When people think of examples of the classic epic poem, titles like The Odyssey or Beowulf are what likely come to mind. But when Jack Mitchell, associate professor in Dalhousie’s Department of Classics, considered the many interweaving stories of adventure, quests, family relations, battles, villains, monsters and heroes within the Star Wars saga, a new take on the classic stories was imagined and reframed using the ancient literary form of epic poetry.
On Monday, March 21, Dr. Mitchell welcomes members of the Dalhousie community and the public to the Ondaatje Auditorium in the Marion McCain Arts and Social Sciences Building for a special event celebrating the launch of his new book, The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem. After two years of the pandemic’s restrictions against hosting public events, Dr. Mitchell hopes this event will provide a chance for people to have some fun and celebrate Star Wars and literature together again.
We asked Dr. Mitchell about his writing process for this book and what the audience can expect at the book launch event.
What inspired you to reframe the Star Wars saga using the ancient literary form of epic poetry?
My motivation was two-fold. I wanted to tackle a contemporary story and theme that was serious enough to take the form of an epic poem. There's always a danger these days in trying to write serious epic and ending up with 'mock epic' — that is, a parody both of the form and of the content — and I was determined to avoid that. Star Wars is taken very seriously by millions of people, and rightfully so: the themes are as grand as those of the Aeneid, and the imaginative world is as absorbing and detailed as that of the Mahabharata. So for me as an epic poet it provided a vehicle for my art while (I hope) making it interesting to the millions of people who love Star Wars.
Please describe the approach you took to reframe the Star Wars saga into an epic poem.
My basic scheme was to retell the "original trilogy" of Star Wars (Episodes IV, V, and VI), which came out in 1979-83, while also mixing in the background of the "prequel trilogy" (Episodes I, II, and III), which came out 20 years later. This let me do what epic does best: alluding to other material from the epic cycle for enhanced dramatic effect, in a way that is difficult to do on-screen without awkward flashbacks or extensive dialogue. I followed the sequence of events in the original trilogy quite scrupulously, though without cutting from one plotline to another as is usual (and easy to follow) on the screen. So I treat Luke's training with Yoda on Dagobah as one continuous episode (Book V in my poem), instead of interspersing it with the adventures of Han and Leia, as is done in The Empire Strikes Back.
Which of the main Star Wars storylines are featured in your poem?
The focus is very much on the family "Skywalker Saga" of Anakin, Luke, and Leia, with Darth Vader as the central character: the first words of my poem are "The choice of Vader," which is also the title of the last "book" (Book X) of the poem, emphasising Vader's personal moral choices and ultimate cosmic destiny, in the way that "the anger of Achilles" (also named in Book 1 Line 1) is the key theme of the Iliad. Along the way, however, I also included material that is tangential to that core storyline, so that Lando Calrissian recaps the adventures of Solo (2018), we hear about the Battle of Scarif from Rogue One (2016), and there are embedded retellings of the core plots of each prequel film.
What can people expect for next week’s book launch event?
It's going to be a blast! I'll be performing some dramatic scenes, talking with a Dal Classics alum (and Star Wars superfan) Luke Togni about the intersections of Star Wars and ancient literature; there'll be a book signing; and the Atlantic Garrison of the 501st Legion — dedicated Star Wars costume enthusiasts — will be on hand. Audience members are encouraged to wear anything Star Wars-related and there will be prizes for best costume and for victory in a trivia contest.
About the event
Book launch – The Odyssey of Stat Wars: An Epic Poem
Monday, March 21, 2022
Ondaatje Auditorium, Marion McCain Arts and Social Sciences Building, 6135 University Avenue
As seating is limited, please RSVP for the event.
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