Art: Mike Mayhew
Additional Art: Scott Kolins, Sean Cooke, Killian Plunkett, Stephane Roux, Ryan Kinnaird
Colors: Rain Beredo, Dan Jackson
Letters: Michael Heisler
Covers: Nick Runge, Jan Duursema, Douglas Wheatley, Ralph McQuarrie
Design: Jimmy Presler
Star Wars created by George Lucas.
(Mild spoiler alert for the entire Star Wars film series)
As with any successful franchise, Star Wars constantly tempts fans to speculate about the inner workings of its creative process prior to the reveal of the finished product. This is further exacerbated by George Lucas and his pronounced habit of constantly revising his own story. Did he always intend to produce six movies or nine? When did he decide to make Emperor Palpatine a Sith Lord? Or settle on the familial connection between Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Darth Vader? The franchise is maddeningly slippery to anyone who insists on the existence of eternal truths (e.g. Han Solo shot first!), which sets them in opposition to the equally obstinate Lucas. So it’s not surprising that some people would be curious to read the legendary rough draft to what would become the original Star Wars from 1977, if only just to understand what ideas were percolating within Lucas head at the time. But for those of us who can’t be bothered to track it down, Dark Horse published a graphic novel adaptation back in 2013 written by J.W. Rinzler and drawn mainly by Mike Mayhew.
Needless to say, this is not the story that would go on to conquer the world and change popular culture. The Star Wars is a very workmanlike effort that even more obviously owes a debt to Flash Gordon. Events unfold in a typically serialized manner, with the protagonists facing down one peril after another. It’s often been rumored that the rough draft contained elements for the original trilogy, but this adaptation implies that this is also true for the prequels as well. The setup of the New Galactic Empire conquering the rebellious planet Acquilae mirrors the Trade Federation’s aggression towards Naboo in The Phantom Menace. The attempts to protect a young Princess Leia from Imperial forces anticipate similar actions towards Queen Amidala. The Wookie uprising in the latter part of the comic foresees the participation of the Ewoks and the Gungans in the film series.
But the sprawling structure makes it too unwieldy to work as a feature film. The films would have to compress events and merge characters. No less than four separate people are combined to fashion the Darth Vader fans know and love. It’s not exactly clear how much of Lucas draft informs Rinzler’s script, but the narrative is all plot and zero characterization. Individuals act out not from some internal motive but because they need to do so to move things along. The dialogue is mainly expository with some technobabble intruding into the proceedings. No one possesses any personality of note. So it’s hard to care about what happens to anyone. The reader is only aware when someone is in love because they proclaim it. Some characters make the ultimate sacrifice and their deaths are barely mourned. Others just drop out altogether. The pacing allows no room for quiet introspection. At best, this is uninspired, mechanical storytelling.
None of this does any favors to Lucas half-baked critique of American imperialism. The New Empire, which is somehow different from the previous Empire, is now evil because it persecutes the Jedi and the worlds that harbor them. There are a few attempts to insert some realpolitik that go nowhere. And the portrayal of the Wookies as stereotypical primitives who can be duped into worshipping someone as a god, à la the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, only demonstrates how much a younger Lucas was a man of his time. For him, anyone who wasn't a droid or a funny-looking alien (Han happens to be big and green) was by default white.
Mayhew and colorist Rain Beredo attempt to insert into the proceedings some much needed vim and vigour, while letterer Michael Heisler employs fonts recalling the classic look of the film. But they can’t overcome the indifferent scripting. The photorealism can even sometimes hinder the flow of the comic due to the regular use of exaggerated but frozen facial expressions. No matter how hard the art team tries to make the characters look and act like actual human beings the reader can relate to, they remain inert and unengaging.
Because of the comic’s origins, the art becomes oddly metatextual. The designs are attempting to recreate the ideas of Lucas and original concept designer Ralph McQuarrie before they acquired their more recognizable onscreen forms. But Mayhew et al. is obviously drawing inspiration from the original trilogy. The end result is a world that gradually appears more familiar as the story progresses, though more retro in feel. It’s as if someone had wiped away all the dirt and grime from the Star Wars universe. Or maybe the dirt and grime had not yet enough time to settle in.
What ultimately distinguishes, or diminishes, The Star Wars in the eyes of fans are the ideas that don’t make it into this version of the story. The Jedi and Sith are ancient enemies, but their feud doesn’t play a central role in the war between the New Empire and the Rebellion. The Sith and the Empire might be allies for the sake of convenience, but the latter barely tolerates the former. Both warrior cults are viewed as moribund institutions being swept away by the modern state. This contempt for the old actually makes its way into the original film, only to vanish when the sequels would reveal that the Sith were actually running the show.
Also nonexistent is the quasi-spiritualism associated with the franchise. While Jedi and Sith are formidable in battle, neither possesses any supernatural abilities. The Force as understood by modern fandom has yet to be conceived by Lucas. There are no sermons about “an energy field created by all living things” binding the galaxy together. Or dire warnings about being tempted by the Dark Side by giving into anger, fear, and aggression. Without The Force, the comic lacks the pseudo-philosophical content that has become an essential part of the Star Wars universe.
Perhaps the most significant absence is of its hero Luke Skywalker. There's a character with that name in the comic, though that’s where the similarity ends. This Luke is a seasoned Jedi warrior. The last of a dying breed, somewhat akin to an aging samurai still in active service after the collapse of the shogunate. Luke's fighting for the status quo he remembers. Noble perhaps, but a doomed cause. He's really more the template for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Quite a a far cry from the Luke the world would come to know as a naive farmboy who desperately wants to leave the farm and his hick family. Who daydreams about adventures in space, and perhaps of a better tomorrow. That’s the aspirational character many fans would embrace.
Translation: Joe Johnson
The central conceit of the midlife crisis is that it's often used as an excuse to engage in melodrama. The protagonist chucks their stifling responsibilities and rigidly defined social roles in order to indulge in the kind of youthful indiscretions that they’ve generally avoided in the past. Or in more recent stories, as a chance to launch into a personal quest for self-actualization. Throw in some unsympathetic parents, small-minded acquaintances, or an uncomprehending spouse/significant other, and the elements are in place to send the hero on their merry way. The eponymous protagonist of Lulu Anew starts out in the usual pattern. Lulu is a French housewife and mother of three attempting to return to the workforce. But after going through another unsuccessful job interview, something about coming back to her lout of a husband causes her to hesitate. Before long, she's gone on a walkabout to the Coast without any concrete plans and without informing anyone.
If this sounds like the setup for American Beauty or Eat Pray Love, Lulu Anew couldn’t be further away from those predecessors. Unlike her American counterparts, Lulu isn't trapped in some materially comfortable but emotionally hollowed out middle class existence. Affluence is definitely not an issue for her. From all appearances, she needs the money to support her family. And a job would allow her to escape the confines of her claustrophobic domestic situation as a put upon housewife. But Lulu can’t actually afford to run away from home. She only manages to survive by relying on the kindness of strangers.
And unlike Hollywood’s screen idols, there’s nothing glamorous about Lulu. Étienne Davodeau draws in the Franco-Belgian tradition, which grounds the otherwise unlikely story in a naturalistic setting. Most of his adult characters look like they’re at least middle aged, with eye bags, wrinkles, frown lines, and flabby bodies. Lulu herself is hardly the vision of beauty with her flat unattractive features, drab clothes and unkempt hair tied back into a utilitarian knot. There’s an unmistakable working class bearing to Davodeau’s cast. At some point, Lulu acquires a love interest in the form of an ex-con trailer park groundskeeper named Charles. He vaguely recalls a schlubby Harvey Pekar as drawn by Robert Crumb, but with the addition of a pair of unfortunate sideburns. That’s nothing compared to his hairier two brothers who live in the park with him.
The book’s other main character is the placid French coastline. Drawn with virtuosity by Davodeau, the setting’s warm orange and cool blue color washes define the overall palette. While the book's page layout uses the twelve panel grid, Davodeau often employs silent action sequences to punctuate the narrative. The further Lulu travels, the more often the panels open up to wide angle shots of the distant horizon. The natural beauty of the landscape beckoning her into a state of wordless introspection as she watches the waves quietly roll onto land.
This tranquil mood keeps the book from wallowing in cheap sentimentality. Lulu doesn’t betray any unambiguous emotions about her rash decision to leave her family such as guilt, remorse, or joy and relief. She doesn’t pursue any unfulfilled ambitions, engage in bucket-list inspired feats of daring, or travel to exotic places. Her interactions with the locals are a lot more low key, and the personal revelations about what drives her come gradually.
The narrative is actually told from the perspective of Lulu’s friends and family. The story begins with several of them gathered around a table at dusk, for reasons only revealed at the end of the book, trying to piece together the events into a cohesive whole. While some convey the fallout from Lulu’s sudden disappearance, one particular friend named Xavier and Lulu’s teenage daughter Morgane supply much of the story’s spine. They’re generally a relaxed group. And their attitude exerts a powerful pull on the book’s mood. While they don’t all necessarily agree with Lulu’s behavior, they approach the events from the standpoint of inquiry rather than of judgement. As the conversation unfolds, each member drops subtle hints about the unhappiness that might have contributed to the commencement of Lulu’s journey.
Regardless of where the reader falls on the wisdom (or lack) of her actions, Lulu Anew taps into a strain of discontent that comes from living a circumscribed life, and the need to occasionally rebel against it by searching for the liminal.