Ah, the bootleg DVD. In China, this manner of receiving entertainment is all but an enterprise. (I have a particular memory of a friend’s father bringing home a pirated copy of Pirates of the Caribbean from a business trip to China, where the subtitles were clearly from a different film—during their duel, Will Turner accused Jack of never coming home: “All you want to do is go disco disco with your friends!”)
But before that, did you know that there were lianhuanhua? Meaning the equivalent of “linked picture book,” these were an early form of comic in China—many of which were adapted from popular films that the public didn’t have access to.
And you need to look at this Star Wars one.
First off, if you’d like some background on lianhuanhua, you should take a look at Nick Stember’s informative article on the subject. He is also responsible for translating a lianhuanhua version of Star Wars found a few years back by Maggie Greene at the Wen Miao book market in Shanghai.
Made in the 1980s, and seemingly unaware of the trilogy’s completion (there are elements from Empire Strikes Back, but no indication that Return of the Jedi was viewed in the making of this comic), this adaptation is both similar to and comically different from the original 1977 film. There is no proper way to explain it. You’ll have to take a peek for yourself, but here are a few of my favorite panels:
We all remember that Princess Leia definitely looked like this when she was captured by the Imperials, yes? And Darth Vader was angry at her sassy hip cock, so he attempted to emulate it? Remember Leia’s flowing locks and bare feet? Nothing spells defiance of Empire so well as a lack of footwear.
So… this is the interior of a landspeeder. Ii’s kind of like a TARDIS, I guess—gigantic on the inside. And you need a headset to operate it? And yes, that is meant to be Luke and C-3PO looking for the wandering R2.
Obi-Wan Kenobi remembers the time when he was a Jedi Knight, the same as Luke’s father. No, like, an actual knight. An armored medieval knight on some kind of tractor motorcycle. Those were the days. Joust-cycling. Those kids racing T-16s don’t even know.
Darth Vader is RIDING A TRICERATOPS? Obviously. Well, he’s sort of posing in front of it, really. In… in boob armor? It really looks like boob armor.
This might be my favorite panel. Obi-Wan’s all, “Your father wanted you to have this lightsaber when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. It’s called a lightsaber. After you practice with it a little, head over to my in-desert bar and pour yourself some J&B. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.”
Now this is how you teach someone to use the Force on a spaceship… you hand them a lightsaber and then let them float around in zero-G. It really gets the midichlorians pumping.
We’re looking for your rebel base, Princess. We assume it’s somewhere near the Kennedy Space Center. On Dantooine. (You have to presume that the majority of the intended audience for these comics didn’t read English, but even so, what’s the reference for this picture?)
Apparently, someone missed the memo that not all stormtroopers are Boba Fetts. Therefore, they are all appropriately outfitted in Mandalorian armor. Outside of the one medical droid.
Wait, who forgot to tell us that CHEWIE IS A CHIMPANZEE? I feel cheated. Personally, emotionally, esoterically, allegorically.
“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to…uh… hey, there.” Everything about this picture. Luke in Fett armor, Leia about to burst into song, the heart on her belt, the weird demon behind her seriously thehellisthat?
The base on Yavin 4, now with Egyptian sphinxes hanging around because DO IT RIGHT. Also, the ship at the top coming in for landing is the Millennium Falcon. It is. Just go with it.
So that’s Leia and the guy next to her is supposed to be Han. Everyone is so happy that Leia made it back to the Alliance! So happy that they took out their tourist cameras and are happily flashing away as she goes to deliver essential military information. New snapshots! Ones for the kids to develop, provided the base doesn’t get blown up by the Death Star in the next hour or so.
Leia, offering Luke a traditional Alderaanian blessing of tapping two fingers to the forehead before a battle. Wait—wait, C-3PO and R2-D2 are hugging. 3PO’s giving him a dome kiss! LACK OF ORGANIC MATTER CANNOT STOP TRUE LOVE.
This was done in the 80s, which is probably why Luke heads to blow up the Death Star in what appears to be a NASA spacesuit. Also, in this version he is made part of Blue Team rather than Red Team which is just wrong, everything wrong, so very wrong.
And then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for—Luke gets a new girlfriend! Um, oh—oh no, wait, can we please backtrack a little I’m just concerned is all, because how much do they actually know about each other, maybe they should talk a little first, see how much they have in common STOP THIS IS A BAD BAD THING.
It’s really worth it to read the translation because all of the little things that the narrative gets wrong are so funny. Do it. Go now. Trust your feelings.