While looking for Chinese opera-related lianhuanhua (連環畫), pocket-sized comic books, at the Wen Miao (文庙) Market in Shanghai, historian Maggie Greene stumbled upon a lianhuanhua for a different kind of opera – a space opera, Star Wars.
This unexpected treasure is Star Wars through and through, but it’s a bizarro version. She writes:
“The actual lianhuanhua is a fascinating document, with weird bits sticking out here and there; but it’s also a fanciful imagining (I think) of American – or generalized Western – life, especially evident in the dinner scene where a duck (?) is being stuck into a toaster oven (!) & the table has not only a little hot plate, but a crockpot (or rice cooker) there, too. The artist also makes some amusing flubs – Chewbacca appears in some scenes in a relatively credible way, in others looking like an outtake from Planet of the Apes. It also often looks like something out of a Cold War-era propaganda poster, at least where the details are concerned. Were the actors really garbed in Soviet looking space suits? Was Darth Vader really pacing before a map bearing the location of the Kennedy Space Center?”
Despite these incongruities, it’s still more recognizable than the movie’s early storyboards. You can view the entire book in four parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4; or as a single PDF [Update 12/17/16: the comic can with translated text can be seen on Nick Stember’s site‘. Other versions of Xingqiu Dazhan (星球大戰) have been made, but illustrator’s Song Feideng (宋飛等) [Update 12/17/16: More on the artist here] creative liberties bestow a shanzhai charm.
Talent borrows, genius steals. Maggie insightfully points out the most curious aspect of her find – that it was published in 1980 and was distributed by the Guangdong branch of the state-owned Xinhua Bookstore. This is three years after the movie was released in the United States and two years after its release in Hong Kong. More importantly, this sci-fi story about rebels fighting an evil empire became available to Chinese audiences a mere four years after the end of the Cultural Revolution and one year after Shenzhen was established as a Special Economic Zone. Who knew gaige kaifang (改革開放) would bring A New Hope? Given the accuracy and detail in the illustrations of a few of the iconic Star Wars designs and characters, like the X-wing fighter and Darth Vader, Song as well as the illustrators of other versions must have seen the film. It’s not known how this happened, but from the Silk Road, to shidaiqu ( 時代曲), and to contemporary music and television, China has often been aware of and receptive and eager towards outside cultures.
via Boing Boing. Images courtesy of Maggie Greene.