Saturday, 6 September 2014


STAR WARS as you've never seen it before - 1974 style!  Images: DARK HORSE COMICS/TITAN BOOKS.

DARK HORSE COMICS may now have lost the license to publish all-new STAR WARS adventures (an inevitable decision to hand the reins back to MARVEL COMICS by LUCASFILM, since Stan Lee's former empire is owned by DISNEY), but its pool of talented writers and artists can at least sit back and cherish the incredible accomplishments they brought to the Expanded Universe of four-colour SW storytelling these past twenty-three years, of which I think its highly unlikely that their successors will carve out a universe quite so diverse and as interesting as what they have previously produced. And when MARVEL abandoned the original comic back in 1986, lets not forget the important role DH played in taking up the franchise reins a few years later, helping to bring in its miraculous return with their action-packed and visually spectacular post Return of the Jedi continuance, DARK EMPIRE, which is still delighting readers old and new today. Zipping forward to this final year, LUCASFILM Editor J.W. Rinzler's symbiotic work with the company adapting the original storyline for George Lucas's 1974 behind the scenes mythic version of Star Wars: A New Hope, originally known as The Star Wars, realised alongside Mike Mayhew's stunning, cinematic-style artwork, brings this unique chapter of DARK HORSE's publishing history to a distinguished, innovative and exciting close, genuinely giving readers one of the brightest jewels in its crown. Garnering huge publicity and well deserved critical acclaim, the eight-issue series has now been compiled into one complete, impressive package for the UK, courtesy of TITAN BOOKS- available from September 18th, 2014.

Annikin Starkiller and General Skywalker go into battle with their lazer swords!

US trailer for the original mini-series: ▶ The Star Wars Book Trailer Dark Horse Comics - YouTube

Its original trappings spawned more from the fifties and sixties sci-fi universe - the kind pioneered by the impressive likes of Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and other literary giants, whilst also taking side root homages from the pulp science fiction of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon (if planned to be realised to higher sophistication), together with a more influential cinematic style pioneered by Japanese cinema legend Akira Kurosawa, this version of Star Wars is in many ways an intriguing, if also pleasantly distorted, reflection not only to the eventual 1977 launcher but also to Lucas's years later re-developed variation of action and political intrigue that would become The Phantom Menace, the latter possessing so many ideas taken from it and reshaped - ambitions for a universe previously excised and now restored thanks to pioneering CGI. The known, and some not so well known, building blocks of characters, planets, locations and creatures soon so vital and indelible to the saga's success are all there in The Star Wars genesis blueprint, but their shaping and realisation is a lot different in comparison to how we've been previously accustomed. And that's also the key to this adaptation's success.

A dark encounter on Utapau's fourth moon.
The genesis of Vader: Kane Starkiller reveals his hidden pain.

It's a genuine thrill to see the STAR WARS universe that might have been now made so incredibly real by Rinzler and Mayhew- a realm where the legendary Jedi Bendu, exemplified by the Starkiller and Skywalker dynasties, showed their incredible skills in The Force of Others long before Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan learner Obi-Wan Kenobi did first battling Trade Federation killers, where squat electronic hero Artoo Detoo miraculously talked to his far more human-looking golden protocol buddy See-Threepio, smuggling legend Han Solo was a green-skinned reptilian alien, and Imperial Stormtroopers had their own lazer swords. A universe of wonder and danger showing gleaming Y-wing fighters ruling the skies, where the desert world of Tatooine was originally Utapau, the oft-mentioned, hitherto unseen world of Aquilae is finally realised as a majestic setting, and a Wookiee world of dense jungle and hidden mystery reveals furry inhabitants not so technically savvy as their later film successors, but soon crucially learning the vital techniques of space piloting needed to attack a devastating space fortress, one yet to be christened the Death Star. All of this is skillfully composed within this visual symphony. Alongside some occasional nice visual tributes to EPISODEs I and IV (special mention should also go out to colourist Rain Beredo for his stunning contributions heightening the galactic scale of it all), further fun comes from seeing many dazzling early unrefined or abandoned production art and conceptual ideas incorporated by Mayhew, like Colin Cantwell's early ship model prototypes (the Millennium Falcon before it became a flying pizza!), notable and not so well recognised elements from Ralph McQuarrie's conceptual paintings/thumbnail sketches of 1975 (as well as Joe Johnston's singular work from that period), plus other early storyboards, gelling within the kind of story that would truly have been unfilmable at that time, even if the money-lacking FOX had been willing to give Lucas and co. a budget of $20 million dollars!

A different, but no less feisty, version of Princess Leia.

As the ultimate curiosity finally made real in comic book form, The Star Wars is indeed a page-turning winner. But, if that 1974 ideas-packed version of the film had been made back in the day, say released in early 1976, would it ultimately have have been as successful as 1977's first entry into The Adventures of Luke Skywalker? It's a question that genuinely makes for lively debate. Personally speaking, I think this original story would have needed better structuring/editing and character development reappraisal were it to have succeeded on the celluloid level (the two young royal children - Biggs and Windy - would surely have been early candidates for erasure in my book- far more irritating than anything later contributed by EPISODE I's Anakin Skywalker!). The characters of '74 are not quite as pitch perfect as they would be by '77- the way the villains are used here is one such example - ignoring the legions of stormtroopers chasing/fighting our fugitive heroes in several memorable sequences, the almost Palpatine-ish Governor Hoedaack and the alternate human version of Vader, a helmeted, one red-eyed general in the enemy forces, don't really contribute enough to the story until its near conclusion. On the plus side, though, Rinzler and Mayhew's chance to show readers Lucas's script to film evolution of Vader, into what he will eventually become onscreen, proves interesting, literally pulled together from three characters: the part human/part robot suffering inflicted by hero Kane Starkiller, the cunning tactical skills of General Vader in this human general persona, and the masked, lazer sword-wielding Sith Lord Knight/warrior Prince Valorum, who turns against his brethren to become a hero- echoing what Vader/Anakin will do for his son by the conclusion of Return of the Jedi.

The fearsome space fortress!

Lucas's well-known depression of the time at being hampered by a low budget and what he thought were too restrictive special effects limitations should not be overlooked as being a huge factor in the films ultimate successful transformation- these apparent weaknesses soon turned into eventual strengths- the final screenplay and characters of Star Wars, by early 1976, now more clearly defined, with characters and story baggage jettisoned. The analogy of the beautiful butterfly emerging from its raw but potent pupae has never been more apt to this first film, now that the franchise has entered pop culture history...

The climactic fighter attack on the space fortress.

AFICIONADO RATING: An ambitious, often stunning, thrill-ride of imagination and invention, showing us the very best ingredients of an altogether very different, but no less exciting, STAR WARS dish. Now then, Mister Rinzler, how's about you and your creative team adapting Lucas and Leigh Brackett's original 1978 script for The Empire Strikes Back? 4 out of 5

Get THE STAR WARS trade paperback from Titan Books here: The Star Wars: J. W. Rinzler, Mike Mayhew, George Lucas: Books

J.W. Rinzler's blog site: J. W. Rinzler - Home

EXCLUSIVE: J.W. Rinzler Explores Lucas' Original Concept In "The Star Wars" - Comic Book Resources

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