Second only to the Kenner action figures, Marvel’s Star Wars comics are the most enduring collectibles spawned from George Lucas’ sci-fi saga.These printed adventures presented adventures packed with imagination and new characters that helped make the wait between movies seem a bit more bearable. In all, the series ran 107 issues that spanned from 1977 to 1986 (with the post-Return of the Jedi issues being the only new Star Wars content released until Timothy Zahn’s Heir to Empire novel hit stores in 1991).
Thanks to relatively cheap back issues and trade paperback collections from Dark Horse — a company that continues to produce new Star Wars stories to this day — newbies can seek out these vintage tales while older fans can revisit them to have their nostalgia itch scratched. Having recently done exactly this myself, I thought it might be interesting to see how these comics have held up. To my surprise, they remain (for the most part) as fun to read now as they did over 30 years ago. Today’s Daily List examines the five best and five worst Star Wars stories that Marvel ever produced, excluding the film adaptations and the Droids and Ewoks tales from Star Comics. Whether you agree with my picks or not, this trip down memory lane will transport you back to a time when everything was Star Wars… and Star Wars was everything.
5) Behemoth from the World Below
The tenth issue of Star Wars had an elderly shaman conjuring up a huge lizard to protect his village from the arrogant outlaw Serji-X. But before you can say “bantha poodoo,” the old man met his maker, and the beastie began rampaging. Fortunately, Han Solo, Chewie and the ragtag band of misfits they hung around with early in the comic’s run (which included the divisive talking green rabbit Jaxxon and would be-Jedi/Obi Wan parody Don-Wan Kihotay) were on the case to stop the space reptile and save the day. Apart from a brief interlude about Princess Leia’s ongoing search for Luke, this issue is all action. In other words, exactly what kids back in the 1970s wanted from their Star Wars comics. Fun fact: This adventure marks the first (but obviously not the last) time Han Solo yielded a lightsaber
4) To the Last Gladiator!
The Wheel was a gambling resort/space station free from Imperial control that was the setting for several issues in the comic’s first year. (Think of it as a mash-up of Deep Space Nine and the Borgota). The most memorable of these tales had Han Solo and Chewbacca engaged in zero-gravity combat against a variety of intergalactic lowlifes. After their common foes were vanquished, they were forced to square off against each other. Anyways, knowing that they had to fight in order to save Luke, Leia and the droids, they share a silent goodbye before Chewie shoots his scoundrel pal right in the chest.Obviously Han wasn’t going anywhere, but the cliffhanger was a great tip of the hat to the movie serials that inspired George Lucas’ space opera in the first place.It’s worth mentioning that this installment also featured some great
political intrigue involving the Empire’s plans for the cosmic casino,
but the Han and Chewbacca smackdown is the biggest draw.
3) Silent Drifting
For the most part, venturing into Ben Kenobi’s back story was a no-no for the Marvel Star Wars stories. A notable exception is this tale from writer Mary Jo Duffy. After a close call with some TIE Fighters, Princess Leia recalls a story about a similar escape that Obi Wan made while aboard a pleasure ship. (Sadly he was there for business, so readers don’t get to witness any Jedi Gone Wild shenanigans). In the flashback, Kenobi is dressed in a slick black suit with blue highlights and a white belt that make him look like an intergalactic member of S.H.I.E.L.D.–it’s a really cool outfit, and yet another example of how Lucas dropped the ball in the prequels by having the all of the Jedis dress in the same robes. When some pirates begin approaching the vessel, the passengers assume there is a traitor aboard who has signaled the enemy ships. As all hell begins to break loose, Kenobi embarks on a Sherlockian investigation that unearths the truth: the pirate ships are attracted to microwaves emitted from a alcohol-fermenting device on his ship. After he destroys the device, the enemy cruisers are no longer able to track their moves and life aboard the vessel returns to the vice-indulging norm. I’m not sure if the grace-under-pressure young Kenobi here influenced the take on the character that we see trying to figure out who ordered the army in Attack of the Clones, but I am eternally relieved that this issue at no point features a 1950s-style diner. Sweet lord, I will never get over that atrocity.
2) Valance the Hunter
You’ll notice that this side of the list is completely devoid of any issues that were released post-Return of the Jedi. That’s because none of the adversaries from the later run of the comic were exciting or inventive enough to actually be a part of the Star Wars films themselves. This wasn’t always the case. Take Valance for example. While working as a Stormtrooper for the Empire, he was critically wounded during the attack on the first Death Star. In order to save his life, a medical droid had to transform him into a cyborg. This didn’t sit too well with Valance, who used fake skin to cover up his half-robotic appearance. After beginning a second life as a bounty hunter who specialized in killing droids, he had his self-hatred thrown into upheaval after he discovered that Luke and the droids were BFFs. Inspired by this, he learned to love himself. Cue The Smiths’ “Accept Yourself.” Valance was fascinating, a foe whose ferocity was even respected by Darth Vader himself. The only downside to the character was that he was written out of the comics too soon. If there’s ever anyone who deserves to be revived for today’s Expanded Universe tales, it’s him.
Han Solo is so great that alien races build statues in his honor. That’s one of the revelations fans were treated to in the second Star Wars Annual. When The Empire Strikes Back put Han in Carbonite, it seriously limited his story possibilities in the ongoing comic. Fortunately the magic of flashbacks neatly circumvents this problem. And so we have this pre-Star Wars tale that illustrates how Han got laid by a space babe, overthrew a despot who was really into shitty jewelry and generally made life awesome for the poor bastards who were stuck living on the unimaginatively titled world of Ventooine. Way to go Han, even stuck in Carbonite you get better stories than Luke.
5) Jawas of Doom
I fully expect that the comments section will explode in nerd rage for this one, as “Jawas of Doom” is widely considered to be the finest late-era Star Wars comic story. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this adventure here’s a quick recap: Boba Fett escapes from the Sarlacc, tries to kill Han for the umpteenth time, fails and is once again devoured by the Sarlaac. As someone who isn’t the biggest Fett fanboy, I don’t have a problem with what some fans consider to be the character’s lame death both times. The issue I have with this story is that once again getting rid of Fett instantly eliminates countless possibilities down the line. I’m not sure if Fett’s one-and-done appearance here was a Lucasfilm edict or a careless oversight by the writers. Either way it is a missed opportunity, especially given the low-rent villains like Lumiya who dominated the rest of the issues following the Battle of Endor.
4) Serphidian Eyes
The only entry on this list that sounds like the name of a Lionel Richie song, “Serphidian Eyes” has Luke traveling to an alien world to monitor a possible Imperial plot. Accompanied by space babe Captain Tarheel and Dean Venture doppelganger Berl, our hero discovers that the planet is inhabited by red lizards whose home is the universe’s dumbest Renaissance Fair. Because he’s an upstanding dude, Luke helps the hayseeds overthrow their oppressor by participating in a space joust. His pointless mission accomplished, he and Tarheel return to the rest of the rebels. (Berl died. It happens). What makes these comics compelling are beloved characters having adventures and space battles. Visits to the extraterrestrial equivalent of Medieval Times? Not so much.
3) All Together Now
Marvel’s comic saga limped to a close with this story that wrapped up the fighting with such unremarkable enemies as the Tof and the aforementioned Lumiya whose storylines had come to dominate the book in its final year. To give you some historical context, this issue was released in September of 1986. That’s three years after Return of the Jedi, and roughly a year and a half after the final Power of the Force action figure hit store shelves. As unthinkable as it may now seem, Star Wars had run its course. (Droids and Ewoks didn’t help matters much either). “All Together Now,” features familiar characters mixed in
with dubious non-movie characters who unlike the col Valance didn’t ignite readers imaginations. The final panel has Luke musing that peace was finally achievable, but not for readers like myself who were left disenchanted by how a once-great comic had fallen so far into mediocrity.
2) The Dreams of Cody Sunn-Childe
If there’s one positive thing to be said about this story from writer Wally Lombego, it’s that it is ambitious. When Lando and Chewie are sucked into another dimension, they meet Cody Sunn-Childe — a legendary Rebel who disappeared years earlier. It turns out that this character (who is about as subtle as a wet fart in white pants) discovered that he had mystical abilities to allowed him to create a “City of Dreams.” This utopia is threatened by the arrival of Imperial ships who have also crossed over into this dimension, so Cody decides to sacrifice his creation instead of violating his pacifist beliefs. He however has no problem stranding the Imperials in his dimension. Then Lando and Han return home. End scene. A few items of note: Cody Sunn-Childe is a character whose unexplained abilities are way more powerful than anything else we have ever seen in the Star Wars saga before. Odd, don’t you think? Furthering the strangeness is how after completely devaluing the Force as the series’ strongest cosmic bugaboo, Sunn-Childe sets himself up as a Christlike figure who at one point stretches his arms out as if he was being crucified. It’s all very unnecessary and heavy-handed. Much like religion itself. Zing!
1) The Third Law
Then there was that time that Darth Vader tried to stop Princess Leia from getting a bank loan.
As impossible as it may seem, that’s exactly what happens in this issue written by G.I. Joe scripter extraordinaire Larry Hama. Wanting the dough to finance a new fleet of X-wings, Leia and the Rebel Alliance’s finance minister, because obviously they have one, travel to the banking planet of Aargau to get a loan. No matter how many times you re-read that previous sentence, it makes no sense. This planet of Aargau has really strict laws, the second most important of which is a complete ban on weapons unless they are kept in professional looking briefcases, but more on that later.Surprise, Darth Vader is there too. But he’s not on Aargau to get an overdraft fee reduced or get a free iPod dock for opening a space checking account. He’s there on a diplomatic mission for the Emperor…or so it would seem. The Dark Lord of the Sith is accompanied by three fearsome creatures, all of whom he has hired to kill the Alliance’s finance minister (reminder: that’s a thing). I’m pretty sure this is where Lucas got the idea to have bounty hunter Jango Fett hire another bounty hunter to complete his task in Episode II, but I digress. After Leia thwarts attacks from each of her dad’s henchmen, Vader finally says fuck it and slices down the dude who worries about the Rebels cashflow with the lighsaber that he kept hidden in his briefcase. However, Leia admits that said finance minister was dead the whole time. Just like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense! She then produces her blaster, which she also hid in her luggage because diplomatic immunity apparently applies to pouches in a galaxy far, far away. Vader finally decides to violate the Emperor’s order to not use the Force and deflects her fire. A conversation in which Leia reveals the complexity/inanity of her plan to get the loan and avoid any Imperial trouble ensues. Right before she shouts “you got served!” at Vader, he tells her that he was just after the crown jewels of Alderaan that she put up to get the X-wing money all along. With this retarded take on Ocean’s 11 fully played out, the story draws to its conclusion and suddenly all that talk about the Trade Federation in the prequels doesn’t seem nearly as bad.