William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher is another bardic exploration of the Star Wars universe. Like the previous Shakespeare’s Star Wars books, this one offers iambic pentameter, humor, and unexpected character insights.
A number of the characters benefit from the character expansion Doescher provides. Amidala gets a greater chance to mull over the responsibilities of being queen, making her a more sympathetic character. The relatively sidelined Shmi Skywalker has a heartfelt speech after Anakin departs, and R2-D2 gets to reflect briefly on matters in an aside.
The character who benefits most strongly is Jar Jar Binks, who goes from failed comic relief in the movie to a thoughtful character bent on uniting the two peoples of Naboo. As Doescher observes in the afterward, Qui-Gon dismisses Jar Jar as “‘a local’ while speaking to Obi Wan—right in front of Jar Jar.” In A Phantom of Menace, Jar Jar has already seen the kind of prejudice his people face and has decided to use it, musing:
It doth befit the human prejudice
To think we Gungans simple, low and rude.
I shall approach him thusly, yet shall bend
Him to the path that shall assist us all.
He then proceeds to play the fool, mixing his fool’s speech from the movie with thoughtful asides as he seemingly-innocent advice or “clumsily” draws attention to matters by stumbling over them. The character reformation works without contradicting the movie where, after all, we never know what Jar Jar is thinking, something Doescher provides via asides in the book.
The Phantom of Menace provides plenty of wordplay, references to other fandoms, Shakespearean quotes, and pop culture references worked into the dialog, as when Panaka is dividing his forces “One group, two groups—red group, blue group.” No one has to get all the references (I am quite sure I did not), or even any, to enjoy the book, but they add the extra layer, and often the extra chuckle to the mix.
Nicolas Delort illustrates the book with careful black and white scratchboard illustrations add another Elizabethan touch to the book. This is the chance to see Watto behatted but still grubby, or to find that Darth Maul fits the setting and time period quite well with minimal alteration. It’s also an opportunity to see what a two-headed announcer looks like in ruff and feathers.
William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace is perfect for people who love Shakespeare, Star Wars, and good books. Look for it on Amazon