If you had told me a year ago that I’d be writing about Star-Lord in a blog about space scoundrels, I would have laughed. I’m a diehard Marvel fan, and even I’ve never been that into Star-Lord. I was also expecting the film version of The Guardians of the Galaxy to be Marvel Studios’ first misstep. By all rights, that movie shouldn’t have worked. The Guardians are a pretty obscure team. Marvel has trouble making a Hulk solo movie work and he’s a pretty well known character. A group of five, B-listers (at best) helming a movie smelled like a disaster to me. However, I was never happier to be wrong. The movie was great, and it really catapulted some good Marvel characters into the public consciousness that had never really had their day in the sun. Being the human face of the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s no surprise that Peter “Star-Lord” Quill has become a bit more visible than the rest of the Guardians. At its core, the modern Guardians of the Galaxy is a team of scoundrels out in the galaxy trying to do the right thing, and it makes perfect sense that Star-Lord would be leading them.
I’ll admit, Star-Lord’s backstory is a bit complicated. With his newfound popularity, some of his history has been retconned a bit and that always makes following the story of this guy’s life a little more complicated. The character Peter Quill first appeared in Marvel Preview #4 in January of 1976 and he really didn’t have much of a background. Peter Quill was a NASA trainee and was honestly kind of a dick. Even his creator, Steve Englehart, said that he intentionally made Peter Quill kind of unlikeable because every sci-fi protagonist was a nice guy who you instantly like, so he wanted to try and make a sci-fi character that was a hero in spite of himself. To make him a little more likeable after his profile has risen since 2010 or so, we learned his father died trying to kill him when he was a baby because his father realized that Peter wasn’t his son. He didn’t know his son was an alien and just assumed his wife was sneaking around with someone else, but he was still pissed that Peter wasn’t his kid so he tried to kill him. His mother was killed when he was eleven-years-old by aliens. No one believed that aliens killed his mother, but he still swore vengeance against the alien lifeforms that killed his mother. Without parents, Peter was sent to live in an orphanage. I’m not saying that with the life he led Peter Quill didn’t have the right to have a chip on his shoulder, but even into adulthood (we don’t ever see what Peter’s life at the orphanage is like in his original miniseries), he was infamous around the NASA training center for being aloof and kind of a jerk. However, while no one may have really liked Peter Quill all that much, it was hard to admit that he wasn’t a great astronaut candidate. He excelled at every test he was given at the training center but he was passed over for being too difficult to work with. That only angered Peter Quill but he realized that if he wanted to get ahead he’d have to at least pretend to be a decent human being, and pretending is exactly what he did. Peter was eventually posted on a space station with several other astronauts. That space station was visited by an alien entity called Master of the Sun. The Master of the Sun wanted a candidate from the space station to become a Starlord (think Green Lantern, only without the rings and weakness to a random color). Peter volunteered, but everyone else on the station felt another astronaut would be a better choice. Before that astronaut could go to meet Master of the Sun, though, Peter took a gun, wounded several astronauts, including the one that was going to become the Starlord (and while we’re here—seriously, what is it with sci-fi having guns on space stations? That just seems like a really bad idea to me…) and stole the sentient spacecraft (creatively called “Ship”) that would take him to meet Master of the Sun. The Master of the Sun knew that Peter Quill was not the chosen candidate, but he decided to make him Starlord anyway. Sure, he may not have been trustworthy and hurt literally everyone on the station that got in the way of his vengeance, but he’ll make a great space cop. Master of the Sun gave Peter his first Starlord uniform and his trademark element guns and sent him on his first mission, find the aliens that killed his mother so he could kill them and get off this vengeance kick so he could be a good space cop. While it’s literally unclear the way the story was written whether Starlord actually killed these aliens or not, Master of the Sun told him that even if the aliens weren’t dead, the vengeance was real and Peter Quill could have a real life as Starlord if he took it. With his need for blood met, Starlord joined Master of the Sun and became a hero.
While in space, Peter Quill learned quite a bit about his past. It was eventually revealed to him that his real father was Jason (now usually spelled “J-Son”) of Spartax, leader of the Spartax Empire and the previous holder of the title Star-Lord. (Yeah, somehow Starlord went from being the name used by a group of space cops to the title for a military leader in the Spartax empire. Don’t blame me folks, retcons can make things really confusing.) Such information only whetted Peter’s curiosity about his lineage, but learning any more would have to wait. While patrolling deep space, Star-Lord ran across the Fallen One, a former herald of Galactus who was trying to kill his former master by destroying any planet he could eat before he could reach it. Star-Lord was understandably badly beaten by such a powerful cosmic entity, but Ship’s analysis revealed the Fallen One’s only weakness—the energy released when a planet is destroyed. Star-Lord and Ship made the difficult decision of sacrificing a small Kree colony to generate and harness enough destructive energy to stop the Fallen One. It was either destroy the small colony or let the Fallen One destroy the larger Kree planet. Ship was destroyed in this act, but Star-Lord was able to stop the Fallen One. In an act of contrition, Star-Lord turned both the Fallen One and himself over to the Nova Corps for his role in Fallen One’s killing spree. The Nova Corps was conflicted over whether Star-Lord deserved to be imprisoned for destroying a Kree colony to stop the Fallen One’s rampage, but it was eventually decided that both Star-Lord and the Fallen One would be sent to the Kyln, an intergalactic prison home to many dangerous entities. To give you an idea of how serious this place was, for a brief time (while Star-Lord was there), it also held Thanos. While in prison, Star-Lord found allies in the form of a large prisoner named Ch’ak and the Shi’ar Praetor Gladiator. Star-Lord even briefly worked with Thanos because of the danger posed to the universe by the sentient cosmic cube currently calling itself Maker. Thanos fought the Maker to a standstill, leaving it catatonic and at the mercy of a mysterious wave of devastation that was wiping out significant portions of the universe at the time. However, Thanos’ fight with the Maker left some unfinished business for Star-Lord as the Fallen One escaped in the chaos that followed. Star-Lord planned to bring the Fallen One back in to justice, but Gladiator drafted him into the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (much to his dismay) to deal with a larger threat.
Star-Lord learned of the war that was raging throughout the galaxy. Dubbed the Annihilation War, Annihilus, ruler of the Negative Zone, broke free from that subspace dimension, intent on conquering the universe. The vanguard of his forces was the mysterious wave of devastation that was creating problems in the galaxy at this time. Fighting alongside the Nova Corps on the planet Daedalus 5, Star-Lord learned that Thanos had his hands in this as well, having disappeared after leaving Kyln. Thanos and Annihilus had secretly worked together to defeat Galactus and the Silver Surfer, two of the most powerful forces in the universe. Thanos had assembled his own team of super-powered beings and sent them to do battle with Star-Lord and the forced allied against Annihilus. Thanos’ team badly beat the so-called United Front and much of their forces were killed by Annihilus’ secret weapon, the weaponized corpse of Galactus. The United Front disbanded, though Star-Lord and Nova Prime (with some help from a few other cosmic heroes, and a few villains as well) attack Annihilus himself. Nova Prime killed Annihilus and the Annihilation Wave was more easily dealt with following the death of their leader.
The galaxy was in chaos following the Annihilation War and Star-Lord remained in deep space to help put the pieces of Hala (the Kree homeworld) back together. However, the opportunistic race of technoparasites called the Phalanx capitalized on the problems. The heroic Spaceknights were revealed to actually be Trojan horses that the Phalanx used to take over Hala. Star-Lord was badly injured in the Phalanx attack but was saved by a Kree admiral with the idea that Star-Lord could lead a team of commandos to retake Hala and destroy the Phalanx, whatever the cost. This would be the first time Star-Lord would ally himself with future Guardians of the Galaxy teammates Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The commando team would meet serious resistance on Hala but would find allies in the form of uninfected Kree soldiers who were willing to fight alongside Star-Lord because of the ideal that the Starlord represented. This was the first time Peter Quill realized that his title meant something to more to others than it did to him. Though he was reluctant to take up the task, Star-Lord became the de facto leader of the anti-Phalanx resistance movement on Hala following their successful commando raids that allowed Kree scientists to develop a cure for the Phalanx infection. The resistance continued to fight the Phalanx, though there were heavy losses. Blastaar was sacrificed to gain a tactical advantage against the Phalanx only to have the Phalanx resurrect him and use him to obliterate resistance forces, including Captain Universe. Star-Lord would have been killed as well had the Phalanx’s leader not decided he wanted him alive. Surprising everyone (including comic readers at the time), the Phalanx was revealed to be a pawn of Ultron. Things looked bleak for Star-Lord and the resistance until the timely arrival of Nova Prime and the Phalanx’s only known predator, the Technarchy. Following the defeat of a gigantic Ultron, the Kree were freed and Star-Lord realized what he had to do—form a team to keep the peace in the galaxy while it recovered from the damage caused by both the Annihilation War and the Phalanx war. That team would be known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, Star-Lord couldn’t even do something like forming a team the honest way and enlisted the help of the psychic Celestial Madonna, Mantis, to nudge the members of his team together. However, when they found out how Star-Lord manipulated them, the team broke up again. Though this version of the Guardians of the Galaxy fell apart before it could really get started, Star-Lord continued to wander the galaxy trying to keep the peace. However, doing so often led him into more conflict. At his first stop, Hala, Star-Lord learned the Kree were using Phalanx technology to protect their planet and he argued with Ronan about the dangers of such a plan. Ronan responded by sentencing Star-Lord to the Negative Zone for his betrayal of the Kree empire. While in the Negative Zone, he learned of the resurrected Blastaar’s plan to take over Stark’s abandoned Superprison 42 so he could have access to a portal that would take him to Earth. Star-Lord called in a favor with his former allies, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and managed to keep Blastaar from getting access to the portal.
Returning to the fold, Star-Lord finds Rocket Raccoon in charge of a new version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Though they still don’t really trust him, they invite Star-Lord to join their team. Their first task: preventing the so-called War of Kings from destroying the universe. During Star-Lord’s time trapped in the Negative Zone, the Inhumans returned to Hala to seek revenge for what the Kree did to them. The Kree homeworld fell to the Inhumans and created more disorder in the universe. At the same time, the Shi’ar were being led by their warlike emperor, Vulcan, and the two new empires were on a collision course that could have dire effects for the entire galaxy. Star-Lord learned just how devastating the War of Kings was when he and the Guardians were pulled into the future by Starhawk. In this future, the War of Kings led to a massive cosmic rift that was destroying everything in its wake. The Badoon controlled much of what was left of the galaxy and all the problems could be traced back to the War of Kings, specifically when Black Bolt cut loose with his powers to destroy the Shi’ar fleet once and for all. Though they would remain trapped in this desolate future, the Guardians sent a message back into the past to keep the War of Kings from getting out of hand. They all assumed that doing so would mean their deaths because the future they occupied would no longer exist, but they were destined for a fate far worse than non-existence, being lost in the timestream.
After getting lost in the time stream, Star-Lord and his team wound up trapped in the realm of living undeath known as the Cancerverse. There, he found Thanos in charge and loving every second of it. The rules of death did not apply in the Cancerverse and he had all the power he could ever want thanks to a cosmic cube. Nova Prime sacrificed himself to free Star-Lord and Drax from the Cancerverse, but Thanos fled as well. With the power of the cosmic cube, Thanos decided it was time to rule the universe himself. This would be yet another time that Star-Lord faced off with Thanos only to fail in the end to contain him. Star-Lord blamed himself for the devastation Thanos unleashed on the galaxy before being stopped by the Avengers.
Star-Lord went into hiding for a while after Thanos’ return, but he couldn’t stay hidden forever. Star-Lord was captured by his father, J-Son. J-Son wanted Peter to take his place by his side and rule the empire together but also to pay for the crimes he committed against the Spartoi Empire while he was preserving the galaxy. Peter turned on his father and during his escape, he revealed the extent of his father’s corruption to the entire Spartoi Empire and he was removed from the throne. Once again, Star-Lord was on the run because he stood up to his father and did the right thing.
More recently, Star-Lord’s goals have been focused around settling his score with Thanos. While pulling off heists throughout the galaxy, Star-Lord learned of a powerful artifact that would give him the power to fight Thanos. It turns out, he’d already stolen it and stashed it in one of his hiding places. Star-Lord retrieved the gem while avoiding bounty hunters sent after him by his own father, now going by the name Mr. Knife. After confronting Thanos, he once again let him escape because he was unwilling to go that extra step and kill a defeated enemy. Thanos warned him that while he would not target Star-Lord’s loved ones again, the next time they crossed paths would be their last.
Once again, we see the hallmarks of a scoundrel throughout Star-Lord’s career. Right when we first meet him, he’s honestly a pretty terrible guy. However, as he gets exposed to more of the galaxy he realized that there’s more to the universe than just his quest for vengeance and tries, more often than not, to do the right thing. His strong code of ethics is present when he turns himself over to the authorities after defeating the Fallen Son. He destroyed a colony and felt he deserved to be punished for such actions. Yes, it was a needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few scenario, but at the same time, he couldn’t use that as a justification and believed he deserved punishment for his actions. However, his reputation around the galaxy never really recovered. He slowly took to the fringes of society and became a thief and mercenary. Yes, he would fight for the good guys, but it was usually when forced (like when he was drafted into the Imperial Guard) or reluctantly (such as when he led the team of commandos that would later become the Guardians of the Galaxy). Even as a leader, he wasn’t above bending the rules a little. He didn’t think that the rest of the commandos would join his team, so he had a psychic friend assist him in doing so. Considering how the team came back together in his absence anyway, he probably didn’t need to handle things that way, but he couldn’t even do something like form a team without some degree of deception.
Of course, Star-Lord doesn’t just have the characteristics of a scoundrel, but he has the look as well. It may have taken almost 40 years, but Star-Lord finally just got a good costume. In his original appearances, he looked more like your stereotypical sci-fi hero and it just wasn’t a good look for him. It was far too straight-laced for a character like Peter Quill. He used this rather dated look for quite some time. Once he became a Kree commando, he adopted a more militant costume. While the costume remained too straightlaced for Star-Lord, he did pick up the gunslinger affectation of wielding two weapons at the same time. His pair of Kree submachine guns were dangerous in his hands and when I think of scoundrels, I think the overall archetype is the Wild West gunslinger. However, the gunslinger look didn’t come together until very recently. Marvel Studios wisely redesigned Star-Lord to make him look a little more human even when he’s got his face mask on. That Kree face mask was honestly pretty sinister for a hero. The modern mask is neutral and it looks like a high-tech sci-fi breath mask. Of course, the rest of the gunslinger vibe comes from his garb. Gone is the pseudo-military uniform and it’s replaced with a basic shirt, some basic pants, jet boots and a long coat. Nothing says gunslinger like a long coat to conceal your weapons in. Honestly, the look reminds me of another space scoundrel, Malcolm Reynolds. Had Firefly gone high-tech instead of Wild West, I think Star-Lord would look right at home on the Serenity. I’ll admit, the thief and intergalactic scoundrel is something that it took a while for Star-Lord to fully embrace, but even back in 1976, the scoundrel side of Star-Lord was waiting just under the surface and he’s a better character for fully embracing it.