William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return at Dragon Con 2015

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At a recent luncheon of the Hothlanta Rebels, Carol White asked me if I would portray the Emperor in William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return at Dragon Con.  I didn’t hesitate to accept her offer since I’m a die hard Star Wars fan who appreciates and studied Shakespeare one summer in Oxford University in England.  Although it is surprising to me that I hadn’t read any of the Shakespeare Star Wars books written by Ian Doescher, I’d thought about listening to the audiobook versions.  Now was my time to delve into the script!

Each year, the Star Wars at Dragon Con track has had fans perform table readings of the Shakespeare Star Wars books in front of the con audience.  Most readers are from the local Atlanta fan group, the Hothlanta Rebels, who may or may not have any acting experience. However, the point isn’t about fine Shakespearean acting.  It’s about having fun listening to fans read the lines that are so familiar to us from the films with a Shakespearean spin to them.

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We did not have to dress for the parts, although costumes were an option.  I’ve never been interested in participating in cosplay, but I did bring my Halloween black robe with hood to use for the appearance of the Emperor.  Many of the players didn’t dress in costumes, but big props goes to Daniel Eisenhauer dressed as Darth Vader with sixteenth century plume and ruff while carrying a lightsaber with fencing handle.  

We didn’t read through the whole play.  Selected scenes were chosen and each cast member was called up to the table for their particular scene.  At one point, volunteers were brought up from the audience to play parts in the Death Star battle and were given silly costume props to wear.  One fan was given a squid hat as Admiral Ackbar and stole the show with his impersonation, especially with the last line in the scene saying, “O rebels, do you hear? Fie, ‘tis a trap!”

The final scene was in the Emperor’s Throne Room with me as the Emperor, Daniel Eisenhauer as Darth Vader and Rob Kimmer as Luke Skywalker.  I made sure my hood covered most of my face to give me his phantom look.  I had decided to read in my best, crusty Emperor voice, but I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off.  I know I can’t sound exactly like him, but I was relieved to hear the audience applaud after I delivered my first line.  It was an easy read for me because the Emperor’s lines as Shakespearean didn’t feel far off from what he says in the movie.

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When the narrator states that Vader throws him down the shaft, I threw myself back in the chair with my hands near my head as the Emperor did when Vader picked him up.  I stayed frozen that way as the crowd snickered with laughter until the end of the scene.  I’ve already been asked to read as Palpatine in next year’s The Phantom of Menace, so I need new tricks up my robe’s sleeves.         

If you haven’t read any of these books, you may find them to be a fun read because the author embellishes certain lines in a very humorous way.  Who would imagine that Wedge Antilles has a whole monologue and Ben Kenobi has a disturbing speech to Luke about incest when Leia is revealed as his sister?  May the Force be with thee!

~ Bruce Gibson

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