It’s the question we most comfortably felt asking as kids, for any and every situation: What if? It gave everything a new sense of wonder as it allowed us to switch things up and imagine specific scenarios under new conditions, outlandish though they may have been.
It’s the question that allowed Marvel to imagine its superheroes under new origins, different identities, and alternate battle outcomes in standalone comics outside main continuity. It gave DC comics its famed Elseworlds imprint, which consisted of a series of comics and self-contained arcs that shook up the rules of its universe in order to tell remixed stories with established characters. In fact, the very idea of multiverses in comics owes a lot to that question, carrying with it a kind of meta fanfiction sensibility coloring some of our most beloved works of comic book fiction.
On its own, ‘What if?’ is quite simply one of the greatest and most potent storytelling questions available to creators. In 2001, Dark Horse Comics decided to pose the question to the Star Wars universe, when it still owned the license (until Marvel got it through Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise). What came out was Star Wars: Infinities, a non-cannon take on the original trilogy where one single alteration to each of the stories resulted in very different journeys for our heroes and villains.
I will be focusing on the Infinities version of A New Hope here, which was written by Chris Warner and illustrated by Drew Johnson, with colors by Dave McCaig and letters by Steve Dutro. Each part of the trilogy has its own charm and changes up key plot points to varying degrees of success, but it’s with the first movie’s story that the series truly succeeds and has the most fun with when compared to the others.
It’s important to note that Infinities takes each part of the trilogy separately and doesn’t carry over the plot changes from episode to episode. The events of Infinities: A New Hope are self-contained and do not get picked up in Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back. Each movie is tampered with independently to get the most out of the ‘What if?’ concept, and they go all out for A New Hope.
The comic starts with Luke already traversing the Death Star in his X-Wing, torpedoes at the ready. Luke fires but the torpedoes detonate prematurely, merely damaging the target. A Twilight Zone-ish voice over sets up the scenario, waxing poetic on what it means to splinter the chain links of time and how new futures are forged out of them. The Rebel plan fails and the Death Star survives to fire a half-charged shot on the Rebel bases on Yavin 4. Leia survives but is captured by Darth Vader while a confused Luke descends into a kind of madness that threatens to turn him to the Dark Side.
That Infinities starts at the end of the first movie means that what we actually get is an alternate sequel to the saga. This is where the meta fanfic element comes into play. Knowing how all plays out beforehand, the creators of the book decide to speed up certain events but with completely different motivations. The spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears before Luke and tells him to go to Dagobah to train with Yoda after the mission fails. Luke, Han Solo, and Chewbacca find Yoda shortly after. Yoda wastes no time telling Luke Darth Vader is his father and then his training begins.
On another part of the galaxy, Leia tries and fails to resist Vader’s attempts to turn her to the Dark Side. Vader convinces her that she has the potential to become an all-powerful leader should she decide to bend the Force to her will as part of the Empire. Leia slowly steps into the role and becomes a Jedi consumed by the drive to become the de facto leader of the Empire.
The story’s great success is Leia’s turn to the Dark Side. Johnson’s design for Dark Leia fully captures the game of opposites the comic plays with. She dresses in black while retaining her presence as a leader, only now her ambitions are larger and more daring. Leia essentially becomes a dark queen. She drops the princess getup to fully embody the Empire’s mission.
It’s a change akin to that of Superman’s in the Injustice series. Although his motivation and sense of justice is altered significantly, he still retains the qualities that make him Superman. The same goes with Leia. The story puts her in a position that allows her to look within herself and see something more powerful than even she permitted herself to see.
Luke, on the other hand, sees less change. His frustrations put him in danger of abusing the Force, but it never really gets to a point where his allegiances are put in any real danger. The path to victory is different, but Luke remains Luke throughout, without any profound shifts in personality or mission.
What we essentially get is something similar to the Rey/Kylo Ren dynamic from the new trilogy. Luke is Rey in this scenario, unclear as to what his next steps should be, while Leia becomes Kylo, an unstable presence that can go either way in the end.
The similarities are quite striking, especially considering there’s more than 10 years separating the Infinities comics from the new trilogy. The dynamic, though, works much better in the comics due to there being a more intentional focus on character development. It means characters like Han Solo and Chewbacca get lost in the process somewhat, but it’s a sacrifice that makes for a tighter story. In their place we get Yoda in a more central role.
Luke’s stay in Dagobah draws echoes from The Empire Strikes Back, but the overall feel behind his training is more frantic and somewhat darker. Luke’s failure to blow up the Death Star constantly threatens to push him towards the Dark Side, forcing Yoda to step into Obi-Wan’s shoes to more aggressively guide his newly acquired padawan to confront his father and his sister.
This remixing of sacred Star Wars cannon results in an interesting storytelling proposal: the franchise can survive experimentation and produce some compelling ideas to explore within the universe in the process. It proves each one of the saga’s iconic ingredients can be molded and reshaped to tell different stories without losing their essence.
This ‘What if?’ look at A New Hope never stops feeling like a proper Star Wars story, despite changing the entire ending. Recognizing this might’ve served the new trilogy well. It could have filtered nostalgia differently and opened up new opportunities to say something different with its new cast of heroes and villains.
The Infinities experiment would’ve been for naught, though, if it hadn’t stuck the landing, but it did. Luke and Yoda’s confrontation with Vader and Leia brings it all back to A New Hope. We get a lightsaber duel, a space battle, and two legendary Jedi in a showdown, complete with its own stare down. And yet, the comic manages to play with certain expectations just enough to bring everything to a close in a satisfactory way.
By then, Yoda gets a moment to display a badass show of strength, although not in a way I expected, and Darth Vader gets his Return of the Jedi moment for a bit of redemption. The heroes win but the journey felt as if it had higher stakes. That sense of hope the title inspires was earned in the end and proved the saga could’ve actually been two movies long instead of three and still work as a complete and fully developed story.
Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope is one of the most interesting reactions to the question of ‘What if?’ in comics. It might be non-canon but it’s important in the bigger picture for what it represents.
Star Wars can thrive in new stories using the same playing pieces and the ideas that made it succeed in the first place. In this still-new phase Star Wars finds itself in—another trilogy done and more TV series looking to lead the way for the franchise—it would be wise of the people behind this particular universe to keep in mind that saying new things with old ideas is not only possible but necessary.