The Star Wars #1
writer: J. W. Rinzler
artist: Mike Mayhew
A long time ago, and probably in a Modesto not too far away from where I type now, young George Lucas had a dream. Not just one of making films, but of walking the stars and blending all the things that had fired his young imagination into one huge stew which he called The Star Wars.
Somewhere in there, too, was a subtitle involving "The Journal of the Whills," and his complex epic involved the noble Jedi-Bendu facing down the terrible Knights of the Sith with an Empire's morality in the balance. If he had written it as a novel, it might have stood the test of time and been regarded as a sci-fi classic, if filled with nods and nicks to and from earlier works. That didn't hurt The Sword of Shannara...
But instead, Lucas wrote a screenplay, and the demands of budget and time winnowed away and altered the story into something we now know as Star Wars: A New Hope. And yeah, I'm glad that happened.
Still, Dark Horse has taken that earlier vision and translated it to comics, a move which works quite well. Writer J. W. Rinzler adapts from what they're calling "the rough draft screenplay," but really, it's okay to say first draft.
Some of it will seem oddly familiar. Darth Vader still stalks clean white corridors, contrasting in black. But he's also rakishly handsome, with most of his darkness burning in his eyes. General Luke Skywalker (portrayed by Mike Mayhew as a much fitter version of Lucas himself, perhaps) is at the end of his career, having a paduwan thrust upon him by an old friend.
Then things really veer, as that paduwan combines elements of the Luke Skywalker we know with the Anakin Skywalker we saw on screen to become Annakin Starkiller, clearly the figure that Marvel Comics touted on the cover of their first issue way back in 1977 -- will this angry young man save the galaxy or destroy it?
As if to completely smash expectations, Rinzler and Mayhew open with an eerily familiar scene, too. Annakin and his brother Deak look on as their father Kane Starkiller confronts Sith Knights, with Deak looking very much like the pre-teen Luke we know. (Though he also shouts "yippee!" just like Anakin in The Phantom Menace.)
That scene ends in tragedy, and with hindsight we can say that if THAT had made it to the screen -- holy crap, it's doubtful Lucas would have build a billion dollar empire. But for readers, it's both shocking and good storytelling that makes everything unstable. We can't know what we're in for...
...unless you HAVE read the original screenplay. It's clear Rinzler is cleaning up some things, and making them play better, not just for comics, but as a darker richer story than the more simplistic movie this idea became.
On art, Mayhew gives us echoes of familiarity, but builds upon them into something different and compelling. I can hardly wait to see his twist on Han Solo.
From the moment I first saw the novelization in 1977 and read the little hints Lucas had Alan Dean Foster leave behind, this is the comic book I didn't know that I really, really wanted. Dark Horse assembled a respectful but daring storytelling team, and this is a book that will bear repeated reading, even if only just to keep poring over Mayhew's art.
Once again, Dark Horse reminds us why Star Wars keeps getting us excited. After all these years, there's still room to play with the stories and reveal surprises.