This Wednesday sees the premiere of Star Wars, a new comic-book series from Marvel set in the Star Wars universe. It’s one of three such series soon to debut—followed by books focusing on Princess Leia and Darth Vader—and it’s notable for a number of reasons, including the A-list creative team of writer Jason Aaron and artist John Cassaday. Above all, it’s newsworthy for returning Star Wars to Marvel. An inevitable development since the acquisition of both Lucasfilm and Marvel by Disney, it’s far from the first time the two universes have collided. Prior to a 20-plus year stint at Dark Horse Comics, Star Wars’ comic-book home was Marvel from 1977 until 1986, the year that saw the publication of 107 monthly issues and a handful of spin-offs and miniseries (soon to be re-released as a series of thick hardcovers as part of Marvel’s Omnibus line).
It was an important relationship for both companies: Marvel’s involvement helped sell Star Wars at venues like Comic Con prior to the film’s release. Star Wars’ blockbuster status helped lift Marvel’s sales at a time when the company needed a boost. It was an important relationship for fans, too, never more so than with the oft-reprinted, six-issue 1977 adaptation of the first film. In the days before streaming, DVD, and even VHS (yes, there was such a time), items like Marvel’s Star Wars adaptation took on the status of relics. Those of us who couldn’t relive the film turned instead to spin-off items like the soundtrack, storybooks, and the novelization. Most felt like settling. But not the comics adaptation.
Teaming writer Roy Thomas, Stan Lee’s successor as Marvel’s editor-in-chief and a prolific writer, with then up-and-coming artist Howard Chaykin, it sometimes reads less like an adaptation of Star Wars than the product of an alternate universe in which Star Wars only existed as an overheated space-opera comic book filled with fantastic pulpy images and appropriately purple prose in the Mighty Marvel Manner. Here are five especially memorable images from that adaptation.
Issue 1: “It is a period of CIVIL WAR in the galaxy”
From the first page, Thomas and Chaykin announce that this version of Star Wars will be their own take on the material. Really they had no choice: Since the film was far from finished when they started the comic, the team only had the script, concept art, and stills from which to draw. Instead of the comics equivalent of Star Wars’ famous opening shot, in which a Rebel ship gets attacked through a much bigger, screen-filling Star Destroyer, we instead get a much blunter variation of the same scene and an appropriately big Thomas description of the accompanying “soulsearing shudder.”
Issue 1: “It’s Grand Moff Tarkin—and Darth Vader!”
By the adaptation’s final issues, Thomas and Chaykin had gotten a chance to see the film, allowing Chaykin to adjust his art accordingly. But there’s something to be said for his earlier interpretation of Darth Vader, which gives him the appearance less of an evil space samurai than a menacing metal toad.
Issue 2: “…This is Chewbacca. He’s a Wookiee”
Another case in which Chaykin’s artistic license yields interesting results, his version of Chewbacca looks more like a scary mustachioed sasquatch creature than the cuddly brute who made it to the screen, one prone less to the Ben Burtt-created growls and roars than exclamations that sound like “GRONK” (and, elsewhere “NRLK!” and “GAROOO!”)
Issue 4: “In Battle With Darth Vader”
Another memorable splash page, the opening of the fourth issue captures part of what makes the comic so memorable: Chaykin’s vividly rendered laser blasts and their accompanying side effects. Say it with me: “ZIK ZIK… ZRAP.”
Issue 5: “Today you die, Luke Skywalker!”
Comics had long relied on lurid, even deceptive covers to attract readers, and Star Wars was no exception. Remember that scene where Luke fights Darth Vader as Princess Leia lies helpless nearby? There’s good reason: It’s not in any Star Wars movie. Yet there it is on the cover, and who could resist picking it up? It looked like a window into a different version of the movie entirely. In effect it, like the rest of the adaption, was just that, one that’s as memorable, and enduring, in its own way, as Lucas’ film.
Issue 3: “Star Wars Pin-Up Special”
Chaykin, whose work can currently be seen in the Matt Fraction-penned Satellite Sam, would later be known for increasingly adult work in titles like American Flagg! and the sexually explicit Black Kiss. A bonus drawing at the end of the third issue features a rendition of Princess Leia that proved stirring to a generation of young readers.