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Why Luc Besson's 'Valerian' doesn't copy Star Wars

Jochen Kürten eg
July 20, 2017

The latest science-fiction film by the French director is the most expensive film ever made in Europe. The storyline might feel familiar - but fans are presumably into such movies for other thrills anyway.

Film still Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Image: Universum Film

Cult director Luc Besson's latest film, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," is setting a new milestone in European cinema. Just like "Star Wars" and "Avatar" did in Hollywood, it is bound to be remembered for the next few years as a record-breaking special effects blockbuster.

Movie-goers might believe the storyline was stolen from "Star Wars," but it is actually based on a 50-year-old French comic book, called "Valérian et Laureline."

Actually, the right way around to state it would be that George Lucas was clearly inspired by it, too, when he directed his space saga in the 1970s. 

"Lucas and his team could have said, 'Yeah, we were really inspired by this comic. Awesome. Thanks,'" said Luc Besson in an interview with the newspaper Welt am Sonntag during his recent visit in Berlin. "It's not too late to do so either."

Read more: 'Star Wars: Episode VIII' delayed until December 2017

Film still Valerian by Luc Besson
Besson waited many years to create "Valerian"Image: Universum Film

The French director nevertheless still admires his American colleague's achievements. He'd even consider directing a sequel of the science-fiction series if he were asked to, he added in the interview.

'Valerian,' the most expensive European film ever made

The French filmmaker has been developing "Valerian" for years already, but it took a long time to get it produced. That's not just because of its immense production costs (estimated at between 180 and 200 million euros, with several years of filming and about 2,000 contributors). Raising enormous budgets is a smaller problem for Besson, who already established a whole film production city in the North of Paris at the beginning of the millennium.

Film still Valerian by Luc Besson
Have we seen him before? Image: Universum Film

"Valerian" rather stalled because the special effects that were needed to bring the film's thousands of extraterrestrial creatures to life didn't exist yet. Then came James Cameron's "Avatar." For Besson, this was a demonstration that digital effects were now advanced enough to produce his own ambitious project.

"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" does remind of several other forerunners, such as "Star Wars," "Blade Runner," "Avatar" and "Lord of the Rings," as well as Besson's own science-fiction masterpiece, "The Fifth Element." The new film's glorious 3D effects are backed by overwhelming panoramas of outer space.

A familiar storyline

The storyline hasn't uplifted all critics, however: "The script is horrible. The plot is a primitive version of 'Avatar,'" wrote one of them.

In "Valerian" a young couple, Valérian und Laureline - depicted by relatively unknown stars, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne - are sent to the megalopolis Alpha, where thousands of different intelligent species peacefully live together.

This peace is however endangered. A hostile power is threatening the coexistence of these creatures and the two special agents are in charge of fighting against the enemy.

It's a typical science-fiction story with lines of dialogue that have been heard elsewhere - "Our destiny is in your hands," and the like.

The film does not offer great philosophical perspectives, but it is emotionally overpowering. Contributing to this feeling is the soundtrack, which includes the legendary Beatles song, "Because." It's icing on a really impressive cake.