As with the first three issues of the Marvel STAR WARS comic book, my younger brother Ken picked up the 3-Bag containing issues #4-6, the back half of the adaptation of the film, at the Kay-Bee Toy Store in the Smith Haven Mall. As I mentioned the last time I wrote about this series, these initial STAR WARS comics were incredibly hot, coming out at a time when there was literally no other STAR WARS merchandise and fever for the motion picture was still high. They were reprinted again and again, and repackaged in every format that could be thought of, from Treasury Editions to Paperback books. But this is how we got our copies.
I’ve also mentioned the fact that I never quite got swept up in the spell of STAR WARS as so many of the members of my generation had. I liked the movie just fine, but that was really about the extent of it. But I can remember other kids at school at the time–kids who had no particular love or leaning towards fantasy or science fiction or comic books or anything of that sort–becoming complete converts to the Church of Lucas. The only thing in my experience that came near to this total conversion was the moment when KISS broke big (and that was an event that passed me by entirely.) So I read all of these issues, but I wasn’t the target audience by any stretch. Fortunately, enough other kids were that these became the best-selling Marvel comics since the WWII-era, and helped pull the company out of some dicey financial straits.
These books are a bit fascinating to look back on now, given that we have decades of further polishing and refining of the STAR WARS mythos in place now. But here, there was nothing–not even an inkling that this weird space film was going to become one of the most mythologized pieces of entertainment in American history. Reading these again, the first thing that strikes me as odd is how often writer Roy Thomas defaults to typical “Marvel editorial voice” in his narration and captions. Roy didn’t really approach this assignment any differently than he did CONAN or INVADERS, and so the characters tend to make self-referential references and the narration tends to speak conversationally and directly to the readership at points. It’s not wrong per se, but it’s definitely at variance with what we would think of today as a sound approach to doing STAR WARS material.
Along similar lines, artist Howard Chaykin was brought on board because George Lucas had been a fan of his earlier Cody Starbuck stories. But Chaykin wasn’t especially interested in the assignment as anything more than a paycheck (and these days he’d just as soon you don’t mention it to him), so Steve Leialoha had been brought on board to ink and in certain cases provide finishes for Chaykin’s pencil layouts. Leialoha had a very organic brush line, whereas Chaykin’s style was very angular and sharp, so Steve smoothed out some of the harshness of Howard’s depictions. By the end of these six issues, though, the deadlines had gotten tight enough that Leialoha was compelled to bring in some uncredited assistance from his fellow west coast-based ink-slingers, including a young Dave Stevens.
Plotwise, these issues cover the back half of the film, sticking relatively close to the source material, although every once in a while a bit of business that wound up left on the cutting room floor shows up. I can’t speak for how any other reader felt about it (and clearly a whole slew of them were happy to have a version of STAR WARS that they could revisit whenever they chose to in this time before VCRs, DVDs and Streaming Services) but I felt very much like a lot of the energy of STAR WARS had been let out of the tires in this adaptation. Some of that is just the adaptation process itself. You’re never going to quite be able to capture the nuances of performance by Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher in word balloons and lines on paper, so you’re often left with just script lines delivered cold, with your memory having to provide the closure that makes the characters come to life.
At the same time, the speed of the high-tech dogfight action was also neutralized in the static medium of comics. And the need to render the assorted spaceships and paraphernalia on model gave most of them a feeling of unreality, of feeling like boxes hurtling through space somehow. The artists involved weren’t using their imaginations so much as they were attempting to recreate an experience (and experience that most of them hadn’t had for themselves yet, for all that Roy and Howard had been shown an early rough cut of the film.) Put bluntly, for all their success, I don’t think these are really great comics, and it isn’t until you arrive at issue #7, when the Marvel team is given the clearance to imagine events beyond the scope of the film, that some life begins to creep back into the proceedings.
Still, there is no denying just how popular these comic books were in 1978. The STAR WARS series would represent something of a cash cow for Marvel across the next three to six years ,and inspire the firm to go all-in on adaptations of just about any fantasy of science fiction film they could get access to, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle once more. But no further lightning was forthcoming, and while the series lasted a respectable 107 issues, by the end of that period, the universe of STAR WARS had grown more complete and comprehensive, and there was scant room in it, it seemed, for the sorts of stories the Marvel team had been exploring.