Well, Dark Horse Comics has released the concluding issue in its adaptation of the very earliest draft of George Lucas' The Star Wars, and the best thing I can say about it is, "Well, it was...interesting."
In one of the letters to the editors in the back of the magazine, it is observed that this script was adapted from a very rough draft, and that the story went through several massive rewrites before it made it to the screen. Thank God for whoever George had helping him edit this, because this version would have gone down in a blaze of obscurity.
The artwork is still gorgeous to look at, and is probably the best reason to collect the series, other than the curiosity value. The story is awkward, stilted, confusing, and never rises above plodding. The characters are weak and poorly defined, and the bad guy who became Darth Vader is spread over five different people. Things happen for no apparent reason, and characters exist who have no real purpose. I'm not entirely sure whose fault this is, because for all I know, the series' writers may have had to deal with a box full of notes scrawled on old cocktail napkins and the backs of envelopes--I know that's what many of my first drafts look like.
But there is still the aspect of this being a baby picture of what eventually became Star Wars. And that may be its greatest selling point.
In this version, Alderaan is the seat of the Galactic Empire, and Aquilae, a desert planet, is trying to lead a resistance to Imperial ambition. The planet is attacked, and its king killed; Jedi Knight General Luke Skywalker, who bears an uncanny resemblance to George Lucas, offers to escort the heir, college coed Princess Leia, and her eight-year-old twin brothers, Biggs and Windy, to safety, in order to organize support for Aquilae's cause. With him is Annikin Starkiller, surviving son of Skywalker's old Jedi buddy Kane Starkiller, who is in self-imposed exile and incidentally mostly cyborg after a career as a warrior.
The twins are so cute and useless to the plot that they are immediately put into beer-keg-sized suspended animation pods, which Starkiller and obligatory redshirt Whitsun can carry around like backpacks, and the group--which now includes two Imperial androids that bailed out of a firefight and hitched a ride with Starkiller and the Princess as they were crossing the desert in a landspeeder, singing the Aquilian version of "99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall"--try to pass through the TSA checkpoint to board a commercial flight for Ophuchi, a planet which never actually figures into the story despite a big build-up.
They have a run-in at a local pub that leaves an arm on the floor, then decide to steal a space ship when the life support systems on the twins' kegs start to wear out. Kane Starkiller rips out his own power-pack and tells Skywalker to use it to save the princes, then dies. They recruit assistance from the pathetically-ragtag Resistance Underground, and acquire yet another member for their parade, in the person of a burly green alien named Han Solo.
Somewhere along the line they get captured, so we can be introduced to Prince Valorum, a Sith Knight. Everybody here uses lightsabers, and after a brief fight, the heroes escape. They succeed in stealing a ship, which almost immediately comes under attack, and Starkiller winds up holding his breath in the vaccuum of space trying to affect some repairs; he gets hauled back in by Whitsun, who then has to sacrifice himself by manually working the escape pod controls so the others can get off the ship.
They land on Yavin, jungle planet, having become seperated, and meet a tribe of Wookiees--which here look like tall, hairy bug-eyed Gollums--that are being trapped for their fur or something. Starkiller kills the trappers and frees the Wookiees, one of which turns out to be a prince of his tribe, and Starkiller is declared a god and wins Chewbacca's undying devotion. Leia, meanwhile, is being taken to the Imperial base on the planet to be sold for ransom, and General Skywalker and the rest of the party meet up with jovial bush settler Owen Lars, who lives in a tree for no apparent reason and offers to help them. The robots and the twins, having been revived, are left with the Larses and their hairy slug Dachsunds while Skywalker and Solo and the droids try to find Starkiller and the Princess. Of course the Imperials then capture Lars and his guests.
The Wookiees have been harassing the Imperials for two years, and so make obliging allies in attacking and storming the Imperial outpost, where Skywalker, Solo, and Starkiller can get their hands on some Y-wing fighters with which to attack the moon-sized space battlestation parked in Aquilae's orbit. They also capture the Imperial tank carrying the Larses and free the robots and the boys, then go about training the primitive Wookiees on how to fly stunt planes, which they apparently take quite easily to, because Princess Leia has been shipped back to Aquilae to be tortured by the slightly insane Darth Vader (who is here most definitely not her father, nor a Sith, nor even wearing a mask. He's just zis guy, you know? Oh yeah, with one red eye. And some scars.)
When Starkiller, who has of course fallen in love with the Princess, finds out she's being held on board the space station, he disguises himself as an Imperial pilot, takes the ridiculously chatty Artwo Detwo droid along with him as a very unweildy iPad, and gains entry to the station even as the Wookiee assault force is preparing to attack it. He finds out where she's being held, but is subsequently caught by the vastly superior Imperial forces, and hauled before Darth Vader and Governor Hoedaack, who then order Prince Valorum to destroy the Jedi, and hints that once the Jedi are destroyed, the Sith may be next on the chopping block.
Valorum chastises the impetuous young Jedi for foolishly risking his life in a place where "our ways are useless." We just have to take his word for it, because the "ways" of neither Jedi nor Sith have been particularly showcased in the story, outside of the Jedi having stupid hairdos (I mean, really, long hair and a topknot bun? Annikin, get thee to a mullet!) and wishing everyone "may the force of others be with you." Annikin tells Valorum that he did what he did out of love for the Princess.
Fortunately for Annikin, the Wookiees assault force arrives, and Vader and Hoedaack leave to oversee the response from the battle station. This gives Valorum the opportunity to deviously free Starkiller, so that they can fight against tyranny like the noble knights or whatever they are. Starkiller insists on rescuing the Princess, and Valorum reluctantly goes along with him. They wind up in a garbage compactor, which is stopped from crushing them when a Wookiee fighter takes out one of the generating stations that are obligingly painted bright red and stick up from the surface of the space station like whackamoles. Valorum then proves just how much of a badass he is by kicking down the compactor room door.
Artwo Detwo fortuitously happens to be just outside, and the group find their way to a life pod bank, and exit the battle station just as a series of electrical overloads cause it to self-destruct. Cut to the medal-giving ceremony in the Aquilian throne room where now-Queen Leia rewards the two droids for...well, I'm not exactly sure what--and makes goo-goo eyes at her new Lord Protector of Aquilae, Annikin Starkiller. Cue end credits.
The serial contains a lot of refereces to things which appear in Star Wars and its sequels--and I'm not entirely sure which things the writers and illustrators put in because they wanted them there, and which were actually in the screenplay draft. There are references to the bounty hunters, we see Greedo serving as a resistance fighter, they mention some trade federation; the Wookiees on Yavin pull the same stunt with the slamming logs as the Ewoks do on Endor; many of the ships are drawn to resemble ones seen in the movies. It's kind of like an alternate reality of Star Wars, which I guess it is.
The character of Prince Valorum could have used more fleshing out, because in my opinion he's the most interesting of the bunch. It's easy to see where this elegant Sith Lord got fused to the cyborg brute Darth Vader, but Valorum is handsome and has a code of honor which, despite being in conflict with the Jedi, inspires him to reject the Empire and aid the Rebellion. But he is given no real motivation for this aside from Vader's threat to exterminate the Sith, too.
I guess that's what this series suffers from--a lack of depth. There's too much going on without anything to explain why these people are acting as they are. It's like looking at a box of parts, and being told that the parts will make a great bicycle, but you don't have the instructions to tell you how they're supposed to go together, you just have to believe that eventually, they'll be a bicycle. Only there's also parts in the box from an airplane, a television set, three Furbys, and a rogue waffle iron.
So we really need to thank whoever it was who helped George rewrite this seminal story into a workable script with engaging characters and clearly-defined motivations, because as it was conceived, it's not even passable Flash Gordon fan fiction.