At One With The Force, Marvel Style - Part 2 -

Comic Book Retrospective

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At One With The Force, Marvel Style - Part 2

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 29, 2002

"The Search Begins" for Han Solo in STAR WARS #68, but fans today can thrill to the massive inconsistencies introduced about Boba Fett's possible background.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
Last time, we left off just as Luke learned the truth about his girlfriend, Rebel pilot and secret Imperial agent Shira Brie. And then, it was time for Darth Vader to return to prominence in the saga. It's Anakin's time to shine as we conclude our look at the Marvel Comics STAR WARS saga!

Just prior to RETURN OF THE JEDI, Vader stepped in for a special appearance in STAR WARS #80.

The return of the erstwhile Anakin Skywalker at the end of the Shira Brie story arc was Vader's first substantial role in the comic in a while. For most of the pre-ROTJ run, Vader remained very much a background figure. After the surprising revelation at the end of EMPIRE, Marvel could do very little with the character without exploring the question of his relationship with Luke, a topic Lucasfilm clearly did not want them to tackle. So Vader receded into the distance, a vague underlying threat that only rarely reared its shiny plastic head. For the most part, Vader was invoked by dramatic cover images or brief cameos, but that would change...

STAR WARS #81, the first post-ROTJ issue of the Marvel series, followed Han Solo's run-in with a familiar bounty hunter.

For some reason, the series still couldn't resist cross-pollinating the high-tech STAR WARS universe with pure fantasy, and #64 was another knights and castles romp with little purpose. A few solo adventures filled the space between that issue and the start of the series' most cohesive story arc, a multi-part epic that eventually provided a seamless introduction to RETURN OF THE JEDI and alleviated the frustration for countless fans who dearly missed Han Solo. The title of #68 said it all: "The Search Begins." Over the course of the next year, our heroes would travel to distant worlds, encounter familiar bounty hunters, make new friends, and all the while chase down countless clues that might lead them to the frozen form of Han Solo. #70 even offered a wonderful flashback adventure set just after STAR WARS, allowing Solo an all-too-brief return engagement, and Wedge Antilles had his day in the sun thanks to #78. In between those stand-alone tales, there were several mini-sagas involving another Endor-like world, a water planet with amphibian inhabitants, and a cloying, over-sexed, magenta-hued girl named Dani who became Luke's unwanted companion for quite a while. Some Jedi have all the luck.

When the Ewoks start showing up, you know they're running out of ideas. Cover to STAR WARS #94.

The quest - and the series' need to bridge the gap between EMPIRE and ROTJ - came to an end beginning with #79. Opening with perhaps the best comic book illustration of Solo ever (by Ron Frenz and Palmer based on an advance ROTJ publicity photo), the issue focused on Lando's latest efforts to track his pal. But the final step toward locating Solo took place in #80, written by Jo Duffy. The Rebels were tracking Tay Vanis, a spy who was supposed to deliver "Bothan tapes" which would provide information on the Empire's recent plans to eradicate the Rebels. Following Vanis' trail to a world used by the Empire as a storage and transferal point for supplies, Luke, Leia and the droids encountered an elegant droid named Ellie who turned out to be Vanis' companion. The Rebel spy was now a broken man, tortured by Vader and left as bait for Skywalker and his companions. Our heroes eradicated the Imperial opposition, and Ellie turned over the Bothan tapes, but she elected to destroy herself along with the shell that was once her master. In a final, melancholy scene beautifully illustrated Frenz and Palmer, Luke and Leia lead the way through pouring rain back to their ship, the secrets of the Empire finally in their hands. But C-3P0 hangs back, having grown attached to Ellie. The rain washes over him, leaving what looks like tear tracks under his unblinking eyes.

The Marvel STAR WARS saga came to an end with #107.

And with that, the Marvel comic incarnation of STAR WARS meshed seamlessly with the concluding installment of the film trilogy. ROTJ revealed that the tapes recovered by the Bothan spies were the plans for the next Death Star, and Marvel's close relationship with Lucasfilm enabled them to build that mystery into their series many months before some fans would even understand the full importance of the Bothan tapes. It was a masterful bit of advance plotting, weaving the search for Han into a larger quest that led the way directly to the final film.

Other series would subsequently tackle similar plotting puzzles, some even more complex and demanding than the continuity headaches presented by EMPIRE and ROTJ - the DC STAR TREK title, for example, would have to weave stories in between the films STAR TREK III, IV and V before finally running out of steam - but this was the first and most fondly remembered attempt by a comic book to blend its ongoing storyline into an existing film series. Following the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI, the series bravely attempted to carry on despite the lack of any future films to anchor the title. Although early post-ROTJ issues were exciting simply because they carried the story forward - witness Han Solo trying to withdraw money from his old Tatooine account only to be told he can't because he's listed as "dead" - later issues floundered as the creative team looked for a reason to keep the story going.

RETURN OF THE JEDI was the only STAR WARS films not adapted within the regular Marvel monthly run.

Eventually, when "remaining Imperial pockets of resistance" tales grew stale, the title tried to introduce a new and even deadlier opponent in the form of the extragalactic invaders known as the Nagai. While a bit creepy with their pallorous skin and animé-inspired style, they were only an Empire substitute, and not a very good one. They were themselves on the run from a race called the Tofs, but by then, interest in all things STAR WARS was waning. The series finally came to an end with #107 in September 1986, three years after the film saga had concluded.

Now that Dark Horse Comics is re-presenting all of the old Marvel tales as well, a whole new generation of readers will discover the star-spanning adventures that the House of Ideas shaped for our Rebel friends. But unlike those of us who remember eagerly awaiting every issue that buoyed us until another film would arrive, today's STAR WARS comics fans won't have to wait to see how it all fits together. Nevertheless, thanks to these reprints, the Marvel chapter of the STAR WARS saga will be with us...always.

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