The popularity of STAR WARS hadn’t even slightly begun to abate, and so even after the run of issues of the Marvel comic that adapted the entirety of the film over six issues had been reprinted as special 3-Bags, the program continued on beyond that, with the next STAR WARS 3-Bag containing issues #7-9. These were the first stories set in the STAR WARS universe that went beyond the events of the film. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t anywhere as into STAR WARS as most kids during this period, and so this 3-Bag would have been purchased for my younger brother Ken rather than me. But I ended up with the books eventually.
STAR WARS was being written and edited my Marvel’s master of adaptation, Roy Thomas. Beginning at least as early as CONAN and extending all throughout his time as Marvel’s editor, Roy had shown a great interest in works adapted from other mediums. It was he who was instrumental in licensing not only CONAN and the other Robert E. Howard properties, but also DOC SAVAGE, Fu Manchu for MASTER OF KUNG FU, The WIZARD OF OZ, a wide assortment of sicence fiction and fantasy stories from a bevy of authors such as Theodore Sturgeon and Frederik Pohl , WAR OF THE WORLDS, and of course STAR WARS. Reportedly, Stan Lee wasn’t all that interested in picking up the rights to STAR WARS, but Thomas’ efforts convinced him (it probably helped that they got those initial rights for a song, given that nobody yet knew what a blockbuster STAR WARS would become) and its colossal sales and multiple reprintings in multiple formats helped keep the company alive and solvent during a tumultuous time.
On the artistic front, the guy that George Lucas especially wanted on the adaptation was Howard Chaykin, based on his earlier Cody Starbuck series for STAR*REACH. Howard did the job without a whole lot of love for it (and because it looms so large, he’s unhappily been pigeonholed in some quarters as a STAR WARS artist above all else) bringing some of his sensibilities to the Galaxy Lucas built. I had honestly forgotten that he stuck around for a little while after the movie adaptation was finished, but clearly he did. And it can’t have been for the money–creators weren’t paid any sort of incentives on sales at this time yet. But consequently, there is a bit of a Chaykin influence on the story.
It must be said, these initial post-film STAR WARS stories are really strange from a modern point of view. But it’s worth remembering that all anybody had to work with at this point was the events of the first film, and what they implied about the rest of the galaxy beyond. Accordingly, both Thomas and Chaykin filled the story with elements that appealed to them, regardless of how well they might fit in to STAR WARS canon in the present. At the time, the Marvel STAR WARS comic was really the only game in town in terms of getting any new STAR WARS content, at least until the Splinter in the Mind’s Eye novel came out, so they were devoured hungrily by fans who wanted more, more, more! It wasn’t really until the ramp-up to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK that the comic began to start to resemble the source material a little bit better. So much was uncharted at that point that it was very much the wild west.
So what was the story about? Well, it focuses on Han Solo, Roy’s favorite character from the film and an obvious choice to make the star especially if you don’t yet know where George Lucas might be taking his two leads, Luke and Leia. It opens with Han and Chewbacca leaving the hidden Rebel headquarters having received their reward for their services in rescuing the Princess and helping to annihilate the Death Star. But a wealthy Han Solo isn’t apt to get into adventures, so the Millennium Falcon is immediately set upon by space pirates. Given his unsavory past as a smuggler, it’s no surprise that Han knows the head pirate Crimson Jack and his partner Jolli–both of whom feel like they stepped out of Chaykin’s IRONWOLF strip for DC. But that doesn’t stop Jack and his men from making off with Solo and Chewie’s reward money–cash that they desperately need to pay off Jabba the Hutt and get their death-sentence removed.
Figuring that they’d better lay low until they can work out their next move, the pair head for Aduba-3, a remote planet. Scoping out the local Cantina, Han and Chewie come upon the scene of an Insectoid Priest called a Pera being ganged up on by the locals. Despite not having any skin in the game themselves, Han and Chewie step in to help the Priest out–and when they’ve beaten off his attackers, they learn that he was being persecuted for trying to honorably bury a Borg who had died the previous night. But there’s a strong prejudice against cyborgs on this planet, apparently, and so the townsfolk don’t like it. Solo’s eyes light up, though, when the Pera tells him that there’s a fiscal reward for his service if he’ll help the Borg reach his final resting place. Cash-strapped, Han and Chewie sign on.
Of course, their procession is attacked by an overwhelming force of townspeople, and of course Han and Chewie have to fight for their lives. They win out, naturally, but the party’s Bantha is killed in the attack–requiring Chewbacca to carry the much-heavier-than-normal Borg the rest of the way on his back. And that’s it. Having been paid off, Han and Chewie head back to the Cantina to relax and refresh. But as the issue ends, Han is approached by a trio of robed men who say they have a proposal for him, one that he dare not refuse. To Be Continued! Truly, it’s not much of a story, and could have been told with any number of other space characters. But that was the challenge facing the creative team at this point. They needed to attempt to define what it was that made STAR WARS STAR WARS and deliver that–and all without lousing up anything that George Lucas might have been thinking of for the now-inevitable sequel.