One of the great things about RetroSmack is that it finally gives me the push I need to check out things I’ve always wanted to, but just haven’t got around to. Marvel’s Star Wars series is a perfect case in point. I’m by no means the biggest Star Wars fan on the planet (the prequels made sure of that), but I feel no shame in saying that it’s important to me. The original trilogy was a massive part of my childhood, and I feel a lot of nostalgia towards Kenner’s action figure range and LucasArts’ Jedi Knight and Knights of the Old Republic computer game series too. I’ve always liked the idea of exploring more of the Star Wars universe, including the numerous novels and comics that have been published over the years. I’m not sure that many of the novels will meet the RetroSmack criteria, but Marvel’s comic series sure did.
Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy: I do hope I get to read some of the novels too. We’ll have to wait and see.
One of the fascinating things I learnt while researching for my Star Wars post was that very few of the people involved believed that it would be a massive hit. Even George Lucas had some major doubts, to the point where he felt certain that his mate Steven Spielberg’s approaching movie about aliens would cast a big shadow over his own. Given all this internal uncertainty, I reckon it took some pretty big balls for Lucasfilm’s publicity supervisor, Charles Lippincott, to approach Marvel’s Stan Lee as early as 1975 to ask him to publish a Star Wars comic book. Lippincott realised that the film’s potential audience would likely be the same one that was reading superhero comics every month, and Marvel’s Conan and Planet of the Apes series’ had proved to be quite successful. Wikipedia suggests that Lee initially declined to take on a license to a movie that wasn’t even completed yet, and that editor Roy Thomas managed to convince him that this wasn’t any ordinary movie. Lippincott’s very detailed website suggests that Lee was interested from the outset, particularly when he realised that Lucasfilm were not even going to charge Marvel for the license. Either way, a deal was made that contained two of the biggest names in entertainment. George Lucas and Stan Lee.
Charles Lippincott: The man behind the Marvel Star Wars comics
Image Credit: Alien Explorations
There’s no doubt that editor Roy Thomas was very excited about the prospect of making Star Wars comics. He took on the role of adapting the movie’s screenplay into a six issue run, and hoped that it would sell well enough for him to start developing some stories in the universe of his own (under the guidance of George Lucas). Lippincott and Lucas had already selected Howard Chaykin as the artist, based on his Cody Starbuck work for Star Reach magazine. Chaykin was in the unenviable position of having to adapt the Star Wars story into comic form with only a screenplay and some set photos to work with. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that Marvel were not in good shape at this particular point in time. In fact, if things didn’t go their way quickly, the company was staring bankruptcy in the face. I’m sure everyone involved breathed a huge sigh of relief when the first issue of Star Wars started selling like hot cakes in early April 1977. Once the movie was released a month later, it all just went nuts. The series not only saved Marvel during a tough time, it remained one of the industry’s top selling titles for the next few years. It ran for a total of 107 issues, finally being cancelled three years after Return of the Jedi in 1986.
Howard Chaykin’s Cody Starbuck in Star Reach issue #4
Image Credit: Kitbashed
Star Wars Comics Issues #1 to #17
I read the first 17 issues of Star Wars, which covers those dated July 1977 through to November 1978. I decided not to read issue #18, as it appears to be the start of a five-part storyline. The issues I read can really be broken down into three distinct phases. The first phase is the six-issue adaptation of the Star Wars film. With each comic averaging around 17 pages of actual content, it’s actually impressive that Chaykin and Thomas managed to get through the whole film in just 102 pages. They did a pretty reasonable job of it too, with all the excitement of the film coming across quite well. The issues move at a rapid pace obviously, but appropriate focus was given to all the major plot points and action scenes. I have to say that I’m not thrilled with Chaykin’s artwork. I don’t know whether he was being shown inconsistent character portraits, but some of the characters look really different from one issue to the next. Chewbacca is probably the most obvious case, sometimes having a light coloured, almost human face to go with his otherwise bigfoot appearance, other times looking the same as in the movie. I’ll give Chaykin credit for making the whole thing feel like Star Wars, but his detail isn’t always attractive or accurate. The only other thing that’s really worth mentioning is that it’s obvious that Thomas hadn’t seen the finished product when he wrote the six issues. There are certain scenes that George Lucas removed at the last minute which remain in the comics. The first significant sign of this is the relationship that Luke has with Biggs Darklighter while still on Tatooine. In the final cut of the movie Biggs is just another star-fighter (called Red-Three) attempting to take out the Death Star, whereas originally he was Luke’s best friend that joined the rebellion while Luke was forced to stay behind on Tatooine by his Uncle. The second obvious difference is that Jabba is more human-like in appearance. He’s still very clearly an alien, but not the monstrous toad-like thing that he would eventually appear as in Return of the Jedi.
Chewie is also made out to be volatile, which isn’t really the case in the films. Well, at least not unless provoked.
It must have been difficult for actor Garrick Hagon, whose role was all but removed from the movie before it became a super smash hit.
No one feels sorry for Jabba though, nor should they.
I was never particularly excited about reading the six-issue adaptation of the film, as I knew all of it like the back of my hand. What I was interested in was seeing where the series went from there. Would they fill in the gap between Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, or would the Marvel writers take things in a completely different direction? The actual answer to that question appeared in the mail section of issue #7, where Thomas explained that they were not allowed to include storylines involving the likes of Luke, Leia and Darth Vader until Lucas had a clearer idea of how things might proceed post-Star Wars. It’s for this reason that issues #7 to #10 follow Han Solo and Chewbacca as they firstly attempt to repay their debt to Jabba using the money they received from the Rebellion, and then, after having it all taken from them by the space pirate Crimson Jack, take on a new paying job on the planet Aduba-3. Han puts together an odd team of characters with the task of protecting a small village from the pillaging Serji-X Arrogantus and his Cloud-Riders. This team includes Hedji (a “spiner” that can shoot spiked projectiles out of his body), Amaiza (a sharp-shooting female that Han knew as the Den-Mother of the Black Hole gang), Don-Wan Kihotay (an old man that believes he is a Jedi Knight), Jaxon (a carnivorous, and very dangerous humanoid bunny), and Jimm (a kid that calls himself Starkiller Kid and has a cranky robot named Effie). Han leads the team into battle against Serji-X, but things take a huge turn when a shaman from the village summons a massive behemoth that goes completely out of control. I took some enjoyment from the chaotic approach, but these issues didn’t really feel like Star Wars. They felt like Marvel.
There’s plenty of action in this storyline, but it’s pretty hard to take things seriously when one of the major characters is a violent, humanoid bunny.
The behemoth makes things interesting, but it’s all just a bit silly.
After these underwhelming issues, I was hoping that something would change quickly. Thankfully it did. By issue #11, not only had Marvel obviously been given permission to start bringing the other major characters into play, but the Thomas and Chaykin team had also been replaced by writer Archie Goodwin and artist Carmine Infantino. Things immediately took a turn for the better, with the chaotic silliness replaced by more typical, epic Star Wars material. Finally the storyline starts to focus on the Rebellion’s actions following their successful destruction of the Empire’s Death Star. Despite the grand victory, they are very aware that Darth Vader is still alive, and that he knows their once-secret base’s location. Luke leaves Leia on Yavin and goes in search of a new, suitable planet. He reports back to Leia when he believes he has found one in the Drexel system, but their communication is cut just as Luke shows signs of distress. Shortly afterwards, Leia and Han are captured separately by Crimson Jack, and the princess cleverly convinces the space pirate that there is treasure waiting to be plundered in the Drexel system. Whatever is happening to Luke, he won’t have to deal with it alone for much longer. It’s soon revealed that what he’s dealing with is huge dragon-like creatures! His ship has been mysteriously drawn down to the planet’s surface, which turns out to be entirely made up of water, and after crash-landing he’s attacked by giant sea dragons (one of which has a rider on it). After R2-D2 and C-3PO help him to escape in a pod, three hydra-crafts arrive filled with men intent on taking the wreckage for themselves, even if it means taking on the beasts. Now this…is Star Wars!
Dragons might not seem particularly Star Wars, but then the movies have had no shortage of huge beasts.
Luke and the droids are taken to an awesome city built into a massive ship. It’s this city that Luke originally mistook as land.
Of course it wouldn’t feel completely like Star Wars if there wasn’t any space action.
Archie Goodwin made a huge difference to the Star Wars series. The four issues that make up the storyline I’ve started to describe above are really fantastic. Luke and the droids have unwittingly caused a long-running war to boil over into violence, not by being there themselves, but by bringing Crimson Jack’s huge battle cruiser into the planet’s atmosphere. The inhabitants want it very badly indeed, and attempt to use tractor-beam technology to bring it down. Of course Han and Leia are also on that ship, creating a complex situation that plays out in such an exciting manner. The last two issues I read also managed to be highly entertaining, despite having different artists (Walt Simonson, Bob Wiacek, Herb Trimpe and Allen Milgrom all played a role). I particularly enjoyed issue #17, which was basically a Luke Skywalker origin story. Readers get a neat look into what life was like for the future-hero on Tatooine, as he tries to avoid Tusken raiders and races speeders with his good mate Biggs. It’s really solid stuff, and leaves me longing to read more of the series. I’ll certainly be doing just that when we reach 1980, the year of Empire Strikes Back.
I’m not sure why Luke was so desperate to get off Tatooine and join the Rebellion. There was no shortage of excitement back home!
The Star Wars Comics (1978) RetroCard has now been added to the RetroCard Shop. It’s a rare card, so therefore costs 60 smacks and has a limited release of 20.
Featured Image Credit: The first issue’s cover by Howard Chaykin