As any aspiring screenwriter in Fresno or anywhere else in the world will tell you, a movie script is something that is always changing. Often the first draft of a film script will bear little to no resemblance to what the audience ultimately sees on screen. This can happen or a number of reasons, be they economic, political, or just because the filmmakers rejects previous ideas in favor of what they think are even better ones.
One of the most fascinating examples of this is George Lucas's original drafts for what would become the most celebrated science fiction epic of our time, Star Wars. Taking inspiration from multiple sources including, but not limited to, old science fiction serials like Flash Gordon and the classic Akira Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress, Lucas began crafting his own space opera as early as 1973, following the completion of American Graffiti for Universal Pictures. As outlined within the franchise's Wikipedia page, Lucas began by writing a short summary called "The Journal of the Whills", which told the tale of the training of apprentice CJ Thorpe as a "Jedi-Bendu" space commando by the legendary Mace Windy. However, frustrated that his story was simply too difficult for audiences to understand, he then began writing a 13-page treatment called The Star Wars on April 17, 1973. This draft had thematic parallels with The Hidden Fortress. By 1974, Lucas had expanded the treatment into a rough draft screenplay, adding several elements such as the Knights of Sith, the Death Star, and a main protagonist whose original name was Annikin Starkiller.
In the second draft of this treatment, Lucas made several heavy simplifications, changing the young hero on a farm's name to Luke Starkiller, making Annikin Luke's father, a wise Jedi knight. This draft also introduced "The Force" as a mystical energy field that gave the Jedi and the Sith their power. The third draft removed the father character completely and replaced him with a substitute named Ben Kenobi, and in 1976 a fourth draft had been prepared for principal photography, which ultimately became the film that we all know and love today. The film was titled Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. It was only during production that Lucas changed Luke's surname to Skywalker and altered the title to simply The Star Wars and finally Star Wars.
The exact nature of how much of what we see in the films today evolved from these early treatments has always been a heavy source of debate. Lucas has said in interviews numerous times that he has always had the entire series, or at least the original trilogy, from the very beginning. Yet, as clearly evidenced from the first draft, the fusion of Annikin Starkiller and Darth Vader into one character, which became the eventual spine for the entire six film series, was nowhere to be found until development of The Empire Strikes Back, nor was the reveal of Luke and Leia being long-lost siblings, both aspects that Lucas has said he had in mind from the project's inception. Even the concept of the Force evolved over the various drafts; at one point, there was the Kaiburr crystal, a mystical relic that captured the Force and served as a MacGuffin for our heroes to use.
These early drafts of the original film have long been a source of fascination and intrigue for fans, and now, with permission from Lucas himself, Dark Horse comics has decided to put his original vision to printed form so that the world could have a taste of the Star Wars that never was.
The Star Wars is 8-issue mini-series adapting Lucas's 1974 treatment of the screenplay, one that reveal a vision of the galaxy far, far away that simultaneously bears a striking resemblance to the story we all know, yet at the same time is shockingly different. Written by J. R. Rinzler and illustrated by Mat Mayhew, this series, with its first issue being released in comic book stores today, will surely delight and fascinate legions of Star Wars fans all over the world.
According to the opening scroll on the issues's first page: Until the recent GREAT REBELLION, the JEDI-BENDU were the most feared warriors in the universe. For one hundred thousand years, generations of JEDI perfected their art as the personal bodyguards of the Emperor. They were the chief architects of the invincible IMPERIAL SPACE FORCE, which expanded toe EMPIRE across the galaxy, for the celestial equator to the farthest reaches of the GREAT RIFT. Now these legendary warriors are all but extinct. One by one they have been hunted down and destroyed as enemies of the NEW EMPIRE by the ferocious and sinister rival warrior sect, THE KNIGHTS OF SITH.
In this first issue, we meet the Jedi Kane Starkiller and his two sons, Deak and Annikin, who are now in hiding from the Empire on the Fourth Moon of Utapau in the Kissel system. Their seclusion is ended however by the arrival of a Sith Knight, who kills Deak with a single blow. Kane avenges his apprentice and son by slaying the Sith, but it is clear that he and Annikin must flee the system and return to their homeworld of Aquilae, A planet now yet controlled by the Empire, Aquilae is ruled by the wise King Kayos and Queen Breha. But the Galactic Emperor, Cos Dashit, is plotting with his advisers to annex the planet, one of the last of the Independent Systems. Leading the capture of Aquilae is the Emperor's general, Darth Vader. Fortunately, spies on Alderaan, the gas giant capital of the Empire, bring news of this to Aquilae's leadership just as Kayos's daughter, Princess Leia, leaves for Yuell to study at the Chatos Academy .
Meanwhile, Kane and Annikin arrive at Aquilae and contact the royal government at their Underground Fortress. Kane also reunites with a fellow Jedi, Luke Skywalker, who is now a General in the Aquilaean military. Kane reveals to his friend that he wishes for his to take Annikin as his padawan learner, fearing that he himself will soon die, even revealing the extent of his cybernetic replacements-- only his head and arm remain flesh. As this somber reunion plays out, word reaches General Skywalker that a massive asteroid or comet has entered the Aquilaean system...
Lets get the two questions you have on your mind out of the way: Yes, I did pretty much spoil the entire plot of the issue for you, with the help of Wookiepedia, and yes, this sounds barely anything like the Star Wars we all know. Normally, I would not spoil the whole plot of something, but given that this is only the first eighth of the total original screenplay mean that this whole issue is pretty much pure setup. Besides, the original treatment that this is adapting has been available to the public long before now, as the complete summary on Wookiepedia will attest.
The thing about The Star Wars is that, although it may be unfair, it becomes impossible to look at the characters, plot and imagery here and not immediately think about the version we have all known and built a further mythology around since 1977. Yes, Anakin is named "Annikin Starkiller" in this version, and yes, he is meant to be the heroic youth instead of Luke, and yes, both he and Darth Vader are completely separate characters. Luke Skywalker is i the story, but he is a crusty old Jedi and war general, thus, ironically, casting him in the the Obi-Wan Kenobi role for Annikin. Kane seems to be getting more development within this first issue, which is interesting because not being a character whose name was used in any of the films, the involvement sets in stone the idea of the great Jedi father figure who do to a tragic accident is now more machine than man, an idea that would later be applied to Anakin/Darth Vader himself. Leia makes a small appearance as princess of an entirely different planet while Aalderaan is, ironically, presented not as a peaceful world tragically destroyed by the Death Star, but as the Empire's capital world in place of the now familiar Corescaunt. Han Solo, although he does not appear in this issue, will later be introduced as a green skinned alien instead of the rough and handsome human scoundrel that Harrison Ford made famous. Even the Sith Lord that attacks the Starkiller family, who I at first assumed to be Vader, is wearing a frightening mask that directly comes from classic samurai armor. Vader himself, when he gets introduced, is still wearing a black suit similar to his now iconic look, but without any mask or helmet. The Emperor in this version looks nothing like Palpatine, a.k.a Darth Sidious as we know him, but instead is modeled more on Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon. Even the Stormtroopers look much bulkier and robotlike than in the films.
It is fascinating to examine some of what was presented in this original treatment and determine how it may on may not have been adapted into the films later on. For instance, the Star Destroyers look identical to the design we all know from the original trilogy, except that they are much, much smaller and are effectively the stand in for the TIE fighters; this might have been the inspiration for the shape of the Jedi Starfighter seen in Attack of the Clones. There is also an Imperial Air Tank, which later was adapted into the Trade Federation Hover Tanks seen in The Phantom Menace. Names of characters and planets were swapped around from this original draft as well, for instance, the planet that the family lives on at the beginning in not Tatooine, but Utapau, a name that was eventually given to the sinkhole planet where Obi-Wan fought General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith. Bail Antilles is the name of one of the spies that reports to the Aquilaean royal family, a name that would ultimately go to the captain of the Tantive IV, the ship that was helping Leia escort the Death Star Plans at the beginning of A New Hope. Darth Vader is introduced in a scene where he speaks with an alien and a bureaucrat named Governor Hoedaack, while the name Tarkin is used for an alien member of the Aquilaean Council. I can go on, but you get the idea.
The art presented here is wonderful to look at. It excellently renders the designs seen in several of the late Ralph McQuarrie's original production paintings, including a variant cover that beautifully recreates a classic Star wars poster with these "new" characters and early designs, including a first look at a X-Wing fighter that bears a spiritual similarity the ARC-170 from Revenge of the Sith, less colorful R2-D2, a version of C-3P0 that bears a spot-on likeness to robot Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and a version of Chewbacca that face more liken to a lemur.
Overall, The Star Wars Issue #1 is a strong, if straightforward, start to this eight-issue re-imagining of the film that never was and, if nothing else, will serve as a fascinating what if representation of the franchise's roots and an acknowledgement of how a classic story that is so familiar to all of us is able to change and evolve so much on its path to appealing on film. It may not have been as eventful as I was hoping, but as only the first issue in a eight-issue adaptation of an film script, perhaps that was unavoidable. Still, with its fascinating concept and an art style that wonderfully pays tribute to the late Ralph McQuarrie's original work, this is still amust-own book for any Star Wars fan!