Forgotten Chinese Comic Book Adaptation of 'Star Wars' Comes to Light

While true to the plot of the original film, the Chinese interpretation features some puzzling differences, including Chewbacca as an ape and the Kennedy Space Center on Darth Vader's map of targets.
Maggie Greene
The cover of "Xing Qiu Da Zhan"

A long time ago, in a "galaxy" far far away (China), an enterprising Guangzhou publishing house released a Chinese comic book adaptation of George Lucas' Star Wars -- without legal permission, of course.

The work, dating from 1980, features single drawings accompanied by short descriptions in the classic style of lianhuanhua, the palm-sized picture books that were produced in great numbers in China throughout the 20th century. Often used by the Chinese government for propaganda purposes, the booklets were also a popular form for retelling stories from Chinese history and sharing imported Western pop culture.

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Titled Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Chinese for "Star Wars"), the curious work was unearthed by Maggie Greene, an assistant history professor at Montana State University. Writing on her blog, she says she purchased the artifact for about a dollar at a Shanghai book fair held inside a Confucian temple sometime between 2010 and 2011, while researching her dissertation under a
Fulbright scholarship.

She recently tweeted a few photos of example pages from the book. Getting an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from followers, she decided to scan and post the whole volume.

The comic gets the essential plot of Lucas' 1977 Star Wars correct, but visually it bears some odd divergences. Apart from Darth Vader, R2-D2 and C-3PO, the key characters look slightly different from the onscreen originals.

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As Greene points out on her blog, Star Wars was released in Hong Kong in 1978, a year after its historic record-breaking U.S. release, but the film never made it to Mainland Chinese screens.

In all likelihood, the illustrator of the book probably had to work from limited promotional materials without ever actually seeing the film.

The depiction of spaceships and flight uniforms have a Cold War space-race feel to them throughout the Chinese version, and Chewbacca, Han Solo's dependable wookie, is often portrayed as a chimp.

"I do think the art style is fascinating," Greene tells the South China Morning Post. "A number of the depictions of women in particular really read to me as 1980s [and] early 1990s propaganda posters. [Princess] Leia also looks vaguely Uyghur [an ethnic group from Western China] at points, which is likewise interesting."

"I've [also] long been fascinated with the Kennedy Space Center appearing on the star map Darth Vader paces in front of [on page] 75," she adds. "What were the artists working from? It's an interesting puzzle."

Given the methods of Southern Chinese publishers at the time, it is unlikely that George Lucas or 20th Century Fox were consulted for the adaptation.

"I suppose one of the defining features of modern Chinese cultural production (or perceptions of it, at least) is rather rampant [intellectual property] violations," Greene writes on her blog. "But at the same time, people are amazed by the speed with which Chinese pirates hop on all sorts of reproductions, [and] I think we often forget how quickly culture circulated before
the Internet."

Greene concludes that this distant Star Wars curio was a "pretty creative solution to disseminating popular culture in the pre-instant bootleg world."

To learn more about the comic, visit Greene's blog here.