We're living in George Lucas's world.
Since the King of Modesto unleashed Star Wars in 1977, there have been seismic shifts in our culture. Over the weekend, Avengers: Age of Ultron made more money than the GNP of some countries, while attendance at the Minneapolis Comic Con might have rivaled that of a Twins-White Sox game.
It's not difficult to assert that the growth of summer blockbusters — not to mention the increased obsession over science fiction and fantasy — was fathered by Lucas's little film set in a galaxy far, far away.
But the director likely wouldn't be pleased with the wreckage that is Hamluke, where his beloved franchise runs headlong into William Shakespeare's most famous tragedy.
The play was a hit in the white-hot environment of the 2012 Fringe Festival, but weakens in the isolation of the Phoenix Theater, where a thrilling end can't overcome a slow start.
The story is pure Hamlet. A brother (dubbed Darthius here) kills the king and marries the dead man's wife, which sets the son — Hamluke — on a confused quest to avenge the murder, all of it wrapped and warped into the Star Wars universe.
Hamluke is not haunted by the ghost of his father, but that of his mentor — Ghostly Wan Kenobi. He tells the black-clad prince of Darthius's plot, and implores him to right this wrong.
Hamluke follows the path of Hamlet by moping around, acting crazy, then making his move after it is too late. Along the way, there are plenty of victims, including poor Opheleia (complete with side buns) and her father, who is presented as a Yoda-like puppet.
Creators Brad Erickson and Michael Mayket jam in tons of Star Wars references, both obvious and obscure. Most audiences will recognize that the gravediggers are beloved Millennium Falcon co-pilot Chewbacca and that most odious of creatures, Jar Jar Binks. Some may recognize fish-headed Admiral Ackbar, who runs on stage to let us know that "It's a trap!" during the finale.
Others may wonder why Opheleia, after going mad, sings about robe-clad wookies walking across the stars to the tune of the Star Wars theme. That means you have not experienced the Star Wars Holiday Special — and thus have a cleaner soul than the rest of us.
Hamluke is a recipe for fun, but the first half comes off as a slog from compressing the plot into an hour-long show. The performances range from fully committed to barely audible, which makes it hard for the production to build energy.
Jay Kistler is fine as the brooding Hamluke, who not only brings out the character's inner turmoil in a series of intense monologues, but replicates Luke's iconic moments from the film series.
Co-creator Erickson also does fun work, channeling the spirit of Alec Guinness as Ghostly Wan Kenobi, and making Osric the most fey Peter Cushing this side of the two 1960s Doctor Who movies.
The finale, which moves from a duel to Hamluke's final confrontation with Darthius, has the spark that the first half misses. Here, the references are fast and sharp, and we are finally pulled into something resembling a blockbuster.
IF YOU GO:
Hamluke Phoenix Theatre 2605 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis $18 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays Through May 17