Mar 31, 2017

Read this French comic that (probably) influenced Star Wars, before its movie version hits screens

While its influence on Star Wars may be unacknowledged, it’s one of the most influential sci-fi comic series ever, and with a Luc Besson movie coming up, it’s time to catch up on Valérian and Laureline.

BYGautham Shenoy

In 1977, a comic book artist named Jean-Claude Mézières went to a movie theatre to watch a film called Star Wars. As the movie progressed, he was not just enthralled and dazzled by what was unravelling on screen, but also increasingly shocked. Finally, by the time the trilogy had been completed, he was completely furious. Because so many things he saw on screen in Star Wars was familiar to him. The costumes and the situations were very close to something he’d drawn himself — not for Star Wars, but for a comics series he’d created along with writer Pierre Christin called Valérian and Laureline, or as it’s popularly known, Valerian.

Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin, the artist and writer who created the highly influential French sci-fi comic series Valerian and Lureline in 1967.

From the costume of the ‘slave’ Leia, the carbonite-encased Han Solo, and the setting of some of the worlds to the design of the Millennium Falcon and the scene where Darth Vader takes off his helmet to reveal a scarred Anakin Skywalker, the similarities were unmistakable. A few polite letters to George Lucas went unanswered, and to this day Lucas has not officially acknowledged Valerian as one of the influences on Star Wars, though it’s obvious to everyone else who has read the Valerian comics and seen Star Wars.
Just three of the many similarities between Valerian and Star Wars: The dress worn by Laureline & Leia (with both under the control of an obese lord); Valerian’s starship and the Millennium Falcon; and Valerian encased in liquid plastic vs Han Solo in carbonite.

A few polite letters to George Lucas went unanswered, and to this day Lucas has not officially acknowledged Valerian as one of the influences on Star Wars  

Created by Mézières & Christin in 1967 and influenced by classic science fiction, the strip – ideal for children of all ages – debuted in the French anthology magazine Pilote, which was also home to Asterix, and was known for a while as Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent. Because that’s what the titular hero is – a spatio-temporal agent in the 28th century when the capital of Earth, Galaxity, is the centre of the vast Terran Empire that spans the galaxy, and whose job also includes taking care of errant time travellers who may be causing temporal paradoxes.
In the very first Valerian space-time adventure, he’s sent to 11th century France where’s he rescued from an enchanted forest by a peasant girl named Laureline – a feisty girl who forces him to take her to the future once he finds out he’s a time-traveller, and in course of time becomes a spatio-temporal agent herself, as well as Valerian’s partner. The name Laureline by the way didn’t exist before 1967 and was invented by the creators, with the character herself inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and the feminist movement of the 60s.
Covers of just three of Valerian and Laureline’s many adventures.

While Valerian is a straight-out macho man and a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of hero, Laureline is more balanced and clearly the brains of the pair. While Valerian would rush in headlong without thinking, Laureline prefers to ponder over a course of action first. Which makes them perfect as a team, with the ying of Valerian’s bravado balanced by the yang of Laureline’s intelligence. Over the course of their space-opera-meets-time-travel adventures spanning 40-plus years, Valerian and Laureline has inspired countless creators and writers, ranking at the very top in comics that have inspired and shaped modern science fiction.
Set in strange new worlds and planets, with even stranger creatures and alien races, loveable rogues and dastardly villains, the adventures of Valerian across the galaxy were not just fun but also carried political and social undertones, influenced by the left-of-centre and liberal humanist leaning of Christin, with Laureline amongst the earliest strong female character in comics. Christin’s sharp writing and storytelling were matched equally by Mézières’ great art and his vivid detailing of all the characters and settings.

Over the course of their space-opera-meets-time-travel adventures spanning 40-plus years, Valerian and Laureline has inspired countless creators and writers

And among the countless little French children who fell in love with Valerian and Laureline was a 10-year-old boy called Luc Besson, who would go on to become a filmmaker and direct such films as Léon: The Professional, the sci-fi thriller Lucy and sci-fi action movie The Fifth Element. In fact, for The Fifth Element, Besson worked with Valerian’s artist Mézières, with the result that the setting and especially the concept of the flying taxicab came straight out of the Valerian adventure The Circles of Power.
But Besson’s passion project was always to bring Valerian to the big screen, and the result of that is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen and Rihanna, which will be hitting the big screen this July. Giving you ample time to catch up on the adventures of Valérian and Laureline before seeing how they’ve been reproduced on-screen and to judge for yourself if, once again, the comic book is better than the movie.
In case you’re wondering where to start, here’s three titles: Bad Dreams, the first Valerian adventure when the two meet for the first time; Ambassador of the Shadows, the comic that the movie takes the bulk of its plot from; and The Empire of a Thousand Planets, the comic from which the movie takes its name.

Coming back to Star Wars, not because I don’t want to let it go, but because Mézières didn’t. So after many unanswered letters from George Lucas and with no acknowledgement of Star Wars taking “inspiration” from Valerian, Mézières got back in a way that only artists can: with a special cartoon in 1983 that poked fun at Star Wars. The solo strip shows Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker at the same table as Valerian and Laureline in an alien tavern. Leia, says, ‘Funny seeing you here!’ to which comes Laureline’s repartee, ‘Oh, but we’ve been coming here for a long time!’

So on that snarky note, it’s time to announce the winner of the NWW Redshirts contest, and winning a copy of John Scalzi’s Redshirts for his unexpected and incongruous take (aren’t all funny ones like that?!) on the redshirts meme is Dharmedra D. You can see his laundry-influenced winning entry below.

Congratulations Dharmendra! Do get in touch with us and let us have the address to which you’d like the book sent to. Happy reading!
On that winning note, I sign off for this week, and will see you again next week, with yet another edition of New Worlds Weekly. Live long and prosper!

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Gautham Shenoy is a writer of FactorDaily.