Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: 'William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First'

(C) 2015 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.(Lucas Books)

Join us, good gentles, for a merry reimagining of Star Wars: Episode I as only Shakespeare could have written it. The entire saga starts here, with a thrilling tale featuring a disguised queen, a young hero, and two fearless knights facing a hidden, vengeful enemy.
’Tis a true Shakespearean drama, filled with sword fights, soliloquies, and doomed romance . . . all in glorious iambic pentameter and coupled with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations. Hold on to your midi-chlorians: The play’s the thing, wherein you’ll catch the rise of Anakin! - From the dust jacket blurb, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace
Star Wars.
Since its premiere on May 25, 1977, the title of George Lucas’s space-fantasy set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” evokes futuristic images of speedy starships, flashing laser swords, and snappy dialogue written in modern American English. For film buffs, Star Wars also stirs memories of the Errol Flynn movies (Captain Blood) and Saturday matinee serials (Flash Gordon) that inspired Lucas to create his blockbuster saga.
William Shakespeare’s name evokes images from an older, less technological age. Say “Shakespeare,” and visions of actors on wooden stages  and elegant English nobles wearing expensive clothes made of cotton, furs, lace, satin, silk, and taffeta immediately flash in your mind.
But what would the Star Wars saga look like if the Bard of Avon had written it in his lifetime?
This is the clever conceit behind author Ian Doescher’s delightful William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series.
From 2013 to 2014, the Portland (Oregon) resident adapted Lucas’s Classic Star Wars Trilogy into three Shakespearean-styled plays: Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth, and The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth.
Now, Doescher continues the series by tackling the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy.
On April 7, 2015, Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First, a reimagining of Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).
As in the first three books of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series, Doescher revisits the plot of Lucas’s “expository” chapter of what is known as the Tragedy of Darth Vader.
In The Phantom of Menace, the once-stable Galactic Republic is showing signs of decay. Powerful commercial interests have corrupted the political process, and a mysterious Sith Lord named Darth Sidious is manipulating events to create a crisis around the taxation of trade routes. Sidious, aided and abetted by the greedy Trade Federation, orders a blockade of the planet Naboo to weaken Chancellor Valorum’s leadership and push him out of power.
Valorum dispatches two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, to negotiate a settlement with the Trade Federation and end the blockade. But Sidious orders his Neimoidian minions, Nute Gunray and Rune Haako, to kill the Jedi, invade Naboo with an army of droids, and force young Queen Amidala to sign a treaty with the Trade Federation.  
Unless you’ve been stranded on the ice planet of Hoth without Holo-Net access, you know the rest of the story. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape to Naboo, meet Jar Jar Binks, and snatch the queen from the invading battle droids’ grasp. After they run the Trade Federation’s blockade aboard a Naboo starship, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, the queen, and her retinue of bodyguards and handmaidens end up on Tatooine.
Aboard the Trade Federation battleship.
SIDIOUS My patience runneth out, so tell me true:
Hath Amidala signed the treaty yet?
NUTE My lord, with trepidation I report:
The queen hath disappeared. There was one ship
From small Naboo escap’d our stout blockade.
SIDIOUS That treaty shall be sign’d! I will it so.
NUTE But ‘tis impossible to find the ship.
It lies beyond our range of scope or measure
Enter DARTH MAUL on beam with DARTH SIDIOUS on beam.
SIDIOUS For thy weak instruments, perhaps, but not,
I tell thee truly, for a Sith.
Behold my Sith apprentice: Darth Maul he.
Your lost ship shall be swiftly found by him.
(Exeunt Darth Sidious and Darth Maul from beam.)

Meanwhile, Lord Sidious, intent on capturing Amidala and forcing her to sign the treaty, sends his fierce minion, Darth Maul, to find her.
On Tatooine, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Jar Jar, an astromech droid designated R2-D2, and Queen Amidala (disguised as a humble servant girl) encounter Watto, a junk dealer, and his two slaves, Shmi Skywalker and her 9-year-old son, Anakin.
Although Amidala and her Jedi protectors don’t know it, their meeting with Anakin Skywalker will forever change not only their destiny, but that of the entire galaxy.
My Take
As in his previous William Shakespeare’s Star Wars mashups, Doescher presents George Lucas’s Star Wars - Episode I  as if it had been written for the 17th Century theater.
The author sticks to the dramatic conventions of Shakespeare’s era. Divided into five acts,  The Phantom of Menace (a reference to the Bard’s The Merchant of Venice) is written in iambic pentameter. Most of the dialogue (including asides and soliloquies) is done in this style, except for Yoda’s. To give the ancient Jedi Master a unique voice, Doescher writes his lines as haikus.
Doescher, a long-time fan of the works of George Lucas and William Shakespeare, accomplishes a seemingly impossible feat.  In the Phantom of Menace, he adds depth to Episode I’s characters, especially its most controversial - Jar Jar Binks.
In Lucas’s movie, Jar Jar Binks is simply a goofy, clumsy character who accidentally becomes a hero. He is in The Phantom Menace mainly for comic relief in a story that is otherwise heavy on politics and  Sith conspiracies.
Doescher, however, reimagines Jar Jar Binks not as a cartoonish fool, but as a shrewd manipulator. In The Phantom of Menace, “Jar Jar was exiled not because he nearly destroyed the Gungan city, but because of his radical ideas.” Having observed the ways of the humans on Naboo, Jar Jar is aware that the Jedi will see him as uncouth and silly when he performs his “silly Gungan” act.   
ANAKIN How all occasions do inform toward me
To spur my action here. The Jedi comes --
Of all the junk shops in all towns in all
Of Tatooine, he walketh into mine.
Star Wars fans who are not impressed with The Phantom Menace’s depiction of Anakin Skywalker may reassess their opinion of the boy destined to become Darth Vader after reading The Phantom of Menace.  
Although Doescher doesn’t tinker as much with Anakin’s basic traits (his willingness to help others, his desire to become a Jedi, and his love for  Padme and his mother) as he does with Jar Jar, he gives the boy depth and complex shadings that make him more appealing and interesting.
The Book
Quirk Books once again gives readers a nicely designed hardcover volume that looks like a well-loved and often-read book. The dust jacket features Nicolas Delort’s woodcut portrait of Queen Amidala in Elizabethan regalia. Delort, who also provides 20 delightful illustrations for the play, surrounds the queen with images of her Naboo Royal Cruiser, a Trade Federation battleship, Anakin’s podracer, and Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi dueling with Darth Maul.
As a literary work, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is a well-written, highly-enjoyable tribute to the works of George Lucas and the greatest dramatist/poet in English literature.
Like its Star Wars Trilogy stablemates, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is a parody, full of humorous dialogue that begs to be read out loud. Doescher packs his play with references and homages to Star Wars, many of Shakespeare’s plays, including Much Ado About Nothing), and even films such as Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. Witty and stylish, The Phantom of Menace is neither campy nor silly.  

Book Details
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (April 7, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594748063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594748066
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Breaking Book News: Ian Doescher's 'The Force Doth Awaken' to hit bookstores this October

(C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars fans, prepare yourselves. The verse will be with you this fall when Quirk Books publishes Ian Doescher’s highly anticipated William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh.

As fans of Doescher’s Shakespeare-meets-Lucas mashups are no doubt aware, the Portland (Oregon) based author became nearly an overnight sensation four years ago when Quirk Books released William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, a retelling of 1977’s Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope in the style of a play by the Bard of Avon himself. Doescher took George Lucas’s screenplay and rewrote it as a five-act work for the stage, complete with soliloquies, asides, and even a narration by an all-seeing, all-knowing Chorus – presented in glorious iambic pentameter.

This unlikely little volume earned rave reviews and became a fan favorite. It was followed up in 2014 by William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part the Fifth and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, Star Wars Part the Sixth. A year later, Doescher tackled the Prequel Trilogy with The Phantom of Menace, The Clone Army Attacketh, and The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge. Again, Quirk Books and Doescher won many accolades from critics and readers alike, and the books sold rather well.

Naturally, when Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens became a blockbuster hit at the box office between December 2015 and Spring 2016, Shakespeare lovers and Star Wars buffs alike began to wonder – will Episode VII get the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars treatment?

Now, I don’t know Ian Doescher personally, but he and I are both authors with pages at Goodreads. And happily, he’s one of those writers who pops in every now and then to answer questions.

As it happens, last year around this time I decided to go to the “Ask Ian Doescher” page on Goodreads and posted this question:

Alex Diaz-Granados asked Ian Doescher:

Have you started working on a "William Shakespeare's Star Wars" version of "The Force Awakens" yet?

And to my surprise, he replied!

Ian Doescher I'm not yet certain whether The Force Awakens will be happening, but I'm hopeful!

Mind you, I bet that he probably was working on a rough draft of the seventh book in the series, but had to be reticent until Disney-owned Lucasfilm gave Doescher and Quirk Books the go-ahead.

So…I was browsing in Amazon, looking for affordable 40th Anniversary of Star Wars merchandise when it occurred to me to search for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars in the Books department. I already own the first six books in the series, but I hoped that Lucasfilm had finally given permission to Doescher and Quirk Books to publish their version of The Force Awakens.

Zounds! The first result was the product page for the upcoming William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh!

Experience The Force Awakens as a Shakespeare play, complete with Elizabethan verse, Shakespearian monologues, and theatrical stage directions! As the noble Resistance clashes with the vile First Order, Rey, Finn, Poe Damaron, Kylo Ren, and BB-8 are pulled into a galaxy-wide drama—in iambic pentameter! Star Wars fans and Shakespeare enthusiasts alike will enjoy the authentic meter, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout. Chewbacca speaks! Leader Snoke gives a soliloquy! And the romance of Han Solo and Leia Organa takes a tragic turn that Shakespeare would approve of. All with woodcut-style illustrations that place Star Wars characters into an Elizabethan galaxy. The story may take place in a galaxy far, far away, but you’ll be convinced it was written by the Bard. – From the Quirk Books official website.

Per Quirk Books, William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken will be published on October 3.


TV Series Season Review: 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions'

Against a backdrop of ever-shifting loyalties, uneasy alliances and ancient hostilities, the conflict between the Republic and the Separatists ramps up, setting the stage for Darth Sidious' ultimate act of treachery against the Jedi. In these uncertain times, some of the deepest mysteries of the light and dark sides of the Force are revealed as an intrepid clone trooper uncovers a shocking conspiracy, Anakin Skywalker's closest relationship is tested to its limits, and Master Yoda makes a discovery that could forever change the balance of power in the galaxy. Complete your collection and experience all the wonder, intrigue, action and suspense of THE LOST MISSIONS in 13 must-own episodes -- plus a Behind-The-Scenes Documentary -- as this thrilling chapter of the STAR WARS saga comes home on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time!
Although George Lucas's Star Wars: The Clone Wars was a critical and popular success during its five-season run on Time-Warner's Cartoon Network, the Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm canceled the series in March 2013. Lucas, the series' executive producer, was retiring, and Dave Filoni and his team of animators were reassigned to work on Disney XD's new series, Star Wars: Rebels.
Nevertheless, Filoni and series producer Cary Silver already had 13 episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Season 6 in the can, plus another four-episode arc ("Crystal Crisis on Utapau") in what animators call "completed story reel format."
In the spring of 2014, Lucasfilm Animation packaged the 13 completed episodes as Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions. These episodes aired on Germany's Super RTL network on February 2014, then premiered in the U.S. on Netflix in March 2014.
The Lost Missions
Narrator: Battle for Ringo Vinda! Republic forces are locked in heated combat with the droid armada on a massive space station that encircles an entire planet. Anakin Skywalker valiantly leads his men against the onslaught which has lasted several rotations with neither side gaining any ground. Aided by the twin sister Jedi Masters, Tiplee and Tiplar, the Republic now mounts a desperate offensive to break the deadlock...
Unlike the previous five seasons that aired on Cartoon Network, Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions presents its 13 episodes in chronological order. The abbreviated sixth season takes place during Year 3 of the Clone Wars;  its four story arcs set the stage for the events depicted in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
In her four-episode arc, Katie Lucas (George's daughter) gives us a tragic tale of two clone troopers, Tup and Fives, caught up in a deadly conspiracy designed to cover up Sith Lord Darth Sidious's end game for his takeover of the Galactic Republic.
Writer Christian Taylor also has several story arcs in Season Six. Three episodes (An Old Friend, The Rise of Clovis, and Crisis at the Heart) wrap up the story thread of Rush Clovis, a former Senator and an old friend of Anakin Skywalker's wife, Padme Amidala. He also explores the mystery behind Jedi Master Syfo-Dias's death in The Lost One and Yoda's quest to the heart of the galaxy to discover the deepest secrets of the Force in Voices, Destiny, and Sacrifice.
Episode List
1.       The Unknown, written by Katle Lucas, directed by Bosco Ng
2.       Conspiracy, written by Katle Lucas, directed by Brian Kalin O'Connell
3.       Fugitive, written by Katle Lucas, directed by Danny Keller
4.       Orders, written by Katle Lucas, directed by Kyle Dunlevy
5.       An Old Friend, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Brian Kalin O'Connell
6.       The Rise of Clovis, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Danny Keller
7.       Crisis at the Heart, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Steward Lee
8.       The Disappeared, Part I, written by Jonathan W. Rinzler, directed by Steward Lee
9.       The Disappeared, Part II, written by Jonathan W. Rinzler, directed by Bosco Ng
10.   The Lost One, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Brian Kalin O'Connell
11.   Voices, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Danny Keller
12.   Destiny, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Kyle Dunlevy
13.   Sacrifice, written by Christian Taylor, directed by Steward Lee

My Take
I am a fan of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I understand that Disney-owned Lucasfilm needed to use its team of artists to work on the new Sequel Trilogy and Star Wars: Rebels, but it would have been nice if supervising director Dave Filoni had been allowed to finish the series with a complete 22-episode run.
In addition to the 13 episodes that aired on Super RTL  and are available on Netflix, there was a four-episode arc ("Crystal Crisis on Utapau") in semi-complete form. The voice tracks were recorded, and the visuals were in previsualization mode when Lucasfilm pulled the plug on the show. The episodes were not completed, but the completed story reels are included as extras on the Lost Missions Blu-ray and DVD home video release. (Other story arcs, including one that explains why Darth Maul was revived, were shifted over to the Clone Wars Legacy book series and other licensed media.)
Because Star Wars: The Clone Wars is set in the same timeline as Cartoon Network's earlier Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005) animated series, it does not need a finale that leads into Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It does, however, lay the foundation for Yoda's further training in the ways of the Force.
The series' last episode also features actor Mark Hamill's return to the Star Wars universe - but not in his iconic role of Luke Skywalker. In Sacrifice, Hamill provides the voice for the spirit of Darth Bane, the Sith Lord who instituted the Rule of Two and restored the Sith Order 1,000 years before the Prequel Trilogy.  

Blu-ray Specifications

  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1


  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1


  • English SDH, French, Spanish


  • 50GB Blu-ray Disc
  • Two-disc set (2 BDs)


  • Slipcover in original pressing


  • Region A, B
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: November 11, 2014
  • Run Time: 287 minutes

Book Review: 'Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam'

In the early morning of November 4, 1979, a crowd of around 500 Iranian university gathered around the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Tehran. They were members of several radical Muslim student groups that supported Iran’s Islamic Revolution and its spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The sight of such a large group outside the embassy compound was no novelty to the U.S. Marine guards or to the 60 or so Americans assigned to America’s diplomatic outpost in the heart of a nation now governed by radical Islamic theocrats such as Khomeini and other ayatollahs. Demonstrations in Tehran were an everyday occurrence, and this one seemed no different than the anti-shah and anti-American protests of the past few days.
They were mistaken. The protestors were members of a group called Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, and they intended to break into the embassy compound and, according to one of the organizers, "Our aim was to object against the American government by going to their embassy and occupying it for several hours…We intended to detain the diplomats for a few days, maybe one week, but no more.”
The students broke into the compound after a young woman took metal cutters out from under her chador and cut the heavy chains that locked the embassy gates. Other intruders, who had observed the Marine guards’ activities from nearby rooftops for weeks, climbed over the walls surrounding the rest of the compound.
The Islamic students, incensed by President Jimmy Carter’s recent decision to allow the deposed Shah of Iran to enter the U.S. to receive medical treatment for cancer and for past American interventions in Iran’s internal affairs, achieved their initial goals without loss of life. Carrying placards that said "Don't be afraid. We just want to sit in,” they took most of the American diplomats, intelligence agents, and military personnel prisoner for what they thought would be a week-long demonstration in what they called the “Den of Spies.”
Little did they know, however, that their symbolic takeover of the U.S. Embassy would not end a week later. Instead, it resulted in a 444-day standoff between the Islamic Revolutionary Republic od Iran and athe United States of America that would go down in history as the Iranian hostage crisis.
In his 2006 book Guests of the Ayatollah – The Iranian Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam, author Mark Bowden gives readers a vivid and chilling account of a watershed event in modern U.S. history.
Bowden, whose non-fiction works include Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (1999) and Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw (2001) is a renowned journalist who is widely respected by the military and intelligence communities. He is the recipient of the Overseas Press Club’s Cornelius Ryan Award (for Killing Pablo). He also wrote the first draft of the screenplay for director Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of Black Hawk Down. Most recently, Bowden wrote The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden and The Three Battles of Wanat and Other True Stories.
“Scott was placed in a new room with different roommates, which he found a vast improvement, and soon afterwards was summoned to an unusual session with Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, one of the state's most powerful clerics (and the eventual successor to the Imam as Supreme Leader). In his capacity as military liaison, Scott had met Khamenei almost a year earlier. The ayatollah was in charge of Iran's military, and the colonel had sought him out to discuss outstanding defense contracts. As the colonel saw it, no matter how hateful its bluster, Iran had an overwhelming interest in opening such discussions because there were still billions of dollars of Iranian money deposited in trusts to pay off military purchases, money that was still earning interest in American banks. It was not unusual for payouts from these accounts to total $750 million per quarter. Evidently ignorant of the trust fund, Khamenei initially told Scott that he was wasting his time; Iran was not interested in doing business with the United States any more under any circumstances, and that any outstanding debts would not be paid.
“’So, let me get this straight," Scott had said. "If after all the contracts are paid out the fund still has a few hundred million dollars in it, we should just donate it to the U.S. Treasury?’
“At that point the Ayatollah got interested. This was the work Scott that had been doing when taken hostage. It turned out that if Iran wanted to keep its Air Force flying, they had to continue doing business with the United States. In the weeks before the takeover, Scott had arranged for the first official purchase by revolutionary Iran from the U.S. military, a ten million dollar order of tires for their fleet of F-14s and C-5A transports. All that now seemed like it had happened in a different world.
“But in the months since he had last seen Khamenei, Iran's geopolitical position had grown more precarious. Saddam Hussein had become increasingly belligerent along its western border, and just weeks before had executed a revered Shia leader. Ever since, Iran had been both mourning and girding for war. So it came as no surprise to Scott that Khamenei's interest in American parts would be stronger than ever. He had come looking for the American colonel who had sold him aircraft tires. Delivery of that order had been frozen, along with the rest of Iran's considerable assets in the United States, since the takeover of the embassy.”
(C) 2007 Grove Press

To write the detailed and engrossing account of the embassy takeover, the complex diplomatic and military efforts to secure the hostages’ release, and the disastrous 1980 rescue attempt that was aborted after several American aircraft crashed at the Desert One site, Bowden did a lot of legwork.
The author traveled to Iran and interviewed many of the hostage takers, including Nilufar Ebtekar, a then-young propagandist who the hostages contemptuously nicknamed “Screaming Mary” for her fiery diatribes and clumsy attempts to “interview” the captive Americans on Iranian state media. In 2006, Ebtekar was vice-president of Iran in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration and had tried, without success, to get her account of the 444-day standoff published in the U.S.
Bowden also interviewed the surviving Americans who were either held at the embassy or Iran’s Foreign Ministry building, as well as members of former President Carter’s administration and military personnel who took part in the aborted April 1980 rescue mission that claimed the lives of eight American servicemen and one Iranian.

With clear and crisp prose, Bowden describes the Iranian hostage crisis from every perspective. Using details culled from interviews, contemporary news accounts, and archival materials from various U.S. government agencies, he crafts a readable narrative that has the immediacy of a documentary and the page-turning suspense of a spy novel.   

Book details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143037