This was the second of three consecutive issues of STAR WARS that we got as a special 3-Bag set months after they had initially seen print. The early STAR WARS books were all reprinted and reissued in tremendous numbers, and it seemed as though every kid of a certain age had at least a few issues knocking around their house. The book had gone past the events of the movie by this point, which meant that it was virgin territory for the creative team to play in. What they came up with has been both celebrated and decried, and it’s not really quite STAR WARS at all. But it is interesting and memorable.
The big change with this issue is that Tom palmer joined the regular creative team of Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin as regular finisher. Which was a smart decision–Tom had the ability to work from just loose breakdowns, and he was adept at capturing likenesses and making sure that all of the hardware in the series was on-model. For the first time, pretty much, Han Solo looked like Harrison Ford (at least as much as was permitted given likeness rights.) The sacrifice, if such can be said to have occurred, is that Chaykin’s own style was more subsumed in the finished product. You could tell that the work was by him, but it was harder to see. The book didn’t resemble Cody Starbuck any longer. Tom also provided the coloring, which he brought into synch with the rest of the package, making it a unified whole.
Roy Thomas was pretty well on his own when it came to establishing a new direction for the series–no real decisions had been made yet as to what the subject matter of the eventual sequel film would be, so all Thomas had to go on was the galaxy sketched out in the first film. Accordingly, Roy did what he often did in these situations: he drew inspiration from other works that he enjoyed. In this instance, he crafted a two-issue pastiche of The Magnificent Seven (itself based on the Japanese film The Seven Samurai), reckoning that STAR WARS was a western in space.
So in this issue, the three robed gentlemen who approached Han Solo at the climax of last month turn out to be the envoys of a town that’s under yearly siege by bandits who hold them up for tribute. The leader of the bandits is Serji-X Arrogantus, the Arrogant One–who is, for some reason, a lampoon of cartoonist Sergio Aragones. No idea off hand if this was Chaykin’s doing in the art or Roy’s in the script, but Thomas goes along with it in the finished script. The town needs defenders, champions, and the three envoys enlist Han Solo’s aid in assembling a force to protect the town. So, yes, it’s pretty directly the plot of Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai.
So Solo goes recruiting mercenaries, in a sequence similar to one Roy previously wrote in FANTASTIC FOUR where the Frightful Four hold auditions for their new member (which I wrote about here:)
This also allows Roy to build out a larger cast more to his liking. It includes the quill-projecting alien Hedji, Chaykin-style bad girl Amaiza Foxtrain of the Black Hole Gang, Don-Wah Khotay, an obvious pastiche of Don Quixote, who thinks he’s a Jedi (remember, this is years before anybody came up with Order 66 or any of that mythology), Jimm Doshun who calls himself the “Starkiller Kid” (No doubt a tip of the hat to Luke’s original Luke Starkiller moniker) and his droid FE-9Q or “Effie”, and probably most unforgettably, the giant green rabbit Jaxxon. together with Han and Chewie, that makes for a team of eight, one better than either of this story’s inspirations. Jaxxon in particular was a highly divisive character–he was absolutely HATED by a particular generation of fans and Lucasfilm executives. But in recent years, Jaxxon’s people have begun to show up again, and he’s made a resurgence on covers and as an odd piece of STAR WARS’ history.
Meanwhile, so as to not be away from the cast of characters then seen as the main players of STAR WARS, Roy and Howard take a few pages to cut back to the headquarters of the Rebel Alliance, where Luke Skywalker is given the mission of scouting out a new hiding place for the forces of the rebellion. I don’t know that Roy knew exactly where he was heading with this plotline when he started it, it feels to me like setting up a quest in the expectation that you’ll figure out where it leads as you go. Also, one of the things that I find amusing about these early STAR WARS comics is the fact that everybody, every character, had only one set of clothes. Because they were so attired for most of the first movie, those looks became the characters’ “costumes” regardless of the circumstances. So here, for example, it feels odd for Luke to jet off in his open tunic rather than a pilot’s suit, since he’s going to be flying. But that tunic is part of how you know he’s Luke Skywalker–so wear it he does. It wouldn’t be until EMPIRE that creators would become comfortable with putting Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan or anybody in different attire.
Back on Aduba-3, with his team assembled, Solo prepares to ride out towards the besieged town. But before he and his group can depart, they’re confronted by Serji-X and his men. Serji aims to warn Solo off of the job, and even offers him a paltry sum to not become an impediment. But in an uncharacteristic moment, Solo refuses, despite the fact that all he’s got at his back is a ragtag bunch of losers. But Serji-X and his men aren’t looking for a fight there and then, and they depart, promising a confrontation should the team enter the town. And that’s where this story is To Be Continued, with Han and his Assorted Eight preparing to head out to the fight of their lives. I remember really liking this two-parter when I first read it–in part, no doubt, because it was less like STAR WARS and more like any number of other super hero stories. The assembling of the team was already a bit of a cliche, but I was interested in these new characters, dopey and derivative as they may have been.