In 1978, a “holiday special’ was released under the Star Wars umbrella. Today it is universally panned as the worst Star Wars product ever conceived. It is tonally completely different from Star Wars and it spends most of its time either in a bar on Tatooine or on Kashik with Chewbacca’s family; characters we don’t know, can’t understand, and have no influence on the larger Star Wars Universe!
The only bright spot in this tragic black hole of a time-wasting special, (at least according to most of the internet), was that this special brought back the character of Boba Fett, the cool, anti-heroic bounty hunter who is constantly deceiving our heroes. As you can see, they changed the format into a cartoon, so that’s a little bizarre, but it was nice to see an old friend in this otherwise who’s who of lame new characters.
THIS WAS NOT A NEW IDEA, EVEN FOR 1978,
In around 1598 (allegedly), Queen Elizabeth the first asked William Shakespeare to write a comedy about Sir John Falstaff, the fat cowardly comic center of the Henry IV plays. The Queen wanted to see a comedy about Falstaff in love, which Shakespeare allegedly completed in a few short weeks.
Ant the result, was the Star Wars Holiday Special of the Shakespearean Cannon.
Unlike Henry IV, which is a complex history play about rebels going up against an empire (Henry IV claimed part of France so that counts :), Merry Wives a silly comedy set in the country town of Windsor. Just like the Holiday Special, Shakespeare’s comedy has a totally different tone than the other plays that feature Falstaff.
I think Shakespeare wisely didn’t try to make Falstaff a romantic figure- that would be absolute character assassination. What he does instead is take Falstaff’s ability to sweet-talk women and his penchant for thievery, and make the play about his attempts to seduce two virtuous housewives and steal their money. Just like how Boba Fett was not changed into a good-guy to pander to audiences (yet), but instead, Lucas made him a cunning deceiver who tries to sell out our heroes to Darth Vader.
Though Falstaff himself works within the context of the play, most of the new comic characters are very dated and not very funny. Dr. Caius and the Welshman are written with outrageous accents making them as incomprehensible as alien bit players in Star Wars. Frankly, I’d rather kiss a Wookie than listen to these losers try to woo Mistress Page’s daughter. It’s like Shakespeare cut and pasted the worst scenes from Taming Of The Shrew and added a French accent.
Even more boring are the scenes at the Garter Inn- a place that must’ve had significance for knights in the 1590s, but nowadays is somewhat forgettable, (like the Cantina, deal with it NERDS!)
The one really good part of the play is this scene in Act II, Scene I where Mistress Page and Mistress Ford simultaneously receive letters of “love,” (which really means ‘I want sex and your money), from Falstaff. The ladies are incensed for a couple of really good reasons:
A. It’s Falstaff- a fat, old, penniless knight who is well known as a drunk.
B. They’re already married, and he has the pudding guts to assume they’d betray their husbands.
C. If they were to cheat on their husbands, THEY WOULDN’T DO IT WITH FALSTAFF
D. The love poem he writes them is terrible. If he wanted these virtuous wives to cheat on their husbands for someone as completely undeserving as him, he could’ve at least put some effort into it!
I would also argue that the worst thing about the Holiday Special became the best thing about Merry Wives: the songs!
The most egregious change to the tone of Star Wars that the Holiday Special made was putting in a bunch of terrible musical performances by people like Jefferson Starship (get it?) to make the special more of a variety show with the Star Wars characters slapped on top of it like a sticker on a lunch box. Now we know what it sounds like when Princess Leia sings a song that clearly required a second draft:
Luckily for Shakespeare, instead of Jefferson Starship, he got opera composer Otto Nikoli, who saved this mostly terrible play by turning it into a charming opera! Look at this duet from Act I!
A lot of the more absurd plot points of Merry Wives work extremely well as musical comedy shtick, and Falstaff himself works very well as a big basso profundo
So if you go to see Merry Wives, know that it’s not a very good play by Shakespearean standards. It’s silly, kind of pointless, and not a very good addition to the story of Falstaff, but much like the Star Wars Holiday Special, it’s sure to make you laugh: