In the interest of full-disclosure, Mike Mayhew and I go a ways back. He did the cover for my book The Unusual Suspects and I scripted and he drew the Image Comics series Savage. So after hearing about The Star Wars, I wanted to set up a series of interviews so we could really look at the creation of the series in depth. He happily agreed. So this is the first of a few part interview about a very unique and exciting series.
The Star Wars is a new project coming from Dark Horse Comics and can be ordered from retailers now. What makes it unique from any of the previous series is that its taken directly from George Lucas‘ first draft for the movie. Back when it was called The Star Wars, when the heroes were Kane Starkiller and his twin sons Annakin and Deak and they are going to General Skywalker for help. This series is a chance to see how Lucas first envisioned the movie and compare it to what we have today. Mayhew will be working with writer J.W. Rinzler who is also Executive Editor at Lucas Books.
I decided to focus on his initial reaction and the overall look at the project for the first part of the interview.
MAYHEW: My initial reaction to George’s original draft script was, “Sweet Christmas! Why I have I not heard of this before!!” I had heard of several short drafts, and some of the names tossed around like Kane Starkiller, but I had no idea that George’s 1974 draft was so complete. As a professional comic artist, when I read the “draft”, I felt that I could work from it and be able to present a totally complete and compelling comic series. In fact, it’s almost unreal how perfectly the script translates into comics. Not only is Luscasfilm historian and author Jonathan Rinzler’s adaptation breaking down so each issue feels like a complete story unto itself yet connected to a whole, but even the first five pages of each issue so far (I’m wrapping up #3) creates a perfect “first five pages” preview that we see commonly in online promoting of comics shipping each week in comic stores. Like, each page five is a doozy with this amazing four page setup!
The differences between George’s script and what we’re presenting in the series are practically none. There are some very minor tweaks here and there, mainly for clarity, but for the most part every word of dialogue and every scene is painstakingly reproduced. Maintaining the integrity of George’s purest and wildest ideas for what would become STAR WARS is paramount to Jonathan, myself, and editor Randy Stradley. If you are the uber-fan who knows this script and are waiting to see what we get wrong, I think you will be very surprised at how exactly like George’s script this is.
MAYHEW: My approach to this project first and foremost was to tell a great story. But, as much as I could, I wanted to celebrate the world of early 70’s sci-fi, which I was keenly aware of as a boy. I was born in 1969 (the year we set foot on the moon), so by the age of four PLANET OF THE APES was my favorite thing ever. GODZILLA, LOST IN SPACE, STAR TREK, and countless other sci-fi TV shows and movies were the worlds in which I preferred to live. Monster stuff too, like UNIVERSAL Monsters and HAMMER Horror films. Before I saw STAR WARS, Peter Cushing was already a favorite of mine I knew as Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing. In fact, when I first saw trailers for STAR WARS on “the boob tube”, I remember thinking, “Peter Cushing is in this?! It’s gotta be great!”
So, it was easy for me to put myself in the place of; it’s 1974, I’m a FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND junkie, a young director comes to you wanting to make a sci-fi/monster/fantasy film. What would be the coolest things you’d have to include? Alex Raymond FLASH GORDON? Check. 2001: A SPACE ODYESSEY? Check. Jack Kirby’s FOURTH WORLD? Check.
I even went so far as to imagine if the music for this film wasn’t John Williams fanfare, but was more like progressive electronic music from the early 70s like Neu!, Bowie, Eno, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream. That kind of experimentation, and the “poetry of technology” those bands embraced, seemed like exactly the type of thing George was doing in cinema, so I let that inform my approach.
BC: Were there any existing designs to go with the script or are you having to come up with everything fresh? How does your take differ from the feel of the existing series artistically? Do they look like the same universe?
MAYHEW: A wealth of pre-existing, pre-STAR WARS designs and info needed to be brought into play in creating the world of THE STAR WARS. If I have the story right, George had Ralph McQuarrie begin to conceptualize concepts from this script around late 1974/early 1975 in order to begin to secure funding for the production. There are dozens of drawing and paintings of I would say half of the characters that gave us a solid foundation. The most familiar ones are what I call the “proto-Jedi” designs that have the bearded warrior with the cape, “lazersword” and “spacesuit” body armor. There were a slew of concepts and passes on R2D2 and C3PO. There were rough concepts on “Sith” warriors. There were several paintings that included the “proto-characters”, most famously a Ralph McQuarrie “movie poster” concept that had General Skywalker, the early droid concepts, a proto “Leia/Luke”, and the early bugged-eyed Chewbacca design that was nicknamed the “bush baby” Wookie. I even had access to some drawings I had never seen before that are really amazing!
For the stuff that had’nt been designed I had the enviable job of imagining I was a 1970s sci-fi concept artist. It’s an incredible period of art in cinema. Reviewing work from artists like Ralph McQuarrie, Ron Cobb, Joe Johnston, Moebius, John Berkey, Chris Foss, Roger Dean and others, it was amazing how influential all that stuff was. Forty years later, every movie sci-fi movie is still heavily indebted to design concepts from STAR WARS and ALIEN. Probably my favorite examples of are Moebius’ dozens of character designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s DUNE film circa 1973.
George’s script has a very, very rich and specific sense of visuals, and there are many images never before seen in STAR WARS. If you know George’s work from the early 70s, you know how keen of an eye he had. His design sense, coupled with his mastery of camerawork and editing, made him a visual tour-de-force in cinema. So, I imagined THX-1138, and even the “proto version” of that ELECTRIC LABRYRINTH in terms of how man interacts with technology. I even considered AMERICAN GRAFITTI in terms of hot rods, and storytelling style. “Chrome” plays a big part in the script. Almost like the “spice” in the Dune series. As an artist that uses a lot of 3d pre-visualization, I knew I could represent a lot of “reflective” surfaces in a way that maybe hasn’t been done in comics. You’ll see a lot of “chrome” to represent power, like on Vader’s costume. I could imagine George dreaming up these chrome space fantasies while polishing the chrome valve covers on his hot rod engine before a night of cruising as a lad. So, I tried to put myself in George’s head to achieve the purest, freshest take on things.
And, there are a TON of visual “easter eggs”. Design elements and familiar visuals that are peppered throughout. Some have a storytelling purpose, and some are just in the background.
BC: Comparing the movies to the script you are working on, do you feel the first draft was superior in any way? Any moment or character you wish Lucas had carried over that either got cut or drastically changed in the series?
MAYHEW: This is my story to tell. My goal is to knock your socks off. You’ve seen STAR WARS. How can I make something that is weaker than STAR WARS, and expect you to stay on board for eight issues? So my goal, my job as I see it, is to take you on a ride and tell better story than the one you saw in STAR WARS.
I think I can honestly say that this script is equally as good as STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE. In many ways it’s superior. It’s hard to give examples without giving the story away. This script is RELENTLESS. This is the APOCOLYPSE NOW version of STAR WARS: a violent, twisted journey into the heart of darkness. It’s too much to contain in a single movie, especially one filmed with the technology available circa 1975. So, is this script better? That is going to have to be up to the readers.
The other things about this script that will FASCINATE anyone interested in writing, is the groundwork and foundations of what would become the most familiar characters in popular culture. Examining the two or three characters that would merge to become DARTH VADER is worth the price of admission alone. You think you know Vader, and the “luke I am your father” has been analyzed and played upon for 40 years, so what more could you do with him? But the pieces of the puzzle that went into that character are a lot different than you might think. It makes you look at STAR WARS in a different, more complex light.
I think the film STAR WARS is perfect as it is. I think George made exactly the right choices that would make STAR WARS become the phenomenon beyond all phenomena. And, that’s what makes this story even MORE fascinating. What other “perfect” movie has a pre-existing “proto” version that is wildly different yet equally as sophisticated? It’s hard to even find an analogy. Like, what if Orson Welles had a proto-version of CITIZEN KANE, where maybe he wasn’t a newspaper tycoon, but a railroad tycoon, and maybe he didn’t end up in San Simian, but maybe he ended up on a mysterious island. And you read it and you felt like if Welles filmed it he would have an equally great masterpiece? Like I said that’s a weak comparison, but I don’t know if any other film that has another “version” so different and so complete.
BC: You and I are about the same age, so Star Wars was probably Earth-shattering to you as well. How does it feel to be working on this project and just how much freedom have you been given in your character and tech designs?
MAYHEW: STAR WARS had a profound effect on me. I saw it at seven years old with my best friend and that night we were jumping around doing lightsaber battles. From that day forward the toys, the soundtrack, the comics, became my favorite things.
But, more than that the man who made this story, and the way he handled it was so apparent to me as a young age. I’m not sure what it was; the peak of power a 70s filmmaker could achieve, or the entrepreneurial genius of keeping the film rights and being so prepared to penetrate the toy and licensing avenues, or the fact that STAR WARS was held up as story that reinvents “mythology” itself! . That man, George Lucas, was a pinnacle of what an artist could achieve if he knew the past and embraced the future, if he took chances and had a unique singular vision, and If he involved even more talented artists than himself to bring to life his vision. I can’t think of any other one individual that inspired me more personally growing up. George Lucas is the Walt Disney, or the Steve Jobs of my formative years. To be doing a comic book where essentially 1974 George is the writer and me as the artist is a mind-boggling to say the least. It’s like jammin’ with John Lennon. I really have to ignore it for the most part and focus on the most important thing; what’s the story I need to be telling right now.
In the next part of the interview I will be delving into Mayhew’s approach to the characters both in look and in feel. The Star Wars issue 1 is in Previews now.