At the same time that my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Clem bought me the Flash Dollar Comic, they also brought a comic book for my younger brother Ken–this issue of STAR WARS. And like with my book, my Aunt dutifully wrote Ken’s name on the cover, so that the world would forever after know that it had belonged to him. Despite that, it’s been in my collection for close to 40 years now, so I feel that I can confidently claim ownership of it,despite that inked name on the cover.
This was an era in which STAR WARS was massive beyond anything ever experienced, certainly by anybody in my age group. And my brother was a full-on STAR WARS fanatic. He would get the empty boxes that promised eventual delivery of action figures, and over the years he’d have the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star playset and the X-Wing fighter and the full-scale Light-Sabre. As I’ve mentioned before, while I liked STAR WARS just fine when we went to see it, unlike most of my peer group I wasn’t completely enthralled by it. Honestly, I felt as though I had experienced many of its best moments better in the pages of the comics I had read.
It’s been reported several times how the success of the STAR WARS comic kept the lights on at Marvel during the dark days of the mid-1970s when the traditional newsstand marketplace was failing. The demand for STAR WARS was so huge in the wake of the film that Marvel printed and reprinted the earliest STAR WARS comics again and again, releasing them in dedicated 3-Bags as well as reprinting them in Treasury Editions and Paperback Books and pretty much any format that they could come up with. Even better for Marvel, they had the license to continue the adventures of the STAR WARS characters–pretty much the only game in town, at least until the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye dropped.
By the time that this issue came out, the task of carrying on the stories of the “Star Warriors” (as the covers often referred to them) had become the responsibility of Archie Goodwin, Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin. Goodwin, of course, was an excellent choice, not only because he was one of the best writer/editors in the history of comics but because, as a cartoonist himself, he was always able to think visually. Carmine, coming off of his stint running rival DC Comics for a decade had been forced back into the salt mines of regular penciling, but he had a history with illustrating science fiction strips. Inker Terry Austin was brought on board, I expect, to help make Carmine’s work feel a bit more modern–his angular and expressionistic style would seem on the surface to be an odd fit with the world of STAR WARS.
As STAR WARS stories, these early post-film comics show their age today, due to the fact that they were created at a time when even the personalities and backstories of the main characters had not yet been fully fleshed out. This meant that Goodwin and his fellows had to perform a strange and delicate dance, especially once it became obvious that a sequel film was sure to follow. They had to move the story ahead and keep the characters feeling like the people we had seen in A NEW HOPE, but not establish much of anything new about any of them along the way. This led to a succession of stories in which the familiar tropes of that first film are sliced and diced in different ways to try to create new excitement that still felt familiar. None of it really feels much like STAR WARS this long afterwards–it all has the smell of slightly older science fiction tropes. But for a generation of fans, this was as good as it got.
Consequently, this issue feels a bit too familiar somehow. It opens with Han Solo and Chewbacca being captured by a Star Destroyer helmed by an old pirate associate of theirs, Crimson Jack. By a total fluke, Jack and his cohorts (in particularly the beret-wearing Jolli) have also captured Princess Leia when she ventured out in search of the missing Luke Skywalker, and they intend to hold her for ransom–if they can get her to divulge the location of the Rebel Base in order to make their demands. Outgunned, Han is forced to be smooth and sneaky, picking up on cues that Leia gives him to divert Crimson Jack and company to the Drexel System, where Luke went missing. They’ve become an unknowing rescue party.
Meanwhile, we find Luke, Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio on Drexel, having crashed their ship into the serpent-filled seas. The three heroes are able to fend off an attack by a giant serpent, but they’re all still stuck on a sinking ship with no land in sight. But the issue wraps up with a new wrinkle, as Luke spies a second serpent in the distance–this one bearing a rider upon its back. Is this friend or foe? We’d need to wait a month in order to find out, as this is where things become To Be Continued! I never became especially enamored of the STAR WARS comic book, though I wound up reading a great number of them–I had friends for whom this was really about the only comic they would follow. It was STAR WARS, you know?