When we last left the Star Wars comics universe, Dark Horse’s 20-year publishing license was set to expire with the end of 2014, with Marvel taking over all comic book publishings set within the Star Wars universe. I would make a joke about how this is kind of like this movie I once saw where an emperor rules an entire galaxy with an iron fist. I think it was Flash Gordon, but my memory fails me at the moment.
Anyway, the end of 2014 has come and gone, and sure enough, the Star Wars collection on Dark Horse’s store has gone silent, nary a book in sight. Meanwhile, Marvel is preparing their first foray into publishing new Star Wars comics with the upcoming Star Wars #1. Like the delicious Dark Horse series I talked about last time, this title is again set immediately following the events of Episode IV. I’m not entirely sure what the appeal of this era of the Star Wars canon is, but apparently, people really, really want to know what happens next. This new series does have the writing chops of Jason Aaron, which is notable in itself. And, if you have a chance to see any of the artwork, it certainly looks great. Even if the series is retreading covered ground, I think it will still be a great read. But, it is not what I’m talking about today. No, I want to talk about the last time Marvel released a comic called Star Wars.
Oddly enough, the Dark Horse series was not the first comic titled Star Wars to cover this time period. In fact, shortly after the A New Hope was released, Marvel Comics published the very first attempt to tell stories about the events immediately following the first movie. Unlike the next two series to use this name, the first six issues of the 1977 series were a direct adaptation of the film’s script, and for the most part, it’s pretty good. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky, as can be expected in a comic from this period, but it’s a pretty straightforward adaptation, and it does a decent job.
What came after, though, is something unlike anything I’ve seen in the Star Wars universe and unlike anything we’ll likely see in the future. I think the important thing to remember is that, at this point, there was no “after” A New Hope. Now-a-days, we have decades of expanded universe material to read through. We’ve seen the years up until A New Hope, we’ve seen alternate stories set during the movie, and we’ve seen novels and comics that cover the time period immediately after. But, back in 1977, there was only the movie. This was something I briefly touched on last time with the Star Wars Holiday Special, but I think it’s even more glaring with this series.
Once the adaptation of the movie is done, the series goes off the rails, leaving us with something more akin to the sci-fi pulp serials from the 1930s. The story immediately following the adaptation follows Han Solo and Chewbacca as they leave the rebellion, reward in hand. They are almost immediately ambushed by Crimson Jack, the most dreaded space pirate in the galaxy, who alleviates them of their burdensome fortune, leaving Han and Chewie high and dry, with the bounty on their head as high as ever. They escape to a world on the outer-rim, where they are asked by a poor village to protect the residents from a ruthless bandit, who steals their money and women. There’s definitely a Seven Samurai vibe here, which makes a bit of sense. It’s no secret that Lucas based one of the original drafts of Star Wars on Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. It’s no surprise that Roy Thomas might base the first post-movie story on another Kurosawa film.
Where the comic reaches its highest levels of absurdity, though, is in the characters that Han recruits to fight the bandits. For example, he recruits a six-foot rabbit named Jaxxon, who kicks people with his abnormally large feet. While Star Wars has always had some interesting alien design, I think Jaxxon is probably the first rabbit in the Star Wars universe, and I think it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been used since (at least to my knowledge). The story plays out exactly like you would think, with some of the heroes falling, while Han leads the remainder to victory over the bandits. The town is saved, and Han gets enough reward money to get away from the backwater planet.
While this is all going on, Luke is sent on a top-secret mission to find a new Rebel base, since the base on Yavin IV was compromised during A New Hope. I find it interesting that both Star Wars series that have come out have dealt with this story idea almost immediately, and I wonder if Brian Wood was at all inspired by this earlier series. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two stories stop there. While searching for a new base, Luke crash lands on a water planet, is besieged by sea monsters and captured by salvagers, whose base of operations is a pirate ship complete with sails. Luke’s distress eventually brings Princess Leia and Han Solo, who had been captured by Crimson Jack, and we’re left with a silly little story about pirates on the high seas in space.
As silly as it all sounds — and it is definitely silly — there is a certain charm to these old stories. Later entries into the Star Wars expanded universe got super serious about everything, and while the stories have been good, they are also remarkably dark. These old stories, though, are just fun. Absurd, yes, but fun, classic science-fiction, without the condescension that later “fun” characters, like Jar-Jar Binks, attempted to inject into the mythos. It does feel like an old science-fiction serial from the 1930s, which makes sense. Considering that in addition to Kurosawa, Lucas was also inspired by these classic stories, this may be the piece of the expanded universe that comes closest to Lucas’s original vision. So, take that for what it’s worth. I will say this: if you get an opportunity to pick up a few of these classic issues, do so. It may not be the Star Wars you’re used to, but it’s definitely fun.
I don’t know what Aaron‘s new Star Wars series is going to be like, but I’m excited to read it. I think it has some solid talent behind it, and who knows, maybe this will truly be the definitive continuation of A New Hope that everyone is apparently clamoring for.
I’ll tell you this, though. If there is not a six-foot-tall, green rabbit, I will be sorely disappointed.