[Scott continues his series. He would like to remind everyone that the 'Rememberance of Comics Past' banner is open to anyone who would like to revisit a favorite comic of their childhood, whether it be a series or just a single issue]
Princess Leia flying her very own Y-Wing with C-3PO as her co-pilot, Lando Calrisian: Master of Disguise, Mandalorians with Scottish accents, Luke Skywalker with a companion who is, basically, a telepathic bunny rabbit known as a Hoojib…. Where did I get all of this? From some fever dream I had as the result of eating too much Hawaiian Pizza and falling asleep watching a Star Wars marathon on Spike TV? Nope. These stories all actually happened in Marvel’s Star Wars comics of the late seventies and early 80’s.
The series, which picked up as a continuation of Marvel’s adaptation of the original Star Wars and lasted from 1977-1986 and actually helped keep Marvel afloat in a sales slump, pre-dated the strict canonical continuity that exists today in the ‘Expanded Star Wars Universe’. For the record, as big a Star Wars fan as I am, I never really got into the ‘Expanded Universe’; I’ve only read one Star Wars novel and I picked it up because, looking at the description, it seemed to be an adaptation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness only with Mace Windu (which it totally was, still not really worth the read though). On the DVD commentary of the original Star Wars (I’m a purist so it’s always ‘Star Wars’ to me… not ‘A New Hope’) George Lucas himself pointed out that one of the beauties of the movies was that you were sort of thrown into this strange world without any real explanation of what was going on; you were given just enough information so you understood what was going on but the rest was sort of left up to your imagination (Ironically, he would later spend three whole films explaining what was going on).
In the years following the original films up through the prequel trilogy, a ‘canon’ of events was eventually established. Ultimately, this canon was all at the whim of the big G with the stories he wanted to tell in his films taking precedence above the stories others may wish to tell. However, in between the original films, Marvel was given only two directives: Never allow Luke to directly confront Darth Vader and Don’t Depict The Clone Wars in any real detail.
As a result, the stories from this period are much closer to the original Space Opera genre that inspired the franchise to begin with; these stories have a lot more in common with old Flash Gordon strips than with what most people have come to associate with Star Wars. There is no meditation on the nature of good and evil, no explanation of the various socio-political workings of the galactic senate; we simply follow our heroes from adventure to adventure on one strange new world to another.
The stories in the particular volumes that I own (which collects issues 68-107; late 1982 to 1986) aren’t GREAT by any means; while earlier periods in the series had been handled comics legends like Archie Goodwin, Howard Chaykin and Carmine Infantino (even Chris Claremont contributed a few scripts), by this point, the series had been entrusted to industry workhorses like Dave Micheline and Ron Frenz (I chose these particular volumes based, not on creative talent, but because I remember owning a few of the actual issues when I was a kid). Still, they are a lot of fun.
Not only were the stories in these volumes different in tone, but the overall visual of the Star Wars universe we see here is very different. Today, the Star Wars universe has a clearly established architecture and design sensibility that most artist telling stories in the ‘Expanded Canon’ today tend to adhere to. However, the artist during this period have a lot more freedom of creating the look of the Star Wars universe; sure, the familiar designs of key crafts and technology are there but when new ships and technology are introduced, the designs are very different from what we’re used to seeing in the films.
The result of this is that the Marvel comic series is sort of an ‘Alternate’ Star Wars universe; the Earth-2 Star Wars if you will. Writers were also free to, without making any modifications to key characters, tell whatever kind of story they liked; one story contributed by Ann Nocenti seems like it could have very easily been a repurposed Conan or Red Sonja script, just with a lightsaber and a spaceship thrown in.
One of the things that always appealed to me about the Star Wars universe was the possibility of the stories you could tell. This was, in part, what was so genius about the toy line: they made figures of EVERY character no matter how miniscule their role (also, it’s important to remember that while every summer blockbuster now has toys and other merchandise attached to it, Star Wars was the first film to fully realize and take advantage of this marketing technique). Around the time of the prequels, Lucas was accused of making movies “Just to sell toys,” a trend that has reached horrendous proportions as we have movies like GI Joe and Transformers that are literally based on toy lines. However, if one looks back at the way the original Star Wars was marketed, it was just the opposite: the toys were used to sell the movies. I know I had plenty of the toys before I ever saw one of the movies (In fact, as my Dad tells the story, I used to simply call them “Space Men” and, only later, did I discover that these “Space Men” had a movie). As a kid, you could build a whole little universe with these toys. You didn’t just act out scenes from the movies, you created your own new adventures and you weren’t bound by continuity or the whims of George Lucas.
To a lesser extent, the Marvel Star Wars series was also a part of this marketing of imagination.