J.W. Rinzler eats, sleeps and breathes “Star Wars.” An editor at Lucas Licensing’s book division, Rinzler has written and edited dozens of titles of the past over the past decade, including the New York Times best-selling “The Making of…” series of books released by Del Rey.
But even Rinzler didn’t think his latest project would fly — let alone make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Teamed with acclaimed artist Mike Mayhew, Rinzler is delivering George Lucas’ original draft for “Star Wars” as an eight-part miniseries for Dark Horse Comics, which has proven to be a critical success and a Top 30 seller.
The second issue of “The Star Wars” was the publisher’s best-selling book in October, selling more copies than “Mighty Avengers” and “Saga.” The first issue sold out in September, and the publisher released a second printing last week alongside “The Star Wars” #4, which marks the midway point of the series.
While “The Star Wars” shares many characters and storylines as the movie originally released in 1977, the series has enough changes to landspeeders and landscapes to keep even the most fervent fan engaged.
Rinzler spoke with CBR News about “The Star Wars” and shared his thoughts about the new (old) Han Solo, why this draft of the script couldn’t have been made into a movie in the 1970s (but could be now) and how Annikin Starkiller is a cross between Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder. He also teased the coming of Wookiees — lots and lots of Wookiees.
CBR News: J.W., are you surprised by the resoundingly positive response the series has generated or did you know sharing George Lucas’ original rough draft for “Star Wars” would be something special?
J.W. Rinzler: I was pretty surprised, actually. I thought it would be interesting to the fans but I had no idea that it would be picked up. For the first couple of issues, I think we were first for reorders. That took me totally by surprise. To be honest, I don’t know anything about the comic book industry. I’m not a veteran… as some people pointed out. [Laughs] But my goal was, and still is, to tell a good story. This was George’s first “Star Wars” story and that to me, in and of itself, and it’s visually so interesting, made it worth trying.
It definitely feels true to the Star Wars Universe but despite its origin, “The Star Wars” reads like an entirely new story.
That’s good. That’s what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to pretend like it was something that it isn’t. Some people have said that it’s not as good as the movie. But I say, “Yes, of course, it’s not as good as the movie.” The movie is one of a kind and was the result of many rewrites. This is the raw form and it’s just a fun adventure, a fun romp — the characters develop but it’s very organic — so it’s not even really clear who the central character is until you get to the fifth and sixth issue.
Beyond some obvious changes to a few of the characters and the rawness of the overall story, what do you think separates this story from what viewers eventually experienced in “A New Hope” in 1977?
I think George got a lot more precise as to what character was going to be going through what kind of change. Annikin kind of gets spilt up into two characters. The brash, pirate side becomes Han Solo and his more innocent side becomes Luke and they have their own character arcs. And I think what’s really missing is that he doesn’t really explain what the Force is. Most of the metaphysical side is missing from this story. This is more of an adventure story and figuring out where they could go, what kind of adventures he might be able to make in this galaxy and things like that.
Do you think the movie would have proven equally successful if George Lucas would have delivered this story as the script instead?
It’s a moot question because there is no way. It would have cost more than “Cleopatra.” It was beyond the means of the day of any studio to make this movie. It would have been too long and it would have cost way, way too much movie. But if someone were to decide to make this into a move today, it would do well.
With the release of “The Star Wars” #4, we have reached the halfway point of the series. In this issue, Kane Starkiller dies in a sacrifice not unlike the one Obi-Wan Kenobi made in “A New Hope.” Will his death drive the storyline in the second half, and specifically how will it affect Annikin Starkiller?
It has an affect on Annikin similar to the affect it might have on anybody when your father passes away. Suddenly, you’re the father — even if you don’t have kids. Suddenly, there is no reason for you to feel like a child anymore, especially when you have to buck up and be the person that, perhaps, your father wanted you to be.
We don’t know where Annikin’s mother is. That’s never said. But you get the impression that it was a ships passing in the night type of situation. At one point, Luke refers to Kane’s character being like that.
Is “The Star Wars” Annikin’s story?
Yes, I think from this point on, Annikin kind of becomes the main character and realizes in the story that he is going to be the main Jedi. There is only a couple of Jedi left. Luke is old, his father is dead, so now, the whole heritage basically rests on his shoulders.
But there’s more story left than Annikin’s story. The Wookiees are going to come into it too. George never slows down his inventiveness so I think the story keeps getting better and better. What I like about “The Star Wars” #4 is that you get a “Dirty Dozen” team assembled and now they’re going off on their main adventure, which is to get to the princess to safety. And it’s kind of started already but it’s also basically a romance between Annikin and Leia while Annikin tries to succeed in his mission.
I was going to ask you about Luke next, but you mentioned the Wookiees are coming — what can you share about that?
The Wookiees are closer in look to Chewbacca, definitely, but we’re going to go into the earlier designs of Ralph [McQuarrie]. But they’re definitely Wookiees. They’re furry and they’re really strong. What the Wookiees are doing is a different context than the original trilogy when you only see Chewbacca by himself. And this time, you’re going to see more than just Chewbacca. You’re going to see a bunch of Wookiees.
It took four issues but we finally got to see Han Solo in “The Star Wars” #4. He’s not at all what I expected, but I love him all the same. He kind of looks like the Swamp Thing and I find his personality is a little more Lando Calrissian than Han Solo. What is your take on the character? Have you been eager to unleash him?
I knew that people wanted to see Han Solo. A lot of fans know that he was described as a big, green monster in the script but as a character, he’s not as fleshed out as he is in the final movies. He will be able to speak Wookiee so there is that element. He’s does have a special bond with Wookiees for whatever reason, which is not explained. He’s more of a companion. And he’s already totally committed to the Rebel cause. His character is not as deep as it is in the film. Hopefully fans won’t be too disappointed by that. [Laughs] But he’s a big green monster.
What’s not to love?
Exactly. He’s a smart guy. There’s obviously a history there and you wonder what the history is between him and Luke, but there is a history.
And I just love the little things that creep into these issues. Kane wants the droids to play chess in the backroom. It’s so odd that this is the first version of the chess match. And I love how Mike managed to sneak in the holographic chess pieces, which George didn’t describe in the script. It’s just fun. It’s meant for people to read and have fun. And I hope seven and eight-year olds pick it up and read a fun story.
Obviously, the cantina scene was reminiscent of the eventual one that we see in “A New Hope,” which is awesome as I think that’s one of the scenes that really stick out for me as being memorable from when I was a kid.
We kind of do what the movie did exceptionally well. You don’t really see any creatures or any aliens until you get to the cantina. And then suddenly, you’re overwhelmed by all of them. And I had fun because George’s script didn’t really have the aliens saying anything except for the guy who says, “He doesn’t like you.” But I added the alien banter as if to say, maybe this guy is just trying to ask this one question [Laughs] that nobody is paying attention to and gets so frustrated that everybody either has to kill or be killed.
Another character that I’m enjoying is Jedi General Luke Skywalker, who is less crusty than Kane Starkiller and less Mr. Miyagi than Obi-Wan. How would you best describe his role in “The Star Wars?”
He is the mentor to Annikin, definitely. But he’s also more like Patton. “I don’t care who is up against me, I have a very short temper and I am going to cut off heads, legs, whatever it takes. I will even cut people in half.” Jedi in “The Star Wars” are take-no-prisoners. They’re almost like samurai. Once they take out their lightsabers, they are lethal. They’re not going to put it back in the sheath because a few people are missing arms, legs and heads.
And he’s also more like a samurai mentor because if Annikin does something that he doesn’t like… well, he almost cuts him in half at one point. And he balls him out in “The Star Wars” #4 because he didn’t kill all of those stormtroopers. He’s more of a drill sergeant. But he senses stuff. He senses Han’s presence. And he’s a master technician.
The character of Princess Leia might be the most different from what eventually appears in the movie. Carrie Fisher’s Leia was blunt and very tough but I don’t think she was ever really mean. Leia in “The Star Wars” is none too kind to Annikin and the others and she would gladly let him die in one scene when he missed killing a few Stormtroopers.
The relationship between Annikin and Leia is almost like a James Cagney in “Public Enemy” relationship. It really comes from the thirties and forties. At one point, Annikin punches Leia and knocks her out so I think she’s completely justified saying, “Maybe we ought to let him bleed to death.” She was joking obviously, but he punches her when she won’t cooperate. And another time, she asks Luke to demote Annikin basically to private.
Yes, it’s more violent but basically, it’s tongue-in-cheek. And they’re kids. It’s not clear how old they are but she’s maybe 16 and he’s 18. They’re teenagers and there is going to be more sparks. For instance, when Annikin’s father dies, she tries to console him but he’s having none of that. And at the end of “The Star Wars” #4, even though they head off together, she’s kind of on the side. She gets the short end of the stick a few times because she’s not at home and she’s with these rather rough guys.
Obviously, you don’t want to give away too much, considering we basically know where the story is going, but can you give us a tease of what’s to come in the second half of the series? Specifically, will we see more Darth Vader or is Prince Valorum the series’ major antagonist?
I don’t want to give away too much, but in “The Star Wars” #5, you see more Prince Valorum. He definitely comes to the fore. I think he’s probably in it overall more than Darth Vader but Darth Vader still does a couple of really, really bad things much later in the story. But if you look at the first “Star Wars” movie, George doesn’t really touch on the dark side that much.
If you look in “Star Wars Insider” magazine, we actually have a talk between George and Alan Dean Foster and at that time, which is October 1976, George is worried that Darth Vader is too weak of a villain. Even then because that was before James Earl Jones and the music and everything like that. It’s not really until “Empire Strikes Back” that the dark side comes into its own.
You’ve mentioned him already, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Mike Mayhew. He is really firing on all cylinders on this project.
Mike is bringing as much to “The Star Wars” as anyone could possibly bring. He’s bringing his A-game, which is so important because he’s the one that actually has to breathe life into it. He’s the one that has to make the characters look like they are feeling what they are saying. And most of the time, if not all of the time, he’s adding to it. You get looks without dialog and characters looking at other characters while they’re talking, it just adds tremendously to the story. The vehicles look great and the creatures and the camera angles, even though there are no cameras.
As for the pacing, he gets the scripts and it’s divided up into panels and occasionally he’ll deviate because he needs another panel here and not one there and that’s fine with me because the story comes to life through the visuals.
He’s done a fantastic job and so has Rain Beredo, our colorist. The colors are fantastic too.
Finally, I realize this is an eight-issue series based on George Lucas’ original rough draft screenplay but has there been any talk about continuing the story of “The Star Wars?”
Personally, I would love it. It’s like a whole other alternate Star Wars universe. Episode VII is coming out and even before that, “Rebels” is coming out. This will finish, the graphic novel collection will come out some time this summer and by that time “Rebels” will be heating up to maximum anticipation. Nobody is going to want to explore “The Star Wars” anymore. Or at least I’d be surprised if they were. That said, I think it would be fun. If you did the whole Kaiburr crystal story because in a way that would be the most fun to do next. It’s a whole other alternate Star Wars story.
You could do “Empire” and you could do “Jedi,” but then you have your established characters so that would be more variations on a theme. You could do them as four issues each. Who knows? Anything is possible.
“The Star Wars” takes a brief hiatus as the next issue doesn’t ship until February, but in January, Dark Horse Comics is releasing “The Star Wars” #0. What can we expect from this special issue?
Half of it is like an “Art of The Star Wars” featuring a lot of Mike’s work and a lot of the concept artists’ work. And we also show the pages that we showed to George, which actually got him to sign off on the project. That’s pretty cool.
“The Star Wars” #5, by J.W. Rinzler featuring art by Mike Mayhew, returns February 5.