In what is perhaps the wildest “What If” tale in pop culture history, Dark Horse Comics gave fans a glimpse of what Star Wars might have looked like if George Lucas had filmed his original screenplay for the first movie. It’s difficult to image a version of the beloved saga where Darth Vader is just a powerless general and Han Solo is a big green alien. But a limited series titled The Star Wars includes these elements of Lucas’ original script and more in a vastly different interpretation of the galaxy far, far away. The comic is a fun look at what might have been, but also serves as a reminder about what makes the Star Wars saga so special in the first place.
The story of Star Wars went through many drafts and revisions between when Lucas came up with the idea in 1971 and when shooting began in 1976. It’s difficult to imagine audiences lining up to see a movie called Journal of the Whills, Part 1, which was the title of his first outline for the story. That story followed the adventures of Jedi-bendu Mace Windy and his padawaan learner Chuiee Two Thorpe. Over the years the story would come to be known by several names, including The Star Wars, Adventures of the Starkiller Episode I: The Star Wars, and The Star Wars: From The Adventures of Luke Starkiller, before Lucas eventually settled on Star Wars (and later after its release, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope).
A rough draft of the script completed in 1974 forms the basis of The Star Wars, an eight-issue miniseries released by Dark Horse Comics between September 2013 and May 2014. Written by J.W. Rinzler with art by Mike Mayhew, the comic is heavily inspired by original designs and concept art created in the mid-1970s by seminal Lucasfilm figures like Ralph McQuarrie, Colin Cantwell and Joe Johnston. Several names will be familiar to Star Wars fans, as will the look of many ships, weapons and landscapes. However, the story is vastly different.
This Isn’t The Star Wars You’re Looking For
Basic elements of the plot remain the same: oppressed people fight back against an evil Galactic Empire with the help of legendary warriors known as Jedi. But The Star Wars mostly focuses on the Empire’s efforts to conquer the independent planet of Aquilae in order to acquire its cloning technology. An older general named Luke Skywalker is tasked with protecting the royal family of Aquilae and repelling Empire forces with the help of his Padawan apprentice, Annikin Starkiller. When the King of Aquilae is killed and his daughter Princess Leia assumes the throne, Skywalker and Starkiller help her and her brothers escape the planet. After crashing on the planet Yavin and allying themselves with an army of native Wookiees, the heroes manage to save the princess and destroy the Empire’s floating space fortress.
The differences between this version and the finished film are staggering. Darth Vader is essentially a non-character who only appears in a few issues without his iconic mask and helmet. The Sith Lord in this story is named Prince Valorum, who allies himself with the Jedi at the end. Rather than having a romance with Han Solo, a tertiary character with green skin and gills, Leia falls in love with the Padawan Annikin Starkiller. The Jedi, also referred to as the Jedi-Bendu, are nearly extinct in this version as well, but their role before the rise of the Empire was to serve as bodyguards to the Emperor, who is basically just a corrupt politician. And while the Jedi do say, “May the Force of others be with you” when wishing each other good luck, the Force as a mystical power that binds all life and grants Jedi extraordinary abilities, does not exist.
There’s Something Familiar About This Place
For all the differences, it’s easy to see ideas and plot points that Lucas would revisit in later movies. The bickering between Leia and Annikin that later evolves into love is very reminiscent of Han Solo and Leia’s love/hate dynamic seen in The Empire Strikes Back, mixed with the budding romance between Padmé and her Padawan protector in Attack of the Clones. Scattered throughout the story are other iconic moments like the assault on the Death Star, a pursuit through an asteroid field, and the young hero impersonating a stormtrooper to rescue Princess Leia (and then winding up in a trash compactor). The Rebels teaming up with the forest-dwelling Ewoks to fight the Empire in Return of the Jedi is lifted from the climax of this story, though Lucas’ original idea to use Wookiees instead of Ewoks is realized here. There are also several lengthy discussions on political matters that are reminiscent of the prequels.
Many smaller elements cut from this story would reappear later in the franchise, and make for fun Easter eggs that longtime Star Wars fans can spot. Names like Clieg, Bail Antilles, Valorum and Biggs would be recycled for other characters, as would planets like Utapau. Starkiller would be used as the name of the protagonist of the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video games, as well as the First Order’s space station in The Force Awakens. Many of the spaceships have strong resemblances to vehicles that appear at various points throughout the saga. The design of Chewbacca and the other Wookiees was re-purposed for the character of Zeb in Star Wars: Rebels. Even the settings in The Star Wars borrow from iconic Star Wars locations; the Imperial capital of Alderaan is basically Coruscant mixed with Cloud City, while the palace Leia’s family resides in shares more than a passing resemblance to Jabba’s Palace.
This Franchise Is Going To Be A Real Short Trip
The story of The Star Wars is overall a bit disjointed and packed with too many elements. The scope of the plot would have been difficult to shoot, and budgetary constraints would have likely resulted in a movie that looked pretty bad. While it’s a fascinating look at what might have been, it’s hard to imagine a massive film franchise being birthed from this tale. In later versions of the screenplay Lucas would incorporate elements from the writings of Joseph Campbell and the films of Akira Kurosawa. This version, which centers largely around a political squabble between a galactic Empire and a royal family living on a desert planet, feels more than a little bit like a rip-off of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Reading the comic, one can’t help but think about what a remarkable, lightning-in-a-bottle piece of art the first Star Wars movie really is. By paring down the story to one of a simple farm boy rescuing a princess from an evil wizard, Lucas gives the film a timeless, mythic quality that The Star Wars is sorely lacking. Of course, there are elements of the film that no comic would be able to capture, like the sound design of Ben Burtt, the booming voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader, or the effortless swagger that Harrison Ford infuses into the role of Han Solo. But even beyond that, the story of Lucas’ initial draft has too many plot threads, too many characters, and too many weird names. The ending of the comic promises readers, “Our heroes’ greatest adventure was yet to take place — the one which would be known as ‘Saga of the Opuchi!’“
Whatever “Saga of the Opuchi” is, it hardly rolls off the tongue. Nor would it make audiences want to buy a ticket to see a sequel in the same way a title like The Empire Strikes Back does. Still, it could be kind of interesting to see more stories set in this universe and explore where George Lucas’ original ideas could have gone. Perhaps his plans for sequels would include more alternate takes on concepts that Star Wars lovers are familiar with. But fans should probably still be happy that George Lucas saw fit to rewrite his script and give the world the version of Star Wars they know and love.
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