Feature Article: The Story of Star Wars - Part 2: "Annikin Starkiller"

Published June 6th, 2017 - 10:12 GMT
The Journal of the Whills. (Lucasfilm)
The Journal of the Whills. (Lucasfilm)

The Complete "Story of Star Wars":

Part 1: "Out of the Past"

Part 2: "Annikin Starkiller"

Part 3: "A Cohesive Reality"

Part 4: "A Desert Planet"

Part 5: "What a Load of Rubbish"

Part 6: "Darth Farmer"

Part 7: "Binary Sunset"

***

It started with Flash Gordon.

Lucas had grown-up fascinated by pulp: adventure stories with moustache-twirling villains and sword fights on Mars, space pirates and princesses riding dragons, detectives rescuing helpless dames from the clutches of mad science and daring ventures into the heart of Shambhala.

A cornerstone of that genre is Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 1912 swashbuckling space adventure A Princess of Mars (adapted into Andrew Stanton’s 2012 film John Carter)—an anachronism-heavy story with a far-reaching influence on pulp, resplendent with sword fights on spaceships interspersed with magical powers and the occasional scantily-clad princess in need of rescue.

Above: Various covers for A Princess of Mars. (Penguin / Ballantine Books / Del Rey)

Flash Gordon was a clear successor to this heritage. Debuting in 1934 as a comic strip, Gordon (created by Alex Raymond to compete with the immensely popular Buck Rogers) tells the story of its eponymous character, who—bear with me on this—is a Yale University graduate and polo player who is transported to the planet Mongo after his friend Dr. Zarkov invents a rocket to stop Earth from colliding with said planet and comes face-to-face with Mongo’s evil ruler, Ming the Merciless.

The comic strip would be adapted into three film serials: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

Lucas loved these serials. He watched them continuously. Reflecting on them after Star Wars, he said, "I especially loved the Flash Gordon serials…Of course I realize now how crude and badly done they were.” This lead to a revelation: “Loving them that much when they were so awful, I began to wonder what would happen if they were done really well.”

Above: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). (Universal Pictures)

But he couldn’t make it happen.

Decades later, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz reflected on how it played out: “We tried to buy the rights to Flash Gordon from King Features [in 1971]. They weren’t adverse to discussing it, but their restrictions were so draconian that we realized right away that it wasn’t really a great prospect at the time.”

Coppola added: “[George] was very depressed because he had just come back and they wouldn't sell him Flash Gordon. And he says, 'Well, I'll just invent my own.’”

Lucas set to work. His imagination went into hyperdrive, and he began hashing-out a space opera of cosmic proportions. He would entitle it Journal of the Whills, Part I.

***

Journal of the Whills, Part I is a two page outline which begins by throwing readers into the deep end of a pool: “This is the story of Mace Windy, a revered Jedi-bendu of Ophuchi, as related to us by C.J. Thorpe, padawaan learner to the famed Jedi.”

The story concerns Chuiee (say that out loud), a sixteen year old who enters the Intersystems Academy to train as a Jedi-Templar. His mentor is one Mace Windy, a Chairman to the Alliance of Independent Systems who becomes the victim of a paranoid conspiracy and is tasked (with his apprentice) to guard “fusion portables” being transported to Yavin where….and so on.

Above: Journal of the Whills. (Lucasfilm)

Anyway, this obviously needed some work. In May of 1973, Lucas, having habitually revised the story, submitted a proposal.

The outline made little more sense than Journal of the Whills, Part 1. The script—concerning a princess fleeing an empire with her bodyguard Luke Skywalker—owes a huge debt to a 1958 film entitled The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa. Story beats, characters, and even scenes are recognizable. Especially notable was Lucas’s imitation of Kurosawa’s decision to tell a story from the perspectives of a film’s “lowliest” characters. For The Hidden Fortress, these were peasants. For Star Wars, these were robots.

The pitch was eventually picked-up by Twentieth Century Fox. Alan Ladd Jr., the Head of Creative Affairs, didn’t really believe in it—he did, however, respect talent, and he did respect what Lucas had done with American Graffiti.  He gave Lucas the go-ahead to develop it.

**

To try to break down the script as it existed at this stage is to tempt madness. But it bears looking at; the seeds of the entire series get planted here.

The film’s opening scrawl sets the scene. Deep breath:

The REPUBLIC GALACTICA is dead.

Ruthless trader barons,

driven by greed and the

lust for power, have replaced

enlightenment with oppression,

and "rule by the people"

with the FIRST GALACTIC EMPIRE.

 

Until the tragic Holy Rebellion of "06",

the respected JEDI BENDU OF ASHLA

were the most powerful warriors

in the Universe.

For a hundred thousand years,

generations of Jedi Bendu knights

learned the ways of the mysterious

FORCE OF OTHERS, and acted as the

guardians of peace and justice

in the REPUBLIC. Now these legendary

warriors are all but extinct.

One by one they have been hunted down

and destroyed by a ferocious

rival sect of mercenary warriors:

THE BLACK KNIGHTS OF THE SITH.

 

It is a period of civil wars.

The EMPIRE is crumbling into

lawless barbarism throughout

the million worlds of the galaxy.

From the celestial equator to

the farthest reaches of the GREAT RIFT,

seventy small solar systems have

united in a common war against

the tyranny of the Empire.

Under the command of a mighty

Jedi warrior known as THE STARKILLER,

the REBEL ALLIANCE has won a crushing

victory over the deadly Imperial Star Fleet.

The Empire knows that one more such defeat

will bring a thousand more solar systems

into the rebellion, and Imperial control

of the Outlands could be lost forever...

The story itself isn’t much better off, similarly convoluted to the point of incomprehension by inconsistent characterization, arcane politics, and fictional terminology. Yet it is here where Luke Skywalker is first introduced. Han Solo—probably named after the Han from Buck Rogersappears, Chewbacca at his side. And here, too, do we get the first glimpse of “Annikin,” the Sith, and the Death Star.

Except Han Solo is a six foot, green-skilled alien with gills and no nose. Chewbacca—based off of Lucas’s dog, his “co-pilot” on car rides (he’d sit in front)—is a “huge, grey bushbaby with baboon-like fangs.” Luke is a 60 year old general, tasked with training Annikin—a sort of sensei.

Above: Concept art of "bushbaby" Chewbacca. (Lucasfilm)

And Annikin (last name: Starkiller) is an overweight, awkward teenager (in the opening, an apprentice to Jedi Kane Starkiller—after Killer Kane in Buck Rogers) who at one point responds to the death of his brother by wiring the corpse to a detonator and then blowing it up. (The brother, incidentally, is never mentioned again in the script.) At another he proves himself the hero of his own destiny when, responding to the Princess’s protests being kidnapped from the academy, he (and I quote) “punches her square on the jaw and knocks her cold,” an action that may or may not be related to his perpetual, uh, concupiscence. (One of the Princess’s companions faints at this. Another makes a run at Annikin with a stick, but loses interest halfway through.)

The Force was a “Kiber Crystal,” a red MacGuffin at the centre of the conflict with mystical powers.

The Sith, for their part, make their debut with Darth Vader—“Darth” for “Dark Lord of the Sith.” But alongside Darth is the fabulous “Sith Knight Prince Valorum,” whose name and I imagine appearance make it almost a shame that this movie—entitled Adventures of the Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Warsdidn’t get made.

AboveA 1976 draft of a great film, though a different kind of "great." (Lucasfilm)

NEXT: "A Cohesive Reality"


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