The Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler, Mike Mayhew, Rain Beredo, Nick Runge, Michael Heisler

The very first thing I downloaded in the early days of the internet was an original rough draft of Star Wars. I heard it was out there, I got it, and I spent a lot of time trying to keep names straight while I sorted through a considerably less familiar version of the story. A few months later, the prequel trilogy began, and over the course of the next few years I began to see many of the unused names and concepts from that original draft pop up. It was fun to experience it, to see the creative process evolve.

Today, it’s my geeky pleasure to read this graphic novel, based on that rough draft. It’s a testament to the power and longevity of Star Wars and the generosity of George Lucas that a project like this should ever see the light of day. It should be noted that I’ve learned quite a bit about the draft process since, so I recognize that the draft I originally read, which this comic is based on, is likely draft #4. Once more, I’m thrust into this version of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, with many familiar names and concepts blasting by me in unfamiliar ways. But there are some things that stay the same or change only slightly.

Half the fun is charting some of the differences, and I won’t bother to go through them all. The biggest ones are obviously that the Jedi Bendu General Luke Skywalker is playing the Kenobi role here, training his padawan learner, Annikin Starkiller. Han Solo is a giant green alien. Chewbacca is a pointy-earred, bug-eyed bigfoot (and “Chewie” is a human pilot). Artoo (here, Artwo) has dialogue in our own language. Threepio still resembles a male version of Maria from the silent classic Metropolis. Princess Leia isn’t too far off from her final version, but she has two younger brothers, the twins Biggs and Windy. For this Darth Vader fan, it was surreal to finally see the original two characters he was conglomerated from: the battlescarred General Darth Vader and the Knight of the Sith, Prince Valorum. And the list goes on. There are all manner of subtle nods to Lucas’ influences as well. For example, one of the spaceports is Gordon Spaceport, named for Flash Gordon, which is what George wanted to make first.

Here’s where the “based on” part really comes into play. The artwork is stunning, some of the finest I’ve seen in recent years. While the characters and story are clearly earlier versions of their screen counterparts from all three of the classic films, the art takes its cues largely from the Ralph McQuarrie concept paintings and the sketchwork of Joe Johnston. Familiar ships, props, and even bounty hunters find their way into this, helping to ground the tale somewhere in the vicinity of the Star Wars we know so well and offering all manner of easter eggs for the savvy fan. Leia’s ceremonial dress, for example, resembles something her mother would wear in the prequels, and the Wookiee village looks similar to what we see in the Holiday Special mixed with a little Ewok village here and there. We meet Solo in an early version of the Cantina. Again, the list goes on.

As a bonus, some of the comic book sketch art is included at the end, as are several pages of sample panels presented to George Lucas as a means to gain his blessing on the project. The overall result is a beautiful volume that will only serve to enhance the appreciation and understanding of the original trilogy’s evolution and the saga as a whole.

4 stars

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