The Jedi universe wasn’t built in a day and the construction process had some strange stages. If you thumb through the 1974 draft of the George Lucas script for The Star Wars (as it was called then) you’ll see a funhouse version of the most famous space epic that includes a warrior named Starkiller and a reptilian alien named Han Solo.
That version of Star Wars has been a relatively obscure artifact, but now it will get a spotlight of its own in a major adaptation by Dark Horse Comics that maps out a tale that’s both familiar and totally alien.
For the Oregon-based comics company, the project may be the great farewell to the Jedi mythology. Star Wars comics have been a core part of the Dark Horse’s indie publishing empire since the early 1990s. Now, after the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, Dark Horse is likely to lose the license in the months ahead. We caught up with Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse, and Randy Stradley, the Dark Horse editor who has been the architect of the brand’s Dark Horse success, to talk about rediscovered universes and losing Empires.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Star Wars represents a voyage into a new corner of the Jedi universe, but it’s got a lot of startling aspects to it. Did this project come together quickly or was it a complicated path?
RANDY STRADLEY: It happened quickly this time. It was about 10 years ago or longer that we actually approached Lucasfilm with the idea and the people who were around back then just told us flat out, “Oh no, George would never be interested in this,” or “George would never allow it.” Time passed and Jonathan Rinzler, one of the editors at LucasBooks that has George’s ear, suggests the old idea and George is all for it. So either George changed his mind or, what I suspect happened, in the past nobody wanted to be the one to go to George with an idea he might not like. This is the first time that we’ve sort of had personal involvement from George Lucas; he looks over all the different character designs and vehicle designs and location designs and he’s picking the ones he’s liked. He’s steering us toward a vision of what that screenplay might have been like if it had been filmed.
The original script is much closer to John Carter or Flash Gordon…
Stradley: Visually I think it’s a lot closer to Flash Gordon. There’s still a lot of stuff that will be recognizable as Star Wars, but there are also a lot of different thing. For instance, Luke Skywalker is an older general and, uh, Han Solo is a big green lizard. Wookiees are the ones that lead the attack in the end on the Imperial Battle Station, which is never called the Death Star. Things are different but there are aspects that are the same as well.
What was the approach as far as the creative team and the design work for the project?
Stradley: We did a lot of searching to find somebody who was right for this and, almost by accident, I stumbled across samples from an artist named Mike Mayhew — he’s no relation to Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca by the way. But it just looked right. George really has an affinity toward classic-looking comic books; he’s a big fan of Jack Kirby and stuff from the 1960s and Mike’s drawings and storytelling approach is reminiscent of that, even though the style is very modern. It’s been a nice combination and so far George has liked what he’s seen, so we’re excited. The entire weight of designing this new universe won’t fall on Mike Mayhew’s shoulders; I’ve also enlisted an army of comic and storyboard artists that’s designing vehicles and characters and locations.
Star Wars represents so much history for Dark Horse. Along with things like Hellboy, The Mask, Concrete, and 300, it’s a signature part of the Dark Horse success story.
MIKE RICHARDSON: We had already had critical success but our first real financial and commercial success came with [licensed books such as] Alien, Aliens, Alien vs. Predator. We had a theory that because we didn’t have characters that had been around for decades — as Marvel and DC did — that doing sequels for our fanbase’s favorite movies might be a good formula. So after the first successes we went to our favorite, which was Star Wars. I saw Star Wars 19 times in the theater while I was in college. I just kept going back and seeing it over and over and over; it was a natural for us to go after. Marvel had it at the time but wasn’t doing anything with it and our success had sort of changed the landscape for film-based comics.