A Galaxy Far Away 4: Adapting THE STAR WARS

The Star Wars
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

You’ve seen Star Wars, but you’ve never seen it like this.

In September, Dark Horse Comics will launch an 8-issue adaptation of the original Star Wars story. No, not the first movie Episode IV: A New Hope; I’m talking about the primordial, unrestrained first version of what George Lucas envisioned for his fateful space opera franchise. Titled The Star Wars, Lucas wrote this story three years prior to debut of the first Star Wars film, and while many of the ideas that made it to the final film show up in this first draft they’re far different than you’ve ever seen before. Some characters are older, some characters are aliens, and some characters like Darth Vader are only half the man you would eventually know.

The idea to adapt Lucas’ original script into comic book form was something that longtime Lucasfilm writer/editor Jonathan Rinzler has been working on for years. Rinzler initially unearthed this rarely-seen 1974 script while researching for his book The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind The Original Film. And in conversations with Lucas, the idea formulated that it might be interesting to see how this unvarnished, original iteration for Star Wars would look like fully rendered in comic book form. Why comics? Lucas has never made any qualms about how large an influence comics were to the creation of Star Wars; Lucas is a long-time comics fan who at one point co-owned a comic store in the 70s, and openly lobbied Marvel back in 1977 to do an adaptation of his then-upcoming film.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

And now 36 years later — 39 if you count back to this first script — the original story of Star Wars is being told for the first time. The Star Wars sees Rinzler as the writer of this adaptation, with popular cover artist Mike Mayhew making a rare extended commitment to draw the full eight issues of this monthly series launching this September.

Newsarama: The ideas for what became the original Star Wars movie went through numerous, numerous drafts. How’d you nail down which one to do, and what does that draft actually look like?

Jonathan Rinzler: I don’t know if you saw the book The Making of Star Wars, which was my attempt at going through all of the various scripts which led up to the Star Wars film. George wrote them all and the story kept evolving. Sothe choice was simple — the draft we’re working from is the rough draft; the very first script he wrote.

As for what it looks like, it looks like a script; although clearly a rough draft. Reading it, you can see George trying out ideas and concepts that haven’t yet been finalized. That said, it’s highly readable and very exciting and different from Star Wars’ final shooting script.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Nrama: People know the over-arching story of Star Wars, but what about this divergent story — The Star Wars?

Rinzler: I don’t want to give away the whole eight issue comic story, but a lot of the elements from the original trilogy are mixed up in there like a kaleidoscope. There is an Empire and there is an Emperor, but you only see him a little bit. There’s an evil governor character like Grand Moff Tarkin, and there is a Luke Skywalker but he’s not a farm boy; he’s an experienced Jedi general.

Much like in the Star Wars movies, the Jedi are all but extinct, though there are at least two of them in this script. The Sith in this story have been actively hunting down the Jedi, who consequently are fading into legend at this point. In The Star Wars, there’s one Sith lord who, when he hears there’s a Jedi running around, comes to the Empire almost like a bounty hunter; he doesn’t work for them, but he wants to go after the Jedi. The Sith Lord comes to the Empire stating this is what they do — hunt Jedi.

There’s also a Princess Leia in The Star Wars, but she’s not Luke’s twin… but she has two brothers. There’s also a guy that’s half-man, half machine…. But it’s not Darth Vader. There is a Darth Vader, but here he is a general and not a Sith. There is a Han Solo and he does have an affinity with Wookiees, but he doesn’t have his own ship and he’s not even human. And so on and so forth.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

There is an R2-D2 and a C-3PO, but unlike what people expect — this R2 actually talks, so prepare yourself for a shock.

Nrama: Are they called R2D2 and C3PO? I remember something about their names not being finalized until the filming of Star Wars.

Rinzler: They go by those names, but they’re spelled slightly different. And these earlier renditions of the characters are more clearly modeled on the two bickering peasants from Akira Kurosawa’s film Hidden Fortress.

And for the locations, there are shades and variations of what would become Tatooine and other worlds, but in The Star Wars they’re still evolving into what they finally become. The Death Star is here, but it’s called a Space Fortress — a tribute to Hidden Fortress, the Kurosawa film that influenced George.

Overall, this script — and this adaptation — is a very fascinating look at George Lucas’ first take on the Star Wars story.

Nrama: With that in mind, fans can’t take anything for granted that the way things were in Star Wars is the way things will be in The Star Wars. What’s the universe like as the series begins?

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Rinzler: In this one, it’s a little different. Whereas in Star Wars: A New Hope the Empire had been ruling for a while and the rebellion was already somewhat established, in The Star Wars it shows a younger Empire. The Empire exists, but they haven’t taken over everything like they had at this point in the movies. As the series opens, they’re launching an attack on the planet Aquilae because it has a lot of technology that the Empire wants. And so what happens is that their attack instigates a rebellion on the planet. Even by the end of the story it’s not clear if the rebellion is going to spread across the galaxy; it’s set up as a cliffhanger even though The Star Wars is a complete story on its own.

Even from the beginning, George had always intended, one way or another, to have sequels.

Nrama: So with holding that original rough draft of Star Wars you have the story down, but what about the looks? Comics are of course a visual medium — for determining how something or someone looks, did Lucas have much notes on that in the original draft? And where else did you pull ideas for how to instruct them to be drawn?

Rinzler: The process goes differently for each character.

There were actually maquettes and models made based on George’s second draft of Star Wars that include several of the characters here. There’s a character that could be General Luke Skywalker in the early Ralph McQuarrie illustrations that looks like George Lucas himself.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

What Mike Mayhew, Randy Stradley and I did was pore over the different designs and go back-and-forth with each other on what would work for each character. I know a lot of the artwork pretty well from doing the Making Of books, and I could point to certain things, like an off-hand McQuarrie sketch, and say it might work for such and such.

And in some cases you fill in the blanks. In the rough draft there was a huge fat character that only appeared in one scene. It was a Jabba-type character, but never identified by that name. What we did is pick an early concept of Jabba that Ralph did that was never used. We also found these great early versions of the Sith that we’re using in The Star Wars.

But even with all these resources, there are some characters and some vehicles we had nothing to go with. Dark Horse had some designers who have been just taking vehicles and creating them from scratch.

For the Space Fortress, there’s this early design for the Death Star that Colin Cantwell did which was all in silver that was great to re-purpose. And then there’s things like the Millennium Falcon, which was originally looked like the Blockade Runner — which makes a cameo in The Star Wars. We’re really having a lot of fun piecing it together.

Newsarama: Some of the names in The Star Wars are the same as what would come in the movie like Luke Skywalker, but as you said they end up being very different characters. Can you point out who’ll be the most shockingly different from how they’re portrayed in the movies?

Rinzler: I’d imagine it’s Han Solo, because he’s a giant green alien. I just finished writing the issue adaptation in which he appears for the first time. The Jedi are still human beings, and the Sith are still human. The Sith do wear ceremonial masks; not a mask like the one Darth Vader uses to breathe, but more decorative.

After Han, I’d say Darth Vader is the most different, because he’s not a Sith, and he’s not a man/machine…. He’s a villainous general.

But the key motivations for characters are still there in some form or another. You have to remember, when George wrote the rough draftit was very much a ‘blue sky’ endeavor; there was no way any studio would ever have had enough money to turn this rough draft into a live-action movie.

Newsarama: Jonathan, you’re best known as the Lucasfilm person heading up their various non-fiction books like The Making Of books you mentioned. You’ve done some fiction writing for Lucasfilm before, but never quite on this scale. Can you tell us about getting here?

Rinzler: I previously wrote an Indiana Jones novel for young adults, which came out in 2009, and I also wrote several of the stories that writers expanded into subsequent novels for Scholastic. I also wrote and directed an animated short called Riddle of the Black Cat not affiliated with Lucasfilm.

But as for The Star Wars, I’m not writing this; this is George’s story; I’m simply the one adapting it.

Nrama: But how did this project come about? This story’s been sitting in the Lucasfilm archives for over thirty years. And furthermore, why as a comic and not — I don’t know — an animated series, a novel or in some other format?

Rinzler: It came about pretty organically.

I don’t think we’d do this as an animated show, as we’d want that to be canon. The Star Wars isn’t canon; it’s a variation of the original story. As for why we chose the comic book format, after reading the original script you could see how George was very inspired by comic books. At that time, George was inspired by things like Hidden Fortress and a fair amount of Flash Gordon comics, so doing The Star Wars as a comic seemed like the natural way of doing it.

When I was working on the Abrams book, Star Wars Art: Comics, I got the chance to talk with George about comics. He told me several times about how much he loved comics that told the story visually, where you didn’t necessarily have to read word balloons. I know he likes his movies to carry the story visually, as well.

Nrama: And I know for a time that George co-owned a comic shop in the late 70s, which shows just how deep his comic fan roots run.

Rinzler: Right. I found out that Dark Horse was thinking along the same lines as me, so we got together and had an artist illustrate a few scenes from the Star Wars rough draft, with no word balloons, to show George. We got it together, showed it to George and he signed off on it. It actually took several years to get this together, depending on how you count it; I mentioned this to George verbally, and at first he was dubious to say the least.

Nrama: You’ve worked hand-in-hand with George Lucas — what’s it like taking something obviously so personal like this rough draft and adapting it? I don’t know how accessible George is, but do you have him on speed-dial to answer any questions you have?

Rinzler: Actually, I do have George on speed-dial. [Laughs.]

Right now of course he’s a tad busy getting married, but in general I can call him up and ask him a question if it’s urgent enough. He’s been shown the first issue and he is okay with us going forward on this adaptation. There have been times where I might run across something that doesn’t quite make sense, but we’re able to insert a line of dialogue here or there to cover it. For instance there might be a scene where a character that hasn’t seen his father in a while is in a room alone with him with no dialogue. I’d insert something along the lines of “Hey dad, how are you doing?” to acknowledge their mutual existence, but then we just want to move the plot along.

But everything is pretty laid out in this original script. There’s so much stuff in this between characters, vehicles, planets and situations to work with. I think fans are going to really enjoy it — hey, it is, in a sense, a brand new Star Wars story from its creator, featuring all of the original characters!

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