The Germanic Review: Literature. Culture. Theory

From Hypotext to Hypertext and (Hyper-)Space Opera: Schiller’s “Don Karlos,” Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars”

by Jeffrey L. High (2020)

Friedrich Schiller's long journey to Hollywood began in the late eighteenth-century with the early resonance of his dramas on U.S. stages. After rising to prominence in the nineteenth century, Schiller's dramas all but disappeared from the U.S. repertoire due to anti-German hostility during the First and Second World Wars. In an ironic twist, WWII led to an influx of German-speaking thinkers and artists into the U.S., a development that impacted university curricula nationwide, which in part explains Schiller's influence on, among other artistic movements, the films of New Hollywood Cinema. George Lucas experienced this confluence of educational and artistic environments at its height while at USC in the 1960s. In 1977, Lucas called Star Wars: A New Hope a “space opera,” and opera experts would be very hard-pressed to find an opera more similar in form and content than Verdi's Don Carlo, which is itself a transmedial hypertext adaptation of Schiller's hypotext Don Karlos. In its setting, structure, and character constellation, Schiller's Don Karlos has demonstrated such an enduring artistic and consumer resonance that a series of its marked and unmarked hypertexts have long invited further imitation and proximation by artists whom Richard Dawkins called “replicators.” Despite self-evident similarities, a long chain of “recombinant” Don Karlos adaptations and variations may go unrecognized as such, including Star Wars, which is itself among the most frequently-cited and adapted works of art, and thus perpetuates the chain.

Friedrich Schiller, George Lucas, Giuseppe Verdi,  Don Karlos, Don Carlo,  Star Wars, opera, Space Opera, adaptation.

Author information:
Jeffrey L. High is Professor and Section Chair of German Studies at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), as well as Guest Professor at Portland State University's German Summer School of the Pacific. He is the author and editor or co-editor of five books on Schiller, Kleist, and the Late Enlightenment, with two co-edited volumes on Kleist and one on Napoleon Bonaparte forthcoming. He is a 2018 recipient of the CSULB “President's Award for Outstanding Faculty Achievement in Scholarship and Mentoring” and the CSULB Honor Program?s 2019 “Most Valuable Professor.”


High, Jeffrey L.
From Hypotext to Hypertext and (Hyper-)Space Opera: Schiller’s “Don Karlos,” Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars”.
In: The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 95,1 (2020): "German Exiles in Los Angeles". Ed. by Willi Goetschel, pp. 5-20.