By Matthew Jent
The Star Wars
Script: J.W. Rinzler
Art: Mike Mayhew
Colors: Rain Beredo
Lettering: Michael Heisler
Cover Art: Nick Runge
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Movie Tie-In
Star Wars the film — the original film, whether you call it “Episode IV” or “A New Hope” or just “Star Wars” — is a religious text. There’s barely been a time since its 1977 release when it wasn’t being enjoyed, debated, worshipped or deconstructed. In a world of reboots, remakes and restarts, it is hard to imagine Star Wars doing anything except continue.
And yet. Star Wars was created by a mortal mind. It did not spring fully formed from the head of some god. Dark Horse’s The Star Wars is a graphic novel collection “based on the original rough-draft screenplay by George Lucas.” It takes place among the stars. It concerns an evil empire being fought by a rebel alliance. There are words herein such as “Skywalker,” “Darth Vader,” and “Jedi.”
But in place of lightsabers, we have “lazerswords.” Instead of The Force, we have “the force of others.” There is a moon-sized space station called, not the Death Star, but “The Space Fortress.” There are echoes and mirror images of familiar characters and designs, such as a familiar group of bounty hunters we encounter about halfway through the story.
It’s long been rumored that the original Star Wars screenplay had enough content for what became the entire saga, and you get a sense of that here. The plot moves at a breakneck pace, which leads to some welcome between-panel jumps that modern comics tend to overexplain. But the downside is that The Star Wars lacks the quiet character moments needed to humanize and soften the space-fantasy archetypes the characters have become. There’s no time taken for quiet character moments or smalltalk over the dejarik table, and there’s no winning smirk when Han espouses his preference for a good blaster. This is just plot, plot, plot.
Mike Mayhew’s art relies on frozen, exaggerated facial features, but it was the charisma and sass of Carrie Fisher that made Princess Leia rise above the cliché and lazy stereotype of a thinly drawn damsel-in-distress. Here, Princess Leia’s character is thinner than cheesecloth. Young hero Annikin Starkiller punches her in the face to keep her from arguing against their escape from the Empire, and a few dozen pages later she proclaims her love for him. The cast of the original Star Wars film is beloved, but they don’t get enough credit for bringing humanity and charm to a screenplay so devoid of it.
It’s not clear in this adaptation how much of the dialogue is Lucas-original, and how much is created by writer J.W. Rinzler, but someone really likes numbers and mumbo-jumbo space coordinates. Quad-tristation configurations, south axis point three-nine-four, point five-seven on the axis — it’s meaningless jargon that makes the story feel militaristic and unengaging, causing the eye to scan nearby word balloons for a familiar name or phrase as an anchor point.
Another Star Wars legend is that the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi were originally going to be Wookiees. This proves true here, but again the process feels rushed. Two-thirds of the way through the story, the Wookiees start talking in translated word balloons instead of unintelligible, roaring vowells. Did we not need to know what they were saying previously? Were they literally just yelling wordlessly? Why is it important that we know when one of them says, “No problem, boss. That hunk of lifeless metal is in big trouble”?
The only nice surprise in the narrative of The Star Wars is the late reveal that the Jedi and the Sith are not so much ancient enemies-to-the-death as much as they are rival clans, capable of working together if it suits their interests. But again, this is treated as a plot device and not a character choice. There is no follow up or second beat to this development, and with the exception of a tiny panel detail on the last page, you are left to wonder what, exactly, becomes of Sith Prince Vallorum.
Likewise the twin boys Biggs and Windy, so important to the plot earlier in the book, are put into artificially-induced comas and lugged around in metal containers when their use as plot devices are over.
The art and color by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo make this volume a worthy exploration of Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept designs. Mayhew’s faces are fun and expressive, and Beredo’s colors are softly lit but bold. A late-story splash of Annikin and Leia’s romantic embrace is the highlight of the volume.
The Star Wars is an ambitious and fun concept — taking the rough draft script and original designs and re-imagining a beloved franchise — that fails to rise above expectations. It’s not quite a fiasco, but its story and dialogue do a disservice to the gorgeous art between the covers.
The book’s backmatter contains design sketches and notes on the adaptation process. Regarding the diminished role of the spaceship pilots from script to comic adaptation, it says, “there is always less room on a page than you imagined.”
But should that be so? Isn’t a benefit of the comic book page that you don’t have to build sets, hire actors, or stitch costumes? An artist can draw a space armada with the same tools and time it would take to illustrate a quiet forest glen.
Of course, there are production schedules to be concerned with. Another backmatter page espouses the importance and necessity of having an entire concept art team on hand to flesh out this rough draft, then goes on to say that interior artist Mayhew started drawing issue one before any of those concept artists created a single design. This belies a troubled and rushed production process. Obviously, this collection is one of the final Dark Horse Star Wars publications before the license moves to Marvel, so the behind the scenes reasons for a rush can be presumed.
But that doesn’t make the final product any more enjoyable. It feels like a rush job, because it is one. I won’t go so far at to call it a cash grab, but I’m forced to wonder if The Star Wars is simply a decent version of a once grander plan.