Rich Johnston asked me the other day if I’d be willing to do a review of the new Dark Horse book The Star Wars based on George Lucas’s first draft since I had done the interviews about the series for the site. I thought about saying no as I am friends with Mike Mayhew the artist on the series and overall I don’t want to do reviews. As a writer/creator myself I don’t feel I’m necessarily in a place to judge. But then I decided to do it for one reason. I grew up loving Star Wars. I remember buying Chewbacca and Darth Vader at K-Mart with my allowance before I’d even seen the movie. I remember the first time sitting in the theater as the music kicked in and the scroll of words climbing the screen. I remember watching it on laser disc every day during summer vacation when I was ten. I remember my mom taking me out of school early to go see Return of the Jedi on opening day. Years later I remember seeing the re-releases in the theater and the prequels. I remember hating Jar Jar Binks and yes, Han will always have shot first.
So this review is as much from the Star Wars fan in me as it is from the fellow creator.
I will try to do this without spoilers… but come on, that can be tough so be warned.
The inside front cover sets the stage for us nicely by explaining what this project is: “Back in 1974 – still years before a film called Star Wars would take the world by storm – George Lucas completed the first rough-draft screenplay of what was then called The Star Wars. That original screenplay contains all of the now-familiar elements of Star Wars – an evil Empire; a young, would-be Jedi; an older Jedi Knight who mentors the boy; a Princess in need of rescue; even a father who is more machine than man – but put together in ways far different from what you’ve seen on the screen. For nearly four decades George Lucas’s original vision of the galaxy far, far away existed only as what might have been…”
We then start with a scroll of words giving us some history and then we see a planet and an approaching ship… from there we take a very serious right turn from what we know and love. The ship is a Knight of the Sith hunting a missing Jedi. The planet, or rather the Fourth Moon of Utapau, has the same desolate feeling of Tatooine but with no inhabitants. The scene is partly there to introduce the characters of Kane Starkiller and his two sons Annikin and Deak, to introduce the feud between the Jedi and Sith but most importantly it does in eight pages what the movie took until the death of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru to do… it showed the utter lack of hope those that fight against the empire would feel. We come away knowing our heroes are desperate.
We switch to a scene on Alderaan, the capital of the New Galactic Empire. So we can assume it’s not going to get blown up any time soon. We get to meet the Emperor and a very different Darth Vader and they lack something. Vader, more man than machine, doesn’t have that mythical, evil aura about him. He’s just a soldier itching to fight. The Emperor doesn’t seem all powerful… more like a typical dictator. And as much as the opening scene shows us the desperation of the rebellion, you leave this one wondering what the rebels are so worried about. It’s obvious at this point that Lucas hadn’t learned the old axiom of ‘show, don’t tell’ as most of the scene is exposition.
We move to Aquilae where we learn that all planet names start with a vowel in this draft. This is the home of the rebellion and the government is squabbling over how to respond to the Empire until we meet General Luke Skywalker. His entrance is reminiscent of when we finally meet the President in the pilot episode of West Wing. He has a commanding presence that is obvious in Mayhew’s art and steals the scene. We learn that Aquilae is going to continue to defy the Empire and that Princess Leia is going off to school. We also find out that Starkiller wants Skywalker to train Annikin in the ways of the Jedi-Bendu and that Starkiller has paid a steep price for his survival. Oh, and the Empire attacks…
It’s difficult to critique this particular book because you got two sets of creators here. Mayhew and JW Rinzler are making a comic based on a screenplay and character sketches that were tossed out and redone. And there is no doubt in my mind that it was the right decision to do so. The story has little to no character development, the dialogue is stiff and wordy and some scenes are so short and tell you nothing that you have to assume they’ll pay off later… hopefully. The character designs are kind of bland and lack the iconic looks that we now associate with the actual film. And there is literally two pages of action in the entire book. But that falls on the source material. I can see Rinzler has made the best of what he had to work with and Mayhew’s art is gorgeous.
As a piece of history and its relationship to the Star Wars franchise, it is a lot of fun to read knowing the project for what it is. Star Wars fans should read it for the history and for what the current creators are doing. But take the historical connection away and make it stand on its own… it’s just an overly complicated b-grade sci-fi story and Lucas did the right thing by starting over.