What is Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?

We’re almost finished with the first full day of San Diego Comic-Con 2016, and what’s everyone talking about? Why, Luc Besson’s absolutely bonkers-looking space opera Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Best known for The Fifth Element, Besson has taken every opportunity to outdo himself—who can forget 2012’s Lockout, a.k.a. Space Jail?—but he may have actually done it this time, judging by the overwhelmingly positive response to the first footage revealed at SDCC.

If you’re only just hearing about Valerian, here’s a quick primer on what we know so far.

What is Valerian?

Besson’s dark horse of a space epic put out a first-look photo—of stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in space suits that look made for fightin’—several weeks ago, but it seemed to mostly fly under the radar. But that photo seems to have been the tip of the iceberg, because get a load of what Besson’s been up to while we weren’t looking:

Rooted in the classic graphic novel series, Valerian and Laureline—visionary writer/director Luc Besson advances this iconic source material into a contemporary, unique and epic science fiction saga.

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives for the government of the human territories charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Valerian has more in mind than a professional relationship with his partner—blatantly chasing after her with propositions of romance. But his extensive history with women, and her traditional values, drive Laureline to continuously rebuff him.

Under directive from their Commander (Clive Owen), Valerian and Laureline embark on a mission to the breathtaking intergalactic city of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis comprised of thousands of different species from all four corners of the universe. Alpha’s seventeen million inhabitants have converged over time—uniting their talents, technology and resources for the betterment of all. Unfortunately, not everyone on Alpha shares in these same objectives; in fact, unseen forces are at work, placing our race in great danger.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets SDCC 2016

Photo credit: Daniel Smith © 2016 VALERIAN SAS – TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

Who is Valerian?

As mentioned above, the eponymous Valerian and Laureline are the stars of a French graphic novel series (created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières) from the 1960s. Besson began reading the comics at 10 years old, he explained at the SDCC panel: “I wanted to be Valerian. But I fell in love with Laureline.” He and wife Virginie Besson-Silla are co-producing; they’ve amassed an impressive cast, including Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and… Rihanna. Yep, first Star Trek Beyond and now Valerian. We want Rihanna in every universe.

Where is Valerian?

All over! If the title didn’t tip you off, Valerian and Laureline will cover a lot of ground in their efforts to protect the universe. And in addition to the thousand planets, Valerian will also pass through more than one dimension. Wired has a thorough rundown of the seven-minute-long sizzle reel that Besson showed at SDCC, but here are a few highlights:

  • Laureline and Valerian travel to an unnamed planet whose atmosphere (the figurative sort) is equal parts Blade Runner and Total Recall. They come out of the ship in the sweet club gear you see below.
  • At the GLAM CLUB, they meet a blue-eyebrowed Ethan Hawke and Rihanna.
  • A desert planet that brings to mind Jakku and The Force Awakens.
  • And, the crown jewel of the footage: On some sort of spaceship or station, Laureline leads Valerian to a seeming dead end. “You said you wanted the shortest way,” she deadpans, prompting him to jump through the wall into a number of dimensions. Wired describes it:

Valerian’s helmet extends out of his suit, and he bursts through the dead end into….a series of extra-dimensional scenes, each stranger than the last. There are industrial chambers, conduits that look like they’re filled with molecular models, and one jungle environment that Valerian hop-skips across like a third-person platformer videogame. (While the footage lasts for maybe 10 seconds, Besson told us that the dimension-hopping sequence will ultimately last for 45.)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets San Diego Comic-Con 2016 SDCC

Photo credit: Vikram Gounassegarin © 2016 VALERIAN SAS – TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

When is Valerian?

The movie will be released a year from now, on July 21, 2017.

Why is Valerian?

Because we could use an expectation-bending sci-fi film not tied to a franchise.

How is Valerian?

Because Luc Besson is magic.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets SDCC 2016

Photo credit: Eric Gandois © 2016 VALERIAN SAS – TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION

(But who is this guy?)

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