You may have seen Star Wars, but you’ve never seen it like this. This Wednesday, Dark Horse will be releasing a comic adaptation of writer/director George Lucas’ original vision for The Star Wars, straight from the 1974 first draft of the 1977 movie. Penned by a then-30 year old movie director best known for his Happy Days style movie American Graffiti, it is far different from the space opera epic it would become. Mike Mayhew, who was picked by Dark Horse and Lucasfilm to illustrate this comic adaptation, calls it an Apocalypse Now version of the Star Wars people know and love; similar themes as in the final version people know today, but darker in tone and also in body count.
Back in June Newsarama spoke with LucasFilm archivist Jonathan Rinzler who is adapting Lucas’ original script for comics, and now here in our monthly Star Wars column “A Galaxy Far Away” we turn to the aforementioned Mayhew, whose painted style brings Lucas’ original vision to life of the first time.
Newsarama: First off - how'd you come to do The Star Wars, Mike?
Mike Mayhew: Sheer luck! I got an email out of the blue, from an editor I had never met from a company I never worked for. Let’s just say that when I got the assignment, I had a hard time believing what I was being asked to do.
Nrama: As a pro artist, when you first read this 1974 draft did the images start popping in your mind almost immediately?
Mayhew: Pretty instantly I knew I had something extremely special. I felt like I was reading a re-boot, or re-imagining of Star Wars that featured familiar yet different versions of icons we know and love. I got a strong sense of how it could be like Ultimates or Kingdom Come. But, the kicker… this actually WAS the original version, and has been hidden away and largely ignored for decades.
The first thing I thought after reading George’s script was, "This would make a perfect comic script as is!" George’s script was very, very complete and well thought out. It’s amazing how much work and detail he put into making the draft a complete film. In fact, there’s a lot more going on in this draft, with the characters, settings, and storylines. In a sense, I could approach the work as if it was a blank slate, unfiltered by budget concerns or audience appeal. It was I had a brand, new creator owned project by me and some guy named George Lucas. I tried as much as possible to have “ownership” of how this world would look, and made a big investment into each aspect of it.
Nrama: Would you consider yourself a big Star Wars fan?
Mayhew: Absolutely! Back in 1977, I was a Planet Of The Apes junkie who read Famous Monsters of Filmland. When Star Wars came out when I was seven, I was the perfect audience for it. And for me, George and his work have always been high watermarks of what a creative person could achieve.
Nrama: You've called this the Apocalypse Now version of Star Wars in terms of its dark nature. How is it so different, thematically?
Mayhew: Thematically, it’s probably similar; a group of disparate characters come together to fight for freedom against an evil empire. The execution is way different and darker. There is much more emotion, action, and violence. It’s on par with The Searchers or Seven Samurai. Almost all ofThe Star Wars #3 feels like a “spaghetti western” with lazerswords. This isn’t a children’s fantasy that softens danger and is mindful of toy licenses. This is a journey into the heart of darkness, with Jedi warriors who slice and dice their way through everything the Empire can throw at them. I’m wrapping up The Star Wars #4, and half way through this “movie” General Luke is approaching double digits for kills. Overall there is more loss, tragedy, and passion in these characters driven by higher stakes consequences as a result of the war with the Empire. This is the draft that I bet John Milius would have loved!
Nrama: How'd you get into all the various concept art that was in the Lucasfilm archives related to this project?
Mayhew: My Art Of Star Wars books have been cherished since I was a kid. I remember seeing and being fascinated by the concept art for Star Wars right away. Probably from ‘78-‘82, I looked at the concept art for Star Wars more than I read comics. What was incredibly fascinating to me was that concepts labeled “Luke” or “Han” in these volumes were actually General Luke Skywalker or Kane Starkiller. All these years and I didn’t realize what I was really looking at!
Nrama: I know your work takes some time, but Dark Horse gave you a lot of lead time before announcing or releasing this. How far are you into this 8-issue series?
Mayhew: I’m about done with #4, and have the groundwork and designs for #5 in place. The first few issues took longer than most, mainly since everything had to be designed. Actually there was another artist on board before me. This book was scheduled and I had to hit the ground running. I was told an army of artists were designing the “world”, but that proved to not be the case. I’m penciling and inking each issue in about 6 weeks, but that’s speeding up now that I’m more comfortable with the whole process and am really having fun with it.
Nrama: Which characters required the most work to develop into a definitive design for the series?
Mayhew: Hmmm…you know, they all fell into place pretty easily! Almost too easily. Like they lived all along. I guess my vision for this book has been pretty tight from the get-go, and the approval process with the writer Jonathan Rinzler and my editor Randy Stradley has been nothing but supportive and nurturing.
Nrama: So if they all fell into place pretty easily, who was the most fully formed and ready to go straight from the 1970s era concept art?
Mayhew: Probably Kane Starkiller. I stuck with Ralph McQuarrie’s “proto-Jedi” drawings. I almost feel like that costume design is one of the best super-hero designs ever. But, we are using a ton of the early concept art, some of which has never been seen!
Nrama: A lot of people have been asking how the Death Star fits into The Star Wars. I hear here it's called the Space Fortress, so what can you tell us about that?
Mayhew: Well, the “Death Star” name hadn’t clicked yet, but it’s similar. There will be some neat twists in regard to the “Space Fortress”. The design is based on an early Colin Cantwell model of that was a metal globe, but with more protrusions and towers rising from the surface.
Nrama: You've said a frequent motif in this story is chrome, for plating of items and various things. How does chromium work into this for you visually?
Mayhew: I do a lot of rendering in 3-D for my reference, and chrome is a “texture” I can capture very vividly and believably. I think it just feeds in to the “retro-future” aspect of this project. I envision a young George polishing chrome valve covers on his hot rod, dreaming of chrome X-wings attacking space stations.
Nrama: I've read elsewhere that you are hiding some 'Easter eggs' in the series, and I’ve already picked up a couple in the preview pages for The Star Wars #1 we have here with this interview. How many eggs are you hiding here, Mike?
Mayhew: A ton. There will be things on every page for die-hard Star Wars fans to notice. Several things from the movies showing up in new and unusual ways, and things from the concept art brought to life.
Nrama: In order not to get tainted by the final designs, did you avoid watching any of the Star Wars movies or products when doing this?
Mayhew: Yes! But, I have been watching a lot of “making of” videos on youtube while I draw lately…
Nrama: If you weren't watching those, what were you watching or reading to get inspiration for The Star Wars?
Mayhew: Listening to 70s prog rock like Neu! and Tangerine Dream, imaging if that was the soundtrack instead of the orchestral John Williams score. And, looking at a ton of 70s sci fi art from Ron Cobb, John Berkey, Moebius, Chris Foss, etc.
Nrama: Last question, Mike -- Although the Star Wars franchise has grown and evolved into the modern day, this original story was born in the 1970s. Are you reaching for any period-ness in terms of 70s sci-fi influences with this adaptation?
Mayhew: Yes. I feel uniquely qualified to capture that flavor of 70s sci-fi. I have always been a sci-fi and monster kid, and was into genre stuff before Star Wars came around. I’m a huge film buff too, and a student of the 70s independent film-makers, so I was deeply aware of George’s earliest experiments in film. I also knew the literature that informed things too like Dune and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.
We are definitely being conscious of making the tech more or less 70’s era. There are holograms, tube displays, intercoms with wires, all helping evoke the “period” of this space opera.