Jumping Back into the Space Opera Valérian’s History

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“Based on the groundbreaking graphic novel that inspired a generation.” As far as title cards in trailers go, that’s maybe just half-right. Oh, author Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières’ intrepid duo of spatio-temporal agents has certainly influenced several decades of space opera, in multiple countries. Fittingly, Luc Besson’s own Fifth Element owes it a clear debt. However, the director’s mega-budget adaptation here seems to be more of a cumulative adaptation of the series, not strictly its “Empire of a Thousand Planets” album.

Let’s wind the clock back a little. Valérian and Laureline started first in 1967 in the pages of Pilote magazine. This material would eventually be collected into an album, les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams). Ironically, at the time, science fiction didn’t especially predominate the French comics scene. Christin and Mézières had thought at first to make a Western. They opted to go in a different direction after noting how many other strips, like Moebius’ Blueberry, already took up the genre. For some perspective, there was a big budget movie adaptation of Blueberry in 2004 that also featured American actors, but it didn’t create nearly as much buzz in the U.S. as Valérian is garnering, right now.

Since this comic ran for over forty years, in over twenty thick volumes, it’s trickier to distill a plot description. The characters and premise evolved as time went on. Still, to fill in some gaps the trailer doesn’t make explicit, the titular duo are in fact a 28th century couple who serve as “spatio-temporal agents” for the vast Terran Galactic Empire, protecting Earth’s capital city Galaxity.

Yes, this isn’t just a space opera. There’s loads of time travel, as these agents must protect their utopian future from various chronal “anomalies” which threaten to turn it into an awful and unrecognizable era. The two’s disagreements about how to do that are a big part of the series’ appeal, of course. Valérian is a straight-laced hero who always follows order dutifully, while Laureline is a free spirit who questions everything. The two eventually break from the order they serve and become freelance agents, but we doubt this first movie will see them get to that point yet. Again, it looks to be a cherry-picking adaptation. The differences between the film and the specific album aren’t likely to end with the titular city Syrte being renamed “Alpha.”

To get back to the boast about the comic inspiring a generation, let’s again stress that Valérian and Laureline debuted in the 60s, predating both Heavy Metal magazine and Star Wars by several years. Much has been made in particular about the influence of this comic on the latter, with Mézières’ vision of a “lived-in future” seeming to have particular influence. Specific scenes in the Empire Strikes Back, like Han Solo being frozen in carbonite and Luke Skywalker escaping down a garbage chute, resemble scenes where Valérian is encased in liquid plastic and likewise escapes down a laundry mixer. Laureline also wears a revealing “slave girl” outfit in one adventure which resembles Princess Leia’s infamous metal bikini.

Christin and Mézières’ reaction to seeing Star Wars was to cheekily state that they were “dazzled, jealous… and furious!” They were so tickled by the resemblance of the characters, in fact, that they produced a one-off strip where Valérian and Laureline share drinks with Luke and Leia at an alien bar. Given the way film studios work these days, we don’t expect that to be a post-credits scene in this movie.

Are you excited for Valerian? Drop your thoughts in the comments.

Image Credits: Christin & Mézières

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