In 1999 Dark Horse Comics published an intriguing experiment called Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Origin — a comic-book adaptation of Joss Whedon’s original script for the movie, hewing more closely to what he envisioned in his head before the director and producer meddled and warped everything. Although Dark Horse’s version didn’t contain nearly enough Paul Reubens, few Buffy fans would choose the movie over The Origin. It was a rare opportunity to see a writer’s lost draft technically restored and given life anew.
In that same vein, Dark Horse now brings us The Star Wars, an eight-issue miniseries promising to adapt George Lucas’ 1974 rough-draft screenplay that would later be rethought, rewritten, rearranged, and eventually filmed as merely Star Wars. Without the “The”. Because it looked cleaner.
Adapted for comics by Lucas Licensing staffer J. W. Rinzler and painted by Mike Mayhew, The Star Wars contains a few of the same proper nouns, but not much else recognizable to casual readers. In the original story, the former space heroes known as the Jedi-Bendu (see what I mean?) were still murdered en masse, their few survivors now fugitives. One of their number, the subtly named Kane Starkiller, balances life on the run with the demands of fatherhood as he home-schools his sons Annikan and li’l Deak in his ways. When a lightsaber-wielding assassin tracks them down to a moon of Utapau, tragedy strikes and desperation drives them to the planet Aquilae, where Starkiller seeks the help of his old Jedi comrade, General Luke Skywalker — white-haired, bearded, a key player in Aquilae’s military defenses.
Do Starkiller and Skywalker stand a chance against the New Galactic Empire, led by the nefarious Governor Hoedaack and his Fu Manchu mustache? What evils will we see perpetrated by his allies, the green-skinned bureaucrat Vantos Coll and the sullen, unhelmeted, stocky, healthy-pallored warrior known as Darth Vader? Should Aquilae’s stately King Kayos be concerned for his subjects, as well as for the lives of his three children, Leia, Biggs, and Windy?
With parents as characters, long-winded speeches, and dry political negotiations, the structure of the first chapter (which arrived in stores last Wednesday) has more in common with The Phantom Menace than with A New Hope. In general it’s readable and intriguing in its own right despite all the royal filibustering. Mayhew’s visuals are engrossing as always (I fondly recall a Green Lantern Arisia short story he illustrated many years ago), co-opting some of Lucasfilm’s oldest surviving concept art with nifty results.
On the other hand, the settings and sequencing are so radically different from what we’ve now watched multiple times throughout our lives, Dark Horse could’ve easily done some light renaming and released this as a separate, stable sci-fi milieu unto itself. Keep the Lucas name on it but jettison the barely applicable Star Wars insignia, and…well, okay, it would sell one-twentieth as many copies, but this is as much about Star Wars as the Stan Lee/DC Comics Just Imagine… alt-universe project was about the mainstream DC universe. Or, a less obscure analogy: this is as much about actual Star Wars as NBC’s The Office was about David Brent. All they ultimately share are superficial elements and a merchandising label.
I’m curious enough to follow through with the rest of the miniseries, and would’ve added it to my reading list even if I weren’t buying it for my wife, the chief Star Wars fan in our household. Consider the precedent this could set, though: if this resurrection of previously unproduced material succeeds, we could see an entire wave of adaptations, reboots, and repurposing of the reject piles from all corners of pop culture. Imagine actual comics based on Kevin Smith’s Superman Returns, the first few Pirates of the Caribbean scripts, Vincent Ward’s bizarre but discarded Alien³ world-of-wood concept, any number of unused Die Hard sequels, or upwards of five hundred rejected TV-pilot pitches per year…though some of those would-be showrunners might want to hold onto their spec scripts for another fifteen or twenty years, wait till they evolve into the next George Lucas, and then auction away their media rights.