CBG #1216 (’97): A look back at Marvel’s Star Wars comics

[Back in CBG #1216 (March 7, 1997) — only eight-and-a-half years but about 400 issues ago — the magazine celebrated the 20th anniversary of Star Wars comics with pieces on both the Marvel and Dark Horse lines. The article CBG has the rights to — the retrospective I did on the Marvel era — remains one of our most requested reprints, and it was updated and reprinted in full in 1999 in Toy Shop Presents Star Wars Collectibles, a one-shot I was involved with.

With the final movie now releasing on DVD — and with me referring back to this article increasingly in print and in lectures — Maggie suggested this would be a good time to get this in the archives once and for all. This is the 1999 version, along with a few 2005 notes regarding where material has since been reprinted; no doubt some other things in here could use updating...]

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN:
Marvel’s Star Wars series kept fans guessing between films

How did Darth Vader learn who destroyed the Death Star?

Why didn’t Han Solo use his reward money to pay Jabba the Hutt?

Why didn’t the Empire build a new Death Star right away?

Can Luke swim?

Addressing these and other good questions raised by the first Star Wars trilogy was a monthly task for Marvel Comics… during its time as Lucasfilm’s comics licensee.  Put the disco theme on the record player as we recall the first decade of Star Wars comics!

by John Jackson Miller

Just in the last seven years, Dark Horse’s stewardship of the Star Wars comic-book license has resulted in more different Star Wars comics than in the previous 15 years combined — no mean feat, considering how much time has passed since the last new film installment left theaters. Dark Horse’s comics, along with a wave of novels and products from other licensees, have played a key role in  helping maintain the conceptual presence of Star Wars in the years until the theatrical rereleases and the first prequel.

With Star Wars: The Phantom Menace releasing May 19 and the next two prequel films slated for 2002 and 2005, what role will comic books play in maintaining inter-film excitement? Clues can be found in the experience of Marvel Comics, which from 1977 to 1986 likewise supplied regular doses of original Star Wars comics adventures to fans — and published them during the challenging periods between film releases, when creators with little foreknowledge of what the impending sequels would bring struggled, with varying levels of success, to keep things interesting without being too interesting.

Join us in a nostalgic look back at the first half of Star Wars’ 22 years in American comic books: The Marvel Age!

Did Carl Barks bring Star Wars to Marvel?

In an essay in Star Wars #1, Marvel Editor Roy Thomas tells of making American Graffiti Director George Lucas’ acquaintance in the mid-1970s. “I was an ardent admirer of that film (and had also been intrigued by his earlier, science-fiction, feature THX-1138). George, in turn, had expressed a desire to see the Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge McDuck painting which hangs proudly in my living room and was enthusiastic about another pride and joy of mine, our late lamented $1 magazine Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. We met, shared a dinner and a few anecdotes, and that was it.”

Thomas said he learned from Lucasfilm representative Charles Lippincott months later that Lucas was interested in Thomas producing a Star Wars adaptation comic book. Thomas had known nothing of the project except the title, but when Lippincott showed him stats of production paintings from the film, “I was definitely hooked.”

Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man and Marvel’s guiding light) gave the project the green light, Thomas said, tentatively adding it to Marvel’s hectic 1977 schedule. After debate as to duration and format, a six-issue color presentation was planned.

The adaptation

#1-6:“Star Wars” Jul 77; “Six against the Galaxy” Aug 77;“Death Star!” Sep 77; “In Battle with Darth Vader” Oct 77; “Lo, the Moons of Yavin!” Nov 77; “The Final Chapter?” Dec 77. Writer:Roy Thomas (all). Penciller: Howard Chaykin (all). Inker: Chaykin (#1), Steve Leialoha (#2-5), Rick Hoberg and Bill Wray (#6). Letterer: Jim Novak (#1), Tom Orzechowski (#2-5), Lay & Royer (#6). Colorist: Marie Severin (#1-2), Leialoha (#3-4), Glynis Wein (#5), Paty (#6).

Thomas said Howard Chaykin, veteran artist of plenty of space-opera comics for several publishers, was his natural choice for artist and was likewise enthusiastic after seeing the production sketches from the film. Steve Leialoha inked issues #2-6 of the adaptation, and Tom Palmer inked the cover of the first issue based on a Chaykin poster.

Covers from issues of the adaptation were imaginative, even if half of them share the common comics-cover characteristic of depicting scenes that appear nowhere inside. (Since artists with cover assignments were frequently uninvolved with the interior stories, these situations are hardly unusual.) Issue #2 displays Luke blasting away at the creatures in the Mos Eisley cantina, although in the film Luke spends the entire battle on the floor. The Death Star blasts away at the Rebel hangar on Yavin’s moon on Rich Hoberg and Dave Cockrum’s cover to issue #5 in a scene the characters are probably glad never happened. Issue #6’s depiction of Luke defending Leia against Darth Vader’s attack while spaceships battle overhead is, likewise, a more visual interpretation of the cover blurb, “See Luke Skywalker battle Darth Vader,” than a straight recreation of the film scene might have been.

Footage deleted from the original screenplay but included in the adaptation includes Luke Skywalker viewing the space battle on Tatooine and racing into Anchorhead to tell friends Fixer, Camie, and Biggs Darklighter what he’s seen. (Trivia note: Luke’s nickname is “Wormie.”) Biggs tells Luke he’s been commissioned on the Rand Ecliptic but later confides that he’ll be jumping ship to join the Alliance. All 1977 film viewers saw of this childhood friend of Luke’s, of course, was his brief, unnamed appearance in Luke’s X-Wing squadron.

Of course, the most infamous
film exclusion is Jabba, who appears as a yellow monkey-type with muttonchop sideburns both in the adaptation (issue #2)  and in the ongoing series (issues #28 and #37). With the familiar slug-like Jabba matted into the same scene in the 1997 StarWars rerelease, the change should be unknown to all future viewers — except those who collected this series!

Of rabbits and hedgehogs: The regular series begins

#7-10:“New Planets, New Perils!” Jan 78; “Eight for Aduba-3” Feb 78; “Showdown on a Wasteland World” Mar 78; “Behemoth from the World Below” Apr 78. Writer:Thomas (#7-9), Don Glut (#10). Penciller: Chaykin (all). Inker: Chaykin (#7), Tom Palmer (#8-10). Letterer: Joe Rosen (#7), John Costanza (#8-10). Colorist: Carl Gafford (#7), Palmer (#8-9), F. Mouly (#10).

Marvel’s decision to follow the adaptation with original stories seems obviously to have been the right move, given the film’s success, but experience had not been kind to earlier Marvel efforts. While Marvel had adapted several other properties during the mid-1970s glut, only sword-wielding barbarians had found any measure of success. “Continuing adventures” of SFmovie heroes had fared poorly. In 1977, Marvel canceled Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, and even the Jack Kirby project 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Producing original Star Wars stories as serial entertainment presented additional challenges, however. Unlike Star Trek, which even in its earliest TV incarnation provided nearly 70 hours of screen material for licensees to build on, writers of the Star Wars comics initially had to build their stories on little more than two hours of film — and, as Marvel’s 2001 series demonstrated, new stories could easily be about one idea away from having no relation to the source material whatsoever.

Often, Marvel writers fleshed fleeting references into entire story arcs. The Mos Eisley cantina’s barkeep refused to serve droids in the film, so Thomas and, later, Archie Goodwin further developed a theme of prejudice against “non-organics.” In the first original Marvel issue, #7, Thomas placed Han Solo and Chewbacca on a planet where anti-cyborg bigotry turns violent, and the Star Warriors are required to put things right. (The Wookiee wins.)

Thomas also introduced space pirate “Crimson Jack” and his henchwoman, Jolli. Jack, who flies around in a surplus Imperial Star Destroyer (and must have a heck of a time getting a parking place), promptly purloins the reward Han received in Star Wars, providing Marvel’s explaination of why Han never paid Jabba off before Empire. (Jolli, for her part, hates men with a vengeance — so naturally she falls for Han later on and is instrumental in the final battle with Jack in issue #15.)

In issues #8-9, Han and Chewie are talked into hiring a private army to rid a backwater planet of Sergi-X Arrogantus and his “Cloud-Rider” pillagers. Solo’s more intriguing hirelings include Don Wan Kihotay, an old man with delusions of Jedi-hood; Hedji, a porcupine-man; and Jaxxon, a seven-foot-tall green rabbit. (“You can call me Jax for short, which I ain’t.”) Jaxxon makes one more appearance in issue #17; he later gains the dubious distinction of being the only Marvel-created StarWars character forcibly put to pasture by Lucasfilm.

By issue #10, a nameless Godzilla-type enters the fray (in an issue colored by Françoise Mouly, now cartoon editor for the New Yorker) and Solo must use Kihotay’s lightsaber to defeat the beast. “If only for a minute,” he says, “I got a little feeling of what it’s like to be a Jedi Knight!”

Waterworld 1978

#11-15:“Star Search!” May 78; “Doomworld!” Jun 78; “Day of the Dragon Lords!” Jul 78; “The Sound of Armageddon!” Aug 78; “Star Duel!” Sep 78. Writer:Archie Goodwin (all). Penciller: Carmine Infantino (all). Inker: Terry Austin (all), Letterer: Rosen (#11), Costanza (#12, #15), Rick Parker (#13), Denise Wohl (#14). Colorist: Janice Cohen (#11-15).

Thomas and Chaykin left the series after issue #10, and contributing editor Archie Goodwin took over, joined by penciller Carmine Infantino and inker Terry Austin. Goodwin, until his death in 1997, is the writer most associated with Star Wars in comics form. In addition to writing dozens of issues of Marvel’s series, the prolific Goodwin also wrote the daily StarWars comic strip with artist Al Williamson.

It’s noteworthy that Luke Skywalker doesn’t appear on the cover of any non-adaptation issue — except in the corner box — until #11. Luke and the droids only appear in the series long enough to depart in search of a new location for a rebel base and promptly disappear. Goodwin’s first storyline follows Han, Chewie, and Leia in their search for them. Taken captive by Crimson Jack, the searchers trick the pirate into delivering them to Luke’s last reported position, the waterworld Drexel.

Luke spends many pages making like Kevin Costner, fending off sea monsters and seafaring marauders, before winding up in the service of Captain Quarg. (That’s “Captain Bligh” spelled sideways.) The Millennium Falcon lands in the middle of a battle between Quarg’s forces and the Dragon Lords, whereupon we learn that the Falcon does, indeed, float.

Goodwin and Infantino use half the ideas later to turn up in Waterworld in this storyline and for a fraction of the price. Debating points for readers included Goodwin’s establishing that Luke couldn’t swim and Leia could, whereas in the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Leia couldn’t swim while Luke could.

Somehow, Goodwin’s guess about the number of swimming pools on Tatooine is a lot more convincing!

The Rebel Wheelers

#18-23:“The Empire Strikes” Dec 78; “The Ultimate Gamble” Jan 79; “Deathgame” Feb 79; “Shadow of a Dark Lord” Mar 79; “To the Last Gladiator!” Apr. 79; “Flight into Fury!” May 79. Writer: Goodwin (all). Penciller: Infantino (all). Inker: Gene Day (#18, #21), Bob Wiacek (#19-20, #22-23). Letterer: Parker (#18), Irv Watanabe (#19), Costanza(#20-21, #23), C. Robbins (#22). Colorist: Cohen (#18), Gafford (#19, #23), George Roussos (#20-21), Bob Sharen (#22).

Strange as it may seem, it was almost a full year into the series before any of the Star Warriors had any substantive conflict with the Empire. Suspected by
the Empire of piracy, our heroes take refuge on The Wheel, an extremely corrupt space casino where Han and Chewie are forced into service as gladiators. By the time it’s revealed the Empire has been faking Rebel attacks on merchant ships, Goodwin has piled more intrigue into this six-issue storyline than any other in the entire Marvel series.

Goodwin also addressed issues relevant to the film continuity. Luke spends issues  #18-21 after accidentally sensing, through The Force, the survival of You-Know-Who, who’s first seen in this series in issue #21 on an idyllic planet, strangling anybody he can find who may be able to tell him who destroyed the Death Star. Vader’s pursuit does bring him into a confrontation in space with Luke and crew but doesn’t discover Luke’s identity. At least, not yet…


Goodwin later wrote that he’d resisted bringing Vader into the series earlier, because he was “just too fine a character to let fall into the ‘too much of a good thing’ syndrome.”

Flashbacks

#17, #24:“Crucible” Nov 78; “Silent Drifting” Jun 79. Plot: Chris Claremont (#17). Writer:Archie Goodwin (#17), Mary Jo Duffy (#24). Penciller: Herb Trimpe (#17), Carmine Infantino (#24). Inker: Al Milgrom (#17), Bob Wiacek (#24). Letterer: Rick Parker (#17, #24). Colorist: Marie Severin (#17), Petra Goldberg (#24).

Fill-in issue writers tended to delve into the movie’s backstory for stand-alone tales. “Crucible,” from a plot by famed X-Men writer Chris Claremont, shows us Luke Skywalker “bulls-eying womp rats in Beggar’s Canyon back home.” In “Silent Drifting,”Jo Duffy has Leia relate an adventure of Obi-Wan Kenobi told to her by her father. Coincidentally, Kenobi’s black Jedi garb in this 1979 tale is similar to Luke’s Jedi apparel from 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

A pause, now, for a letters page time warp:

“Dear Archie Goodwin:

“I love, love, love what you are doing with the Star Wars series, but may I offer one small criticism? I feel that one of the most charming aspects of the original movie’s ending was the sweet affection between Luke and Princess Leia. However, in your comic series they act more like young brother and sister than sweethearts…”

Reina A.Greene, Alexandria, Va.

(Originally published in  Marvel’s Star Wars #24, June 1979!)

It’s tough to be a cyborg

#16, #27, #29:“The Hunter” Oct 78; “Return of the Hunter” Sep 79; “DarkEncounter” Nov 79. Writer:Goodwin (all). Penciller: Walt Simonson (#16), Infantino (#27, #29). Inker: Wiacek (all), Letterer: Wohl (#16), Costanza (#27, #29). Colorist:  Sharen (#16), Petra Goldberg (#27), Wein (#29).

Bounty hunters and droids have always been popular with Star Wars fans; little surprise, then, that the best original character from Goodwin’s time on the series involved elements of both. Further developing the theme of bigotry against “non-organics,” Goodwin introduced Valance, a former Imperial stormtrooper whose injuries turned him into a self-loathing cyborg. None of the Star Wars cast even appear (except in collage) in his origin issue, in which he discovers that Luke destroyed the Death Star and determines to put an end to the “droid-lover” once and for all.

He would nearly do it, if not for the heroic intervention of See-Threepio — an act which causes a change of heart in Valance. Sparing Luke, he redirects his efforts to keeping Vader from learning Luke’s identity as the destroyer of the Death Star.

Vader would have wrung the information from the only Rebel deserter from that battle (another insightful concept on Goodwin’s part) if not for Valance’s self-sacrificial intervention in issue #29. “The boy you seek,” he tells Vader in battle, “the one with the droids… is good, and he’s growing.Someday, he’ll be your equal, or your better. Any delay works in his favor, increases his chances. Any delay…”

If you knew Jabba like we knew Jabba…

#28:“Whatever Happened to Jabba the Hut?” Oct 79. Writer: Goodwin. Penciller: Infantino. Inker: Day. Letterer: Costanza. Colorist: Wein.

Most notable as the only full-length story in the series featuring the “Mark I” or monkey-like Jabba, this basic space-termites-eating-the-starship story culminates in Jabba canceling Solo’s debt. Just to keep things straight, Jabba reneges on that agreement in the last pre-Empire continuity page of the series, in issue #37.

Games of Tagge

#25-26, #30-37:“Seige [sic] at Yavin!” Jul 79; “Doom Mission!” Aug 79; “A Princess Alone” Dec 79; “Return to Tatooine” Jan 80; “The Jawa Express” Feb 80; “Saber Clash!” Mar 80; “Thunder in the Stars” Apr 80; “Dark Lord’s Gambit” May 80; “Red Queen Rising!” Jun 80; “In Mortal Combat!” Jul 80. Writer: Goodwin (all). Penciller: Infantino (all). Inker: Day (#25, #30, #33, #35-37), Wiacek (#26, #31-32, #34). Letterer: Rosen (#25, #30, #34), Costanza (#26, #32-33, #35-37), Jim Novak (#31). Colorist: Ben Sean (#25), Goldberg (#26, #30, #32-34, #36), Gafford (#31), Nelson Yomtov (#35, #37).

Archie Goodwin provided Commander Tagge, an officer appearing in one scene on the Death Star, with a powerful family whose intrigues serve as the basis for an entire year of stories. (Fans debated whether he was the one Vader put “the squeeze” on in that scene, but the novelization and screenplay differed as to whether he or Admiral Motti felt the pinch.)

Nastiest among them is Baron Orman Tagge, a lightsaber-wielding industrialist with cybernetic vision and a vendetta against the man who blinded him — Darth Vader. The Baron’s first plan to seize the Emperor’s favor, placing a turbine-generated starbase on Yavin for surprise attacks against the Alliance base on Yavin 4, brings the intervention of Luke piloting a surplus TIE-fighter.

Possibly the only Marvel Star Wars comic book to actually show The Emp
ire actively oppressing the general public was issue #30, in which Leia plants the seeds of revolution on one of Baron Tagge’s dreary factory planets. (Curiously, life in an Imperial factory looks a lot like THX-1138!)

A four-issue story arc takes Luke and company back to Tatooine, where Tagge’s inventor brother Silas thinks it’s as good a place as any to test his powerful new freeze ray. Luke engages Baron Tagge in lightsaber combat before racing to save the Alliance space fleet from being destroyed by a larger version of the freeze ray. (It wasn’t clear how spacecraft flying around in absolute zero temperatures could be given the chills… but, with all those noisy space battles going on, who notices physics?)

Vader finally learns Luke’s name as the final pre-Empire story arc begins. (For a feeling of déjà vu, check out Dark Horse’s StarWars: Vader’s Quest #1, to see it happen officially.) “Dark Lord’s Gambit” introduces Baron Tagge’s sister, Domina, whose manipulations bring both her family’s enemies, Luke and Vader, to her “Order of the Sacred Circle” religious compound where combat is forbidden. Both in diplomatic roles, Luke and Vader spar only verbally until, goaded into a trap by Domina intended to kill them both, Luke wisely decides he is not trained for a duel with Vader and make tracks for…

#38:“Riders in the Void!” Aug 80. Plot: Michael Golden. Writer: Goodwin. Penciller: Golden. Inker: Austin. Letterer: Rosen. Colorist: Golden.

…well, a fill-in issue. A format change in Marvel’s line necessitated bumping the announced start of the Empire adaptation by one issue, so Michael Golden contributed a beautifully rendered story of Luke and Leia’s awestruck encounter with a living spaceship outside their galaxy. Golden’s art included the series’ first technically correct Star Destroyers, which had been impressionistically depicted by previous artists as triangular wedges or oblate slabs. Still, it’s a Star Trek story being told here —the denizens of the Star Wars universe normally display a marked absence of any kind of sense of wonder when encountering alien life forms.

The Empire Strikes Back

#39-44: “The Empire Strikes Back” Sep 80; ”Battleground Hoth” Oct 80; “Imperial Pursuit” Nov 80; “To Be a Jedi!” Dec 80; “Betrayal at Bespin” Jan 81; “Duel a Dark Lord” Feb 81. Writer:Goodwin (all). Art: Al Williamson (all), Carlos Garzon (all). Letterer: Novak (#39), Rick Veitch (#40-44). Colorist: Wein (all).

The first place thousands of film fans probably saw the title of the second film was in the letters column of Star Wars #25. Beginning with issue #39, readers got the series’ take on the genuine article.

Marvel went with a single art team for the six-issue adaptation, with Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon sharing pencilling and inking duties — switching sometimes from panel to panel. 

As with Star Wars, some material adapted in the comic book was cut from the film version. Here, it’s a battle between the local Hoth wildlife and the Rebels who’ve recently settled there. Readers who have both the paperback edition and the comics versions of this adaptation will notice differences, as well, since some drawings in the paperback edition — such as Yoda — were based only on early production paintings. They were redrawn for the later-releasing comics, since finished film reference visuals had become available.

Text pieces and pin-ups fill out issues during this period.

Intermission

#45-50: “Death Probe” Mar 81; “The Dreams of Cody Sunn-Childe!” Apr 81; “Droid World!” May 81; “The Third Law” Jun 81; “The Last Jedi!” Jul 81, “The Crimson Forever!” Aug 81. Writer:Goodwin (#45, #47, #50), Wally Lombego (#46), Larry Hama (#48), Mike W. Barr (#49). Penciller: Infantino (#45-48), Simonson (#49-50), Williamson (#50). Inker: Day (#45, #47); Stone (#45); Palmer (#46, #49-50), Garzon (#48). Letterer: Costanza (#45), Diana Albers (#46), Parker (#47-48), Shelley Leferman (#49), Ed Stuart (#50). Colorist: Wein (#45-48), Don Warfield (#49-50) Christie Scheele (#49).

Although they finally had new film material to draw from, writers of the continuing series faced added challenges after Empire. Given Empire’s downbeat conclusion, the sometimes wild-and-woolly space opera tales of the Thomas/Goodwin era inevitably had to give way to more appropriately sober stories. Ofgreater difficulty was, as letter-writer Kevin Dooley observed in issue #47’s letters column, the fact that “no definite answers can be given to the burning questions that plague the minds of fans of the Star Wars saga” during the three publishing years between Empire and its sequel. This period saw several stories altered or rejected by Lucasfilm’s publications division, as writers unwittingly intruded upon story territory staked out for Revenge of the Jedi, as it was then called.

The series approached the beginning of this “intermission” phase tentatively, with single-issue stories that, with the exception of the inclusion of new ships and characters, could have appeared anywhere in the run. Goodwin, who’d stepped down as editor to handle Marvel’s Epic Comics line, contributed the first post-Empire tale involving a souped-up Imperial probe droid. Writer Wally Lombego interrupted Lando Calrissian and Chewie’s search for Han Solo with an implausible encounter with a tiny alien creature whose “inner demons” can get out and rip apart entire StarDestroyers. Goodwin sent a planet of droids into revolt, and Larry Hama put Leia and Vader in a tale of intrigue on a banking planet.Mike W. Barr found a more sympathetic failed Jedi for issue #49’s story, but heavy inking and garish coloring conspired to make it nearly illegible in places.

Of all the post-Empire Marvel stories, only Goodwin’s last story for the series, “The Crimson Forever” in double-sized issue #50, makes any substantive reference to the comics continuity established before Empire. (“Star Wars has such a sense of forward motion,” said later writer Jo Duffy in a Comics Buyer’s Guide interview,“with this great galactic war driving the action, that there really wasn’t much impulse to cover old ground, as there might be in super-hero comics.”) In “Crimson Forever,” a vengeful Domina Tagge resurfaces and unleashes an infectious disease on the new Rebel base, and only through a flashback starring Han does the cast learn of a cure. Readers would see quite a few Solo flashback stories during this “intermission”…

 

Too good a question

#51-52: “Resurrection of Evil” Sep 81;  “To Take the Tarkin” Oct 81. Writer:David Michelinie (all). Penciller: Simonson (all). Inker: Palmer (all). Letterer: John Morelli (all). Colorist: Warfield (all).

David Michelinie joined the editorial team with a heck of a good question: Why didn’t the Empire just build another, non-vulnerable Death Star? Or a dozen of them?

As viewers of Return of the Jedi know, this was a prime case of the comics writer coming too close to the plans of the filmmaker. “Lucasfilm communicated through Weezy [series editor Louise Simonson] that they’d rather not do that,” said Michelinie in a CBG interview. “They didn’t say specifically that they’d be doing a Death Star in the next movie, but we had to assume it would be something similar.”

The ambitious Michelinie storyline (which included a cadre of frightened Imperial commanders out to frag Vader, another clever idea) was altered so that only the Death Star’s giant ion cannon, dubbed The Tarkin, remained.

What about Alderaan?

#53-54: “The Last Gift from Alderaan” Nov 81; “Starfire Rising!” Dec 81.  Writer:Claremont (all). Penciller: Infantino (all), Simonson (all). Inker: Kupperberg (#53), Palmer (all), Frank Giacoia (#54), Al Milgrom (#54). Letterer: Leferman (#53), Burzon (#54). Colorist: Wein (all).

With all these issues to fill following Star Wars, it’s hard to believe it took four years — and Chris Claremont — to remember to let Leia grieve over the destruction of her homeworld. Crash-landing in a John Carter of Mars-type story, Leia gets to dress regal in the planetary warlord’s palatial court by day while unloading her grief over Alderaan on his shoulder by night. About time, but many letter-writers objected to her dalliance with the Warlord — and another with a prince back in issue #49 — as inappropriate, given Han’s predicament. Clearly,  many readers weren’t willing to accept any social life for Leia between movies at all.

Now, Luke, on the other hand…

She’s a great girl, Dad… You’ll like her!

#55-63: “Plif!” Jan 82; “Coffin in the Clouds” Feb 82; “Hello, Bespin, Good-Bye!” Mar 82; “Sundown” Apr 82; “Bazarre” May 82; “Shira’s Story” Jun 82; “Screams in the Void” Jul 82; “Pariah!” Aug 82; “The Mind Spider!” Sep 82. Writer:Michelinie (all). Penciller, co-plotter: Simonson (all). Inker: Palmer (all). Letterer: Rosen (#55-57, #59-62), Chiang (#58). Colorist: Warfield (#55, #58-59), Wein (#56-57, #60-62).

Now the series’ regular scripter, Michelinie, and co-plotter WalterSimonson shrewdly delayed the search for Han Solo, as the Star Warriors looked for a new secret location for the Rebel base. “Plif!” introduced the Hoojibs, a burgeoning race of pleasant telepathic rabbits who lend their planet, Arbra, to the Alliance as an interim base.

“We got a letter from someone upset that we’d borrowed the idea for the Hoojibs from one of the Robert Heinlein juvenile novels, one I hadn’t even read,” Michelinie said. “If I’d known, I’d have worked some kind of tribute in the name. I had an Iron Man story with a time-delay talking bomb similar to Heinlein’s 30-second bomb from Starship Troopers, so I called it an Anson bomb after Heinlein’s middle name.” The Hoojib story was later adapted into a children’s record produced by another licensee, he added.

A funny two-issue story has Lando returning to Cloud City to find Ugnaughts planting, coincidentally, talking bombs everywhere in a labor dispute, and the situation goes from dire to comic after a balloon-riding Ugnaught news crew with Irish accents shows up.  The storyline also introduces Shira Brie, a Rebel pilot whose fondness for Luke makes Leia nervous.

Michelinie and Simonson continued to alternate dramatic and comedic plots: a wildly risky attempt to hide the rebel fleet in Arbra’s sun is followed by a lighthearted encounter with a triple-dealing smuggler.

All the while, the romantic bond between Luke and Shira grows, until “Screams in the Void,” when Luke is guided by The Force to shoot her spaceship down. In arguably the most dramatic storyline of the series, Luke is branded a pariah for murdering Shira and is drummed out of the Rebellion, with only Chewie, his droids, and Lando (who knows what it means to be distrusted by the Alliance) willing to help him clear his name.  Luke’s investigations lead him inevitably to Darth Vader — and the knowledge that Luke’s continued involvement with Shira would have had Vader’s blessing, so to speak — so The Force steered Luke well.  It’s an excellent story arc and one deserving future reprinting.

#64-66:“Serphidian Eyes” Oct 82; Golrath Never Forgets!” Nov 82; “The WaterBandits!” Dec 82. Plot: Michael Fleisher (#64), Michelinie (#65-66), Simonson (#66). Writer:Michelinie (all) Penciller: Joe Borzowski (#64), Palmer (#65), Simonson (#66). Inker: Vince Colletta (#64), Palmer (#65-66). Letterer: Rosen (#64-65), Janice Chiang (#66). Colorist: Wein (all).

The more serious Shira Brie storyline completed, the series wanders into familiar territory with takes on Arthurian (“Serphidian Eyes”) and Western (“The Water Bandits”) genres. One of Michelinie’s favorite stories from this run, “Golrath Never Forgets” includes the concept of image-recording rocks and memorably depicts how rotten being an Imperial officer has become — the more you advance, the closer you get to Darth Vader!

Looking for Han in all the wrong places

#67-72, #79:“The Darker” Jan 83; “The Search Begins” Feb 83; “Death in the City of Bone” Mar 83; “The Stenax Shuffle” Apr 83; “Return to Stenos” May 83; “Fool’s Bounty” Jun 83; “The Big Con” Jan 84. Writer:David Michelinie (#67-69), Jo Duffy (#70-72, #79). Penciller: Ron Frenz (#67, #71-72, #79), Day (#68-69), Kerry Gammill (#70), Palmer (#70). Inker: Palmer (all). Letterer: Rosen (all). Colorist:  Wein (#67-70, #79), Scheele (#71), Stan G. (#
72).

With the release of Return of the Jedi now less than a year away, the writing staff felt more comfortable about launching the search for Han Solo in earnest. (An earlier worry, that Harrison Ford’s participation in Jedi was in question, was no longer at issue, Duffy said.) Lucasfilm had declared Han’s captor, Boba Fett, to be hands-off, so Michelinie sent the cast in search of possible Fett associates Bossk, IG-88, and Dengar, bounty hunters more familiar from their Kenner action figures than from their one scene as extras in Empire.

Leia chases Dengar to Fett’s home planet, where encountering a Fett look-alike dashes her hopes. (The story may possibly be innovative artist Gene Day’s last published work before his untimely death.)

Joining the series as writer, Jo Duffy used the search for Bossk  and IG-88 to provide another flashback story involving Han Solo. (Counting Annual #2, that’s one a year during his icy rest. Duffy said, “We couldn’t show the ‘popsicle’ [Han in carbonite] but we found plenty of ways to work Han appearances in the story, from wanted posters to carbonite red-herrings.”)

Duffy introduced a pirate band that includes Dani, a voluptuous, red-skinned woman whose unrequited interest in Luke will make the young Jedi uncomfortable for issues to come. “Return to Stenos” introduces Drebble, an insufferable swindler whose identity Lando subsequently uses whenever he’s doing anything remotely questionable. When Bossk and IG-88 momentarily turn the tables on Luke and Lando in “Fool’s Bounty” and prepare to carbon-freeze them as Han was frozen, one has to wonder how practical this method of prison transfer was. Of course, we saw what Chewie did with handcuffs in Star Wars…

The quest for Han continues in Duffy’s “The Big Con,” and Lando’s attemptto flush out information about Han’s location by describing him as a famous finder of rare antiquities is a clever reminder of what Harrison Ford was really doing between StarWars movies!

No cuddly creatures!

#73:“Lahsbane” Jul 83. Writer:Jo Duffy (#73). Penciller: Ron Frenz (#73). Inker: Palmer (#73). Letterer: Rosen (#73). Colorist:  Wein (#73).

Duffy ran into her own dilemma of second-guessing Lucas by creating the Lahsbees, a cuddly race of short, fuzzy creatures with a yen for hang gliders and a hidden mean streak. Lucasfilm required cosmetic alterations in the Lahsbees before the story was approved, Duffy said, clueing her and Editor Louise Simonson in that some from of diminutive bear creatures would appear in the upcoming film.

The Lahsbees that appeared in this issue’s story were colored in pink and blue according to their gender and bore little resemblance to Jedi’s Ewoks apart from their height.

The home stretch

#74-78, #80:“The Iskalon Effect” Aug 83; “Tidal” Sep 83; “Artoo-Detoo to the Rescue” Oct 83; “Chanteuse of the Stars” Nov 83; “Hoth Stuff!” Dec 83; “The Big Con” Jan 84; “Ellie” Feb 84. Writer:Duffy (#74-77, #80), Michelinie (#78). Penciller: Frenz (#74-77, #80), Luke McDonnell (#78). Inker: Palmer (#74-77, #80), Bob Layton (#78). Letterer: Rosen (all). Colorist:  Wein (all).

Return of the Jedi hit theaters May 25, 1983, but, since Marvel had decided to publish the adaptation as one of its burgeoning number of limited series in 1983, the comic-book continuity couldn’t reflect the events of the film until after the mini-series ended its run. But with Jedi #1 cover-dated October — possibly to give the Super Special edition time to sell out — pre-Return stories continued until issue #80.

Duffy used this period to send the cast to another waterworld, Iskalon — Luke has learned to swim by now — to search for a  Tay Vanis, a missing Rebel courier.  Vanis’ secret cargo goes unrevealed, as the Star Warriors’ search leads them into encounters with a hot-headed water-breather named Kiro and a comic tale in which Leia poses as a nightclub singer.

Finally, in the last pre-Jedi story, Vanis’ cargo is discovered: information tapes obtained by Bothan spies. It’s implicit to viewers of Jedi — out six months by this time — that these tapes contain The Empire’s plans for the second Death Star. “I knew they would be the DeathStar plans, but I didn’t want to step on Lucasfilm’s toes at all by giving away one of the movie’s secrets,” Duffy said. Especially in light of what happened with Marvel’s Jedi release…

The Jedi returns — but just a bit too soon!

Producing comics based on licensed properties also presented special concerns on the business side of publishing, as the premature release of Al Williamson’s Return of the Jedi adaptation, Marvel Comics Super Special #27, contributed to nervous moments for Marvel. As reported in Comics Buyer’s Guide #497 (May 27, 1983), comics fan Mark Hamill discovered copies on sale a month prior to the release of the film and alerted Lucasfilm. According to Carol Kalish, Marvel’s direct-sales manager,  Marvel representatives swung into action to get the magazine off the stands upon learning of the error. Unfortunately, this and other security lapses unrelated to the comics market resulted in the premature revelation of many of the film’s secrets.

StarWars:Return of the Jedi #1-4:“In the Hands of Jabba the Hutt!” Oct 83; “The Emperor Commands!” Nov 83; “Mission to Endor!” Dec 83; “The Final Duel!” Jan 84. Writer:Goodwin (all). Art: Williamson (all), Garzon (all). Letterer: Ed King (all). Colorist: Scheele (all), Sharen (all).

The Goodwin/Williamson story, shortest of all the Marvel adaptations, was stretched to a four-issue limited series through the addition of pin-ups.

Disney World?

#81-91:“Jawas of Doom” Mar 84; “Diplomacy” Apr 84; “Sweetheart Contract” May 84; “Seoul Searching” Jun 84; “The Hero” Jul 84; “The Alderaan Factor” Aug 84; “Still Active after All These Years” Sep 84; “Figurehead” Oct 84; “I’ll See You in the Throne Room” Nov 84; “The Choice” Dec 84; “Wookiee World” Jan 85. Writer:Duffy (#81-82, #85, #87-88,
#90-91), Linda Grant (#83), Roy Richardson (#84), Randy Stradley (#86), Ann Nocenti (#89). Penciller: Frenz (#81-82), Bob McLeod (#83, #85-86, #88, #90), David Mazzucchelli (#84), Palmer (#87), Bret Blevins (#89), Tony Salmons (#91). Inker: Palmer (#81, #84-88, #90-91), McLeod (#83), Blevins (#89), Tom Mandrake (#81), several (#82). Letterer: Rosen (#81-82, #89), McLeod (#83), Parker (#84-88, #90), Ken Bruzenak (#91). Colorist: Ken Feduniewicz (#81-82), Wein (#83-86, #89, #91), Michael Higgins (#87), J. Ferriter (#88), Sharen (#90).

You’ve saved the galaxy. Now what do you do? Go to Disney World? Of course, they did, after a fashion… but the Star Wars thrill ride was still a few years off.

For Marvel staffers, the challenge was crafting interesting stories in a universe that, in late 1983, seemed to be both at equilibrium and on its creator’s back burner. “Instead of having to do the Rebels versus the Empire every go-round,” Duffy said in an interview in Marvel Age #10, “which was a great thing to do since it was a compelling storyline — we can do individual slice-of-life stories on different worlds. We can pick two, three, four, six members of our team and let them have an adventure that maybe doesn’t relate to the political struggle.”

For starters, Duffy sends Han and Leia back to Tatooine to reclaim funds he stashed there to pay back Jabba with. He learns, cutely enough, that his accounts have been “frozen.” (Curiously, commerce in the Star Wars universe — such as the issuance of currency — appears to be completely unrelated to whichever government’s in power.) The Sarlacc regurgitates Boba Fett long enough to play the black hat in “Jawas of Doom” — then swallows him again.

Duffy also bewilders Lando by having the Alliance accidentally reward Drebble for his own heroic exploits while using his old foe’s name as an alias.

Diplomacy comes to the fore, as the cast takes on the reponsibility of inviting civilizations to join the New Republic. Luke meets Kiro again on one of these journeys, and the water-breather determines to become Luke’s Jedi pupil.

Leia encounters remnants of the Empire acting in concert with slavers, and Han, Lando, and Chewie encounter slavers again in “Wookie World,” the series’ first trip to Chewie’s home planet Kazhyyyk. While this tale’s idea of a villainous Wookiee is intriguing, its comics form tended toward confusion. It may not be a politically correct sentiment, but it’s tough to tell one Wookiee from another!

All this galavanting around comes at a cost, as Mon Mothma and the Alliance leadership decide in “The Choice” to go ahead and start the New Republic without the input of Luke and company.

Threats old, threats new

#93-107:“Catspaw” Mar 85; “SmallWars” Apr 85; “No Zeltrons” May 85; “Duel with a Dark Lady” Jun 85; “Escape” Jul 85; “Supply and Demand” Aug 85; “Touch of the Goddess” Sep 85; “First Strike” Oct 85; “Far, Far Away” Nov 85; “School Spirit” Dec 85; “Tai” Jan 86; “Nagais and Dolls” Mar 86; “The Party’s Over” May 86; “My Hiromi” Jul 86; “All Together Now” Sep 86. Writer:Duffy (#93-97, #99-107), Goodwin (#98). Penciller: Sal Buscema (#93, #102), Cynthia Martin (#94-97, #100-105, #107), Williamson (#98), Frenz (#99), Leialoha (#105). Inker: Palmer (#93-94), Leialoha (#95), Wiacek (#96), Art Nichols (#97, #100-102), Williamson (#98), Sam DeLaRosa (#99-100, #102), Ken Steacy (#105-106), Whilce Portacio (#107), uncredited (#104). Letterer: Parker (#93-94, #97, #100-103), Ed King (#98), Orzechowski(#104-107). Colorist: Glynis Oliver (#94-96, #98-99, #101, #104-105), Petra Scotese (#93, #97, #100, #102), M.Wrightson (#103), Daina Graziunus (#106), Elaine Lee (#107).

Duffy brings together subplots involving the slave trade and remnants of the Empire in 1985 by introducing the Nagai, a race of ninja types who serve both the Empire and Lumiya, the whip-wielding cyborg introduced in issue #88. Luke discovers in battle that Lumiya was formerly Shira Brie, who barely survived the events of issue #61 and hates him for his role in the death of Vader, but he’s unable to convince her of Vader’s eventual redemption.

The Nagai launch an invasion on the Alliance base on Endor’s moon in the double-sized 100th issue. A half-Correllian, half-Nagai childhood friend of Han’s named Bey gets caught in the middle.

As the battle with the Nagai spreads, a comical race of bipedal insects, the Hiromi, blunders into the middle of the dispute.

Japanese influences pervade this story arc, and Duffy said she felt it was in keeping with samurai story origins of Star Wars. “This was before the craze when every comic book had to have a ninja,” she said. (The Nagai were named after Japanese comics creator Go Nagai, and the Hiromi and the planet Seiji were named after Go Hiromi and Hideki Saijo, musicians whose work Duffy said got her through late-night scripting sessions.)

By the time Duffy wrapped the storyline up in the series’ final issue, she had created dozens of supporting characters and numerous races, many appearing in more panels  than the Star Warriors themselves — particularly Chewie and the droids, who make mostly cameos in the final year.

The Star titles

Marvel’s foray into publishing children’s comics in the mid-1980s allowed it to expand its StarWars line. Ewoks, possibly the only Star Wars comic book not to include “Star Wars” in its proper title, launched in May 1985 as one of the first Star titles. David Manak chronicled the adventures of Ewoks Wicket, Teebo, and Princess Kneesa on the wooded moon of Endor. Unlike Return of the Jedi, the Ewoks spoke English and battled magical foes.

In an era including Care Bears, the Getalong Gang, Smurfs, Snorks, and a host of other diminutive adventurers, there was little to distinguish Ewoks, and, despite being what Marvel Age called in 1986 “one of the Star line’s most popular titles,” Ewoks was canceled by fall of 1987.

Manak also wrote Star Wars: Droids, which began an eight-issue run in 1986 in support of a Saturday-morning cartoon. C-3PO and R2-D2, whose appearances in the comic book were based on the TV series, appeared in stand-alone adventure stories taking place before the events of StarWars.

Spider-Man artist John Romita Sr. was the initial artist
of the series. Romita said in a 1986 interview he’d asked editors for a change-of-pace series, and, indeed, the children’s title was like nothing he’d ever worked on before. “I didn’t expect to be doing robots and spaceships, but it’s fun,” he said.

License unrenewed

A combination of frustrations led to Marvel’s cancellation of the title. Saleswise, Star Wars had become a middle-tier title at Marvel by the mid-1980s, topping 100,000 regularly, but was in gradual decline, and momentum of the license itself was waning. With the long-promised film “prequels” still more than a decade off — and with licensing blitzes surrounding video releases and Shadows of the Empire a phenomenon of the 1990s — fans found other “universes” to attract their attention.

For its part, Marvel chafed at its licensor’s commandment against certain substantial plot developments that could have translated to sales. The issue of Luke and Leia’s parentage was not to be addressed, Duffy said, and neither the Empire nor the Jedi Knights could be revived in any substantive manner. Also, by 1986 Marvel was seeking to free creative talents for its impending NewUniverse launch.

Another ongoing problem was that, by 1986, World Color Press had switched many Marvel titles   to its Flexographic presses. In the early days of its application to four-color comics, Flexo often led to colors appearing garish and blotchy on the printed page. In Star Wars, colored inks often overpowered Cynthia Martin’s minimalist pencils (and even lettering in places), making some copies difficult to read.

When the series went bimonthly with issue #103 — just as the black-and-white comics explosion was beginning — the decision to cancel the series at #107 had already been made. “I had tragic and heroic life stories left to tell with these characters,” Duffy said. “I was in the middle of writing #107 when I found out I’d have to wrap everything up in one issue. I was very disappointed that readers wouldn’t get to see what we had in store.”

Did they “happen”?

Are these stories “canonical” in current Star Wars legend? The quick answer has always been no, but there have been exceptions. Some characters, such as Lumiya, from the Marvel issues have appeared in Star Wars Galaxy trading cards, for example, and Andy Mangels has incorporated some into Lucasfilm tomes cataloging the Star Wars universe.

[2005 update: Since Dark Horse’s reprinting of the entire Marvel series in a line of trade paperbacks a couple of years ago, ever more elements from the Marvel line have found their way into continuity. The Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Role-PlayingGame Alien Anthology even has an entry for Jaxxon’s species!

In addition to the trade paperback reprints, Dark Horse had done earlier reprintings of the Marvel work. It integrated Alan Moore’s Star Wars stories done for Marvel UK into its line by publishing Star Wars: Devilworlds. And in March 1999, Dark Horse began a six-issue monthly series, Classic StarWars: A Long Time Ago…, reprinting three to four Marvel stories per issue. The 96-page reprints are in black-and-white with new color covers and are smaller in size than traditional comic books, 51/4” by 83/4”. In an unusual move, however, the publisher limited the availability of these editions to comic-book stores by tying them to another of its product launches, a line of translated Italian comic-books licensed from Bonelli. Under the promotion, retailers could only receive A Long Time Ago… equal to the quantities of the Italian comics. North American comics shops, notoriously cautious about unfamiliar merchandise and conservative already following one of their industry’s downcycles, ordered only enough to guarantee perhaps 6,000 copies of A Long Time Ago… entering the market. That makes these reprints some of the rarest Star Wars comics around.

Dark Horse technically has the ability to reprint all previous Star Wars comics, but it has not yet dealt with the Blackthorne 3-D material, to this writer’s knowledge.]

While the sometimes fascinating, sometimes schizophrenic Marvel era resulted in strong sales in the beginning, helping to bring the hobby back from the doldrums of the 1970s, they weren’t for everyone. Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson said in a 1997 interview that the uneven track record of the Star Wars comics published previously is one of the things that led Dark Horse to seek the license — and to try to do them better. Indeed, one of the most valid criticisms of the Marvel line remains that the stories were often better comic-book stories than they were Star Wars stories. That may be true — but fans who fondly remember those issues may agree that wasn’t such a bad problem to have.

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One Response to CBG #1216 (’97): A look back at Marvel’s Star Wars comics

  1. hourman1940 says:

    I could never understand why the giant green rabbit was considered so bad Lucas Films threw him out, but Jar Jar was considered a good idea.

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