It sounded so brilliant, but so crazy, that when it was announced April 1 it seemed like an April Fool’s joke. Dark Horse Comics will release a limited run comic adaptation of George Lucas’ initial rough draft for Star Wars written in May 1974—three years before Star Wars’ eventual release. Three years in which Lucas could change his mind and tweak his vision, and did. A lot. Reading over the summary of the Star Wars Rough Draft, it seems like an entirely different film. It’s even that much more obviously inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s great 1958 samurai actioner, The Hidden Fortress, about an aging general helping to escort a young princess through hostile terrain. In his original vision for Star Wars, Lucas called his guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy “Jedi Bendu” rather than simply Jedi. And lightsabers were still called “lazer swords.”
LucasBooks executive editor J.W. Rinzler is writing the Dark Horse adaptation of the rough draft, called The Star Wars, after Lucas’ first title. (No, it’s not because of some Frank Miller-style affectation a la “The Batman.”) “I’m having a blast adapting George Lucas’ prototypical ideas into sequential storytelling,” Rinzler tells Hollywood.com exclusively. “It’s a dream task to help bring to life Annikin Starkiller, General Luke Skywalker, the first Sith Knights, a Space Fortress (that’s attacked twice), Imperial troopers on dune birds, the very first Princess Leia (from the planet Aquilae)… And there’s so much more in The Star Wars.”
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Just from that description alone, you can probably tell this is unlike any Star Wars you’ve ever seen before. Both Luke and Annikin (canonical spelling “Anakin” was years off) exist in the same story, and they’re not father and son? Princess Leia is from Aquilae, not Alderaan? There’s a Space Fortress instead of a Death Star? To help bring Lucas’ earliest vision of that Galaxy Far Far Away to ink-and-paint life, Dark Horse has commissioned artist Mike Mayhew (The Avengers). “Nearly every day I get to see Mike Mayhew’s energetic panels arrive in my in-box,” Rinzler says. “He’s simply doing an amazing job, building on the earliest designs of Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, and even Colin Cantwell, while adding his own glorious touches. Each moment flows into the next. I feel like a kid again.”
So let’s take you back to a time when Jedi Bendu wore samurai-style topknots, Darth Vader was practically a bit player, and Han Solo was a green lizard. This is the story Lucas originally had in mind when he pitched Hollywood his idea for a space opera almost 40 years ago and 20th Century Fox took the bait. It’s been summarized all over every Star Wars fansite, but if you don’t want it spoiled, turn away now. We’ll walk you through The Star Wars by telling you how it’s the same and how it’s different from the Star Wars you know and love. What’s particularly striking is how it sets up elements in A New Hope and The Phantom Menace in almost equal measure. Everything you love about Star Wars is here. But also there are story points from the get-go that some more cranky fans would pick apart in The Phantom Menace many years later.
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A Long Time Ago…: Lucas did indeed write an opening crawl into his earliest draft. The Jedi Bendu were guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy for 100,000 years in The Star Wars, as opposed to the canonical 36,000 we’ve come to know. And they didn’t serve the Galactic Republic. No, they actually were the personal bodygards of a benevolent Emperor. They led his space forces across the galaxy to bring order from chaos, much the way the Jedi lead the Republic’s military during the Clone Wars. The Jedi and their Emperor were defeated by the “Knights of Sith.” The Sith replaced their rule with a New Empire.
It’s Still a Father-Son Story: Like Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, The Star Wars is about the coming of age of a young man. But that young man isn’t Luke Skywalker. It’s Annikin Starkiller (the name was an homage to Swiss Family Robinson director Ken Annakin), who, with his father Kane Starkiller, a former Jedi Bendu, must leave their home planet of Utapau in the Kissel system for Aquilae, a planet still independent from the rule of the Empire.
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It’s incredible to think that the word "Utapau" would make it into Lucas’ draft in 1974, but not actually appear onscreen until Revenge of the Sith 31 years later. (For those of you with short memories, Utapau is the sinkhole planet where Obi-Wan duels General Grievous.) And "Kissell" seems to be an early version of Kessell, home of the galaxy’s most notorious spice mines.
Luke Skywalker Isn’t Who You Think He Is: In this version Luke fulfills the Obi-Wan role. He’s an aging sage, but still a cunning warrior, who must guide Annikin Starkiller to maturity. Kane cannot train Annikin himself because he’s lost most of his body in battles with the Sith. Only his head and an arm aren’t cybernetic, and he runs off an external power source, like the robot he basically is. So the idea of the young hero’s father being a cyborg, like Darth Vader to Luke, was already in place from the earliest version of the story.
Princess Leia Is Still Pretty Much The Same: Though you could see her as a hybrid of Carrie Fisher’s Leia and Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala. Like Amidala, she’s part of the benevolent royalty of a backwater world—Aquilae—that’s remained free of policing from the galaxy’s central government. Aquilae would eventually become Naboo in The Phantom Menace, and that planet is a part of the Republic, but like Naboo, Aquilae faces an invasion force. Not from the Trade Federation, but from the Empire itself.
Fear Will Keep the Systems in Line. Fear of this Space Fortress: The Empire wants to invade Aquilae because its scientists are among the most skilled in the galaxy at cloning. (That idea would be transferred to Kamino for Attack of the Clones.) An Aquilaerian spy on the Imperial capital, Alderaan—Coruscant wouldn’t be invented by Timothy Zahn until some 17 years later—informs Aquilae’s king of the Empire’s hostile intent. That spy’s name is Clieg Whitsun. Clieg would become Cliegg, the name of Owen Lars’ father in Attack of the Clones. And Whitsun would be come Whitesun, as in Beru Whitesun, Owen’s wife, Luke’s aunt. Alderaan would be far from the Empire’s capital in A New Hope but rather a hotbed of rebellion against its rule and the target of the Death Star’s superlaser.
Rather than a Death Star in The Star Wars, there was a Space Fortress, a massive mobile battle station. Shortly after it entered the Aquilae system, the King fired on it, causing the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, who had been stationed on the Space Fortress to enter escape pods and land in the Jundland Wastes, a forbidding part of Aquilae. The Jundland Wastes would later be transplanted to Tatooine, where the droids did also make a crashlanding at the beginning of A New Hope.
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“My Name Is Annikin Starkiller, and I’m Here to Rescue You!”: Aquilae’s king quickly dies, meaning that the Empire wants to target his next of kin, Princess Leia. Not to kill her, but to capture her and use her as a puppet to legitimize their rule, much like the Trade Federation hopes to do with Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace. Annikin, now the padawaan apprentice of Luke Skywalker, accompanies his master to protect Leia from the Imperial forces. They hope to hide from their enemy with Leia in the Jundland Wastes, and that’s when they first meet up with R2-D2 and C-3PO, who join their party. What’s weird about this particular set-up is that Leia actually has a couple younger brothers with her in tow, one of whom is named Biggs, which will later be the name of Luke’s old friend back on Tatooine in A New Hope.
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Han Solo, Lizardman: Annikin and Luke lead Leia and her brothers through the Jundland Wastes so that they can reach the spaceport of Gordon, a vile place of scum and villainy, where they can charter a ship and get offworld. It’s there they meet Han Solo, a Urellian, a six-foot tall bipedal reptilian known to hunt down and enslave Wookiees on their home planet of Yavin. That means the Urellians are kind of like the early version of the Trandoshans, reptilians native to the same star system as Kashyyyk in canonical Star Wars, who fight and enslave the Wookiees. Han is a friend of Kane Starkiller, who already met up with him to prepare for passage for Annikin, Luke, Leia, and the boys offworld.
With Solo’s help, they charter a freighter offworld captained by a man named Valorum (a name that would surface again with Terence Stamp’s Supreme Chancellor Valorum in The Phantom Menace). In order to avoid the Imperial patrols, however, the boys will need to be put in microcases, kind of like a combination of the Millennium Falcon’s secret compartments and carbon freezing, that will mask their life signs. They don’t have enough power to fuel these microcases, however, so Kane takes off his power pack, offers it to his son and his friends, and sacrifices his life. Kind of like what happens when Tony Stark lets go of that blue shiny orb in his chest.
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Even in 1974, It’s a Trap!: So Valorum, the captain of that freighter they chartered, is actually a Sith Knight. And he planned to capture them and turn them over to his higher-ups, who’d surely force Princess Leia to sign a treaty legitimizing the Empire’s occupation of the planet. Instead, our heroes steal an Imperial starship and get offworld, but have a harrowing chase through an asteroid field (hello, The Empire Strikes Back!), which damages their ship and forces them to land on the Wookiee homeworld of Yavin. There they find the Urellians fighting the Wookiees, but they all align with the Wookiees, even Urellian Han Solo. They also meet up with a very special walking carpet named Chewbacca, who saves Annikin’s life in the midst of a battle. They all gather at the home of anthropologists Owen and Beru Lars (yep, they’re not moisture farmers in this version, nor are they related to any of our main characters), while Leia is captured by the Imperials and sent back to Aquilae to sign the treaty. Actually, she’s imprisoned on the Space Fortress.
Vader, Where Are You?: Everyone rushes back to Aquilae to save the princess. She’s being held captive aboard the Space Fortress, so Annikin goes undercover in stormtrooper armor to get to her cell. But he’s caught before he can make the rescue, and Darth Vader, here just a menacing, barely-glimpsed enforcer, orders Valorum to kill him. Despite being a Sith, Valorum has a change of heart, and lets Annikin go free. Now he can rescue the princess. And not a moment too soon. Aged warrior Luke Skywalker leads a squadron of starfighters (all piloted by Wookiees!) to destroy the fortress. They escape just as the space fortress is about to blow up, already a classic Star Wars close-call.
The Empire is beaten back from Aquilae, the princess is safe, and Annikin has undergone his first great trial as a Jedi Bendu under Skywalker’s tutelage. Princess Leia is crowned Queen, and she gives rewards our heroes in honor of their valor. In fact, she even appoints Annikin “Lord Protector of Aquilae.” The end.
So, yeah. This is that moment we close our slackjaws and say, preferably in the voice of Troy McClure, “Haha! It didn’t change a bit, did it?”
It’s obviously very different from the movie we ultimately got, a hell of a lot more complicated, and probably less resonant. But like its big screen spawn, The Star Wars does have some incredible imagery woven into the DNA of its narrative from the start. No wonder Rinzler called it “hallucinatory” in Dark Horse’s first press release about the comic adaptation. But there are more than a few elements present in this prototype of the story that we actually do see pop up in the finished version—in fact, across multiple films. It’s like a bizarro world in which we recognize some of what we see, but what’s familiar really only serves to highlight just how different everything is.
Mike Mayhew’s images in the few panels that have already been released have glimmers of familiarity to them. You see a young boy, possibly Biggs, dressed much like Anakin in sandy-colored robes in Phantom Menace, while Luke adopts a very traditional, cross-legged samurai pose. And the circular cockpit on that freighter looks very much like the iconic Corellian style of the Millennium Falcon’s. The Star Wars should prove to be a worthy companion piece to the Visionaries line of Dark Horse Star Wars comics, which reimagined plot points from the original trilogy to make you rethink everything you thought you knew about that Galaxy Far Far Away. Only this shows what that galaxy’s maker originally had in mind when brainstorming this material. Just writing that story summary filled me with a sense of exoticism and surprise. To reimagine A New Hope is to reimagine everything you thought you knew about Star Wars. Suddenly it’s as alien as it was the first time the world saw it in 1977. But that’s been the unique genius of Star Wars—to present the new, the unexpected, the alien, and all the feelings of discovery that accompany them, and also bottle timeless universe truths about fellowship and honor that transcend mere “plot points.” Rinzler and Mayhew’s project could be an alternate universe Star Wars project that reminds us all over again why we fell in love with George Lucas’ saga in the first place.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Dark Horse]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
In the tradition of Batman Begins and Casino Royale the clock is rolled back on the legendary icons the D—the self-proclaimed greatest band in the world—as the curtain is pulled back on their secret origins and the demons that drive them are unveiled… OK so it’s not really that deep. Though the heavy metal/comedy combo of Jack/JB/”Jabeles” (Jack Black) and Kyle/KB/”Kage” (Kyle Gass) have long played hip clubs cut an album starred in their own short-lived HBO series and amassed a devoted cult of fans their first feature film reveals how the pudgy duo first meet form the band meet their first fan (Jason Reed as TV holdover Lee) go questing the fabled Pick of Destiny—a shard of Satan’s tooth turned into a guitar pick passed among rock’s most accomplished shredders—and ultimately smack down with the devil himself. Believe it or not it’s a love story. Thanks to their long professional partnership Black and Gass comprise two perfectly crafted sides of a very polished comedy coin: Black is the wild-eyed uncontrolled id Gass is the low-energy manipulative slacker and they meet in the middle with an equal amount of unchecked delusion about their musical ability and potential. They both deftly pull off the trickiest types of comedy: smart jokes in the guise of dumb characters and it’s nice to see Black—obviously the bigger film star of the two—share the funniest bits equally with Gass. Of course all of this hinges on the audience’s tolerance for the ambitiously clueless ego-cases (and moviegoers who only love Black for his tamer version of the same persona in School of Rock should be warned—this is the cruder ruder and more profane incarnation) but we admit we’ve long had a taste for the D. They boys carry they movie squarely on their shoulders though longtime D supporters Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller stand out in cameos—the first Stiller cameo in ages that’s both amusing and non-gratuitous! Also appearing in small bits: SNL’s Fred Armisen and Amy Poehler Oscar-nominee Amy Adams Colin Hanks hard rock hero Ronnie James Dio Foo Fighter Dave Grohl as Satan and an uncredited John C. Reilly though you’ll never ever recognize him when he’s onscreen. And kudos to whoever had the inspired notion to cast Meat Loaf as JB’s pious father and Troy Gentile as the young rockin’ JB (Gentile also played a junior version of Black in Nacho Libre). Helmer Liam Lynch who also collaborated on the screenplay with Black and Gass and directed their music video “Tribute ” understands the absurd world of the D completely and demonstrates a clever assured sense of straight-faced silliness. Indeed the first ten minutes of the film alone—a mini-rock opera in itself—announce him as a comedy director to watch. Although we’re sure the bandmates themselves would take full credit for the film’s success. After all they may not have made the greatest movie in the world but in D-speak they came up with a pretty rockin’ tribute version.