FEATURE: Expanding the Universe - Star Wars Issues #1-#6

Everyone has a story when it comes to Star Wars, and I'm certainly no different. But unlike most folks', which begins with it being the first film they saw in the cinema and that kind of thing, mine at least starts a little differently. It began with snowspeeders.

I don't really know for sure if The Empire Strikes Back was the first film I ever saw, or if it was the original Star Wars, but one of my earliest memories is of a grainy stretched image of the aforementioned snowspeeders rocketing over the snow plains of Hoth. It was grainy and stretched because it was a pirated VHS - this was 1982 - with poor quality and stretched due to the aspect ratio not being adjusted as with pan and scan. This was not the ideal way to view the film, but nevertheless, from that moment onwards I was a rabid fan of that galaxy far, far away. And yes, the first film I saw in a cinema was a Star Wars movie (Return of the Jedi to be precise). Now one of the direct offshoots of the pirate experience was my love affair with Marvel's run of Star Wars comics, specifically their reprints in the UK.

Star Wars was a huge deal for Marvel, but at the time it almost wasn't a deal at all. With the original film seen as a low-budget B-movie that was a potential disaster, Lucasfilm's marketing team went out to try and make deals with all sorts of merchandise companies to create tie-ins to raise awareness of the forthcoming film. They were turned down by a lot of people (toy company Mego for one), as well as Stan Lee at Marvel, and it wasn't until editor Roy Thomas went to Lee and showed him what Star Wars potentially had both in terms of story, but also monetary value.

Funnily enough, it actually was seen by many as saving Marvel from going under. Marvel's run was a huge undertaking, with a revolving creative team of people like Carmine Infantino, Al Williamson, Mary Jo Duffy, Howard Chaykin, and Archie Goodwin, and introduced a vast number of colourful characters to the universe, as well as adapting the three movies of the original trilogy. The Marvel series in the UK was published weekly rather than the usual monthly comics cycle, and as such we got a quarter of a story per week, which wasn't brilliant but at least it felt like better value because it was 20p per day as well as being magazine-sized. Also notable were the titles: while the US comic run was simply known as "Star Wars", the title of the UK mag changed dependent on which film was out at the time, there for we had Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of The Jedi weekly, with the latter being the one my mother used to buy for me from Tesco.

So this is both a voyage of nostalgia and discovery, as I go back through Marvel's run seeing what holds up, what doesn't, and whether any of it is as good as it used to be. If you have an mp3 of the Fox Fanfare, you should play that now.

Issue #1 - #6 - STAR WARS

#1: Star Wars; #2: Six Against The Galaxy; #3: Death Star; #4: In Battle With Darth Vader; #5: Lo, The Moons of Yavin; #6: The Final Chapter?

The first six issues of Star Wars were devoted to the adaptation of the original film, by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha. Like many comic adaptations, it was quite different in places to the film due to the huge lead-in periods for these kind of things. You actually wonder which cut was viewed - some scenes are in a different order, notably the "Help I think I'm melting!" line from C-3PO, which was originally to happen aboard the blockade runner but was switched to the TIE fighter attack near the end - here, it's back at the beginning.

It's also full of scenes cut from the film, notably new material concerning Luke Skywalker. While much of this has now been seen on the blu-ray (with the more hardcore geeks seeing it on the Behind The Magic CD-ROM) including the infamous Biggs scene, this was a major thing, especially after everyone who read the comic saw the film. We also get a glimpse at Jabba the Hutt, although instead of the Scottish actor in a furry costume, we instead get a different alien in his place, and a bipedal one at that.

The comic has a weird feel, not in an especially bad way, but it doesn't really feel a hundred percent like Star Wars. It captures the space opera part of it, and there's a certain throwback to the pulp stories and old westerns, especially with the dialogue. It's interesting reading the comic and seeing new lines filled in the space before and after existing lines (although there's nothing to say they weren't in the script), especially when they're illustrative - the scene where Princess Leia is captured, you have the stormtrooper saying "Set for stun!" as in the film, but Leia replies with "I've set mine to KILL!" - and it has a neat effect of adding a new dimension to the film, especially if, like me, you've seen it trillions of times.

One thing the comic doesn't fare so well in is capturing the innocent fairytale spirit of the film. It was something that seemingly felt so effortless, and I have a feeling it's very much to do with John Williams' musical score. Star Wars has been described many times, not least by George Lucas, as a silent film, and it's right on the nose. But with that, Williams' music fills in the narrative and emotional blanks not covered by the visuals, so when you have those memorable sequences, like when Princess Leia gives the tapes to Artoo (which has a strange narrated part intimating that C-3PO thinks Leia is “probably beautiful by human standards”, or even the most iconic part, Luke looking at the twin suns, the music supports the film so the comic either adds in dialogue or narration, or in the case of the latter, excises it completely.

The artwork is a strange beast. Credited to Chaykin and Leiahola, sometimes as illustrators, sometimes with Chaykin as illustrator and Leiahola as “embellisher”, it often seems like they were given sections, as the style changes like the wind. I prefer Chaykin's, as it has a bit of a rougher style, but Leiahola's is perhaps more traditional. It's all relatively faithful, give or take a few things. Chewie always looks more like an ape, especially as they use two-tone to distinguish his facial features, and there's a weird TIE fighter pilot who, with his/her elongated helmet and ear muffs, looks right out of a Polish film poster. The Millennium Falcon suffers a bit as well, with most of its surface detail wiped out, kind of missing the point about the style of the ship.

I do enjoy Thomas' dialogue and narration - it's very brash and fits in with the film's fast-talking dialogue style. The narration is fun and has to support the story a lot, so there's little bits like “like angry mosquitos, the rebel fighters streak upward from their hidden hangars” and “the rebel leader spoke earlier of its one weakness which may be exploited if the space gods are kind”. My favourite is the final panel, where as the gang get their medals (we're actually told Chewie will get one but Leia isn't tall enough to put it on) and it ends with “What the future holds for these six daring souls, only time and the space-winds know. But, for today... for now... they are content.” Poetry.

There are a few other inaccuracies – Luke's call-sign is 'Blue Five', which was actually the same as in the novel by Alan Dean Foster. I have a feeling that somewhere along the line they changed it to red due to the high use of bluescreen, so it's understandable. Also, all the lightsabers are pink, which is a bit of an odd choice. I'm guessing they saw footage before it was rotoscoped, so again, I can understand it. However, there are two inappropriate kiss klaxons throughout the story, although again, back then Leia wasn't any relation to Luke so it's not a massive deal. However, it does try and play it a bit more romantic, where both kisses in the film (at the chasm and on Yavin) were pecks on the cheek, this is as hot and heavy as it gets. Pretty sure they were smoking afterwards.

It's not a bad start, really. I've seen better and worse movie adaptations, but it captures the swashbuckling nature of the film fairly well, and it's a fun read. It's strange to see characters and events that you've spent your life revisiting reinterpreted, and if I have a big criticism, it's that the characters maybe weren't distilled down enough, especially with Luke. This doesn't really feel like his story, more that he's just one of the gang, which is perhaps a bit of a cardinal sin. But like the original film, it's a jumping off point with a galaxy full of potential for all kinds of stories. Who knows what we'll see?

Next: New Planets, New Perils!

- Charlie

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