Luc Besson was in Sydney yesterday ahead of the release of his new sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in cinemas on August 10.

The director attended a special screening of the film at George Street’s Event Cinemas last night, which was followed by a lengthy audience Q&A that focused on his love of the Valerian and Laureline comic books as a child, as well as his long and distinguished career that includes films like The Professional, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element and Lucy.

Valerian has been a long gestating passion project for Besson, who had to wait until VFX technology was sufficiently advanced enough to properly realise his vision on screen. The story of a pair of space agents tasked with investigating a threat at the heart of Alpha Station, an intergalactic hub where thousands of alien species pool their knowledge, Besson noted that his longtime commitment to strong female protagonists in his films could be traced back to the character of Laureline (played in the film by Cara Delevingne) in the comic books.

Candid in conversation, Besson revealed that he gets his mother and his butcher to read his scripts and offer their opinion, which he feels is more informed than that of a studio executive – they are, after all, representative of the audience he makes his films for. He also spoke about working with actors, offered advice to aspiring filmmakers, and lamented the quality of VFX technology at the time he made The Fifth Element, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

He also made plain his dislike for the current cycle of superhero movies and hopes that Valerian will give audiences an entirely different experience to the current wave of Hollywood blockbusters.

For a guy who’s just made a dazzling space opera, Luc Besson is remarkably down to earth.