Long time Star Wars fans know that George Lucas didn’t start messing with the movies in 1997, he had been messing with them for years before and after the original movie debuted. Indeed, the 1977 movie was a moment trapped in time like an icicle in the sun, not the same as a moment ago, not the same as a moment from now.
We all know what happened to the movie afterwards, but until recently what happened to it before was open to some speculation. Various early drafts and fragments popped up, often of dubious provenance, but enough was there to know that the concept underwent many drastic changes as Lucas tinkered with it.
Now Dark Horse comics has released, “The Star Wars”, a graphic novel based on “the original outline” for Star Wars. I finished it last night and let me tell you, it is something else.
Like a game of telephone, there are some original elements, but they’ve been greatly distorted. You have Artoo and Threepio, though the former has little arms and can talk. You have Han Solo and Chewbacca, though one is tall and green and the other is Chewbacca. Also they don’t know each other. The Death Star is here, and so is Darth Vader, except he’s not the Sith Lord in the mask, that’s a different guy. Princess Leia is still the only woman in the entire cast, and she doesn’t do much of anything.
Other familiar elements are peppered into the work. You’ll recognize names of people and places, though in different contexts. Some plot elements show up again, such as the trash compactor and the cantina. There are lines of dialog that even survived the trip from this draft to the final one. (It helps that the artist, Mike Mayhew, fits in familiar items when they are functionally equivalent to later hardware.)
The thing that stands out the most, however, is how terrible this thing is. The plot is confusing, with the heroes constantly going from place to place with no seeming plan. The heroes themselves are confusing, with four similarly named and looking white guys all running around challenging you to tell them apart. The bad guys, too, are overstaffed, with at least three different ones all serving the same purpose and having interchangeable lines. Absolutely none of the characters have any personality whatsoever. The nature of the threat is never clear; Aquilae seems to be the only planet holding out against the Empire, but they aren’t really too alarmed about it. The dialogue is filled with oddball pseudo-military jargon that does the opposite of what it seems like Lucas thinks it does.
What “The Star Wars” reminds one of the most is not Star Wars but The Phantom Menace and its disjointed, half-baked plot and shallow, lifeless characters. It’s a story of exposition with no heart at the center of it.
“What happened to George Lucas?” fans said after the original trilogy finished. He was silent for a long time, then returned with the much-maligned special editions, and then put out the Prequels, which left a lot of people baffled as to how the same person could have cranked out such tone-deaf junk. Speaking for myself, the more Star Wars there was in the years after 1991, when Heir to the Empire, the first of the new books came out, the less interested I became, to the point where I’m now satisfied with the first movie and don’t care much about any of the rest. What “The Star Wars” shows us is that what happened to George Lucas was that he got very, very lucky with the 1977 movie, largely due to the influence of his then-wife Marcia Lucas, who helped edit it. Every single wrong turn that Lucas made since then is evident in “The Star Wars”; it was all right there from the beginning. Very briefly there was a person who could tell him “no” who he’d listen to, who turned his ideas into a coherent, entertaining movie.
George Lucas has always reinvented this story, as well as the stories about this story. At one point it was a “trilogy of trilogies”, though that was then retconned into there always being just six movies. It was always about Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, who was always Luke’s father, even though there is plenty of evidence of that not being true, as well as Leia being Luke’s sister. All the fans knew of “The Journal of the Whills” and “Luke Starkiller” and such, but what “The Star Wars” reveals is that Star Wars itself was the outlier, a movie that just happened to be fun and captivating despite, not because of its creator’s vision.
So thank you, Marcia Lucas, for helping to give me a movie I truly love.