Saturday, September 06, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #249: The Star Wars by Rinzler and Mayhew

Every story has a sausage factory behind it -- the rough drafts and deleted scenes and aborted ideas and half-baked concepts that were smoothed out and cleaned up by the final product. Stories that require a lot of people, such as movies, usually have a substantially bigger sausage factory: it had to make sense to that many more people, and a lot of them had to contribute some sausage of their own.

George Lucas's Star Wars saga has an unusually large sausage factory, and a possibly even greater legend: for a while, Lucas had "always planned" to make nine movies, and then he'd "always planned" to make only three, and then he'd "always planned" to make six, and then the eternal plan for nine came back again. (Though you must remember that whatever the story was at the time, it had always been the case, and other reports were misleading: we were always at war with Eastasia.) And, like most movies, there were a number of treatments and outlines and rough-draft screenplays along the way, as Lucas bashed his material into a shape that he liked, that could be filmed, and that would be green-lit by the folks with money.

The very earliest full draft screenplay had the title The Star Wars, and -- since everything Star Warsian must eventually become a salable product, from a toy version of the fifth alien from the left from the Cantina scene to a genuine Tauntaun sleeping bag -- it was turned into a full story of its own over the last year, an eight-issue comics series under that original title: The Star Wars. The script was by J.W. Rinzler, the pen art by Mike Mayhew, and the colors by Rain Beredo. And if it's not entirely clear if elements of that script were picked up by Lucas and his screenwriters for the prequel trilogy, or if Rinzler incorporated those elements into this version of the story, well, that's only another piece of the sausage factory.

This version of the story is much more like its pulpy '30s original inspiration, a particularly Republic-serial-esque sequence of hairsbredth escapes, feat of derring-do, and last-minute plans. It's even more of a space opera, and has even flatter characters that the movie that Lucas did make a couple of year later, and it likely would not have been as successful, if it could even have been made. (I suspect it would have been at least four hours long, and cost a large fortune.)

In this universe, the Jedi-Bendu were merely a warrior order, without any supernatural powers; the Force of Others was a vague religious concept; and the Knights of the Sith were a competing order that battled the Jedi for power now and again -- chivalrously, in general -- and had recently almost destroyed their ancient rivals. Han Solo was a roguish tramp spaceship captain: a green-skinned Ureallian who looks an awful lot like Swamp Thing. General Luke Skywalker was an older man, the last great Jedi, head of the military forces of the planet Aquilae, which itself was the last major human planet outside the great Empire. And Annikin Starkiller was Skywalker's new padawan, the son of Skywalker's old compatriot Kane Starkiller, now a cyborg with only a few human parts.

The plot is closer to the prequels than the original movies: good King Kayros of Aquilae wants to let Skywalker save his planet, but, gosh darn it!, only the squabbling and fractious Senate has the power to unlock the war computers, and they're led/controlled by folks already suborned by the Empire. After a brief battle against the overwhelming Space Fortress, Aquilae falls to the Empire, but Annikin and Luke (and Luke's top spy Captain Clieg Whitsun) smuggle out the sixteen-year-old Princess Leia and her young twin brothers after the king dies early in the occupation.

Our heroes enlist the help of Solo to get off-planet, and are chased by the implacable Imperials, led by General Darth Vader, the right-hand man of Governor Crispin Hoedaack, personally appointed by the Emperor to rule Aquilea. (The boring politics and tropism to monarchy over democracy was in Lucas's creation from the start, clearly.) Along the way, they gather two very familiar droids, both of whom talk clearly in this version. But the whole crew crash-lands on Yavin, planet of the primitive Wookies -- who are a little more Bigfoot and a little less walking carpet in this version -- and end up teaching that race to pilot starfighters in about a page and a half. (I said this was a space opera.)

There's also a knight of the Sith, Prince Valorum, who doesn't get enough to do and doesn't show up until nearly the end: he's the Fortinbras of this book. But there's plenty of running around, shooting blasters at each other, fighting with "lazerswords," and starship combat to keep the plot ticking along quickly -- though there's also a lot of dialogue and captions to load up the exposition and explain what's happening. And the good guys win in the end, in scenes that oscillate between the endings of Star Wars and Phantom Menace.

The Star Wars is frankly a curiosity: it exists because a screenplay is a difficult thing for most people to read, and so it turns that screenplay (which would have made a perfectly good book by itself, perhaps filled out with early conceptual art and/or essays about its creation) into something more user-friendly to a larger portion of the universe of Star Wars fans. And so it will be read by every single reader with an eye to the differences -- ahh, Alderaan is the capital of the Empire here, with a Cloud City-esque capital! Oh ho! the TIE Fighter-looking things are called hunter-destroyers, and "stardestroyers" are also two-man fighters! And so on.

If you find those things amusing, and know Star Wars reasonably well, then you'll probably like The Star Wars. Me, I was hoping for more of the Whills, but I guess they were only in the middle drafts.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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