Friday, December 19, 2014


Script: J.W. Rinzler | Art: Mike Mayhew
Colors: Rain Beredo | Lettering: Michael Heisler | Cover Art: Nick Runge

Nearly a year ago, when I began to cover the CLASSIC STAR WARS newspaper strip collections, I noted that I often enjoy, as a curiosity, licensed fiction based on well-known properties before their mythologies were set in stone. They give you an interesting look at what could have been, if creative decisions had gone in different directions. In a way, THE STAR WARS is almost a retroactive version of these sorts of situations.

The premise of THE STAR WARS is simply: what if George Lucas's original draft screenplay had been produced as a movie? There's a lot different in Lucas's earliest conception of his saga: Luke Skywalker is a veteran Jedi general. Han Solo is an alien. Darth Vader is just an Imperial agent -- not even a Sith, though the dark Jedi cult does play a role in the story.

Providing this adaptation of the draft script are writer J.W. Rinzler and artist Mike Mayhew. Rinzler is known for his extensively researched MAKING OF STAR WARS books -- the first of which covers the evolution of Lucas's original idea into the film it would ultimately become -- so he seems a reasonable and even obvious choice to write the story. I'm not certain how much actual creative work Rinzler did though, since this is ostensibly adapted from an already-existing script. I'm sure some polish must've been involved in the process, but there's no real way of telling how much has been changed.

As the story begins, we learn that the Jedi-bendu, defenders of the Old Empire, have been hunted down and exterminated by their ancient enemies, the Sith. Only a handful of Jedi survive, including Kane Starkiller and his sons, Annikin and Deak. But when the Starkillers are assaulted by Sith, young Deak is killed. Starkiller and Annikin escape to the planet Aquilae, where a rebellion against the evil New Empire is in the offing. The royalty of Aquilae are advised by General Luke Skywalker, Starkiller's old friend.

Skywalker is an interesting character here, coming with a well-known name, but sharing no characteristics whatsoever with his eventual big screen counterpart. He's a seasoned campaigner and a great Jedi who in some ways reminds one of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the character into which he eventually evolved. But to me, moreso than Kenobi, this Skywalker is reminiscent of THE PHANTOM MENACE's Qui-Gon Jinn. The Kenobi of the original trilogy was said to be a general, but was not exactly a man of action. Jinn, on the other hand, is seen early and often in combat, and rallies an army of Gungans to battle in the final act of PHANTOM MENACE. He also has the duty of escorting an exiled queen to safety. Skywalker as seen here does much the same, substituting Wookiees for Gungans and a princess (Leia) for Queen Amidala.

And just as "Luke Skywalker" reads as a prequel trilogy character, so does his eventual apprentice, Annikin Starkiller. This Annikin would eventually become the Luke Skywalker we know and love, but in THE STAR WARS, his character is much closer to that of the Anakin Skywalker seen in ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH -- he's brash and in general more proactive than the Luke Skywalker of the original trilogy. He also has a very clear love interest in Princess Leia, much like Anakin with Amidala, as opposed to Luke's less defined interest in the woman who would eventually be revealed as his sister.

As the Empire arrives at Aquliae to quell the brewing rebellion, Luke and Annikin are tasked with getting the royal children to safety elsewhere. The ensuing conflict takes us across Aquilae to a prototype Mos Eisley, where our heroes meet up with the alien Solo, and eventually away from the planet for a chase to the distant world of Yavin. There, the group encounters the native Wookiees and a human couple named Owen and Beru Lars. But the princess is captured, prompting Annikin to infiltrate the Empire's massive space battle station and save her, while Luke trains the Wookiees in the art of interstellar combat and leads them against the sphere-like fortress. As one might expect, our heroes win the day and everyone -- even the Wookiee prince, Chewbacca -- receives a medal.

This is a fun "what if..." story, and certainly seems to be in line with what I've seen of Lucas's original ideas -- but it's not without its flaws. First and foremost is that there's a reason this script was a rough draft. Don't get me wrong; the story is very imaginative and interesting, and it's fun to see these prototypes of the characters we know in action -- plus we get rough versions of scenes that would eventually make their way into the films, such as the "He doesn't like you/I don't like you either" bit from the Mos Eisley Cantina and the assault on the Death Star.

But the pacing is way off. Too much action takes place on Aquilae before the group finally gets moving, and as a result, the rest of the story feels crammed together. Plus there's a peculiar bit at the end, where Darth Vader's Sith adviser, Prince Valorum (another name which would eventually find its way in to the prequels as the Republic's chancellor), turns on the Empire and joins the heroes. This defection comes from absolutely nowhere and makes little sense. There's no strong villain to speak of in THE STAR WARS either, as Vader and Valorum both play the role assumed by Grand Moff Tarkin in the later STAR WARS, standing around their battle station chatting.

And then there's the artwork. First, let me quickly note that I love most of the covers by Nick Runge. They remind me of the great Drew Struzan, who provided artwork for every STAR WARS poster beginning with the "Special Edition" re-releases in the nineties, not to mention several STAR WARS novels around the same time.

The interiors, however, are a real mixed bag. I haven't seen a lot from Mike Mayhew (presumably no relation to the actor who played Chewbacca), but the covers and such that I've run across are very nice. However I'm not sold on his sequential work as seen here. Sometimes it's quite dynamic and fluid, but all too often characters look painfully like posed models -- and Mayhew's photorealistic art often borders on overly creepy as a result. The colors are nice, though.

Left: Dynamic. Right: Creepy, creepy, creepy!

But beyond my issues with Mayhew, the entire story looks a little too "big budget" and modern for what it is. The original STAR WARS looked (and still looks) great for its time, but it also looks like a movie produced on a budget. I feel that, with respect to certain ships, locations, and aliens, this series would have been well served by trying to make it look like a movie shot in the seventies. I appreciate comics which break the boundaries of what other mediums can achieve, but in a project such as this, sticking to an "effects budget" would have helped the finished product to feel more real to me.

(Personally, I would've liked to see some shaggy hair too, along the lines of Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford circa 1977, to really complete that seventies feel -- but even if others agree with me on the above, I'm probably alone in this.)

So that's about it. I like the story, though it's not perfect. The artwork is sometimes good, rarely great, and often creepy. In the end, I can't help feeling THE STAR WARS might have worked better as a novel than a comic book, but I appreciate the idea and the effort by all involved. If nothing else, it looks to have been a labor of love.

Available at Deluxe Edition Hardcover | Paperback (used for this review)

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