A variety of sources – Flash Gordon movie serials, the films of Akira Kurosawa, and mythological hero narratives, among others – influenced the creation of the Star Wars franchise. But some argue that an uncredited influence on Star Wars is the French science fiction comics series Valerian and Laureline. Created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières in 1967, Valerian and Laureline depicts designs and adventures that are similar to some elements in the Star Wars films.
Although the series is popular in Europe, Valerian and Laureline may be unfamiliar to many American comics readers. The series’ premise is that a benevolent Terran Galactic Empire based in the 28th Century protects all of time and space. In the first adventure, Spatio-Temporal Agent Valerian journeys to medieval France to stop a time-travelling villain. While there, he is aided by a young native peasant woman, Laureline. Valerian returns to the 28th Century with Laureline, who is trained as a Spatio-Temporal Agent. The two agents are partnered together and encounter many alien cultures and dangers in the course of their adventures, all of which are lavishly illustrated by Mézières.
While the universe-spanning time travel adventure premise might suggest a closer connection to the Doctor Who television series than Star Wars, several designs and adventures in Valerian and Laureline are similar to some elements of the Star Wars movies.
In his introduction to Valerian: The New Future Trilogy, comics editor and publisher Kim Thompson notes Mézières’ astonishment at the similarities between his work and Star Wars: “In 1977 Mézières sat down in a movie theater to enjoy a new movie called Star Wars and was astonished to see how many of the designs and concepts – and, indeed, the whole motif of a lived-in, funky future – seemed awfully familiar. Polite inquiries to the Lucas camp went unanswered, but over the years word leaked back that the Star Wars designers (some of them French) had indeed maintained a nice collection of Valerian albums.”
Thompson claims that Star Wars creator George Lucas never responded to Mézières’ inquiries regarding the similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline, and Nothing But Comics was unable to find any comment from Lucas concerning the perceived similarities.
In Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction, contributor Matt Bielby details some of the designs and concepts in the Star Wars films that are similar to elements that first appeared in the French comic: “The slave-girl outfit that Laureline wore in a 1972 adventure appears to have inspired Princess Leia Organa’s costume in The Return of the Jedi (1983). Other elements of Star Wars that seem indebted to the French strip include the Millennium Falcon, Luke falling from Cloud City, Han in carbonite, Darth Vader’s scarred face and the concept of clone armies – indeed, on first seeing the George Lucas film, Mézières was said to have been ‘furious.'”
On Twitter, @theshrillest shares some images that showcase these similarities:
Princess Leia’s slave-girl outfit is visually similar to the one worn by Laureline, and both characters are forced to wear the outfits under similar duress.
But in an interview with Wired, Aggie Guerard Rodgers, the costume designer who created the slave-girl outfit for Return of the Jedi, states the costume was “inspired by the work of artist Frank Frazetta” and does not acknowledge Laureline’s slave outfit as an inspiration.
The site Shotglass Digital provides images that document other similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline. In Empire of a Thousand Planets (1971 ), Valerian is encased in liquid plastic, while in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Han Solo is encased in carbonite.
Also in Empire of a Thousand Planets, the villain removes his helmet to reveal a scarred face, as does Darth Vader in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
There are visual similarities between Han Solo’s ship the Millennium Falcon and Valerian and Laureline’s astroship.
An army of Valerian’s clones appears in On the False Earths (1977) and an army of clone troopers debuts in the Star Wars movie Attack of the Clones (2002). [NOTE: the Star Wars Clone Wars are mentioned in A New Hope (1977) but no details are given about the conflict, other than the implication that the wars involved clones.]
There are visual similarities (wings, long snout) between the recurring alien race the Shingouz, whom Valerian and Laureline first encounter in Ambassador of the Shadows (1975), and the Star Wars character Watto in The Phantom Menace (1999).
Lucas never responded to Mézières’ inquiries about the similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline; however, Mézières comments on the similarities with a cartoon depicting a meeting between the comics and movie characters:
In the French cartoon, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker meet Valerian and Laureline in an alien establishment. Leia, wearing her slave-girl outfit, says, “Funny to see you here!”; Laureline responds: “Oh, we’ve been coming to this club for a long time!”
NOTES AND FURTHER READING: Kim Thompson’s commentary on the similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline comes from Valerian: The New Future Trilogy (iBooks, 2005), an English collection of On the Frontiers, The Living Weapons, and The Circles of Power. The images of the Shingouz and astroship used in this post can be found in this edition.
Matt Bielby’s commentary on the similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline comes from Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction (Aurum Press Limited, 2014); the book has additional information about the comic strip and the Star Wars franchise, among other science fiction topics.
Nothing But Comics appreciates the Twitter posts made by @theshrillest that provide visual examples of the similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline.
The above images of Watto, Han Solo in carbonite, and Princes Leia can be found at the Star Wars Wikia Wookieepedia.
The above images of the Millennium Falcon and clone troopers can be found at www.starwars.com.
Shotglass Digital provides images from the Valerian and Laureline comic that demonstrate similarities with Star Wars, including the above images from Empire of a Thousand Planets and On the False Earths.
The image of Darth Vader unmasked can be found at www.theforce.net.
John Wenz provides more details on the similarities between Star Wars and Valerian and Laureline at Popular Mechanics.
The image above of Frank Frazetta’s Egyptian Queen can be found at the site www.arthistoryarchive.com.
A movie based on Valerian and Laureline entitled Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is scheduled to be released in 2017; the film is directed by Luc Besson and will star Rihanna.
English editions of Valerian and Laureline comics can be purchased here.
The images above are the property of their respective owner(s), and are presented for not-for-profit, educational purposes only under the fair use doctrine of the copyright laws of the United States of America.