One Step Above the Sublime
Of the three original Star Wars movies, More about Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) is the most ridiculous. It may not have Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) or crazy-Yoda-Jedi acrobatics, but it does have the Ewoks, C-3PO as a god-bot, and those three ghostly Jedi, grinning as if a happy ending could wipe away all that death and destruction, on Alderaan and beyond, and as if sins could be so easily atoned for.
Return of the Jedi also offers some of the greatest moments of that first and great trilogy, however. There are moments of transcendence, moments of the sublime: Luke’s return as a Jedi to save his friend Han from both his captivity and his debt, Luke’s return to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda, Luke’s return to the presence of his dark father for one final confrontation.
This is not surprising, this easy stepping from the sublime to the ridiculous and then back again. It’s a small step, as most steps are in the grand scheme of things. Thomas Paine told us this; Napoleon agreed. The sublime is one step above the ridiculous; one step more and everything becomes ridiculous again.
Ian Doescher’s translation of the movie into the style and syntax of William Shakespeare steps from the ridiculous to the sublime time and time again.
Let’s start, like the book does, with the sublime, and Vader’s Act 1, Scene 1 soliloquy.
The scene is set for this, the final act.
I shall destroy the rebels, one and all,
And turn young Luke, my son, unto the dark.
It is the role I play, my destiny –
The grand performance for which I am made.
Come, author of the dark side of the Force,
Make me the servant of thy quill and write
The tale wherein my son and I are seal’d
As one. Come, take mine ev’ry doubt from me,
And fashion from my heart of flesh and wires
A perfect actor: callous, cold and harsh.
If only George Lucas could have put such words in Vader’s mouth. Imagine James Earl Jones reciting these lines, confessing these desires, this hope for his son, this faith in the Force.
Or imagine this, from the Rancor Keeper, after his precious beast is killed by Luke with the power of the Force and a crashing gate:
O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt
Into oblivion, if I without
My pet belov’d must live. O darkest world!
O misery beyond compare to me. . . .
O Fate, that ever I should see this day –
Now there’s but little light left in this world,
For its bright sun unjustly is snuff’d out.
I shall away, and drown myself in tears,
Belike to live the sad remainder of
My mortal days upon this planet grave
Unfriended, unprotected, and alone.
The moment in the film when the stop-motion, green-screen beast dies, the moment when his barbarian master weeps, always made me laugh when I felt I was meant to cry. But here, with Doescher’s words, I want to cry then find myself laughing for wanting to. I thought this sublime, but of course, it’s ridiculous.
And there’s plenty of that here, plenty that is as ridiculous as a Shakespearean translation of Return of the Jedi should be. Ewoks, for example, are always ridiculous, on screen or in Shakespeare.
Hear R2-D2 narrate the battle of Endor:
See how the creatures fight! What skill and wit
They use to struggle ‘gainst their foes. There is
One flying through the sky on wings of bark,
Who drops upon the walker his small load.
The AT-ST doth not feel the hit,
But O, what daring hath the creature shown!
A group doth hold a rope across the path
To trip a walker up, yet it but pulls
Them all along. Yet some have triumph’d, too,
For they have crush’d the walker’s cockpit with
Two trunks of trees sent swinging from the vines.
This was a ridiculous scene in the movie, those tree trunks smashing improbably through the armored tank of the Empire, those mini-Wookies just as improbably portrayed as lethal, dangerous, warriors.
It is even more ridiculous here.
And that is why I like this book. It is ridiculous.
Shakespeare and George Lucas? Could any two writers be farther apart? And yet, as Doescher so ably shows, the two are closer than we might think. The whole idea is ridiculous, except when it isn’t, except when Vader ceases to be a cardboard character and becomes, under Doescher’s hand and Shakespeare’s influence, a living breathing human being, except when the ridiculous become something more. Shakespeare and Star Wars turn out to be a fitting pair.
Ridiculous. And sublime.