J.W. Rinzler's "The Star Wars" follows George Lucas' first draft of his fan-favorite saga, adapting it to comics for the first time.
No great work emerges into the world fully formed, springing forth from its creator's head like Athena from the head of Zeus. The creative process is fraught with false starts and half-formed ideas. In 1974, before producing the paradigm-shift that would be "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope," George Lucas drafted an early precursor screenplay: "The Star Wars." Now, that screenplay will come to life in the eight-issue miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, "The Stars Wars," written by J.W. Rinzler, executive editor at LucasBooks, and featuring art by Mike Mayhew. The first issue, featuring regular, variant and ultravariant covers, blasts into stores September 4.
"The Star Wars" contains many of the seeds that would grow to become the "Star Wars" universe fans know and love, though much remains slightly askew -- the screenplay is like a parallel universe, in which the hero is Annikin Starkiller, and Luke Skywalker is an older, wiser Jedi General. Series writer J.W. Rinzler spoke with Comic Book Resources about the process of adapting Lucas' original screenplay into comic form and bringing a new cast of characters -- and a new story -- to life.
In composing his early draft, Lucas wasn't concerned with the nitty-gritty details of the world or the characters he was creating, but focused on getting the story down in some form. That story would continue to evolve and develop between the writing of the draft in 1974 and the release of the first film in 1977.
"It's true that whenever you adapt one media to another alterations have to be made for obvious reasons," said Rinzler. "Also George was writing a rough draft -- he wasn't polishing it afterward -- so there are teeny plot holes once in a while or character inconsistencies. He was more interested in developing his big picture, the general flow, to his new worlds and drama. And that's what makes it so much fun: the grand sweep of the saga, the Empire vs. a -- sort of -- rebel planet; a Padawan being mentored by a wise Jedi; a primitive culture overcoming a technological one; the mixture of genres -- fantasy and samurai cum Western film -- and so on."
That mix of genres is part of what lends the world of "Star Wars" its iconic and lasting appeal: Lucas acted as a sponge at the time, absorbing and recombining genre tropes from fantasy, pulp science-fiction, westerns and samurai films to generate a sensibility that was unique and somehow familiar.
"The biggest single influence is Kurosawa's 'Hidden Fortress,'" said Rinzler. "The main ingredients in this cocktail are a tale of samurai gun fighters, a princess and peasants shaken up in a fantasy Flash Gordon world -- and spiced up with George's ideas on the Vietnam War and his anthropology and history studies. It's a potent combo!"
"The Star Wars" is populated by a wide-ranging cast of characters, spanning generations and worlds. At the core of the story are Annikin Starkiller, General Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. As Rinzler takes each issue of the miniseries through its three-draft writing cycle, he's coming to know his characters well.
"Jedi General Luke Skywalker is the mastermind, the only one who always sees the big picture -- and who is not afraid to get his hands dirty and light up his lazersword," said Rinzler. "Annikin Starkiller is the brash youth, whose heart is in the right place, but who's a little rough around the edges and not above flirting with the general's female aides -- until he meets Princess Leia. The droids are a little bit more like the peasants in Kurosawa's 'Hidden Fortress,' in that both of them speak and squabble, so we have a more literal idea of what's going on in [R2D2]'s mind. Together, by about the mid-point in the series, they constitute a kind of dirty dozen team: Jedi, princess (and princes), droids, rebels...as they rise up to fight the Empire's bloody invasion of their planet -- and a dark Sith Knight."
As Luke Skywalker takes on the training of young Annikin Starkiller, he becomes something of a father figure or mentor to his Padawan. And, reading between the lines, it would seem that there are the beginnings of a romantic spark between the young Jedi, Annikin, and the teenage princess.
"Leia and Annikin are teenagers, so they are in awe of [Luke] sometimes," said Rinzler. "Luke has more of a relationship of equals with fellow Jedi Kane Starkiller and Han Solo. He's also a general and at times running the defense of an entire planet. But Luke has a sense of humor, too. ... [Annikin and Leia's] relationship is like a lot of film romances: it starts with sparks and conflict, and develops from there. But you know -- she's a princess in line to the throne of Aquilae, and he's a mere Padawan."
In telling a great adventure story, a great hero must have a great adversary. As Annikin and his Dirty Dozen embark on their journey to combat the encroaching Imperial force, they'll be tested by an expanding cast of militaristic Sith forces.
"Again, George [Lucas] is a master of raising the stakes and keeping things exciting," said Rinzler. "At first, a lone Sith Knight hunts a lone Jedi family. Next we have a brief appearance by the Emperor -- whose 'lieutenant,' Governor Hoedaack, becomes the main villain -- but in this he's aided by a ruthless general named Darth Vader. A little further along, another more deadly Sith Knight enters the fray -- and of course the ominous Space Fortress looms over all the good guys, bombing their planet into submission. Then of course you've got stormtroopers with lazerswords, ill-tempered aliens, ruthless trappers, and so on."
Artist Mike Mayhew is rendering "The Star Wars," bringing the script to vivid life on the page. With a script like "The Star Wars" -- not to mention the iconic imagery of the original films that still lingers in viewer's minds -- Mayhew has had a heavy task. Not only is he trusted to generate alien worlds and strange technologies, but he also has to bring the inner emotions of the characters to life -- a task he's more than suited for, according to Rinzler.
"Mike is making it 'real,' bringing the characters, places, vehicles -- everything -- to vivid life," said Rinzler. "I'm writing the panels pretty open in terms of how the action takes place, as I think Mike needs freedom to make it flow together. And it's flowing! Mike is also giving the characters their inner life, through great portrayals of their changing expressions, their complex emotions, and their interactions. It's so much fun to see each panel, page, and issue come to life. He's now working on the layout of issue #3; the first issue is done and I love it. The second one is being colored now by Rain Beredo, whose work is also awe-inspiring. Once his work is done, the pages are mini masterpieces.
"And like I've said, we're all referring back to the art of [Ralph] McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and Nilo Rodis-Jamero at times for inspiration," Rinzler continued, "not to mention the films themselves, as so many now iconic moments first sprang from George's mind while he was writing his rough draft back in 1974. Here, they often have a different form or place in the timeline. It'll be interesting to see if readers can spot them all. Some are obvious; some are subtle."
Rinzler has worked with Lucasfilm for over ten years, and has come to know the "Star Wars" universe inside and out. What drew him to this story -- this un-refined, early draft of what would grow into the "Star Wars" we know -- is that sense of excitement of the young writer, George Lucas, telling a story that he must tell, for the first time.
"There's just a really fun uniqueness to that moment," said Rinzler. "You can tell he was having fun, too -- though he hates writing -- bringing his ideas and imagery to life. This was his free-form take on the ultimate space fantasy! Afterward he'd have to tone it down in order to build sets, find locations, and conform to the budget.
"He did it in spectacular ways and changed the world," added Rinzler. "But this comic book adaptation will visualize what his very first thoughts were, his very first fantasies."