I’ve always been a sucker for movie concept art. It’s basically alternate history applied to film. And as a roleplayer, concept art is a goldmine–a lot of “official” RPG characters and vehicles were born from concept art (like the Star Wars ships from this post), and even back in the 80s those of us with the movie art books and sketchbooks were busy dreaming up names and stats for concept art that the big publishers overlooked.
Author J.W. Rinzler and Dark Horse Comics have gone a step further. While Rinzler was doing the background research for his book The Making of Star Wars, he came across the original story drafts that George Lucas wrote back in 1974. This isn’t super-secret stuff these days–lots of folks know that the early drafts had characters called Kane and Deak Starkiller, and that Alderaan was originally the Imperial capital planet. But Rinzler decided to take things a big step further. He got Lucas’ permission to develop those early drafts into a fully-developed alternative storyline, and he kept the original title, “The Star Wars”. The Star Wars is currently running as an 8-issue series from Dark Horse Comics. Issue 6 is due out in the next few days, and the whole series will be collected in graphic novel form this summer.
I’ve been a bit out of touch with the comics scene lately so I didn’t know about this until a week or so ago. Happily for me, my local comics store, A Shop Called Quest, still had copies of all of the issues, including issue #0. Issue #0 is basically “the art of The Star Wars“–a concept art book for the alternate-universe version of Star Wars. The meta-ness here is not lost on me.
(Also, I am fairly certain that the title The Star Wars will drive Mike nuts, since he’s already remarked that the television series Clone Wars [2003-2005] and The Clone Wars [2008-2014] can only be followed up by The The Clone Wars.)
I’m enjoying the comic book series, although I can see now that pretty much every decision that George Lucas made between 1974 and 1977 made the story tighter, grander, and just all-around better. Still, The Star Wars is pretty groovy. It definitely reflects the time before Star Wars became Star Wars, when it was basically “the 1970s does Flash Gordon”. Although there are hints of mythic resonance, the story isn’t burdened by it; it’s a lot looser and lighter than what it eventually evolved into. Oddly but appropriately, it gives me a glimpse into a universe in which Star Wars was not a genre-defining pop culture monument, but just an odd little nostalgic one-off that maybe did okay business but certainly didn’t change anything. Sort of like how Super 8 was J.J. Abrams’ homage to all of Spielberg’s early sci-fi movies and people thought it was cool and all, but you don’t see Super 8 toys on the shelves or people dressing up like Super 8 characters at conventions.
I suppose that’s why I can’t get entirely on board with the critics who try to write off Star Wars and Indiana Jones as nothing more than warmed-over pulp fiction and movie serial retreads. There was no great unexploited need for Flash Gordon, per se, as the critical and commercial failure of Flash Gordon (1980) and most of the other movies, ahem, inspired by Star Wars attests. The genius of Star Wars was to use Flash Gordon trappings to tell a fairy tale that looked–and felt–awesome rather than campy or twee (insert obligatory prequel-bashing here). The formula, “take something kids love and make it not suck for grown-ups”, is a pretty reliable path to success; see also Pixar (at least pre-Disney), The Avengers, Frozen, The Lego Movie, etc.
Anyway, back to The Star Wars. Not only an interesting and thought-provoking story, but I’m also really digging the designs. The two-man Aquilaean “devil fighters” and the fighter-sized Imperial “stardestroyers” kinda blew my mind. The Aquilaean fighter in particular hits the right notes for me–it looks Star-Wars-y, but also how someone from the 1970s might do a space fighter if there was no Star Wars to draw from. It recalls for me the sleek, geometric perfection of the concept art of Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie. Which is perfect, given how much those two artists set the look for the sci-fi of that time, Mead with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Tron, and McQuarrie with, of course, Star Wars.
Also, that ring-winged TIE-fighter-like concept ship is smokin’. I’ve seen roughly a zillion TIE fighter variants,* and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that before. How cool.
* Evidence, borrowed from here: