Saturday, August 13, 2005

Saturday Comic-Book Flashback # 4: Marvel's Star Wars, Issue 1

Pictured here is the "fabulous first issue" of Marvel's Star Wars adaptation, from July of 1977. My copy, as you can no doubt tell from the illustration, is wrinkled, torn and tatty, because, well, I've had it since I was in third grade, or thereabouts. I've probably read this book dozens of times over the years, though lately its been stored in a plastic bag, on display in my home office.

Marvel Comics adapted the famous George Lucas film, "the greatest space-fantasy of all" in six parts back in 1977, with Roy Thomas scripting/editing and Howard Chaykin illustrating. What's kind of interesting (and you can see it from the cover art), is how much this visual interpretation of Stars Wars (both inside the book and on the cover...) deviates from the art design we're all so familiar with these days. On the cover illustration, for instance, Darth Vader's helmet is mysteriously forest green (and he has fiery flames in his eyes...), Princess Leia has red hair and no eye pupils - like she's a zombie or something - and Han Solo dons an orange shirt instead of a black vest and white shirt. Both Jedi light sabers are red, instead of blue. The design for the ships is also subtly different than what we're used to -- the Star Destroyer from the movie's opening attack over Tatooine looks in the comic more like a slice of pizza with a pyramid on top of it than the battle cruiser for the Galactic Empire.

But these, of course are quibbles. Often movie adaptations differ substantially from the actual movies, because artists have had the chance only to view production designs, not the actual film. And sometimes, writers work from an earlier draft of the script, or cut of the picture, as was the case with this first issue of Star Wars. For instance, on page 7, the issue presents us with Luke Skywalker's visit to the Tatooine metropolis of Anchorhead. There he meets his buddy Biggs Darklighter, and gets razzed by a tech chick who apparently gives Luke the nickname of "Wormie." Luke is there to tell the visiting Biggs (of the cruiser, Rand Ecliptic...) that he sighted a battle in the skies above Tatooine (Star Destroyer vs. Blockade Runner). In these scenes, Luke also wears - unfortunately - a Gilligan hat and big goggles.

Before Star Wars was available on VHS, or the script was produced by NPR for the radio, an additional scene like this one at Anchorhead - expanding the SW universe - was like a gift from Heaven. At that young age (eight, I guess...) I remember wanting more Star Wars, more Star Wars, more Star Wars. And every little detail, like the fact that Han Solo was a "Corellian" - which I gleaned from the Star Wars Storybook - was like a scrap of food for a starving man. This particular issue of Star Wars ends early in the film, at the point just before the introduction of Ben Kenobi, as Luke is beset by Sand People (Tusken Raiders), so it doesn't even dramatize the whole movie, but that doesn't reduce its importance or uniqueness for me. As a kid, I just read this thing over and over. To me, there's always something special about the beginning of a saga. About seeing how everything starts. I just find it fascinating.

Today, I appreciate the cover art on Star Wars # 1 a little more than I once did, in part because I like the blaring legend on the lower left side:

"Enter: Luke Skywalker! Will he save the galaxy or destroy it?"

I don't know how Marvel formulated this sentence, but in a way, it represents the very core of the Star Wars ethos as we know it today. Anakin Skywalker was once the great hope of the galaxy, before faltering and going down the path of the Dark Side, and at plenty of spots in the original trilogy (particularly in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) , we wonder if Luke will indeed repeat the same mistake, and succumb to that outstretched hand of Lord Darth Vader on Bespin. It's probably just happy coincidence that Marvel narrowed down the point of the still-fledgling series down to this valuable bit of copy, but boy does it hold up well today, now that we've seen all six episodes of the space epic.

Even today, I get a shiver from watching the original Star Wars, and in particular that early scene wherein Luke confronts his Uncle Owen. "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He's got too much of his father in him," warns kindly Aunt Beru. "That's what I'm afraid of..." replies Owen testily, his line carrying tons of foreboding. That exchange - which resonates throughout all six episodes of Lucas's work - appears in this issue of Marvel's Star Wars (which cost only 35 cents at the time...) on page 23, and it has lost none of its frisson today. In fact, it works better than ever, now that we've seen the fall of the Republic and the "birth" of Darth Vader.


  1. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Hi John,
    The summer of 1977 was certainly a magical time to be 12 or 13. There was a veritable explosion of sci-fi everywhere. We read those Star Wars comics too in the UK. My friend and I were totally into all this stuff. The scene were Luke meets Biggs and is nicknamed
    'Wormie' by some girl is also in the Star Wars novel that came out that year, which was written by George Lucas. The shortened version "for younger readers" (with a red cover) did'nt have it as far as I remember but the full version (with a white cover) did have it.

    Speaking of comics, in the same year the comic 2000ad came out in the UK and introduced Judge Dredd in the second issue. And of course Star Wars the film that summer! It just blew everyone away.

    Later that year I also got hooked on Logan's Run the tv series and developed a Heather Menzies crush:)
    I read your piece on it. This ended up being my favourite tv series ever. It was never aired again in the UK but after 28 years I have acquired it at last and saw it again only last week! Although camp and dated in places I am amazed how good it still looks and how well it holds up. Some super location photography, good writing, good effects and background music too. Really good pilot. It has a real charm and magic to it and is rather ambitious for a tv series. It is still a lot of fun.

    Sadly, and annoyingly, it was axed after only 14 eps of course. Still did better than the weird and wonderful Fantastic Journey, another 1977 treat, that only made 10 eps. This seems to be typical for a lot of tv sci-fi: as soon as ratings dip somewhat, narrow-minded studio execs seem to abandon everything and you are lucky if you get half a season.

    What is so damn frustrating now about watching these things again so many years later is that they leave you in mid air, wanting more, and there is no conclusion: you never find out what happened to your favourite characters or whether they found what they were looking for. It is like someone taking all the food away and clearing the table when you are only half way through the first course of a 4-course dinner! It happened again more recently with the Babylon spinoff 'Crusade', which seemed rather interesting but got axed. The classic early 70s UK series UFO did a bit better with some 17 or 18 eps. A cult status is more likely to develop though with fewer episodes.

    Anyway, ranting a bit but that was 1977--and it was great!:)
    Steve M

  2. Hey Steve!
    Good memories there. I definitely must acquire Logan's Run and The Fantastic Journey - two favorites from the 1970s. I'm interested to see how Logan holds up after all these years. I always liked Katie Saylor on Fantastic Journey a lot.:) Also a Roddy McDowall fan from the apes movies(and TV series of 1974).

  3. "Will he save the galaxy or destroy it?!?"

    I like the fact that this actually fits well into the SW universe ... but at the time, I fear it was just a bit of typical Stan Lee bombast. Can't you picture him ranting this line out to a cover artist who was already behind the deadline eight-ball?

    "Hey, kid, put this line in! We'll sell an extra 10,000 if you put this line in! ExCELsior!"

  4. As a little kid, I wondered what the hell that line ("Will he save the universe or destroy it?) had to do with Star Wars, but I think it fit by Empire/Return of the Jedi. Now of course, the line fits right in with the saga. But I don't think it was planned. At all.

  5. Hi John,

    Have you reviewed Babylon 5:Crusade? I searched for it but could find it. I'd like to know what you thought about that one.



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