Origin Story | How Star-Lord Went From Marvel Obscurity to MCU Leading Man

Blair Marnell
Movies Comics
Movies Comics Marvel MCU

There’s a running gag in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film where Peter Quill is constantly disappointed that no one has heard of his alter ego, Star-Lord. This was fitting when you consider that until just a few years prior to the 2014 release of that film, a vast majority of comic book fans also had no idea who Star-Lord was. Despite having been around for decades already, the character had never caught on with Marvel readers and only appeared sporadically for most of his existence.

So how did this grade Z hero go from a complete unknown to a hero who has headlined three Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and a Holiday Special) and appeared in three other Marvel films? It’s been a long road that involved several retcons, a completely different Star-Lord, a comic book comeback, and eventually a multimedia sensation that turned a team of cosmic misfits into household names. Now, on the eve of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, it’s time to take a look back at the origins of Star-Lord. And yes, there’s more than one origin.                                                                                                                       

Living in Obscurity

Writer Steve Englehart and artists Steve Gan and Bob McLeod co-created Star-Lord in 1976 for a story in Marvel Preview #4, an issue of a black and white anthology series. In this original incarnation, Peter Quill was born during an unusual planetary alignment that may have shaped his destiny. Peter’s father came to believe that Peter was not his son, and he actually tried to kill Peter when he was an infant before instantly dropping dead from a heart attack. That left Meredith Quill to raise Peter alone.

As a teenager, Peter witnessed Ariguans murder his mother, and he barely escaped with his own life. When Peter grew up, he managed to become a trainee in NASA’s astronaut program and was assigned to a space station. An enigmatic alien, known as the Master of the Sun, arrived at the station to anoint a new Star-Lord to protect the universe. And Peter was not his first choice.

Despite being rejected, Peter persisted until he was chosen for the honor. To help in his new role as a protector of the universe, Peter was given command of a sentient ship (creatively called “Ship”). Marvel subsequently published a handful of other Star-Lord adventures, but he largely remained separate from the established heroes of the Marvel Universe.

The Star-Lord That Nobody Knows

In 1996, sci-fi novelist Timothy Zahn — fresh off of his Heir to the Empire success in the Star Wars Extended Universe — and artist Dan Lawlis were tasked with introducing a new Star-Lord. In this hyphenless Starlord miniseries, Peter Quill had gone missing many years before. While it maintained continuity with the previous Star-Lord adventures, the new lead character was Sinjin Quarrel, the son of Sinindru and Merimarth Quarrel.

Because Sinjin was identified early on as a potential telepath, he spent most of his formative years training to become one of the Probiti, essentially the telepathic ruling class who dispensed justice as they saw fit. Compared to other telepaths, Sinjin’s gift was unremarkable and fairly weak. But he had enough talent to make telepathic contact with Star-Lord’s Ship, who appeared to Sinjin as a beautiful woman that he renamed Rora.

Rora had no memory of how she came to be on the backwater planet called Bovric, nor did she know what became of Peter. But when Rora was threatened by the corrupt locals, Sinjin had no choice but to put on Star-Lord’s costume and assume his identity. The miniseries failed to make an impact, and to date, this was Sinjin’s only appearance as Star-Lord/”Starlord”, and the events of this story have been largely ignored or retconned away to another timeline.

Annihilation = Rebirth

In 2004, Star-Lord was finally given a role in the prime Marvel Universe as a supporting character in Thanos’ first ongoing series. At this point in his history, Peter was imprisoned in the intergalactic prison known as the Kyln, which inspired part of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Peter was imprisoned because his battle to stop the Fallen One, a renegade herald of Galactus, resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and destroyed his sentient Ship as well.

However, it wasn’t until the Annihilation miniseries in 2006 that Peter truly rose to some prominence. During the Annihilation War, Annihilus led an invasion from the Negative Zone that threatened the entire universe. Peter fought on the frontlines of the war alongside his future Guardians of the Galaxy teammates, Gamora and Drax the Destroyer, as well as Nova, Firelord, and even Ronan the Accuser.

Thanks to Peter’s valor in the war, he found himself working for the Kree to rebuild their planetary defenses. Unfortunately, that gig came to a bloody end in Annihilation: Conquest, when the Kree homeworld, Hala, fell to a Phalanx invasion. As penance for his failure, Peter led a team behind enemy lines that included Mantis, Rocket Racoon, Groot, another three of his future comrades in the Guardians of the Galaxy. Bug, Deathcry, and Captain Universe were also on the squad, but of that trio, only Bug made it out alive. Essentially, this ragtag team was the prototype for writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning to unveil a new incarnation of the then-dormant Guardians of the Galaxy concept.

The New Guardians

Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy were a team of freedom fighters in the far future who had occasionally come back in time to the 20th century. But in the aftermath of two Annihilation events, Peter decided that the present-day cosmos needed its own superhero team. The initial lineup included Peter, Adam Warlock, Drax, Gamora, Mantis, Rocket, Groot, and Phyla-Vell. Together, they set up shop inside Knowhere, the head of a Celestial that had been decapitated eons ago.

Peter initially encouraged Mantis to telepathically influence his teammates into joining his team. And when Vance Astro from the Guardians of the future once again arrived in the present, he inadvertently gave the new team the inspiration to call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy. The team briefly fell apart when the others learned what Peter and Mantis had done. Yet for the sake of the universe, they reunited and charted their own heroic destiny. And in 2012, artist Steve McNiven redesigned Star-Lord’s mask, which greatly influenced his appearance in the MCU.

Peter Quill, Movie Star

The success of the new Guardians of the Galaxy did not go unnoticed by Marvel Studios, which began developing a feature film based on the characters. Nicole Perlman worked on the script for years, but it finally came to life when James Gunn came on board to both rewrite and direct the flick.

Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt was an unlikely choice to play Peter Quill/Star-Lord, but it quickly proved to be the right decision. Pratt was joined by Zoe Saldaña as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, Karen Gillan as Nebula, and Michael Rooker as a version of Yondu who was completely different from the Yondu who was a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy from the future in the comics.

Guardians of the Galaxy was such a massive hit that Marvel Comics briefly gave all five of the main heroes their own comic book series. That turned out to be a short-lived experiment when most of them weren’t able to hold down solo stories. But the Guardians movie led to sequels, multiple theme park rides, action figures, video games, and even a Guardians of the Galaxy animated series. For the first time in their existence, Peter Quill and his friends were on Marvel’s A-list.

Rewritten in the Stars

The 2015 Star-Lord comic had the monumental challenge of completely revising Peter’s origin to not only fit in the Marvel Universe, but also to incorporate elements from the MCU films and from the original Star-Lord stories from the ‘70s. But writer Sam Humphries and artist Javier Garrón were up for the task.

In the rewritten origin, Peter was the son of Meredith Quill of Earth and J’son of Spartax, the Emperor of his homeworld. J’son briefly stayed with Meredith on her world before returning to the stars. As in the first origin, Peter was born during an alignment of planets, and his mother was killed by aliens from Baddoon when he was only ten (in contrast to what James Gunn would reveal for the MCU Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where Ego was both Peter’s father and the one responsible for Meredith‘s death). In the comics, Meredith’s murder fueled Peter’s desire to join NASA and he became an astronaut in the hopes of one day hunting down her killers. And when that plan failed, Peter stole a Kree starship and left Earth on his own.

It was at this point that Peter met the Yondu of the present. Unlike his stoic and heroic namesake from the far future Guardians team, this Yondu was more in line with James Gunn’s dramatically reinterpreted character for the films. In short, Yondu was a space pirate who initially tried to steal Peter’s ship. But after Peter proved his worth to Yondu by outmaneuvering him and briefly capturing him, Yondu allowed him to join his crew of Ravagers.

Peter ultimately broke away from Yondu when he was given a chance to find his mother’s murderers in exchange for helping the Ravagers steal a ship from Earth. Peter almost went along with the plan, until he realized that his mother wouldn’t have wanted her son to be consumed by revenge. Yondu considered that a betrayal, and it created bad blood between them.

Star-Crossed X-Romance

While the Marvel movies jumped to a romance between Peter and Gamora, the comics didn’t initially go in that direction. Instead writer Brian Michael Bendis explored a relationship that would have been impossible to occur in live-action, thanks to 20th Century Fox’s ownership of the movie rights to many Marvel heroes at the time – before Disney eventually bought 20th outright and got all those screen rights back.

In the comics, where none of this was a concern, Peter found an unlikely love interest in Kitty Pryde, a long-time member of the X-Men who found him attractive and intriguing. They began dating and keeping up a very long distance relationship before Peter ultimately proposed to her. When Kitty accepted his proposal, she left Earth and the X-Men behind.

Several months later, Peter and Kitty were somewhat estranged when he was drafted to become the new Emperor of Spartax. In turn, Kitty became Star-Lady, and took his place on the Guardians of the Galaxy. When Peter’s time on the throne came to an untimely end, they briefly reconciled before ultimately going their separate ways.

A few years later, the comics finally embraced the idea of Peter and Gamora in a relationship. However, their happiness was cut short by Peter’s apparent demise.

Star-Lord? More Like Sun-Master

Remember the Master of the Sun from Peter’s original origin? Good, though things are still likely to sound rather confusing. Shortly before his apparent death while facing the evil Olympian Gods, Peter began having visions of the Master of the Sun that made no sense to him. In an attempt to halt the rampage of the Dark Olympians, Peter detonated a black hole on New Olympus which consumed everyone in the city of the gods, including him. Gamora and the Guardians were emotionally bereft at the news, and they initially blamed Rocket because he and Peter had gone to the battle against their wishes.

However, Peter wasn’t dead, he was simply somewhere on the other side of reality. The experience gave him powers and made him the new Master of the Sun, with even greater control of his elemental weapon. Peter also spent hundreds of years with married aliens named Mors and Aradia on a world where none of them aged or died. Peter even fell in love with both of them, joining them in a polyamorous relationship, before he returned home to once again stop the Dark Olympians. Since then, Peter has rejoined the Guardians of the Galaxy, and their adventures continue each month in comic book stores everywhere.

As for Peter’s counterpart on the big screen, we wouldn’t bet against seeing Star-Lord again after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hits theaters on May 5. The only questions are where and when it will happen.

Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!