Monday, January 30, 2012

Did the French invent Star Wars?

Like most sentient creatures who were born when I was born, I have a certain powerful regard for the Star Wars trilogy. Note I say "trilogy"—I saw the later three "prequels" and consider them...well, abominations would suggest that I'm more of a Star Wars fan than I actually am, but they were lame. Except for the flying Yoda part. And I might have just liked that because I saw the premiere of that film (I don't even know which one it was) at the Ziegfeld in NYC and the audience was just SO INTO IT, that it was hard not to get swept away by the euphoria of the moment. The truth is that when I was 9 or so, I took the very unpopular position that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was better than Star Wars. Even then I liked to be contrary about movies.

Enough disclaimers.

No, wait—one more. I have daughters, not sons, and thus have not been afflicted by any of the Clone Wars/Star Wars cartoon spinoffs and all their expensive Lego incarnations. I don't have to read Star Wars bedtime stories or make beds with Star-Wars-for-Pottery-Barn sheets. Parents of boys could smugly point out that they've been spared the horrors of Disney Princesses, Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake et al—fair enough. But my kids' taste is slightly off the beaten path, so I too have been (mostly) spared from having to read too many Barbie books (one could argue that even one Barbie book is too many but if nothing else, parenthood increases one's tolerance for just about everything).

The point is I have no dog in this fight. If the seeds of Star Wars can be found in some Lefty French comix, I've got no quarrel with that.

L'Empire Des Mille Planetes
("Empire of a Thousand Planets") is the second volume of a French comic book series Valerian and Laureline created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. I paid a dollar for this hardback published in 1971 and it seems like kind of a score, a rare edition of a series superpopular among devotees of time-traveling space operas—a series that's also credited with inspiring not only the Star Wars movies (apparently Valerian-reading Frenchies were among the film's designers) but The Fifth Element, Conan the Barbarian and Avatar. The books were published in many languages, including English, but my edition is French and I don't read French so anything I know about this I know from wikipedia (and therefore it is unassailably true). Unfortunately, I neglected to scan the scene most often cited as proof that George Lucas and his French henchmen ripped off the comic, when the Han Solo-ish anti-hero Valerian is encased in plastic during an interrogation, much like studly wiseacre Han Solo gets the carbon treatment at the end of Empire Strikes Back. (If anyone cares, I'll add it later.) But even I can see that the airships look an awful lot like all those, uh, ones in Star Wars, whatever they're called. Anyway, you know an estate sale has done its job if it's raised your awareness of an obscure pop-culture controversy. George Lucas ripped off the French? Mon dieu!

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