A Beginner’s Guide to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Leigh Holland

Fifty years of French comics blocked into

sugar cubes, space opera, box office flop,

big-budget, flawed ponderous lobster of film,

impractically constructed and awkwardly clawed.


Do not look directly at the main characters,

if possible,

let them wash over you.

Do not care about their problems

if possible;


Laureline, wire-limbed splendid one,

disdainful grasp on an orange juice glass,

foot on every accelerator.


Valerian, center of a storm’s dead air,

enclosed in the envelope of plot

mailed to the viewer, barely there.


Character, a lens to see the setpiece through.

Narrative, a side dish left in the takeout box.

But the world, the world…


Mul. Princess Liho opens star-shaped irises,

washes her face in pearls

and exudes the purest youth beneath a planet-shadowed sky.

Accept her pale vitality and, helpless, watch her die.      


Invite this 28th century spectacle of space cops,

pterodactyl triplets demanding profit,

treasonous generals and pearlescent fishermen

to play on your screen, mute if you like;

sound is not relevant.


Cinema du look, Valerian

casts fresh scenes on retinas,

which is all it needs to do—

let it play,

drip down optic nerves

and leave after-images

floating in a most unusual way.

Leigh grew up in Alabama, got an MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University, and now teaches English in South Korea. Leigh's poetry has appeared or will soon appear in the Alabama Literary Review, Rumblefish Quarterly, Subterranean Blue, Panoplyzine, The Remembered Arts Journal and Gargoyle Magazine.

"I write reaction-poem/reviews when confronted by media that’s either so maddening or so delightful I can’t stop thinking about it. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets somehow managed to fit both categories. It could have been a classic in the hands of a director as concerned with substance as with style, but the style is still absolutely killer. Poets play in words, so it’s nice to watch someone skilled at playing in images—same sandbox, different toys. Last line references David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a song which plays during a key opening scene."