Review: The Odyssey of Star Wars cements the space opera among our most epic myths

Cover of The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem. Photo: Lucasfilm.
Cover of The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem. Photo: Lucasfilm. /

We can now count the Star Wars saga among our society’s greatest heroic myths. The stories of Star Wars have been told in many forms over the saga’s more than four decades — from film, television and books to comics, audio dramas and even Shakespearian style. With The Odyssey of Star Wars, the mythos of a galaxy far, far away get the epic poem treatment evocative of Beowulf, Virgil’s The Aenid and Homer’s The Odyssey.

The story of Star Wars is brought to life in lyrical verse and meter by Jack Mitchell, epic poet, classics scholar and associate professor of Classics at Dalhousie University. With some of his favorite authors including Homer, Virgil and J.R.R. Tolkien, the influences of these authors’ classic epics and fantasy literature add even more depth to a galaxy-spanning saga.

Adding to the classical feel of the epic poem is the inclusion of New Zealand artist Jessica Benhar’s illustrations, which are inspired by Greco-Roman terracotta vases.

The Odyssey of Star Wars showcases the events and characters of Rogue One through Return of the Jedi, painting pictures of the devastating yet triumphant battle of Scarif and the intensity of the seconds before Luke Skywalker fired those torpedoes to destroy the Death Star to Luke’s stunning revelation to Leia about their siblinghood and their Sith lord father. All of it is penned in such melodic, antiquated verse that it’s easy to forget you’re reading science fantasy stories of space samurai and semi-sentient droids.

The most captivating elements of The Odyssey of Star Wars are the illustrative spins on the planets and locales and the poetic twists on iconic quotes. Instead of Princess Leia saying Obi-Wan Kenobi is her only hope, Mitchell writes Leia’s holo message, “In Obi-Wan Kenobi lies my hope.”

Similarly, “May the Force be with you” becomes “the Force stands ever at your side” and Han’s famous answer to Leia’s “I love you” becomes more bittersweet through “That I know” seconds before he’s frozen in carbonite.

The desert planet of Tatooine is given perhaps the most beautiful introduction:

"Little of life you have, but that most starkAmid the lifelessness; little of fateBut that so fateful as to shift the stars."

As with Tatooine, even the harshest and most brutal locales and action-packed scenes are made peaceful and soothing through Mitchell’s use of iambic pentameter — a style made famous by William Shakespeare and John Milton. The gritty and raucous scenes inside the Mos Eisley cantina are made all the more formidable through Mitchell’s melodious verse as it spins tales of the patrons and the legends behind them.

And Boba Fett, who famously only appeared on screen for a few minutes in the original trilogy, gets a grand, lyrical entrance in The Odyssey of Star Wars, which describes the bounty hunter as an “iconic warrior.”

"All trembled who beheldYour Mandalorian armor, beskar-faced,Jetpack, twin pistols, rockets on the wrists,And flamethrower, in service of a mindMost cunning and a will of adamant."

While The Odyssey of Star Wars spans the timeline from the Battle of Scarif to the redemption of Anakin Skywalker, the epic poem has stories of the prequel films and the Clone Wars woven throughout. In the chapter on Dagobah, Yoda spins the heartbreaking tale of how Darth Vader came to be — from training as a Jedi and Qui-Gon Jinn’s insistence that the boy could be the Chosen One to the Battle of Naboo and the breaking of Jedi rules about falling in love. The epic poem also weaves in the legends of Darth Plagueis, his apprentice Darth Sidious, and their obsession with a Dark Side mastery over life and death.

The inclusion of key details from galactic history adds even more depth and drama to an already vast and expanding universe.

Mitchell’s poetic verse makes clear his love for both classical storytelling and Star Wars. His inspiration for crafting The Odyssey of Star Wars, he said, grew out of his children’s eager response to his reading to them of another Star Wars book.

"…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,” he said."

Thanks to Mitchell’s expertise and passion, The Odyssey of Star Wars isn’t just another twist on a beloved saga. In the same vein as ancient Greek and Roman storytellers, the epic poem cements the legends of Luke and Leia, the Force and lightsabers among our most treasured myths.

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The Odyssey of Star Wars, published by Abrams Books, is available now through bookstores.

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