believes that Ralf is a soldier who does his best to serve his country. However, he doesn’t know that Ralf is a die-hard Nazi and a key figure in Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish problem.” (Though both the movie and the novel are fictitious, Ralf is loosely based on SS Major Rudolf Hoess, the infamous commandant of the Auschwitz death camp.)

Bruno: I want to go home.
Father: You are home, Bruno. Home is where the family is.

At first, Bruno is homesick and wants to go back to Berlin, but Ralf makes it clear that the family is there to stay. Grudgingly, Bruno resigns himself to the situation and begins to explore his strange new world. The only restriction he must adhere to is to not venture too close to the “farm.”

Eventually, Bruno’s penchant for exploration and his lack of playmates get the better of him, so one day he decides to boldly go to the forbidden world beyond his family compound. He treks across the field that separates the walled off house from the strange camp his father runs and sees a barbed wire fence. Beyond that he spies…a boy in striped pajamas.

Of course, we know that the boy, Shmuel, is not wearing “striped pajamas” but rather the infamous prisoners’ outfit worn by concentration camp inmates. We also know from Holocaust-themed films and historical accounts of the period, that Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel will have serious consequences, not just for both boys but for Bruno’s family.

Herr Liszt: Yes, Bruno?
Bruno: I don't understand; the Jew is down to this one man?
Herr Liszt: The Jew here means the entire Jewish race. If it was just this one man I'm sure something would be done about him.
Bruno: There is such thing as a nice Jew, isn't there?
Herr Liszt: [Sarcastically] I think, Bruno, if you ever find a nice Jew, you'd be the best explorer in the world.

With a running time of just 94 minutes, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is a watchable parable about the clash between uncorrupted childhood innocence and the harsh realities of war. It is not an “Afterschool Special” about Auschwitz or the Holocaust in general, although the filmmakers researched the history of Hitler’s war against the Jews, especially the anti-Semitic mindset of many ordinary Germans.  In several crucial scenes, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” shows that quite a few German civilians, not just Hitler and the murderous SS, were racists and believed vile and slanderous anti-Jewish propaganda.

Herman adapted John Boyne’s widely acclaimed novel for the screen as closely as possible while adjusting the story for cinematic purposes. In “Friendship Beyond the Fence,” Boyne says the screenplay is faithful to his book and praises Herman’s changes because they add depth and emotional gravity to the story.

As a director, Herman does a good job. He tells the story from Bruno’s limited point of view, so the audience doesn’t fully see the harsh realities of the Holocaust until the film’s conclusion. Herman chooses to show the horrors of Nazi racial policies in the East incrementally and subtly: here a glimpse of the camp’s menacing barbed wire fence and the desolate spaces behind it; there a shot of sooty ashes belching darkly against a clear blue Polish sky.

The film also features watchable performances from the cast. Particularly noteworthy is the acting by Asa Butterfield, who was 10 years old when “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” was filmed in Budapest. Butterfield’s expressive face, piercing blue eyes, and boyish exuberance makes this allegory about friendship trumping bigotry worth seeing. The adult cast members do a fine job here, especially David Thewlis as the loving husband and father who is also one of Hitler’s willing executioners. Thewlis could have played Ralf as a one-dimensional movie Nazi, but he chooses to portray Bruno’s father as a man who believes that he truly is doing something morally right in Germany’s name.

Some viewers might scoff at Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of Elsa as a woman who is unaware of her husband’s murderous role in the extermination of Europe’s Jews. To those who aren’t familiar with World War II or Holocaust history, Elsa’s ignorance seems far-fetched, especially if she lives in a complex near the unnamed concentration camp. But in “Friendship Beyond the Fence,” Farmiga and the director point out that SS officers tasked with the Final Solution were sworn, under pain of death, to keep their activities secret from everyone, including spouses and family members.

While “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is no “Schindler’s List” or “Sophie’s Choice,” it is a deeply moving movie. It is rated PG-13 and is not as graphically violent as many films that depict the Shoah, so it’s a good film for middle school-level kids to watch and learn about this dark period of history.

DVD Specifications


  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • Encoding format: 16:9
  • Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
  • Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1

  • English SDH, Spanish

  • DVD-9
  • Single disc (1 DVD)

  • Slipcover in original pressing

  • Region 1

  • ·        Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • ·        Studio: Miramax Lionsgate
  • ·        DVD Release Date: April 26, 2011
  • ·        Run Time: 94 minutes


Thursday, July 28, 2016

'Star Trek: The Next Generation - Yesterday's Enterprise' episode review

One of the neat things about channel surfing on a hot, hazy and unusually lazy weekend afternoon is that sometimes infrequent TV watchers such as me can sometimes find new channels which have been added to the Expanded Basic lineup.

Such was the case when, a few years ago I – purely by chance, mind you – was flipping through the channels on my family room television set when I noticed that Comcast (my cable provider) had added BBC America to the channel package I subscribe to.  This was a surprise to me – I don’t often scrutinize my bill for any lineup changes, and I don’t have the time to watch as much TV as I used to –  and I was kind of pleased even though at first I didn’t think it’d be too relevant to my TV-viewing tastes.

That is, until I perused the then-current issue of TV Guide and noticed that BBC America supplanted Spike TV (the former TNN channel) as the go-to place to watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the made-for-syndication sequel series to what is now known as Star Trek: The Original Series.

Created in the late 1980s by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry nearly 18 years after NBC canceled the original show which starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, Star Trek: The Next Generation had a seven season run (1987-1994) for a total of 179 episodes and spun off not just four feature films (Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis), but also helped launch two TV shows which shared its 24th Century setting, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.  (The show also shared some continuity with the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, with two cast members – Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis – reprising their TNG roles in Enterprise’s series finale.)

Although Star Trek: The Next Generation took nearly three seasons to find its stride and earn a place of honor in many Trek fans’ hearts, the show proved that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a “hopeful future” could still be shared in science fiction/dramatic terms, even with a new cast led by Patrick Stewart and an updated version of the Starship Enterprise.

Even though Tne Next Generation’s Season Three would feature many solid episodes (The Bonding, Who Watches the Watchers, The Most Toys, Sarek and the season’s cliffhanging finale The Best of Both Worlds, Part I), most fans would argue that the best show of the 1989-90 season was Yesterday’s Enterprise.

I had not seen this particular episode  – which is one of my favorites – in quite a few years since I last ran across it on TNN/Spike when that cable network carried Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I made myself comfortable in front of my television set and watched.

Yesterday’s Enterprise

Stardate 43625.2 (Earth Calendar Year 2366)
Original Air Date: February 19, 1990
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Richard Manning & Hans Beimler & Ronald D. Moore
Story by Trent Christopher Ganino & Eric A. Stillwell
Directed by David Carson

During the third year of its ongoing mission to “explore strange new worlds” and “seek out new life and new civilizations,”  the Galaxy-class U.S.S. Enterprise (Starfleet registry NCC-1701-D) is cruising through Federation space en route to Emila II.

In the Enterprise’s Ten-Forward lounge, Security chief Lieut. Worf (Michael Dorn) is enjoying some off-duty time with bartender Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who introduces the Klingon officer to an exotic beverage from Earth – prune juice.  (Worf likes it, proclaiming it as a “warrior’s drink.”)

Guinan: You know, you always drink alone. It wouldn't hurt you to seek out a little... companionship. 

Lieutenant Worf: I would require a Klingon woman for... companionship. Earth females are too fragile. 

Guinan: Not all of them. There are a few on this ship that... would find you... tame. 

[Worf laughs out loud] 

Lieutenant Worf: Impossible. 

Guinan: You never know till you try. 

Lieutenant Worf: Then I will never know. 

Guinan: Coward.

While Worf and Guinan are bantering about how some of the women on the ship might find their Klingon shipmate sexually compatible, an unusual phenomenon manifests itself outside in the vast vacuum of space.  As per standard operating procedure, Lieut. Worf is ordered to report to the bridge; as he leaves, Guinan stares out at the strange portent and, with great unease, utters the word “no.”

At his station on the bridge, Worf is briefed; the Enterprise has encountered what appears to be a temporal rift (essentially, a rip in the space-time continuum).  However, neither the ship’s powerful sensors nor such experienced crew members as Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) can identify the strange occurrence with any degree of accuracy.

Suddenly, the astonished crew sees what appears to be a Federation starship emerging from the space anomaly.

As the mysterious starship – its name and registry still unknown – emerges from the spatial  anomaly, the Enterprise-D undergoes a strange transformation: the ship’s corridors and bridge lighting are less illuminated and more forbidding, the crew’s uniforms take on a more militaristic aspect and, on the bridge, Lt. Worf is no longer at his station at tactical.

In his place: Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), the ship’s security officer who has been aboard since the Enterprise-D’s commissioning as a Galaxy-class battleship nearly three years earlier.

First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Tasha both try to ID the ship once it has fully emerged from the weird space phenomenon, and it’s Tasha who makes the stunning revelation to the rest of the astonished bridge crew:

"NCC, one-seven-oh-one...C. USS...Enterprise."Tasha Yar in the alternate timeline

Apparently, the strange occurrence in space which the Enterprise-D has encountered is a temporal rift, and the very battered Starfleet vessel which has emerged is the Ambassador-class Enterprise-C, which was recorded lost in the year 2344 while responding to a Romulan attack on the Klingon outpost on Narenda III.

"Military log, combat date 43625.2. While investigating an unusual radiation anomaly, the Enterprise has encountered what could almost be called a ghost from its own past - the Enterprise-C, the immediate predecessor to this battleship."

The reappearance of the NCC-1701-C in the year 2366, unbeknownst to everyone on the Enterprise-D except for Guinan, has unwittingly changed history, and not for the better.  Instead of being allies in the Alpha Quadrant, the Federation and the Klingon Empire are bitter rivals who have been at war for over two decades. The Enterprise-D is no longer on a mission of exploration and diplomacy; it’s  a warship where no children are present.  And Lt. Yar, who in the “real” timeline had died on Vagra II two years earlier, is alive and well in a universe where Lt. Worf has never been aboard the Enterprise.

The paradoxes created by the emergence of the older Enterprise in Picard’s time pose various problems for both startships’ crews.  Does Picard focus his attention on the here-and-now and enlist Capt. Rachel Garrett (Tricia O’Neill) to join her ship to Starfleet’s war-decimated roster to fight against the Klingons?   Can Guinan convince the captain that this war with the Klingons should never have happened and that Enterprise-C must somehow return to its own time (during the battle with the Romulans) to restore history to its “proper” state?  Should Tasha Yar be told that she died nearly two years early in a meaningless fashion?

My Take:  
In Michael and Denise Okuda’s Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future’s Appendix B: Alternate Timelines, the authors describe Yesterday’s Enterprise thusly:

This is one of the strangest and most complicated alternate timeline stories in Star Trek history.

Time travel and alternate timeline stories have been used in the Star Trek canon quite a few times, from Star Trek: The Original Series (The City on the Edge of Forever, Tomorrow is Yesterday and Assignment Earth) all the way to the spin-offs Voyager and Enterprise.  The 1986 feature film, which starred the cast of the Original Series, used time travel to save 23rd Century Earth from the excesses of 20th Century humanity, and 2009’s Star Trek reboot created an alternate timeline so a new cast could take on the roles of William Shatner and Co. without necessarily having to redo everything depicted in the 1966-1969 show.

As the Okudas point out, though, in most of Star Trek’s time travel stories, the plots often focus on “our heroes’ efforts to repair the damage that caused the alternate (and presumably improper) timelines, thus restoring the flow of history to “normality.”

At first glance, Yesterday’s Enterprise follows this formula faithfully; Guinan does convince Picard that the Enterprise-as-battleship scenario Is all wrong, Picard – albeit with some difficulty – gets his predecessor Garrett to return to 2344 and face the Romulans at Narenda III, and Tasha is told about her fate in the “normal” unaltered timeline.

"[...] at least with someone at Tactical, they will have a chance to defend themselves well. It may be a matter of seconds or minutes, but those could be the minutes that change history. Guinan says I died a senseless death in the other time line. I didn't like the sound of that, Captain. I've always known the risks that come with a Starfleet uniform. If I'm to die in one, I'd like my death to count for something."- Yar to Picard in the alternate timeline

Tasha’s decision to transfer to the Enterprise-C seems to have no immediate effects on the The Next Generation’s restored timeline other than the return of Worf to his station and the galaxy’s political status quo ante. However, as fans of The Next Generation know all too well, Tasha’s jaunt back to 2344 did have serious side effects which were revealed a year later in the fourth season’s The Mind’s Eye and Redemption, Part I.

Though predictable to some degree – Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third season was not yet over on when it originally aired on February 19, 1990 and the show’s format could not be irrevocably changed by its timeline twists – Yesterday’s Enterprise  is one of the best series’ best episodes.

Part of the credit, of course, goes to actor Denise Crosby’s strong and compelling performance as Tasha.  Of the three major female characters introduced in The Next Generation’s first season, she was my favorite; I was disappointed by her decision to leave the series but understood that she (like Gates McFadden) believed the writers really didn’t know what to do with her character.  Her willingness to reprise her original role, as well as her taking on a guest recurring role in several later episodes, is a testament to her professionalism and her love for Star Trek.

"Who is to say that this history is any less proper than the other?"

"I suppose I am."

"Not good enough, damn it! Not good enough! I will not ask them to die!"

"Forty billion people have already died! This war's not supposed to be happening! You've got to send those people back to correct this!"

"And what is to guarantee that if they go back they will succeed? Every instinct is telling me this is wrong, it is dangerous, it is futile!"

"We've known each other a long time. You have never known me to impose myself on anyone or take a stance based on trivial or whimsical perceptions. This timeline must not be allowed to continue. Now, I've told you what you must do. You have only your trust in me to help you decide to do it."  –Picard and Guinan in the alternate timeline

Whoopi Goldberg also turns in a nice bit of acting as Guinan, whose status as an El-Aurian gives her a certain perceptiveness to the vagaries of time-space phenomena and thus allows her to be the only person serving aboard the Enterprise-D who is aware that history has been altered.

Of course, the series’ regular cast also does its excellent work as a now-comfortable ensemble, and all the characters have at least one good “showcase scene,” including Patrick Stewart, which is given one of the best lines ever written for Capt. Picard:

"Attention all hands. As you know, we could outrun the Klingon vessels. But we must protect the Enterprise-C at all costs until she enters the temporal rift. And we must succeed! And to make sure that history never forgets... the name... Enterprise. Picard out."

Because it has many strong elements – a solid storyline, exciting battle sequences, a plethora of great characterizations by both regular and guest cast members and some unexpected twists – Yesterday’s Enterprise is considered to be one of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation’s finest episodes and constantly appears on many Top Favorite lists compiled by fans and critics alike.

'William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope' book review

(C) 2013 Quirk Books/Lucasfilm Ltd.

We three, we happy three, we band of brothers,Shall fly unto the trench with throttles full! - William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Since 1976, writer-producer-director George Lucas’s Star Wars (aka Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope) has been adapted in various forms. Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of Lucas’s screenplay was published six months before the film opened on May 25, 1977. Marvel Comics’ adaptation also preceded the movie’s premiere by a month. And in 1981, National Public Radio aired a 13-part radio drama scripted by the late science fiction novelist Brian Daley that expanded Lucas’s 124-minute space fantasy into a richer, more detailed six-and-a-half hour audio epic.

Of course, Star Wars has inspired a plethora of parodies spanning a wide spectrum of of venues. Lucas’s tale of “a boy, a girl, and a galaxy” has been spoofed countless times on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, lampooned in humor magazines Crack’d and Mad, and by Mel Brooks in 1987’s Spaceballs.

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. 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. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying...pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations--William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for. - from the dust jacket blurb

In July 2013, several months before the public announcement that George Lucas was retiring and selling his production company, Lucasfilm Limited, to the Walt Disney Company, Philadelphia’s Quirk Books published fiirst-time author Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.

Subtitled Verily, A New Hope, this 174-page volume is a loving tribute/parody that re-imagines Lucas’s seminal space-fantasy as if William Shakespeare had written it in the Elizabethan Age.

Doescher started working on this ambitious project in the summer of 2012. According to the author, he was inspired by Seth Graham-Smith’s 2009 parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, repeated viewings of Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy, and Alison Carey’s gay-themed play The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars follows the narrative of Lucas’s 1997 Special Edition re-release of A New Hope. As in the movie, the story begins “a long time ago in a galaxy far,far away.”  A galaxy-spanning democratic Republic has become an Empire ruled by the tyrannical Emperor Palpatine. The Jedi Knights which once protected the Republic are all but extinct, betrayed and hunted by Palpatine’s main minion, a Knight-turned-Sith Lord named Darth Vader.

Now, as civil war rages across the galaxy, the Empire is building a superweapon code-named the Death Star. Capable of destroying entire planets. this moon-sized space station spells certain doom for the daring Rebel Alliance. Now the galaxy’s best hope lies in the destiny of Luke Skywalker, a farm boy from a desert world farthest from the center of the Universe.

Using Shakespeare’s five-act structure and distinct literary techniques (a chorus to describe some of the action, prologues and epilogues in the form of sonnets, asides that break the “fourth wall”) Doescher cleverly blends Lucas’s modern update of 1930s serials with the Bard’s immortal poetry.

Take, for instance, the Flash Gordon-inspired title crawl that sets the scene for Star Wars:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

In William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Doescher re-imagines the text-only crawl as a prologue delivered by the omniscient Chorus:

Chorus: It is a period of civil war.The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift From base unseen, have gain’d a vict’ry o’er The cruel Galactic Empire, now adrift. Amidst the battle, Rebel spies prevail’d And stole the plans to a space station vast, Whose pow’rful beams will later be unveil’d And crush a planet: ‘tis the DEATH STAR blast. Pursu’d by agents sinister and cold, Now Princess Leia to her home doth flee,Deliv’ring plans and a new hope they hold: Of bringing freedom to the galaxy. In time so long ago begins our play, In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.  

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars brilliantly depicts the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbaca, Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi, R2-D2, and C-3PO as they face off against Darth Vader, the Iago-like Grand Moff Tarkin, and a legion of stormtroopers. From the desert wastes of Tatooine to the space around the planet Yavin, the heroes and villains of Star Wars strut and fret onstage as if they were at England’s Globe Theater.

My Take

Two of the most creative minds in the universe collide with spectacular, hilarious and surprisingly touching insight into the original classic. This truly is Star Wars as you like it. - dust jacket blurb by Joe Schreiber, author of Star Wars: Death Troopers

Although I’m more of a Star Wars fan than I am a Shakespeare aficionado, I was intrigued by this literary mashup almost as soon as I spied it while browsing through Amazon’s Star Wars book section. I’d just watched part of Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V, so I was primed to see how Ian Doescher translated a late 1970s film into a 17th Century stage drama.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this marriage of Lucas’s post-modern techno-myth and Shakespeare’s poetic style could have been disastrous. Changing the words of George Lucas and uncredited script doctors Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck to mimic the Bard is no easy task. It requires intimate knowledge of both the movie and the renowned playwright to transform modern prose into iambic pentameter.

Luckily, Doescher has been a Star Wars fan since he saw 1983’s Return of the Jedi when he was six years old. He also fell in love with Shakespeare’s works in middle school. With his talent for writing in iambic pentameter and ability to draw on many of the Bard’s works, Doescher is particularly suited for this enterprise.

Doescher borrows themes and adapts dialogue  from such plays as Richard III, Othello, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Hamlet to fit into George Lucas’s space-fantasy tale. \He channels some of Shakespeare’s most iconic soliloquies and speeches, including Hamlet’s skull-holding “Alas, poor Yorick” scene and King Henry V’s martial St. Crispin’s Day exhortation to his troops before the Battle of Agincourt.

Shakespeare buffs who aren’t into the Star Wars saga might scoff at Doescher’s seemingly sacrilegious mashup and resist any link between the Bard and George Lucas’s space opera.

However, as the author notes in the book’s afterword, the two artists’ works are interconnected in various ways:

The works of Shakespeare and the Star Wars movies...share a comparable level of popularity and relevance. All well-rounded post-modern cultural connoisseurs are expected to have at least passing familiarity with both sets of stories, and both have percolated into our everyday language: you’re as likely to hear one of Shakespeare’s enduring phrases (“good riddance,” “faint-hearted,” “elbow room,” and many others) as an encouragement to “use the force.” If Star Wars were an actual Shakespearean play, we would most likely classify it as a fantasy, in the vein of The Tempest. However, it also has elements of a history (the story of the Galactic Empire with all the intrigue of Richard III), a comedy (all’s well that ends well, after all), or, taken as a six-movie arc, the Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.
The Book

The slim hardcover volume is a book-lover’s treat. Quirk Books designed William Shakespeare’s Star Wars to look as if it has been in the reader’s  bookshelves for several decades. The dust jacket features a 17th Century version of Darth Vader as the central figure of artist Nicholas Delort’s woodcut cover drawing. (Luke and Leia are also on the cover, as well as the Death Star, a Rebel X-Wing and an Imperial TIE Fighter.)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars also features 20 illustrations by Delort; these are mashups of iconic Star Wars characters or scenes from A New Hope rendered in a fashion that evokes the visual style of Shakespeare’s time. (In a clever homage, Act IV, Scene 6 is illustrated with a graphic that shows Luke holding a stormtrooper’s helmet in contemplation. a la Hamlet-with-Yorick’s skull.)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars works well on several levels. As a parody, Doescher’s 3,076 line-long translation is smart and witty; there’s plenty of wordplay similar to that in The Taming of the Shrew and other Shakespearean comedies.

The book is also a loving tribute to Lucas’s now-classic movie; Star Wars fans will likely appreciate Doescher’s faithful adaptation of the screenplay, as well as references to the other movies in the saga that serve to give readers some of the backstory or foreshadow plot twists in The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return..

English teachers are likely to find humor and inspiration in Doescher’s Star Wars works. The writer’s use of Shakespeare’s style and narrative devices (including the use of prose in lines spoken by “lower classes), as well as his choice to adapt one of the most popular films of all time, makes William Shakespeare’s Star Wars gives educators a fun means to introduce students to one of the English language’s greatest dramatists.

Doescher lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two children. His latest books,  William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First (April 2015), William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second (July 2015) and William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third (November 2015) do to the Prequel Trilogy what the William Shakespeare's Star Wars series did to the Original Trilogy.
Teachers: Quirk Books has a useful (and cool) downloadable Educator's Guide to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope  in its website. It's full of information about William Shakespeare, the various plays that inspired Ian Doescher when he adapted George Lucas's screenplay. The Educator’s Guide includes a discussion on Elizabethan dramatic structure, the use of iambic pentameter, and other interesting topics.
To read or download the Educator's Guide, visit and click on the apple-shaped Teachers' Guide icon.

George Lucas’s six Star Wars films are currently available from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD.  In addition, Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm/Bad Robot Productions’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download on April 6, 2016.

Book Details
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books
  • Language: English
  • Release Date: July 2, 2013
  • ISBN-10: 1594746370
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594746376
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches