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.”
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.
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.
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.
NEXT: More About that lizardman Han Solo. And just where is Darth Vader in all this?
“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.
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.
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]