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Universes Expanded: Guardians of the Galaxy Far, Far Away

When George Lucas’s first Star Wars film hit theaters in 1977, audiences were awed by its spectacle: the effects, the costumes, the music, the spaceships, the battles, all of it. As mesmerizing as it was to behold, though, the story was not exactly original. Star Wars was, essentially, The Lord of the Rings, The Hidden Fortress, Ben-Hur, Metropolis, Heart of Darkness, The Searchers, Flash Gordon, The Ring of the Nibelung, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,[1] all rolled up into a single spellbinding, spacefaring package.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that James Gunn’s 2014 superhero comedy Guardians of the Galaxy borrows so liberally from the galaxy far, far away, particularly Episode IV: A New Hope. In terms of characters, plot, and themes, the movie resonates with Star Wars from start to finish, and comparisons between the two are unavoidable. That’s not to imply that Guardians isn’t a good film, because quite the opposite is the case. It’s one of the most entertaining comic-based movies to date—in fact, if not for the existence of Deadpool and Logan, it might even be the best comic-book film of the past decade.

It’s also, at heart, Star Wars.

This isn’t the first example of one franchise fitting snugly into another, of course. Galaxy Quest was voted by attendees at Creation’s 2013 Las Vegas Star Trek convention as the seventh greatest Trek movie up to that point—and for good reason. The 1999 science-fiction comedy, directed by Dean Parisot, is the best Star Trek film that isn’t actually Star Trek. If a cinephile’s Blu-ray collection shelf were devoted to movies that aren’t part of a franchise but should be, then Gunn’s take on Guardians of the Galaxy would fit perfectly alongside Galaxy Quest, as it’s the best Star Wars film that isn’t actually Star Wars. It occupies a unique corner of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and is arguably one of the greatest Star Wars-like stories ever told.

Guardians of the Galaxy features Peter Quill, a human youth who, after running from his dying mother’s bedside, is abducted from Earth by a group of space-pirates called the Ravagers. The bandits are led by a blue-skinned humanoid named Yondu Udonta, who raises Quill as a member of his gang, forcing him to work hard. Although he takes pride in his human charge’s accomplishments, Yondu never shows the boy actual fatherly love, and Peter resents being under the pirate’s control.

Like Quill, young Luke Skywalker is separated from his parents in A New Hope as an infant, after being removed from his dying mother’s bedside by Obi-Wan Kenobi, on the order of Yoda, the green-skinned leader of the Jedi (who, despite having a similar-sounding name, is thankfully nothing like Yondu). Luke is raised by his aunt and uncle, Owen and Beru Lars. Owen puts Luke to work on his Tatooine moisture farm, but though he cares for the youth’s well-being, he does not show his nephew enough compassion or understanding. Luke longs to leave the farm behind to pursue his own destiny free of Owen’s overprotective hold.

Yondu and Obi-Wan have something in common as well, as both can manipulate objects without touching them. As the last surviving member of the spiritual order known as the Jedi Knights, Obi-Wan can access the Force to levitate and move items with his mind, while Yondu—who, in the comics, is a spiritual warrior and the last of his species—can summon deadly yaka arrows by merely whistling, without having to use his hands. Just as Yondu takes Peter under his wing after abducting him from Earth, so, too, does Obi-Wan become Luke’s new father-figure after entering his life out in the desert.

Separated from his birth-parents, Peter Quill knows little about his father, a Celestial known as Ego, and is thus unaware that his paternal bloodline endows him with the ability to wield a power greater than he could imagine. Peter’s mother Meredith dies young from cancer moments after he last sees her, and he has only a single item to remind him of his birth-parents: a cassette tape of classic rock music which his mom wants him to have after she’s gone, and which he cherishes. Sadly, Peter loses the tape when his spaceship is destroyed, but he soon ends up with another to replace it.

Similarly, Luke Skywalker knows only fabricated information about his father while growing up, and has no idea that Anakin Skywalker is a powerful Jedi (turned Sith Lord Darth Vader), and that he has thus inherited Ani’s strong ability to master the Force. Luke’s mother, Padmé Amidala, passes away moments after Luke and his sister Leia are born. Luke is awed when he receives a single heirloom to remind him of his parentage: his father’s lightsaber, which Obi-Wan claims Anakin wanted him to have when he was old enough, and which Luke comes to cherish. He loses the weapon when Vader severs his hand in The Empire Strikes Back, but later builds a replacement.

Following his abduction, Peter Quill spends the next two decades working as a mercenary and scavenger, and is never short of a sarcastic quip or wisecrack. The charming bad-boy fancies himself famous throughout the galaxy as “Star-Lord,” though no one else in the film seems to have heard of him by that name. The cocky, handsome rogue earns many enemies and is branded an outlaw by Nova Corps, the planet Xandar’s intergalactic police force. Yondu places a bounty on his head after Peter fails to bring him an ancient relic he was assigned to steal, and Quill also attracts the attention of Ronan the Accuser, a fanatical Kree determined to obtain the artifact.

In this regard, Quill also has much in common with fellow bad-boy charmer Han Solo (whom Marvel Comics dubbed a “Star Warrior”). Solo, a wisecracking orphan from Corellia, makes his living as a smuggler and thief. He claims to be the galaxy’s best smuggler, yet is always in debt and constantly in danger of being caught. Arrogant and handsome, Han makes many enemies in the course of pursuing this line of work, and is considered a criminal by the Galactic Empire. Han angers underworld kingpin Jabba the Hutt during a smuggling operation gone awry, when he fails to deliver a shipment of spice he’d been hired to transport, and ends up with a bounty on his head as well. This results in confrontations with several bounty hunters, including a Rodian named Greedo and the infamous Boba Fett, who are determined to collect the reward.

It’s interesting to note that as Star-Lord, Quill wears a black mask that is more than a little reminiscent of Darth Vader’s helmet. Foreshadowing of a future storyline involving his father, perhaps?

Quill attempts to sell the orb (an Infinity Stone) on Xandar, and finds himself ambushed by an alien assassin named Gamora, who steals it from him. An orphan raised as a princess by the politically powerful Thanos following the deaths of her parents, Gamora becomes a formidable warrior who can hold her own against the strongest of adversaries, even withstanding torture by the likes of her powerful adoptive father. Although her relationship with Quill is initially marked by hostility and the trading of barbs and insults, the two are actually attracted to one another and become close allies over time. Gamora rebels against Thanos and surreptitiously begins working against his interests.

Likewise, Han Solo meets Princess Leia Organa during an illegal undertaking, while helping Luke and Obi-Wan rescue her from the Empire’s clutches. Raised by politician Bail Organa after the death of her mother Padmé, Leia becomes an expert fighter and an outspoken member of the Imperial Senate, who ends up being tortured by her Force-strong estranged father, Darth Vader. The chemistry between Han and Leia starts off badly, with the two constantly bickering, but deep down, they are drawn to each other romantically and become friends and later lovers. Leia is secretly a leader of the Rebellion, a splinter group working to end the Empire’s galactic oppression.

As Quill and Gamora battle for possession of the orb, a pair of bounty hunters joins the fray: Rocket and Groot, who hope to collect the price on Peter’s head, and who provide much of the film’s humor. Visually, the duo are remarkable for their unusual appearance and size differential. Rocket, a genetically bred, cybernetically enhanced raccoon, is tiny, yet a deceptively skilled tactician and fighter, while Groot is a tall humanoid tree who speaks only the phrase “I am Groot” in response to all questions. Groot is unintelligible to most, but Rocket can discern his meaning every time he utters this pronouncement. The often-complaining raccoon speaks with a fast-paced American accent, though he has a British inflection in the comics. Groot, meanwhile, remains ever an optimist and saves his comrades when the odds seem insurmountable. Although Rocket belittles his plant-like companion, the two are the best of friends and Rocket cares deeply about him.

In Star Wars, of course, one analogue pair to the two humorous hunters are R2-D2 and C-3PO, though some characteristics are transposed. The Laurel and Hardy-esque droids are noticeably different in height, with one tall and golden-chromed, the other resembling a squat, domed trash receptacle covered in knobs and gadgets. R2-D2 communicates via whistles, bleeps, and clicks that organic beings would have trouble understanding, but which his counterpart can readily comprehend. C-3PO spends much time complaining in a prissy, English-accented voice, though he was originally conceived as sounding like a fast-talking American, while the spunky R2-D2 often rushes into trouble to save his master and friends. C-3PO tends to insult the astromech droid, but the two are the best of buddies, and the golden robot cares deeply about him.

Rocket and Groot are also stand-ins for Han Solo and Chewbacca—and this is, perhaps, the more appropriate analogy. Han (a sarcastic gunman who, despite his best efforts to watch out only for number-one, actually has a huge heart he keeps hidden) and Chewie (his brutish Wookiee sidekick, who can be as charming and innocent as he can be intimidating and terrifying) travel the galaxy together in search of wealth, often ending up on the wrong side of the law. As with the two droids, Han has no trouble understanding his best friend’s guttural Wookiee roars and growls, even though no one else, including the audience, has any idea what Chewie is saying.

Rocket also has a third analogue in the classic Star Wars films: the Ewoks. Granted, his personality is vastly different from any Ewok character who appears in either Return of the Jedi, the two Endor-based TV movies, or the Ewoks animated series, but he is undeniably adorable, and the humor he brings to Guardians stems from the incongruity of his appearance, his actions, and his voice.

Likewise, Wicket W. Warrick, the young Ewok whom Leia befriends on Endor’s Sanctuary Moon in Return of the Jedi, is a merchandised teddy bear just waiting to be sold, is remarkably brave for one so small and cuddly, and sounds like a cooing, purring toddler when he talks. The use of cutesiness in science fiction can often backfire (and, regarding the Ewoks, many would argue that it does), but in Rocket’s case, it makes the movie—unlike fellow CGI character Jar Jar Binks, who makes parts of The Phantom Menace difficult to sit through.

Finally, there’s Drax the Destroyer, a massively muscled warrior who revels in rampaging and provides some of the movie’s funniest moments, without his comedic tendencies weakening or compromising his fearsomeness in the slightest. Drax is profoundly loyal to those to whom he pledges allegiance and holds family in high regard (his wife and child were murdered by Ronan, for which he has vowed revenge). He exhibits great strength, stamina, and presence, and can be quite a fierce adversary when angered. Although he leads a life of crime, he is, like his fellow Guardians, an honorable person who would risk anything to protect those whom he cares about.

Like Drax, Chewbacca is massive and prone to fits of rampage as well. His actions and reactions elicit audience laughter, yet in no way decrease his warrior effectiveness. Chewie remains at Han’s side out of loyalty, as he owes the Corellian a Wookiee Life Debt. As explored in The Star Wars Holiday Special, as well as in Patricia Wynne’s The Wookiee Storybook, Michael P. Kube-McDowell’s The Black Fleet Crisis trilogy, and Darko Macan’s Star Wars: Chewbacca comic miniseries, Chewie’s devotion to Han is so great that he travels with him despite having a wife and son waiting for him back home on Kashyyyk. Fiercely strong and intimidating, he has been known to pull off people’s arms when infuriated. Ultimately, in R. A. Salvatore’s novel The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, Chewie gives his life to honor his Life Debt vow by protecting Han’s family (before The Force Awakens negated the Expanded Universe, that is).

Drax is also covered in tattoos from head to toe that have great spiritual meaning to him. This should sound eminently familiar to Star Wars fans, and the reason why can be summed up in two words: Darth Maul.

Officers of the Nova Corps capture Quill, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket, then incarcerate them at the Kyln prison facility, where the four ally with Drax to formulate an escape plan, bringing the fifth and final member of the team into the fold (until Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 adds Mantis, Gamora’s adoptive sister Nebula, and even Yondu to the mix). After successfully staging a breakout, the five board Peter’s broken-down-looking but dependable spaceship, the Milano, and set out to meet with an interested buyer whom Gamora has lined up to purchase the stolen orb so that Thanos cannot get his hands on its destructive power. The experience of escaping together enables this misfit band to take their first steps toward becoming a cohesive team.

Meanwhile, in Galactic Empire territory, Luke Skywalker’s team becomes complete once he, Han, Chewbacca, Kenobi, and the droids rescue Leia from her imprisonment in an Imperial detention center aboard the Death Star space station, though they are too late to prevent the destruction of her home planet, Alderaan. Once aboard Han’s ship, a seeming hunk of junk called the Millennium Falcon (which contains all of the letters in “Milano,” incidentally), they set out to bring a set of stolen plans for the station to a Rebel stronghold on Yavin IV so that the Alliance can find a vulnerability and prevent Grand Moff Tarkin from using the Death Star to decimate any further worlds.

The Guardians head for Knowhere, a criminal outpost built into a dead Celestial’s giant severed head, to meet Gamora’s contact, Taneleer “The Collector” Tivan. The outpost is filled with lowlifes, criminals, and scoundrels from many different worlds, who engage in gambling, drinking, and other vices while listening to alien musical stylings. Ronan, meanwhile, meets with his master, a mutant superhuman called Thanos, to discuss how best to handle the betrayal of his adoptive daughter Gamora.

Along those same lines, prior to rescuing Leia from the Death Star, Luke and Kenobi find Han and Chewie at a cantina in Mos Eisley Spaceport, which Obi-Wan describes as a “wretched hive and scum and villainy.” Inside the bar, ruffians, smugglers, and killers from dozens of species do business, play cards, and imbibe intoxicants, while a band plays jazz-like music. Elsewhere, Vader consults his master, Emperor Palpatine, an immensely powerful Sith Lord also called Darth Sidious, to discuss what to do about certain traitorous elements within the Imperial Senate.

While at Knowhere, Drax the Destroyer confronts Ronan the Accuser, seeking to avenge his murdered family. Despite Drax’s impressive fighting skills and overriding motive for vengeance, the battle is all too brief and Ronan leaves his would-be killer for dead (thankfully, Drax survives). The other Guardians take advantage of this diversion to escape aboard their spaceship, pursued by Nebula and a contingent of Ronan’s soldiers.

Similarly, Obi-Wan faces off against Vader aboard the Death Star. The roles become intertwined here, for though Vader and Ronan are clearly the antagonists, with Kenobi and Drax on the side of good, it is Vader, not Obi-Wan, who seeks revenge—for the loss of his limbs and other injuries inflicted in Revenge of the Sith, which have relegated him to spending his life inside a life-support suit. Kenobi would also have a strong motive for revenge, given Anakin’s betrayal and murder of their fellow Jedi, but revenge is not the Jedi way—plus, Obi-Wan willingly sacrifices his own life as a diversion to save Luke’s rather than seek any sort of vengeance. After Vader cuts Kenobi down, the others flee the station aboard the Falcon, with a squad of TIE Fighters in pursuit.

The two films diverge narratively a bit at this point, with Guardians following a subplot involving sibling rivalry between Gamora and Nebula that is absent in Star Wars—though Return of the Jedi does reveal Luke and Leia to be twins, so there is a sibling dynamic present in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, even if we as the audience don’t yet know it. Clearly, Lucas didn’t know either, given the characters’ different ages in A New Hope‘s screenplay, not to mention their tonsil-sucking in Empire.

Yondu and Quill set aside their differences to defeat Ronan, which has no obvious analogue in Star Wars either. (Interestingly, both scenarios might very well have had Star Wars analogues had “the other” Yoda mentions in Empire turned out to be Boba Fett, as many had predicted would be the case prior to Return of the Jedi‘s release, and which is rumored to have been Lucas’s original intention.) What’s more, Peter and Gamora both nearly die frozen in space, which certainly doesn’t happen in any Star Wars movie—though Han does end up being frozen in carbonite in Empire.

The Ravagers and the Guardians join forces with Nova Corps to confront Ronan’s gigantic spaceship, the Dark Aster, at Xandar. The battle is intense, frenetically paced, and exciting, with much of Nova Corps’ fleet destroyed. Gamora bests Nebula in battle, but the “evil sister” escapes to fight another day. Sadly, Groot, like Obi-Wan, sacrifices his own life so his friends can live. It seems certain that Ronan will be the victor, and the Accuser is absolute in his arrogant belief in his own invulnerability, but the Dark Aster is destroyed thanks to Rocket heroically crashing a Ravager vessel through its hull. Using the Infinity Stone, the surviving Guardians then eradicate Ronan, saving the galaxy.

The parallels to A New Hope‘s final act are obvious. The smugglers join forces with the Rebels to take on the Death Star as it prepares to destroy Yavin IV. Many Alliance pilots die during an intense space dogfight, as well as in the space station’s trench. All seems lost for the Rebels as the countdown to Yavin’s destruction nears zero, and Tarkin is too arrogantly convinced of guaranteed triumph to even consider evacuating personnel. Suddenly, Han turns the tide in the Rebels’ favor by heroically diving the Falcon into the trench battle. Vader’s TIE Fighter is damaged, and the “evil father” spins out of control—and thus out of harm’s way so he can return in The Empire Strikes Back. Finally, Luke uses the Force to fire a fatal shot at the Death Star, saving the galaxy.

It’s a great victory for Xandar, and the government gratefully expunges the Guardians’ criminal records and awards them a newly rebuilt Milano. Even better, Groot is back from the dead, as a sapling from the fallen Guardian has begun to grow an unbearably cute new body that dances to music, thus ensuring that millions of fans will rush out to buy Hasbro’s Dancing Groot Figure, and that dozens of actors and producers will, therefore, be able to buy new sports cars and summer homes.

A New Hope also ends on a celebration, with Princess Leia awarding medals to Han and Luke for their brave roles in destroying the Death Star. (Chewbacca receives nothing, which seems remarkably speciest on the part of the Rebellion, though a 1980 Marvel Comics tale, “The Day After the Death Star,” rectifies this oversight by revealing that Leia was simply too short to reach his neck, and that she gave him his award later on while standing on a table.) Moreover, Luke knows that Obi-Wan Kenobi is not truly gone, thanks to Old Ben’s voice in his head having urged him to use the Force during the Death Star fight. Thousands of Rebels cheer on the heroes, and millions of children run out to make Kenner Toys, George Lucas, and now Disney absurdly wealthy.

Clearly, the parallels between Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars are many, and the two franchises might even be seen as compatible, but simply taking place in different parts of the universe. Could characters from the galaxy far, far away actually show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though? To date, no crossover between the two has been announced or even hinted at, but with Marvel Comics owner Disney now holding the reins of Lucasfilm as well, anything is possible.

Drax actor Dave Bautista is apparently someone who would welcome such a tying-together of galaxies. “We always thought it would be so great if Drax or even Rocket or Groot just showed up in a Star Wars film,” he told MovieWeb in 2016.[2] “We just thought that would be so great. Just a cameo, no dialogue, just passing a scene, maybe a bar scene where Drax and Rocket are just having a drink. It would be so great.”

As director James Gunn rightfully pointed out at a 2014 Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit, however, believably crossing over the two franchises would require that writers surmount one major hurdle: “Star Wars was a long time ago.” The solution, he says? “It would have to be time travel.” As such, according to an Inquisitr.com report of the event,[3] Gunn was adamant that such a match-up is unlikely to occur.

That’s a good thing, too. Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars are both wonderful on their own, but having Groot meet Chewbacca, or Darth Vader battle Ronan the Accuser, or Han Solo romance Gamora while trading one-liners with Rocket, could come off as incredibly cheesy, causing fans of both franchises to moan, “I have a bad feeling about this.” No one wants to see Jar Jar Binks on an adventure with Howard the Duck.

No one.

Franchise crossovers don’t always work out so well, and often end up diluting both properties, but as companion films with similar themes, characters, and plots, A New Hope and Guardians of the Galaxy complement each other brilliantly. Neither is an entirely original film, to be sure—as noted above, Guardians borrows much from Star Wars, which borrows just as much from Heart of Darkness, Flash Gordon, The Lord of the Rings, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and so many other great stories. But that really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture, does it? What’s old often becomes new again, and neither film is any less enjoyable for being reminiscent of prior works.



[1] Yes, The Wizard of Oz. To learn more about how remarkably closely Star Wars and MGM’s 1939 film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz match up, see my essay “Luke, Dorothy, and the Hero’s Journey: We’re Not on Tatooine Anymore, (Ar)To-(Dee)To,” published in A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe (Sequart, 2015), edited by yours truly and Joseph F. Berenato.

[2] Gallagher, Brian. “Is a Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy Crossover Possible?” MovieWeb, 2016: http://movieweb.com/star-wars-guardians-galaxy-crossover-dave-bautista/.

[3] Wakeman, Gregory. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars Crossover? James Gunn Reveals What It Will Take for the Franchises to Mix.” Inquisitr, 21 October 2014: http://www.inquisitr.com/1554423/guardians-of-the-galaxy-star-wars-crossover-james-gunn-reveals-what-it-will-take-for-franchises-to-mix/.

Star Wars/Guardians art by artist Matt Ferguson.

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