The ‘Star Wars’ that almost was

Henry Hanks


(CNN) — A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

An Empire has spread across the galaxy, and the few remaining Jedi defend themselves against the Sith. At the same time, a dispute over trade and treaties is interrupted by … General Luke Skywalker?

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A little confused?

That’s because these familiar elements from “Star Wars” lore are part of George Lucas’ rough draft for the first movie (“Episode IV: A New Hope” for the uninitiated), illustrated for the first time by Dark Horse Comics as “The Star Wars.” The first of eight issues of the comic book series is out now.

When Luke is a much older man, Vader doesn’t wear a helmet, Han Solo resembles a lizard and there is a character named Kane Starkiller, it might take some getting used to. But it’s a fascinating part of movie history, no doubt.

CNN spoke separately to J.W. Rinzler, who adapted Lucas’ script for comics, and artist Mike Mayhew.

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CNN: What captured your interest when adapting this script?

Rinzler: It’s so similar and yet so different at the same time. All the puzzle pieces are there but arranged to form a different picture. You’ve got Sith and Jedi, you’ve got a desert planet. You’ve got a planet with twin suns, an imperial city and a cloud city. When I read the rough draft, it had all those things which made me want to make it into a comic book. It’s such a great story, George is a great storyteller.

CNN: Was it difficult to illustrate this story from a script written nearly 40 years ago?

Mayhew: Not at all. I’ve been in comics 20 years, and when I read the rough draft, I thought, I can make a comic of this tomorrow. It was just a very well-written screenplay, and that’s what a comic book script is. This is genuinely George’s first complete screenplay story of this tale, and it’s wildly different.

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You can see why some of it was changed because there’s no way they could have done it. It was just too ambitious.

When you look at movies now like “Avatar” and “The Avengers,” it seems prophetic. Audiences expect all that action and set pieces, and one thing after another. I’m sure back then they looked at this and thought, “What’s this guy thinking?”

The other interesting thing is you see the origins of the characters we know and love. Darth Vader is kind of a general, he’s one of the main heavies but he’s not a lord of the Sith. Here, Vader is really three characters: General Vader, this Lord of the Sith named Valorum, and this mechanical man. You think you know these characters and then you discover their truer origins.

CNN: What do you think fans will take away from this book?

Rinzler: Based on early fan feedback from the first issue, they’re really enjoying this alternate universe, and they’re getting to read a story that’s being told by George. Even through my adaptation, you feel his voice. You see many of the things you love in “Star Wars” but in a slightly different way.

You have the Tusken raider moment surging in front of the binoculars, except it’s not a Tusken raider, it’s a different character. Fans are saying they’re reading it two or three times to take it all in.

Mayhew: This to me is the greatest “what if” story in comics. What if this made it to the screen? The mind reels at the possibilities.

CNN: Is there one particular thing that is farthest away from the “Star Wars” we know and love?

Rinzler: Everyone seems to latch onto the fact that Han is a big green alien. That’s pretty far! He doesn’t have his own ship. His character is probably the most different, although he can already talk to Wookies. It’s fascinating to see all this stuff starting out, in a way.

What’s really fun is that R2-D2 talks in this one. There’s a couple of points where I felt like “R2-D2 should say something here,” and I added a line and that was really fun.

Mayhew: The characters in this story are much different than the characters in “Star Wars.” The relationships are a lot different and to me, more intense. Leia’s story is a little more complicated, and she’s more a part of the action. Annikin is more of a trained Jedi than Luke was. The older General Skywalker to me is so much cooler than Obi-Wan. This character is like Captain America, a bigger than life hero.

CNN: Is there a possibility that this alternate version of “Star Wars” could live on beyond these eight issues, at least in the fans’ minds?

Rinzler: Fans have been asking already about this, because so many things are hinted at particularly in the first issue, about the past, or characters in the periphery, or just spoken of and not seen. They’d love to see those mysteries explained, but we have a little movie called “Episode VII” coming up and that will take precedence.