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This year is the time of seeing the Star Wars franchise through new lenses. Last week, Disney Plus released the first-ever anime series set in a galaxy far, far away. And yesterday marked the release of a book that retells the story of the franchise through a new literary genre for the saga: an epic poem, like Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, titled The Odyssey of Star Wars.
Author Jack Mitchell, a Stanford-educated poet and teacher at Dalhousie University, spoke to StarWars.com about how his book came to be. Apparently, the idea came to him while reading another author’s interpretation of the franchise to his two kids:
“I had always been a kind of Star Wars fan, maybe six out of 10 on a scale of devotion. I could quote lines, but I wasn’t a real scholar. But when I started reading to the kids and they responded so eagerly, I thought to myself, ‘Well, here I am actually transmitting a myth, which is what I read about in my work all the time. This is actually the continuity of our culture happening in real time.’ And then during the process of reading that book, maybe for the tenth time to them, I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I just try and see whether this myth would work in a purely poetic, Homeric form?’”
In the excerpt linked above, you can easily see the epic poem genre fits the Star Wars story very well. Mitchell also talked about this choice:
“I’d like to think that I’m making poetic verse storytelling something that we can access in English instead of having to go to all the trouble of learning ancient Greek and Latin,” he says. “With changes in technology, we’ve started telling our epic stories in grand epic films and novels and so forth. I wanted to show that it was possible to seize the mythology that we love today and do it in the ancient style.”
While Mitchell’s book is accessible to everyone, including casual fans and even people unfamiliar with the franchise, it does contain a lot of small references that the most well-versed readers will appreciate. He explained:
“The basic artistic purpose of latching onto a well-known myth like Star Wars was to allow the poetry to function on the level of allusion. That way I could deploy a word like ‘Mustafar,’ and that has a whole resonance: it takes just three syllables, and suddenly you’re in the climax of Revenge of the Sith. But to have allusion function like that, the mythology has to be known in advance. That’s [something] I take away from my study of ancient epic: just how often these stories were retold. Someone listening to Homer in the ancient world would already know all about Achilles and Odysseus before hearing the poem, because they’d have heard the story so often before.”
About the references, he then added:
“I had to walk a fine line between making it only accessible to hardcore fans and making it available to regular Star Wars readers, including younger readers, listeners, and fans. There’s a lot of young Star Wars fans! They may have seen everything, but they haven’t necessarily internalized every reference.” But like an ancient poem, evolving the story is part of the process of collaborating with the storytellers who have come before him. “It’s a very, very small part, but it’s a pleasure to feel that I’m part of an evolving world.”
Of course, this is not a rewrite of the films, but rather, a complementary read. In his own words:
“I wouldn’t dream of aiming to replace the actual script. In fact, I’m counting on the dedicated fans to know the film dialogue so well that they can appreciate the deliberate departures and variations,” Mitchell says. “The more readers are familiar with the films, the more allusions they’ll pick up on and, I hope, enjoy.
I can’t just use the lines of dialog from the film, I have to kind of milk it a bit,” he says. “And so a line or two in the script will become a six-line speech. It’s the sort of adaptation you would get in a painting: you might include some elements which are not present on the screen, because the different art forms sometimes call for different elements.”
Make sure to head over to StarWars.com to check out multiple pages from the book, which covers from the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to the end of Return of the Jedi. The Odyssey of Star Wars was published yesterday, September 28, 2021.
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