Cool concept art from The Star Wars comic

The Star Wars 0 cover

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.

The Star Wars 0 Aquilean fighters

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.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial air tanks

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.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial shocktroopers

(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.)

The Star Wars 0 Baltarian freighter

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.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial capital

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 AvengersFrozen, The Lego Movie, etc.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial stardestroyers

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 PictureBlade 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:

The Complete collection of TIES

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5 Responses to Cool concept art from The Star Wars comic

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    “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.”

    Exactly. It astonishes me how, time and again, film-makers think there’s something big or clever about treating their own material with condescension, if not outright contempt. Do that, you get Flash Gordon (1980), The Fantastic Four (2005) or Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Treat the material as serious on its own level and you get Star Wars, The Incredibles or Avengers. What explains this idiot tendency of film-makers to undermine their own work? Is it simple cowardice?

    One of my favourite little moments in Avengers is when Coulson tells Loki, who has just stabbed him through the heart, “You’re going to lose”. “Where is my disadvantage?”, Loki asks. Coulson tells him “You lack conviction”. I can’t help wondering if that’s Whedon’s subtle message to lesser film-makers (i.e. nearly all of them).

    On the title “The Clone Wars”: we like the way the original “Star Wars” wording brackets the “The Clone Wars” wording, so we routinely refer to the new series as “Star The Clone Wars Wars” — or, given the evident importance of the definite article, “Star THE! Clone Wars Wars”.

    Great that the The Star Wars comics are going to be collected in a volume. I may well treat myself to a copy when it comes out.

  2. Matt Wedel says:

    I agree completely about the lameness of camp. I just don’t get it.

    And I support your plan to pick up the collected The Star Wars–I think you’ll find much to like, and much for us to discuss.

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    I think “camp” seems like a really cool when people first encounter at the age of about fourteen — presumably mostly because its a repudiation of the twelve-year-old-selves they’re desperately trying to leave behind. The problem is that this sort of faux sophistication so often seems to linger past age fifteen.

    As usual, C. S. Lewis put it best:

    Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

  4. Matt Wedel says:

    Those are solid points and the quote from Lewis is a gem.

    I think it also has to do with one’s stance toward the material. I don’t want to hold myself above or apart from things and only like them ironically. I want to love them, fully and unironically. But this is probably just another facet of the maturity issue you bring up. One’s love of something may be reinforced by being shared, but liking or appreciating something ironically is probably impossible unless there is someone else around to share the joke and appreciate how hip you are. To love something is to expose oneself to disappointment and criticism; to stay at an ironic resolve is to armor oneself against those things–you can always claim that you were never that invested. What that achieves, besides protecting the fragile ego of the one pretending to irony, is beyond me.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that all irony is juvenile. But irony seems to be the default mode of juveniles who want to seem grown up.

    Or to put it another way, if you want to wear a t-shirt with a wolf howling at the moon, go for it. But do it because wolves howling at the moon are legitimately badass, not so you and your friends can have a laugh at people who wear such things.

  5. Mike Taylor says:

    Nice summary. Reminds me of Paul Graham’s Copy what you like. As soon as you let your own preferences be determined by what you think other people will make of them, you’re condemned to Lowest-Common-Denominator World, or a best a clique with its own fashions.

    In the end, loving a piece of art ironically will lead to no more satisfactory a conclusion than loving a woman ironically. Doing either is a very fundamental error, a self-contradiction, since by its nature it implies that you lack the courage to love whole-heartedly.

    … And speaking of loving things wholeheartedly, it’s time you fixed your Buffy vacuum.

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