Why? Because before Star Wars was released, ten years before, in fact, Mézières along with writer Pierre Christin had created a comic strip for the French bande dessinée magazine Pilote called Valerian et Laureline. The series focused on the adventures of the dark-haired Valérian, a spatio-temporal agent, and his redheaded female colleague, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time.
Even the most casual of glances over the pages of these comic strips will tell you why Mézières had reason to be furious with George Lucas’s creation. Many of the most iconic images from the Star Wars films can easily be found to have been inspired by the work that Mézières put into Valerian.
Valérian and Laureline’s spaceship directly inspired Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon. There is a scene in one of the books, There’s No Time Like the Present where Valerian escapes by falling into a laundry washing vat, exits through a portal at the bottom of the vat, and falls out of a hole at the bottom of the space station hanging from a sheet which gets transmuted into he scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker escapes Darth Vader by falling down a chasm, goes through a vent, and falls out of Cloud City hanging from an antenna.
There is a scene in Empire of a Thousand Planets (L’Empire des Mille Planètes) where Valérian is encased in a liquid plastic which is almost exactly duplicated in The Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo is encased in carbonite. There is a slave-girl costume worn by Laureline in World Without Stars which is echoed in Princess Leia’s infamous ‘Slave Leia’ outfit from Return of the Jedi
Indeed, according to one source the design director for 1999’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Doug Chiang, kept a set of Valerian comics in his library.
After Mézières saw Star Wars and had his moment of jealousy and fury, he produced an illustration for Pilote magazine in 1983 depicting the Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa meeting Valérian and Laureline in a bar surrounded by a bestiary of alien creatures typical of that seen in both series. “Fancy meeting you here!” says Leia. “Oh, we’ve been hanging around here for a long time!” retorts Laureline.
But it doesn’t end with Star Wars. Valerian’s adventures and Mézières’ artwork has similarly “inspired” production designers ranging from 1982’s Conan the Barbarian to 1996’s Independence Day.
Christin and Mézières have inspiured other artists and many readers with their groundbreaking work on the series. Among the artists that they inspired was a french filmmaker named Luc Besson.
In 1991 Mézières began work producing concept art for the director Luc Besson for his film The Fifth Element. When the project stalled and Besson moved on to work on the film Léon in 1994, Mézières returned to Valérian for the album The Circles of Power (Les Cercles du Pouvoir). This featured a character, S’Traks, who drove a flying taxi around a great metropolis on the planet Rubanis.
Mézières sent a copy of the album to Besson who was inspired to change the background of Korben Dallas, the lead character of The Fifth Element, from a worker in a rocketship factory to that of a taxi driver who flies his cab around a Rubanis-inspired futuristic New York City. Mézières produced further concept drawings for Besson, including flying taxi cabs. He also re-used certain aspects of the design of the space liner seen in the 1988 Valérian album On the Frontiers for the Fhloston Paradise liner seen in second half of the film.
The Fifth Element was finally completed and released in 1997. Although Besson has claimed that he first came up with the idea for the film at the age of 16, which would predate many of the Valerian stories, the inspiration of Valerian on Besson cannot be understated.
“Reading those stories was like building your imagination, your sense of beauty.” Besson says. “It’s important. It’s almost your main food when you are 10 years old. Probably the first woman I fell in love was Laureline when I was 10. So you always have that in your mind. But to be able to think, ‘One day I should make a film about it,’”
And now Christen and Mezieres’ creation is about to be brought to the big screen by Besson. The hints, the inspirations, the downright rip-offs that have been happening since Star Wars are finally culminating in the seminal work being brought before a mass audience.
For a more detailed examination of the way the Valerian comics influenced the current landscape of science fiction film, see M. D. Jackson’s detailed article in the premier issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly.