At One With The Force, Marvel Style - Part 1 -

Comic Book Retrospective

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At One With The Force, Marvel Style - Part 1

Before Dark Horse took up the STAR WARS mantle, Marvel Comics crafted a sweeping saga around the first three movies

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 27, 2002

Luke will learn some sobering truths about Shira Brie before too long. Cover to Marvel's STAR WARS #60.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
Long before Dark Horse made STAR WARS into a comic book cottage industry, Marvel Comics tackled the challenge of expanding on George Lucas' galaxy far, far away with a monthly comic that occasionally delved into bizarre territory (a pastel-hued talking rabbit?) and often offered some prescient storylines long before the saga proper touched on similar elements (another Death Star-style weapon named the Tarkin, a forest world populated by friendly but annoying furry things, etc.).

The Rebels find a new home in STAR WARS #55.

While the stories following the six-issue adaptation of the first movie struggled to find an appropriate tone and occasionally trampled future continuity (a humanoid Jabba figured prominently early on), it was a welcome opportunity to stick with our heroes as THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK approached. Once that superb sequel arrived, however, the Marvel comic series entered its most glorious era. Bridging the gap between the cliffhanger ending of EMPIRE and its resolution three years later, Marvel's STAR WARS presented some wonderful storylines involving the search for Han Solo, Luke's relationship with a Rebel named Shira Brie (who harbored a dark secret), and a multi-part saga focusing on a water world inhabited by amphibian humanoids. With one year to go before RETURN OF THE JEDI, the Solo search intensified, and some enticing hints about the third movie were expertly woven into the ongoing plot.

A mysterious crystal could mean the end of Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS #50.

It was an unprecedented achievement in comics up to that point, but in 1980 it posed an intriguing problem for the creative team behind Marvel Comics' licensed STAR WARS monthly comic book. The series had been presenting all-new adventures of the STAR WARS cast and exploring a number of peculiar side avenues (I mean, come on...that giant rabbit?) that were inexplicably approved by an as yet forgiving Lucasfilm. The conclusion of STAR WARS (or EPISODE IV or A NEW HOPE to all you revisionists) was a neatly tied-up ending in and of itself, allowing the comic book to follow Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, C-3P0 and R2-D2 in their continuing struggles against the Empire without restriction...apart from Lucas' approval of course. But when the first sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, arrived in 1980, the STAR WARS comic book faced a major challenge - how to keep a monthly series vibrant and engaging during a three-year period between a major cliffhanger and its expected resolution without stepping on anyone's toes...and without one of the series' prime stars, Han Solo? There were no light bridges in sight! How were they going to cross that gap?

With STAR WARS #39, Marvel began an adaptation of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Well enough, as it turns out, but the series did take a while to hit its stride after the EMPIRE adaptation itself, which spanned issues #39-44 of the monthly title (as opposed to the later adaptation of RETURN OF THE JEDI, which was accomplished in mini-series form outside the confines of the regular run). In #45, the first post-EMPIRE issue, Luke faced an Imperial probe in the first of a series of stories that featured old Empire technology suddenly springing to life or otherwise threatening our heroes anew. And if it wasn't leftovers from past stories, it might be embarrassing story arcs like "The Last Gift From Alderaan" in #53-54, a horrible John Carter-esque pastiche that would have been more at home in a CONAN book than STAR WARS. Lucasfilm clearly wasn't paying much attention in those days, or they just didn't care. And the creators behind such epics, comic book living legends (or future legends) like Chris Claremont, Carmine Infantino and Walt Simonson, definitely should have known better.

Marvel's journey through that galaxy far, far away began with STAR WARS #1.

There were stand-outs, such as the 50th issue, which sported a superb cover by Tom Palmer and offered up one of the series most memorably creepy tales about a deadly crimson plague. The series finally found its new home just as the Rebels themselves did in #55. Scripted by David Michelinie and inked by Palmer, who would cement the look of the series for years to come in a sort of hybridized likeness style that captured the spirit of the STAR WARS characters if not their exact features, "Plif!" found the Rebels settling in on a new world called Arbra. Neatly flipping the premise of EMPIRE, Arbra was a forest world just as Hoth was a frozen waste. And for those of you screaming, "Hey, Endor," this wouldn't be the last time that Marvel published a STAR WARS story or premise that inexplicably turned up in "official" STAR WARS stories later on. Arbra was years ahead of ROTJ, and it too boasted a diminutive furry race, but a far more fascinating one. Known as the Hoojibs, these super-intelligent, energy-feeding, telepathic rodents became good friends and allies of our heroes...after a minor misunderstanding, of course.

See, we weren't kidding about that rabbit. Cover to Marvel's STAR WARS #8.

Meanwhile, Lando returned to Cloud City to face a berserk Lobot (yet another "lingering threat from the past" tale) for two issues, and the Rebels dealt with a tricky fleet maneuver after that, but the seeds for a longer story arc were sown in #60. Luke had been spending a lot of time with Rebel pilot Shira Brie, and the interest was clearly mutual. #60 was titled "Shira's Story," and it took Luke and Shira to her homeworld, Shalyvane, where the two Rebels encountered a savage band responsible for slaughtering Shira's family, She also engaged in a mysterious blood rite that supposedly served as a remembrance for her loss. But the worst was yet to come. In a devastating twist, Luke and Shira went on another mission, and during a massive dogfight, Luke's Force-inspired instinct led him to unknowingly shoot down Shira.

While struggling with the knowledge that his power somehow misled him and instructed him to murder the woman he loved, Luke returned to Arbra and was labeled a pariah in #62 (titled, appropriately enough, "Pariah!"). But something wasn't right. The next several issues revealed that Shira was in fact an Imperial agent working directly for Darth Vader. Her true origin was uncovered by Luke, who also had a close call with his dad...or a projection of him, at any rate. The blood ritual was actually a communication attempt by Shira that conjured an image of Vader when Luke duplicated the process. Ultimately, Luke had more questions than answers, and readers learned that Shira may not be quite dead yet.

Next time, we conclude our look back at the Marvel STAR WARS saga!


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