When you hear the words “We’ll be safe once we make the jump to hyperspace” what first comes to your mind? Surely it’s the billion-dollar franchise known as Star Wars, the globally adored story created by George Lucas in 1977. After all, Star Wars has introduced various iconic moments to us fans, like when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” the creation of the Stormtroopers in “Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” or even the destruction of the Death Star as seen in the very first film “Episode IV: A New Hope.” But, what if I told you that none of these events were actually from Star Wars? What if all of the memorable plots, settings and characters may have been directly taken from another source? If you don’t believe me then it’s time to take a journey to a different galaxy far far away and enter the tale of Valerian and Laureline.
Created in 1967, ten years before Star Wars, this French comic, Valérianand Laureline was created by Pierre Cristin and features some striking similarities to the now beloved sci-fi franchise adored by millions. The plot is as follows: Valérianis a strong, sarcastic space adventurer traveling through the galaxy with his intelligent female partner, Laureline, and together they are eventually given the mission to take down the evil Empire who rules with an iron fist. Sound familiar?
Plot is not the only thing Star Wars took from the comic strip. In the story “Empire of a Thousand Planets,” (published in 1971) the main protagonist, Valérian, is taken hostage by a group called ‘The Enlightened’ in order to interrogate him about Earth. In order to achieve this goal, they encase Valérian in a brown rock slab where he is posed EXACTLY the same as Han Solo in “Episode V”, which was released in 1983. Not only this, but both characters wind up being rescued by their female companion, and also experience memory loss as a side effect of their containment.
Both Empires in these stories also rely on a clone army. Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon has the exact same shape, color, rear booster and ability to jump into hyperspace as Valérian’s ship, The Intruder and both female characters become slaves forced to wear that oh so familiar gold bikini. Even the very first planet we see in Star Wars, Tatooine, has shocking parallels to the planet Syrte from the same comic “Empire of a Thousand Planets.” Both are desert planets that are ruled by an overweight gang leader with two suns and are inhabited by creatures longing to trade with each other.
But, let’s be honest, nothing is truly “original” since nearly every story of the modern day has been taken from, or at least inspired by another story. As Pierre Cristin said himself “That’s how it goes in sci-fi: it’s all about copying from one another. Or, in other terms: you borrow something from someone else and develop it further.”
So is Star Wars in the clear? Are they off the hook of directly copying other products and trying to pass them off as their own? In order to answer this question, let’s take a look at how Star Wars itself was created as a film.
Take for instance the attack on the Death Star. This highly memorable sequence at the end of A New Hope was actually done first in a different film made in 1955 called “The Dam Busters”. When you play the two attacks side by side, they are virtually identical to one another. Lucas even admitted himself that he re-made the scene shot for shot, line for line! Furthermore, Lucas has also stated that the very story of Star Wars came from a Japanese film he watched known as “The Hidden Fortress.”
“Hidden Fortress was an influence on Star Wars from the very beginning,” Lucas said. “I was searching around for a story. I had some scenes…but I couldn’t think of a basic plot…And then I thought of Hidden Fortress, which I’d seen in 1972 or ‘73, and so the first plots were very much like it.”
The Star Wars films also happened to be shot using long lenses, a technique Lucas learned from Akira Kurosawa, the creator of “The Hidden Fortress”.
The Star Wars saga has touched the hearts and minds of millions across the globe for generations. To this very day, you can’t travel anywhere without seeing some form of Star Wars merchandise, whether it be in a store, or as a piece of clothing. However, this isn’t to say Star Wars, as a concept is as unique as we all thought it was. As a Star Wars fan, I personally felt betrayed by the series when I learned this information. Even though every story has been inspired by something else, it appears that Star Wars was a bit more than just inspired by Valérian, which makes me look at the saga very differently. With Episode VIII just around the corner, hopefully this article has shed some light about a small comic strip which may have been the true catalyst that impacted all of us sci-fi fans who took a trip to a place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
cover photo courtesy of Valerian and Laureline illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières, taken from CITÉ DES SCIENCES ET DE L’INDUSTRIE