Star Wars. Just say the name, and people imagine the epic adventures of the Skywalker family throughout the generations. Ever since the first movie premiered in 1977, a marketing juggernaut was spawned that was only kept down for just over a decade by a lack of new movies before rising again and becoming a global phenomenon. Comic books, novels, TV shows, TV specials, and more have spawned from the mind of George Lucas and his many assistants, not to mention those who came after him.
However, what if you lived in 1977? If you wanted more Star Wars, what else was there to grab? There certainly wasn’t a television show, and action figures wouldn’t be out until after Christmas! You actually had to go out and buy a cardboard set that promised you’d get the figures when they finally came out. The first prose book, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, wouldn’t release until early 1978. Hell, the internet didn’t even exist in its public infancy yet, so you couldn’t even argue with strangers on BBS message boards.
So, aside from picking up the novelization by George Lucas (ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster), that left only one thing: comic books.
You see, back in the days before the internet, most licensed comics were a re-telling of a popular movie that people would want to take home and re-read whenever they wanted. If it was a license of a TV show like Star Trek, then the comic would just feature vague adventures that kinda fit with what the show had established. Mostly. It was good for a quick buck, and most property holders were happy.
However, Star Wars would be perhaps the first time that a licensed movie comic would be allowed to continue beyond the original plot summary and re-telling. Normally, we’ll look at the misadventures of the cast of Star Wars as the writers and artists at Marvel fill in the gaps between movies, adjust to wild plot and tone twists, and even try to build a plot beyond Return of the Jedi. Our first look back at the earliest Star Wars comics is going to be different, as we’ll be looking at the original six issues that covered the movie before we can get into what expanded the universe for the first time.
Back before Star Wars released on May 25th, 1977, George Lucas was trying to shop around his movie to build up the hype. It was, after all, something that the studios had very little interest in. Almost everyone, from Universal Studios to Walt Disney Studios themselves rejected the original finished scripts and pitches. It wasn’t until Lucas basically dogged the head of 20th Century Fox that someone finally agreed to back the project, something Lucas admitted was more based on his own talent than the movie’s potential. With a limited theatrical release that had 20th Century Fox essentially blackmailing theaters into ordering Star Wars if they wanted some highly-expected movies, Lucas was getting desperate.
According to legend, and Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Marvel writer and editor Roy Thomas was somehow able to convince Stan Lee to take on a Star Wars comic. Marvel was in money trouble at the time, which happened about once a decade with the company back then. Lucas and Thomas had been distant friends ever since randomly meeting up and swapping stories, as well as Thomas having Lucas over to show off his Scrooge McDuck painting by Carl Barks. Luckily, Thomas and Lucas cut a deal where Marvel would pay zero licensing fees for Star Wars, making it only a risk to work on and publish the comic. And that, Stan could cover. Thomas was able to wrangle six full-color issues out of Stan, and they would eventually make history.
Welcome, to The Weird and Wonderful Worlds of Marvel’s Star Wars.
The first issue of Star Wars hit the newsstand on April 12th 1977, a month in advance of the movie. Working on the book, we would have some serious industry legends and old standbys with Marvel. Roy Thomas himself would work on the adaptation of Lucas’ script, while Howard Chaykin would pencil and ink the first issue. Marie Severin would color the art. Jim Novak would letter the book. Roy Thomas would also have the title of editor, something that was actually allowed back in the weird heyday of the 70s and 80s.
While fans of Star Wars will be incredibly familiar with the overall story, Roy Thomas had been given an early shooting script for the movie. As such, there would be several scenes adapted that would end up on the cutting room floor. The first issue would feature the lost scenes of Luke Skywalker seeing the space battle from Tatooine’s surface, Luke trying to get his friends to see the same battle, and the introduction of Biggs Darklighter.
Another amusing bit is when Roy Thomas would use outdated terminology that would be changed before release, or would try to add his own flair. For example, referring to The Force as The Cosmic Force in the first namedrop of the mystical life-force that binds the galaxy together.
Ending on a cliffhanger created by Luke being threatened by the Sandpeople of Tatooine, the comic also has a little essay written by Roy Thomas about how Star Wars was made as a whole. There’s also a subsequent essay that actually talks about the series of coincidences that resulted in this comic.
As the adaptation rolled into the remaining issues, the crew working on the comic would change up a little bit. We would also have Steve Leialoha working on inks and colors. Carl Gafford and Glynis Oliver would join for coloring a few issues. Tom Orzechowski would take over for lettering issues 2-5, while Carol Lay and Michael W Royer would letter the final 6th issue. Paty Cockrum would also color issue 6.
As for the plot, again, it’s pretty much the movie. However, large expanses of action with little dialogue would allow for Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin to experiment with storytelling. For example, the slowly-paced scene of Leia being slowly tormented by a floating ball of needles was instead this:
And for those people concerned if any of the printings for this comic somehow went the way of almost every other Star Wars release, rest assured: Han Solo still shoots first.
Oh, hey: Han also mentions Jabba! Since this was based on the earliest of shooting scripts, it also means that we should have a Jabba the Hutt scene. Almost every Star Wars fan remembers the weirdly bad CGI Jabba the Hutt from the infamous Special Edition releases, and how CGI Jabba was made to replace the human actor who’d once played the intergalactic gangster. Well, he does appear in this story as well. However, he is a little different.
Thomas and Chaykin would also build upon some of the romance that the first movie hinted at, which has become utterly hilarious in retrospect.
Much of the action sequences would also be jammed with narrative dialogue from Thomas to try and explain what was happening in the story. This worked well to keep the attention of the kids, and even added some major drama in lesser situations. For example, the weirdly slow Obi-Wan and Vader lightsaber duel became something more action-packed with what felt like quick cuts and narration galore to fill in the gaps.
Despite being a small fight, and even somewhat underwhelming at times, the narration really beefs up this scene. The last narration box really helps build up the idea that the Jedi are something important that’s gone extinct. I also particularly like the implication from Obi-Wan that Vader can’t use the full aspect of the Force, even if the rest of Star Wars doesn’t agree with it.
Issue 5 follows the movie to Yavin 4, and sets up the grand finale of the story. Most of it is either breathing time for the characters to interact, or blowing up pursuing TIE Fighters… but the story still has the time to slip in more narration from Thomas to expand on the lore of the universe. According to his lore, the temples on Yavin 4 come from a long-lost civilization, and the moon is long since uninhabited aside from the Rebel Alliance setting up shop. It really helps explain where these things came from, which the movie doesn’t have the time or mind to explain.
Oh, and we have time to further explore romance.
With Luke and Leia. Man, the early stories of Star Wars have become hilarious in retrospect.
After making out, Luke reconnects with Biggs. The early introduction of him, along with the new pages of Luke meeting with Biggs once again really helps highlight how much Biggs obviously meant to Luke. While the movie is certainly an overall improved experience, this is one place the comic really surpasses the source material. In fact, the sixth issue is generally incredible as an adaptation of an action-packed sequence. The entire issue is packed with explosions, space battles, and Thomas adds in a bunch of narration to provide us a window into what the characters are either feeling or thinking. A fantastic example is the death of Biggs, coming in the middle of the issue.
While the movie simply gave Luke a moment of “oh crap” before getting back into the thrilling Death Star trench run drama, there’s an entire page dedicated to his death. Vader comes off as menacing in his Advanced TIE Fighter, and the fact that characters had more reactions than a moment of silence actually makes it feel like Luke lost a friend rather than a prop.
Of course, the comic ends with our heroes triumphant, and moves to the overly dramatic medal giving ceremony. Fans have objected for years that Chewbacca somehow never received a medal from Leia during the ceremony, but Roy Thomas actually thought of that ahead of time.
Throughout all of these six issues, Marvel would put out an address for everyone to write in to. Letter columns may have fallen by the wayside in recent years, but these were great ways for editors to address the fans. Some long-running friendships, and even fan clubs, would be started from these pages. The archives we have access to only have a few letter pages preserved, but we feel they’re an important way to see how comics were received back in the day. When possible, we will bring them in for some extra clarity to the Star Wars phenomenon.
Letters covering the first issues wouldn’t be included until the Star Wars comic reached original content, but we’re gonna look at some of them here.
This is the first-ever fan letter for Star Wars. And, true to form, it is nit-picking about the setting of Star Wars and the terminology that can be used. Thomas himself admits that the crew working on the comic only got to see a heavily unfinished version of the movie, and the cut they saw didn’t even have the A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away opening text that we all know and love. It’s rather interesting, and I wish these letter columns had been preserved beyond old scans you need to “find” online.
This is the only letter Marvel would publish for some time that was negative about the entire comic. Apparently, every piece of movie merchandise in the early days would completely misspell things, like “Wookie” instead of the now commonly-used “Wookiee.” This letter is also fascinating, because it rips into Roy Thomas’ adaptation in general. The “extra sequences” were also greatly disliked by Don, despite the fact they came from the original scripts and cuts of the movie that Thomas and company got a sneak peek of.
Really, it’s just fascinating to see that, while technology has improved the rate of communication, fandoms in general just have not changed.
These first six Star Wars comics have been reprinted a good dozen times, and it’s easy to see why. Star Wars was a massive hit and readers were demanding a chance to pick up the issues they’d missed, resulting in a pair of Treasury Editions being released later in 1977 that were a larger format containing the whole story. Dark Horse would reprint these comics often, most recently with a 5 volume omnibus format. Marvel has also recently re-published these under their Legends branding, with digital touch-ups in an Epic Collection format, and also offering some really advanced takes on the 6 issue adaptation with a more accurately colored volume release.
Of all of these, though, which should be read?
Well, we’re going to be honest. Avoid the recolored version.
Yes, it’s more accurate to the original movie. Yes, the coloring is intricate and detailed. However, the comic’s art isn’t drawn nearly as accurately as the coloring presented. It also makes the comic somehow feel more dated with digital coloring than the originally printed comics do. It just comes off as weirdly lazy, or perhaps being ashamed of the decade it came from.
As for the Dark Horse and Marvel reprints, they’re about the same. The Dark Horse omnibus can often be found for cheaper overall, running about $20.00 when they’re not on sale, and were added to the digital marketplace not long ago. Marvel, meanwhile, has been selling the issues individually on digital sites like ComiXology for $1.99 an issue or in their Epic Collection format. This does make it more expensive on a per-issue basis, but the presentation is closer to the original comics from 1977 through 1986. Marvel’s digital conversions keep the essays intact, and the colors are almost as close as you can get to the original palettes
Either one is a fantastic choice, with it just coming down to if you prefer trying to find a physical copy or want to see a more accurate printing of the comic.
Come back for our next installment of The Weird and Wonderful Worlds of Marvel’s Star Wars, though, and we’ll have a real treat for you all: the first time anyone explored what fans would call the Expanded Universe! A peek into what Jedi Knights (probably) looked like! A giant green space rabbit! A large space porcupine! And Han Solo takes on a Kaiju with a lightsaber!
The Tally Count:
Issues Covered: 6
Accidental Incest: 2
Cast Members Killed: 5
Lightsaber-related Injuries: 3