Before he gave his life to the service of the Church, the Reverend Peter Organ dedicated his passion to spaceships, sticker albums, orcs and laser-swords. Now married with two children of his own, he’s yet to find a cassock which covers the geek completely, and wonders how he’s going to explain his Warhammer collection to the Bishop…
It’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn't feed your Star Wars habit with a wide variety of means, from computer games to books to dressing up as Nien Nunb and strutting your funky stuff at a convention or two. But back in the late 70s the expanded universe was rather more svelte, and opportunities to explore the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and co. were limited to reading the tie-in novel written by the Great Beard himself, utilising your mighty Star Wars figure collection to present the continuing adventures of Dave and Bob Jawa, or - rather more excitingly - reading about what happened next to Han and Chewie in Marvel’s Star Wars comic.
I have very fond memories of the weekly, though I only had a few scattered issues from pre-The Empire Strikes Back days, mainly gathered from church jumble sales (which sadly no longer feature such exciting items), or stolen from dentists’ waiting rooms and those ‘wet-play’ boxes you had at school (which mainly featured innumerable copies of The Beano, Look-In and those strange titles for girls like Bunty and Jinty and other scary titles ending in ‘-ty’).
I mainly remember being awed at the scale of the wonderfully realised universe I was reading about, with a huge variety of different planets for our heroes to visit, aliens to meet and/or defeat, and most exciting of all, new spaceships to fly/blow up. Sadly all of my back issues, including the complete run of Return of the Jedi Weekly were lost in the terrible, mindless purge of the mid-90s, brought on by the mistaken belief that I had to "grow up" at some point and get rid of such things (the pain!). But on a recent trip to the 'Planet, I discovered all was not lost: Dark Horse, who since the early 90s have owned the licence for Star Wars comics was now reprinting the original Marvel run from the beginning, and so The Star Wars Omnibus: Volume One was snapped up, consigning my sprogs to a diet of bread and water for a week to save money.
The first six issues are the comic book adaptation of the film, which I vaguely remember owning originally as an annual. Back in the days even before video, this was one of the few ways of experiencing the film until the next time ITV got round to showing it, and so the adaptation was poured over by me as though it were an original fragment of the Gospels.
Returning to it 20 or 30 years later, the art is rather less accurate than I remember. Whilst a few panels are clearly renditions of the half dozen still photos the artist was sent by Lucasfilm, most times you can only recognise a character by what they are wearing. Chewbacca gets the shoddiest treatment, often looking more like a naked Dave Lee Travis1. On the up side, the art style really suits the frenetic pace of the movie, with some lovely dramatic touches; the full page of a tiny Falcon in front of the Death Star is as impressive as anything in the film.
Excitingly, the reader gets to see scenes that never made the final pre-Special Edition cut, including some extra Biggs stuff and an "interesting" non-slug design for Jabba the Hutt. Most importantly of all, it is thanks to the comic that we find out why Chewie is not sporting a Jim’ll Fix It badge at the end of the film like the other heroes ("He will have to put it on himself. Few space-princesses are that tall.").2
Once you get to issue seven things get really weird though, as we move "Beyond the movie! Beyond the Galaxy!".
Er, right. What actually happens is that Han and Chewie set off in the Falcon with their reward money to pay off Jabba, which, thankfully for later film continuity, doesn’t happen due to an attack by a Star Destroyer flown by SPACE PIRATES! Led by Captain Crimson Jack, the crew sport the regulation eye-patches and er, cutlasses? Left penniless, Solo and his pal land on a desert world (another one?), where they join forces with an old man who thinks he’s the last of the Jedi (Don-Wan Kihotay, no less), a young farming lad, a feisty female (in this case inexplicably dressed as a 20s gangster’s moll), and a physically powerful alien that looks a bit like a dog (hang-on!). So no great departure from the film’s characters then? Well, there is the giant green rabbit-man.
Some of the dialogue becomes even worse than Lucas’, with unforgettable lines such as Han’s "Jabba’d have us both zapped by one of his blaster happy bongos" and my personal favourite of his, "I guess I shouldn’t have skipped so much Sunday school as a kid." Sunday school?!3
There are Death Star-sized dollops of charm in the strip as it progresses into more unfamiliar territory though, and whilst the resemblances to the actors in the original film remain loose at best the comic’s style begins to win you over, as Lucas’ universe expands once more in imaginative and fun ways.
Could still have done without the giant green rabbit, mind.
1. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the mental image that conjured in the minds of readers old enough to remember the "Hairy Cornflake".
2. Did the rebels not have a step-ladder or a box for her to step up on?
3. In which he learned that Goliath shot at David first.