Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars Week: Star Wars #15: "Star Duel" Marvel

The Marvel-produced Star Wars comic book of the late 1970s wasn't always good. That's for sure. The series suffered from a distinct lack of direction immediately after the adaptation of the blockbuster film; particularly in regards to a silly regurgitation of The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven involving Han Solo and other mercenaries (including one who looked like a giant green Bugs Bunny...) combating a giant behemoth on Tattooine.

But when the Star Wars comic-book series was good, it was very good indeed.

Case in point is one of my favorite issues, numbered #15. It's titled "Star Duel" and was first published in September of 1978 (just months before I would soon turn nine years old).

This issue completes a lengthy, multi-issue story arc involving Luke Skywalker and a war on a distant water planet, as well as Han Solo's deadly rivalry with a menacing, scarlet-bearded villain called Crimson Jack. "Star Duel" is written by Archie Goodwin and the artists are Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin.

As "Star Duel" picks up, the planetary war is over, but Crimson Jack -- a space pirate with a stolen star destroyer at his command -- has finally caught up with his Corellian nemesis, Han Solo. At Jack's side is a gorgeous but conflicted space pirate lass named Jolli. She claims she wants Solo dead too (for a recent betrayal when he was her prisoner...), but the fact is...she's in love with him.

As the issue commences, Jack plans to launch an aerial attack (led by Jolli) on the sea-berthed Millennium Falcon (which is undergoing repairs by Chewie and C-3PO). Jolli pilots a Y-Wing against Solo, and this issue features several good character touches for her, including a brief flashback to her tragic youth; one that explains how Jolli became a space pirate and why she's always felt she needs to be "harder," and "tougher" than "any man around her."

The pitched battle between Han Solo and Crimson Jack rages from sea to air to space (with Luke manning the Falcon's turret guns again...), to a final one-on-one outer space quick draw finale -- a blaster duel - involving Solo and Jack. 

But it's Jolli who ultimately casts the deciding laser blast here, in a great (and uniquely touching) finale. The issue's final panel, involving a tender kiss (Jolli's first and last...) is an emotional showstopper. If you love Star Wars, and if you love these characters (especially if you've been following the comics...), this one packs a wallop.

Although undeniably scientifically inaccurate (Solo and Jack don't wear pressure suits during their duel in space, only masks, kinda like the Mynock scene in Empire), this story nonetheless has a lot going for it. There's some great (and forward-looking...) attention to detail. For instance, the droids are depicted in one panel on the exterior hull of the Millennium Falcon making repairs during space flight. I may have forgotten something, but I don't think we actually saw such a thing happening (besides R2 in his bucket back seat on an X-Wing...) until The Phantom Menace in 1999.

"Star Duel" also reveals an assortment of captured spaceships re-purposed by Crimson Jack...and one of them is a TIE Bomber. Again, my memory banks may be failing me here, but I'm pretty sure we didn't see that make and model on screen until the asteroid pursuit of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980...over a year after this comic issue was released.

These instances of cross-media saga continuity certainly warm the heart of my inner geek, but the tragic love story of Han Solo and Jolli, played against the larger-than-life villainy of space pirate Crimson Jack speaks powerfully to my romantic side.

I have fond memories of being very young and reading, re-reading -- and then reading again -- this entire Marvel Star Wars story arc. 

I felt then, and I still feel now, that the climax of "Star Duel" really brings everything home in a wonderful and poignant way. This is a good story about human characters and the choices they make. It may be set against a cosmic landscape of combat, yet it feels intimate and personal. 

Such a mix is precisely what the franchise does best.

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