I think it’s likely that virtually every child of a certain age owned copies of the above three comic book stories in 1977 and 1978. Not only did STAR WARS #1 represent the first Marvel comic book to sell over a million copies since the Golden Age but these issues were also collected in Treasury Editions and paperback book editions and every other way that it was possible to reprint them. The voracious appetite for these books was driven, of course, by the phenomenal reception that the film received, but also the fact that there was absolutely no STAR WARS merchandise to be had (believe it or not) so these books were just about all there was to be had right off the bat. Even kids who had no other comics–and, indeed, those who sneered at comic books–owned these issues in one format or another. They were ubiquitous.
My household got our set (one of a couple we’d have at different times) purchased for my brother Ken in a special 3-Bag at a Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Store. Marvel reprinted these books multiple times, and the 3-Bags containing them would be sold for literally months. This was right before the Christmas of 1977, famous for being the year when the manufacturing time on Star Wars action figures would mean they wouldn’t be available for the holidays and so the toy company offered empty boxes instead, with a coupon that you could send in for the actual figure–which would arrive when the toys were produced in May. Crazy, right? I can’t tell you how many kids I knew who proudly boasted about how many empty boxes they had received for Christmas that year.
Folks who were there attest to the fact that the revenues brought in from the overwhelming sale of these STAR WARS comics pretty well saved Marvel Comics in 1977, a year during which sales were down and things were looking pretty dire for the industry. STAR WARS wasn’t the first licensed property Marvel took on in this time–starting with the success of CONAN, Marvel tried licensing all kinds of material, hoping to strike gold. But once STAR WARS hit–a success that literally nobody involved with approving the comic book saw coming–Marvel almost obsessively began to license the rights to just about any science fiction or action-adventure film that came down the road. A few of them did all right, but none of them were STAR WARS.
STAR WARS was adapted by Roy Thomas, no longer on staff with Marvel but given an arrangement in which he was allowed to oversee and edit his own work. It was Roy who had made a success out of CONAN, and it was Roy that the production company approached to plead their case for STAR WARS after publisher Stan Lee evidenced no interest in the property. They wanted to get a Marvel adaptation onto the stands in the months leading up to the film’s debut as a way of promoting it and generating some fan excitement for it. As he tells it, Roy got to watch a rough cut of the film, one without special effects, where dogfight footage from old WWII movies was inserted as a stand-in, and that’s what convinced him that STAR WARS might be a viable Marvel property. He then took it upon himself to convince Stan and Marvel to take on the property.
Roy wrote the adaptation from the film script, and the studio provided a bunch of visual reference from the film. But because he wasn’t working from the final, edited film, any number of scenes and sequences made it into the Marvel adaptation that weren’t in the finished film. This was always a little bit confusing to me and mine. I had only seen STAR WARS once in the theater, and wouldn’t see it again until it was televised–I didn’t understand at that point the appeal of seeing a particular movie multiple times, that seemed like a foolish waste of time and money to me. So like so many others, I began to conflate what was in the comic book with what was in the film, tot eh point where I’d “remember” certain bits that were never in the movie at all.
While it’s work that he’s embarrassed about today, and wishes that folks like me would stop talking about, the adaptation was drawn by Howard Chaykin, who’d go on to do much finer and more realized stories further on in his career. Reportedly, the production company asked for Chaykin because George Lucas had been a fan of his Cody Starbuck stories in STAR*REACH–stories that shared some common DNA with STAR WARS. Chaykin swiftly switched over to doing just storytelling breakdowns, and was backed up by the finishes of Steve Leialoha, one of the best brush men in the business
I’m not bothering with any sort of a story recap here because what would be the point? I can’t imagine that anybody who might be reading this page isn’t familiar with STAR WARS. But what I hope I’ve given a little bit of a flavor of is what it was like to be a fan of STAR WARS in those very early days, when the movie played in theaters for months on end, and everybody was taken by surprise by it’s tremendous success. In the years to come, STAR WARS has become an institution–there’s a new film in theaters right now, and THE MANDALORIAN television series is finishing up on the Disney+ streaming service as we speak. But in 1977, the only way to revisit the world of STAR WARS if you couldn’t get into a movie house was by reading one of these comics.