Ultimate Star Wars – An Encyclopedia For a New Era

Star Wars Hits the Reset

Ultimate Star WarsSince the Star Wars Saga first hit screens, fans have clamored for more and more information about their favorite space fantasy universe. In 1984, Raymond L. Velasco wrote the first Guide to the Star Wars Universe which attempted to detail many of the characters, aliens, and vehicles which were part of the universe; this guide was followed up with two subsequent editions.  Later, Star Wars super collector, author, and one time Director of Fan Relations, Steve Sansweet took up the task of compiling the first Star Wars Encyclopedia which would cover not only the movies, but the massive amount of books, games, and comics that were now part of the rapidly expanding Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU).  The subsequent release of the Prequel Trilogy and even more materials in the EU called for yet another update to the Encyclopedia.  The result was a massive three tome volume which detail everything from Amee to Hoojibs to Darth Revan; if you read about it in a comic, a book, or saw it in the movies, or on Clone Wars, there was a good chance it was in this book.

EncyclopediaWith the 2012 purchase of Star Wars by Disney that was all about to change as Lucasfilm and Disney needed to wrestle control of the massive beast the Expanded Universe had become and decided once and for all, what constituted canon in the Star Wars universe.  What was officially part of the Star Wars lore, and what was not going forward?  That controversial decision was made in 2014 with the announcement that going forward, only the six films of the Saga, and The Clone Wars series were considered the official history of the universe.  Also going forward, all comics, books would be going through the Star Wars Story Group and as a result would be considered canon as well.

To kick off this new era of Star Wars, Lucasfilm enlisted long time Star Wars writers, Ryder Windham, Daniel Wallace, and Adam Bray , along with megafan, blogger, podcaster, and frequent contributor to Star Wars Insider and the Official Site, Tricia Barr assemble a new Star Wars encyclopedia for this new era of Star Wars.

The results are glorious…

Chock Full of Star Wars Goodness

pagesUltimate Star Wars comes in at a sizable 320 pages, beautifully hard bound with a very nice forward by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO).  Every page is densely packed with information about characters, places, vehicles, aliens and creatures from the Star Wars Saga.  Some entries are fairly detailed with some great information for both new fans, as well as veterans of the Saga.  The layout of the entries is extremely organized and easy on the eyes.

The book is extremely well written, and you can tell the authors put a great deal of care and thought into what they were putting down on the page.  This is not some mere quick cash grab, Ultimate Star Wars is a lovingly crafted introduction into the Star Wars universe penned by writers who truly care.  While I’ve leafed through most of the pages and read quite a few of the entries, there is so much information packed inside, I know I will need a few read throughs to pick up on all of the little hints and secrets the authors peppered throughout the book.  There’s certainly enough information to keep the most avid Star Wars fan entertained for weeks,.

Since this book’s source is the Star Wars Story Group, all of the information contained within is considered Star Wars canon.  The nice thing about this release is it finally puts to bed some of the nonsensical rumors started by Lucas and Prequel bashers that Disney was going to retcon a lot of the Star Wars stories and characters from the Prequel Trilogy.  The most frequent rumors swirled around the origins of bounty hunter Boba Fett.

BobaSome fans simply refused to accept the origin story of their favorite villain; that he was the clone “son” of bounty hunter Jango Fett, and he had grudge against the Jedi for the murder of his father at the hands of Jedi Master Mace Windu.  They wanted Boba Fett to be this mysterious figure, a lone gunman in the lawless west of the Star Wars universe, conveniently ignoring the fact that Boba’s origin, as told by Lucas, is quintessentially Western… gunslinger/bounty hunter father gunned down by the law; son vows revenge against the law and takes up his father’s profession.  Thankfully Boba Fett’s entry in Ultimate Star Wars puts that argument to rest forever… Boba Fett is STILL the clone son of Jango Fett.  However, his fate in the belly of the Sarlacc is still left a little open ended for his potential return.

For those who are shaking their fists to the heavens in rage, I hate to break it to you but there are other surprises in store for you…

Quibbles… Master Evan Piell Is a Zabrak???

Master PiellI have a few minor nerdy quibbles with the book, but they certainly didn’t distract me from my overall enjoyment of Ultimate Star Wars.  The first main hiccup is a few errors have made their way into the text, the biggest culprit being the entry of Jedi Master Even Piell from Phantom Menace and featured prominently in an arc of The Clone Wars.  His entry incorrectly identifies his race as Zabrak when in fact he is a Lannik; yes a goof, but this book has been described as the first official encyclopedic Star Wars resource, it could cause confusion in fandom.  Hopefully future printings will correct these errors or they can be revised in a later edition.

And speaking of The Clone Wars I was a little dismayed at the number of pages dedicated to that show and time period.  In total The Clone Wars accounts for about 25 pages worth of entries, but when you consider over 50 plus hours of storytelling was dedicated to that show compared to the movies, I would have to imagine there’s a lot more information that could have been included.  However, to be fair the Clone Wars entires are outstanding and have some little nuggets of information that were not previously revealed, such as the identity of Padawan Ahsoka Tano’s homeworld.

Finally, my biggest gripe is probably the publisher’s decision to release the book when they did.  The book contains almost no references to the current line of Marvel comics which are canon, there are only vague hints from the new novels, and there’s little in the way of hints about the state of the galaxy during The Force Awakens.  Additionally, there are a number of timelines included in the book, but again they are also very vague, no doubt leaving a lot of wiggle room for for future writers and storytellers to be able to come up with engaging adventures that fit within the new canon.  Taking all of this into account I really have to wonder if this release might have been better served happening closer to the release of The Force Awakens, or maybe shortly after it so more information coming from the spin off comics and books could have been included in the release.  Hopefully this book will either be regularly updated, or might have supplementary books released when there’s enough new information to warrant it.


Yancy, Is It Worth It?

To quote that great fount of wisdom, Napoleon Dynamite: “Heck yeah!!!”

This really is a Star Wars book for everyone.  If you’re new to the Saga, it’s a great primer on the characters, vehicles, aliens, and events surrounding the entire Star Wars Saga to date.  If you are a longtime fan, the first official Star Wars canon encyclopedia is a must.  The presentation is simple gorgeous, and like most of DK Publishing’s Star Wars work, they have been given full access to the Lucasfilm archives, and as a result Ultimate Star Wars is filled with beautiful pictures of costumes, props, and models from the Saga.  Additionally, the writing is outstanding and there are some very informative, and even poignant sidebars (“Anakin’s Choice” in particular comes to mind).

Ultimate Star Wars is a great resource for any fan looking for official information about their favorite characters, starships, gadgets, or aliens from that galaxy far, far away, and it even included a few surprises along the way for me.  So run, don’t walk to your local retail bookstore, or you can find some super deals online.  This is the first must have resource for any Star Wars fanatic.

Canon Wars

Expanded Universe1This past April, Lucasfilm announced, via the Official Star Wars website, that going forward, only the six films of George Lucas’ Star Wars Saga, and The Clone Wars television series would be counted as official canon (meaning they are a part of official Star Wars history).  Additionally, all future comics, books, short stories, television projects, and films would now be part of a cohesive whole and conform to that canon.  They also established that all books and comics previously released would now carry the moniker of “Legend” status, and would no longer be considered any part of Star Wars lore.  Lucasfilm was free to use characters, ideas, and stories from those releases for future projects, but from the perspective of the new Star Wars Story Group (responsible for shepherding the Saga going forward), these stories were now apocryphal.

The news was met by fans with a mixture of ambivalence, elation, shock, and horror depending on what side of the Expanded Universe as canon argument you fell on.  Some within fandom saw the announcement as a good thing, giving Lucasfilm and Disney a fresh start to tell new stories without the baggage of previously established stories.  Others saw the announcement as the ultimate betrayal of fans of the Expanded Universe who had loyally followed their favorite characters through hundreds of adventures told in books and comics, and were now being dumped on their heads.Star Wars #7

What became known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (meaning stories told outside of the movies) began with issue #7 of the Marvel Comics Star Wars series which began to tell stories of what took place to our heoric Star Warriors following the Battle of Yavin.  1978 saw the release of the first spin off novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was followed shortly by a series of Han Solo novels written by Brain Daley.  A series of Lando Calrissian novels came later after the release of The Empire Strikes Back.

Guide to Star WarsAt the time there was really no need to consider the continuity between the novels and the comics since there were only a handful of stand alone novels which had no bearing on what Marvel was doing with the comics.  However, in 1984, following the conclusion of the Original Trilogy, author Raymond L. Velasco tried to put all of the information collected in the films, novels, and comics into one guide book of the Star Wars Universe.  A Guide to the Star Wars Universe was the first attempt to gather the history, people, and places of that far away galaxy in one place.  But the universe was about to explode in 1987.

For the 10th Anniversary of Star Wars roleplaying design company, West End Games, released the 1st Edition of their Star Wars Roleplaying Game, along with the Star Wars Sourcebook.  The era of the Expanded Universe was born.  In the years that followed West End released books revealing the inner working of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the aliens and planets that made up the universe.  The game became an instant hit with gamers and non gamers, and the Star Wars sourcebooks that were released became required reading for serious fans.  WEG - Star Wars Sourcebook

However, 1991 would go down as probably the most important year in the history of the Expanded Universe with two seminal releases that would change how Star Wars stories were marketed and revive the series among the general public.  Heir to the Empire, written by science fiction author Timothy Zahn, to the story of Han, Luke, and Leia years after their victory at the Battle of Endor.  A New Republic had emerged, and the Star Warriors were once again called to protect the universe from the Empire, under the direction of the evil  Grand Admiral Thrawn.  The book became an instant bestseller, and sparked a wave of more adult novels.  Meanwhile, later that year, Dark Horse Comics secured the Star Wars license and launched their own post-Jedi story, Dark Empire, which saw Luke Skywalker taking on a resurrected clone Emperor Palpatine.  The six issue miniseries (which was originally intended as a Marvel release) became Dark Horse’s best selling title to date, and Dark Horse immediately commissioned new comic titles.

For the next 20 years both Dark Horse and Bantam/Del Rey books released hundreds of stories which all became part of a larger Star Wars experience known as the Expanded Universe.  Lucasfilm tried to keep it all under control ensuring that continuity was maintained between various comics, novels and video games.  Eventually, the company attempted to set some firm rules about what constituted official Star Wars lore, and what was part of the Expanded Universe’s continuity.  Lucasfilm devised a muti-tiered program with the movies, and later The Clone Wars television series being called “G-Level canon,” meaning official Star Wars canon coming directly from creator George Lucas. Comics, most novels, and video games became a separate part of the Expanded Universe’s continuity and were intended not to conflict with each other.  Finally, other projects like The Star Wars Holiday Special, the Ewoks movies and cartoon series, the Droids animated show, and other projects were their own animal.

Zhan Trilogy

The two main continuity lines appeared to live together, but separate for a number of years, rarely intersecting or conflicting with each other.  However, that began to change as The Clone Wars animated series began to explore ideas and characters that creator George Lucas was interested in. Of course with hundreds of books, comics, and short stories telling new adventures, or filling in gaps left by the movies there were bound to be contradictions.  The first big salvo was about to be fired over the backstory of the Mandalorians.Mandalore

Lucas first devised the name Mandalorian when working on The Empire Strikes Back. According to the novelization they were a group of super commandos who hunted down the Jedi Knights.  Following the release of Jedi, it did not appear that Lucas would be revisiting Boba Fett’s backstory, or the history of the Mandalorians, so comic authors and novelists felt safe digging into the mysteries of Boba Fett and the Mandalorian people.  That changed with Attack of the Clones when Lucas first revealed the origins of Boba Fett and his bounty hunter father, Jango Fett.

Following that film’s release, author Karen Traviss authored a series of Clone Trooper books which went into great detail about the Mandalorians, their culture, history, and language.  Her writing on the subject was so in depth that it gave rise to a subculture of the Star Wars fanbase that was dedicated to all things Mando.  Unfortunately, the reality of Star Wars canon and what was considered the “real” history of Star Wars would be at odds with Traviss’ work when Lucas decided it was time to visit Mandalore itself in The Clone Wars.  Instead of a noble warrior culture as Traviss envisioned, Lucas saw Mandalore as a pacifist world that had turned its back on its warrior past and was trying to find peace in a galaxy at war.  In a three-part arc, the current ruler of Mandalore, the Duchess Satine, is trying to quell a rebellion by Death Watch, descendants of the Mandalorian warriors, while trying to keep her homeworld out of the Clone Wars.

SatineNeedless to say, the reaction among fans of Traviss’ Mandalorians was extremely negative.  Some accused Lucas of violating canon and implied that Traviss had created the “official” history of the Mando culture.  Others suggested Lucas was nothing more than a hack, strip mining Traviss’ good ideas, while injecting his own “crappy” ones.  It was at this point that I realized that Lucasfilm was simply in an untenable position.

George Lucas has always been very clear what constitutes official Star Wars canon, and what is considered “part” of the Star Wars universe, but outside of his Saga:

There are two worlds here. There’s my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe—the licensing world of the books, games and comic books. They don’t intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they do intrude in between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.” George Lucas Cinemascape, July 2001

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Lucasilm’s representatives who muddied the waters with statements like this:

We’ve stuck to a very clear branding strategy for the past decade. This is Star Wars. Individual movies come and go, as do TV shows, video games, books. They all contribute to the lore of Star Wars, but in the end it is one saga and that saga is called Star Wars. We’ve wanted to send a clear message to our fans that everything we do is part of that overall saga.”  Howard Roffman, President, Lucas LicensingTales of the Jedi

Lucas Licensing Editor Sue Rostoni tried to elaborate on this, but only added to the confusion:

Canon refers to an authoritative list of books that the Lucas Licensing editors consider an authentic part of the official Star Wars history. Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas’ Star Wars saga of films and screenplays.

Long time fan and contributor to Lucas Online, Pablo Hidalgo and and Lucasfilm Continuity Database Administrator, Leland Chee were tasked with getting the Star Wars licensing behemoth under some sense of structured order.  They made it clear that there were essentially two hierarchies of Star Wars canon; George’s vision of the Star Wars Saga which included his films and The Clone Wars, and and Expanded Universe canon which included the six films. The Clone Wars, and the comics and novels.  Chee further clarified that the only “official” Star Wars story was George’s:

“Anything not in the current version of the films is irrelevant to Film only continuity.

Of course fans would continue to bicker endlessly  about canon and the Expanded Universe’s place in the Star Wars legend.  Some argued that The Clone Wars was not canon, others devised their own hybrid canon including some portions of the EU as part of the “official” Star Wars story.  However, the Disney purchase of the Star Wars license changed everything.

Finally, a definitive answer was given when Lucasfilm announced that going forward all comics, books, and stories would now be part of the official Star Wars timeline and would be supervised by the new Star Wars Story Group.  All Expanded Universe products released in the past would be rebranded as “Legends,” apocryphal stories that were no longer considered canon.  However, Lucasfilm reserved the right to use elements of the old EU in future Star Wars projects.  This outstanding video explains the policy changes:

Unfortunately this announcement was met by a lot of push back.  Fans had become attached to many EU characters like Luke Skywalker’s wife, Mara Jade, or Han and Leia’s children, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo. Other fans were immersed in the ancient history of Star Wars told in the Old Republic series.  The EU was a rich and diverse universe with many memorable characters of its own, and suddenly being told that these stories “don’t count” had to be a little jarring.  Naturally there was bound to be some disappointment, but some fans took things to a bit of an extreme.

New Jedi OrderFrom my own point of view, I’m happy with the change.  I never really viewed the hundreds of comics and books as having any impact on the stories George Lucas was trying to tell.  I never once considered him sitting down to write the treatment for Episode VII, then reading a copy of  Heir to the Empire and quietly saying to himself, “Dammit, Han and Leia have twins? What am I going to do?” As a long time Star Trek fan who read the comics and most of the novels during the 80s, I was intimately familiar with the concept of canon and ancillary merchandising.

I guess my backgound in film studies helped me grasp the idea that while all of these new characters and adventures can be exciting, in the grand scheme of things they really don’t amount to much to the filmmaker and his creative process; they are nothing more than a revenue stream.  I know it’s a somewhat cynical attitude, but it’s true.  I doubt in the 30 plus years that Lucas controlled the Star Wars empire that he ever cracked open a Star Wars novel or seriously read one of the many comic series.  He simply did not have time for that.

Over the years the sheer volume of books coming out from Bantam/Del Rey had led to a very spotty track record.  For every Kenobi, or I, Jedi, or Allegiance, there were a handful of books which were painful to read.  Concepts like the Yuzzan Vong, a clear attempt to cash in on the Star Trek Borg craze fell flat, and simply didn’t feel much like Star Wars.  Lengthy book series like The New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi were mix of good and awful novels which tested the reader’s patience.Kenobi

Now to be clear, I’m a huge fan of many of the Star Wars novels (I consider John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi to be one of the finest Star Wars stories ever), and I’ve read every issue of the comics produced by Marvel and Dark Horse.  If you even dare to visit the Jedi Council Forums at theforce.net you can find me there posting as Gallandro (a nod to Han Solo’s nemesis, the villainous gunslinger created by Brian Daley).  I LOVE a lot of the EU, but it was time for a change…

And I understand that change is hard; I really sympathize with EU fans who feel betrayed by Lucasfilm/Disney.  There are a lot of fans out there who were introduced to Star Wars through the EU, so these stories hold a special place for them.  To them Jaina Solo is just a vibrant and real as Luke and Leia.  But the reality is these characters aren’t going anywhere, as long as you stay invested in them.  Sure there wont be any new licensed adventures featuring the heroes and villains of the EU, but its clear they are not being totally abandoned.  Del Rey is re-releasing many of the classic EU novels with the new “Legends” banner, and even Marvel will be releasing collections of selected series of Dark Horse Star Wars comics as part of the “Legends” series.  There’s no reason EU fans can’t introduce other Star Wars fans, or non fans to many of these classic stories.  The EU hasn’t gone anywhere… it’s just taking a different path.

A New DawnI would urge any EU fans out there who have given up on the new continuity to give it a chance.  The first official novel released under the new canon, A New Dawn, by longtime Star Wars author John Jackson Miller is an outstanding book (I’ll post a review soon) and a worthy successor to the long line of EU classics.  James Luceno’s Tarkin has also been receiving great advanced reviews. Additionally, a couple of the upcoming Marvel comics sound intriguing like the Kanan spin off comic and the upcoming Leia miniseries.

While the era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe has come to a close, there appears to be a bright future ahead for quality books and comics that fans can enjoy while we wait for the latest big screen Star Wars adventure.

May the Force Be With You

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye – Luke Has the Hots For His Sister…

Splinter_of_the_Minds_EyeOkay, okay, the title is a little sensationalistic, and to be fair back in 1978 audiences had no clue about the nature of Luke and Leia’s sibling connection; but revisiting the first spin off Star Wars novel left me with both a feeling of nostalgia, and queasiness.

It was April 1978, and I once again found myself at B. Dalton Book Store inside Thomas Mall.  I patiently waited for the bespectacled employee with the horrible comb-over to finish filling the cardboard case emblazoned with the words (in Star Wars font): “Star Wars Splinter of the Mind’s Eye: The New Luke Skywalker Adventure!”  I was about to escape to that far away galaxy once more.  I was giddy with excitement.

The book had come out the month before, but it was in hardback; far too expensive for my budget… so I waited. Finally, it was getting released in paperback.  As soon as the case was loaded I grabbed  my copy, paid for it at the register and quickly biked my way home.  I read non stop, and stayed up late into the night to finish it.

It was an exciting and mysterious adventure with our heroes, Luke and Leia, and trusty sidekicks Artoo and See-Threepio, crash landing on the swamp planet Mimban. They soon discover there is an Imperial presence on the planet, and are forced to enlist the aid of Halla, a strange old woman.  The old crone shows the young Rebels a shard from a Kiburr crystal which she claims magnifies the Force; if they help her find the crystal she will get them off Mimban.

They make their way through the misty swamps with a pair of Yuzzem companions; two large, furry aboriginal creatures they freed from Imperials.  The motley group must fend off Imperials, and enormous worm creature, and other swamp monsters.

Eventually they arrive at the Temple of Pomojema, the location of the fabled Kiburr Crystal, and encounter Darth Vader, who has beaten to the temple.  Luke and Vader fight in an exciting and epic lightsaber duel with Vader using his Force abilities to get the upper hand.  Luke, aided by the spirit of Obi-Wan and the power of the Kiburr crystal eventually chops off Vader’s arm, but Vader is able to turn the tables on Luke.  Exhausted,the Dark Lord staggers toward Luke, ready to deliver the killing blow when he stumbles and falls into a bottomless pit.  The heroes win the day and escape Mimban along with Halla.vader-luke-battle

While the story felt more like something out of a fantasy novel, it felt right in the Star Wars universe.  Author Alan Dean Foster’s descriptive prose helped paint an vivid picture of the story in my mind.  The book always kept pushing forward with our heroes being tested by more ominous threats along their journey. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye had a feel of an epic adventure although it was fairly limited in its actual scale.  There always seemed to be danger on the horizon, or some evil, unseen force lurking in the misty haze ahead.  The book’s gorgeous cover by famed Star Wars master illustrator (more on him in another blog entry), Ralph McQuarrie, only added to the sense of intrigue and danger.img-alan-dean-foster_17114976765

I recently revisited the book, and was surprised how well it still holds up as an adventure.  It is clearly rooted in mythologist Joseph Campell’s 17 steps of the hero’s journey, and  I think that’s one of the reasons it works so well.  Halla, in particular, is character pulled straight out of myth who offers our heroes a means of escape, but requires them to do a service, and bestows on them a magical gift (the crystal shard) to complete their quest.

One of the more interesting aspects about this book is its history.  Alan Dean Foster was an up and coming science fiction author who had written a series of novelizations based on the Star Trek Animated Series. He was approached by Lucasfilm to ghost write the novelization of the first Star Wars film (which)  and was given an option for a second novel which might be the basis of a second film if Star Wars was a success.  Foster was granted access to pages of background material creator George Lucas had developed.  He later sat down with Lucas and the two hammered out some loose concepts for a story.

The idea was that Splinter of the Mind’s Eye would be adapted as a made for TV movie.  Lucas certainly did not expect his science fiction fantasy to be a run away hit, but he hoped that it would do well enough that he could approach 20th Century Fox to tell another adventure, possibly on television.  The production needed to be limited in scope and be able to reuse a number of sets and costumes from the first film.

sw-splinter-of-the-minds-eye-4Foster delivered his book, but by then Star Wars was a phenomenon.  But merchandising was limited, and fans were clamoring for more product and more stories; so Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was published in a hardback edition on March 1st, 1978.  Like the movie which inspired it, the book was a hit.

Of course if someone were to read the book today it’s an entirely different experience than back in 1978 since there was so much about the universe we didn’t know.  Based on what we saw in 1977 we knew Luke was sweet on Leia, and Leia probably liked Luke… I mean she did kiss him twice in the movie, but something about the way she interacted with Han suggested there might be some sparks of romance there.  So it really wasn’t much of a surprise when I read:

“They trudged on, Luke stealing admiring glances at her when she wasn’t looking. Disheveled and caked with mud from the waist down, she was still beautiful.”

The hints of romance are riddled throughout the book, and there are even moments of sexual tension:

“Luke felt the warmth of the body next to him, lowered his gaze. Framed in the faint light from above, the Princess looked more radiant, more beautiful than ever. “Leia,” he began, “I …”

Without Han in the story it felt natural that a romance between Luke and Leia would bloom.  Luke appears a little more mature and world weary (this was by design) and comes across a little more heroic and not quite as immature.  Eventually Leia begins to notice:

The Princess grew aware of how tightly she was clinging to him. Their proximity engendered a wash of confused emotion. It would be proper to disengage, to move away a little. Proper, but not nearly so satisfying.”

Then 1983 happened…

I’ve returned to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye a few times since Return of the Jedi, and it’s still an enjoyable adventure, and brings back nostalgic memories of 1978 when I was desperate for more Star Wars stories.  But now I know Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and their innocent attraction is a little… uncomfortable.  I can’t help reading those passages and think to myself,  “Woah… that’s ummmm… not right.

I think I need a shower…


May the Force Be With You

Make Mine Marvel… Star Wars???

How Marvel Comics kept me sane every three years…

I’m going to dedicate this post to my grade school buddy, John Coe.  John had read my blog and then hit me up on Facebook and asked me if I was going to do a blog about the old Marvel Star Wars comic?”  As it turns out we both shared a passion for it back in the day.  I told him that was certainly in my plans and I would be getting to it soon since the Marvel comic was a very important part of early fandom.  A flood of great memories filled my head of the new Star Wars adventures I would read each month as I anxiously waited for the next movie. I eventually decided to lay aside the piece I was finishing (cryptically titled “I Hate You Donald”) and dive straight into some Mighty Marvel goodness!

Comic books were a pretty important part of my childhood.  I was certainly not an avid collector, but I usually kept up on a couple of series like Superman (my favorite superhero) and Marvel’s Invaders, but my main comic book passion was World War II comics. I would usually walk with my grandmother to the local A.J. Bayless Grocery Store on 56th Street and Thomas.  While she would shop I would make my way to the drugstore next door, and sit in front of the comic book racks and read. Whenever I had saved up enough pennies or nickels I would pick up an issue or two of my favorite series.  But what I really looked forward to was that one week of the month when the owner of the store would take all of the old comics that were two or three months old and had not sold and discount them.  He would take those issues, tear off the covers and put ten of them in a bag and sell them for a quarter.  I could usually persuade my grandmother to give me the extra money I needed if I was a little short. So I would scoop up my treasures, quickly walk back to my grandparents’ house and sit down in their den and escape.

Now I knew Star Wars was coming; I had already read the novelization and had picked up a poster magazine featuring a big picture of Darth Vader that I had pinned up on my wall. But I wasn’t expecting to walk into the drugstore one afternoon in April and see the first issue of Star Wars sitting in a rack on the comic book carousel.  I gently pulled the book from the rack and paid for it at the counter.  I walked back to the grocery store and met my grandmother and promptly displayed my new prize to her.  Even though I was giddy with excitement, I waited patiently until we got back to her house to devour the first issue. Over the course of six issues I followed Luke along in his adventures from a New Hope.  But what happened next?  Was that it? Fortunately I had my answer on the final page of issue #6.  Next Issue: A New Adventure of the Star Warriors!!!  Star Wars #7

You have to understand, during the Summer of 1977, there wasn’t much in the way of Star Wars merchandise to tide fans over until Luke’s next cinematic adventure.  There were no cartoons, no novels other than the movie adaptation; there weren’t even any toys.  What a young nine year old boy didn’t realize at the time was that no one in Hollywood expected this movie to be a hit.  So when George Lucas and his team at Lucasfilm looked for merchandizing partners they were few and far between in the months leading up to the movie’s release.  All we had were posters, The Star Wars Scrapbook (a making of book), the soundtrack, and these comics. The enormous wave of Star Wars merchandise was months away.

The first few adventures were a mixed bag with Han Solo teaming up with a band of smuggler misfits to protect a town against what could best be described as an intergalactic biker gang.  Oh, then add Godzilla to the mix and you essentially have the plot for the Eight From Aduba-3 arc.  The one positive to this story is that we were introduced to Jaxxon, a green furred version of Bugs Bunny who hails from Coachelle Prime (no I’m not making that up).  In truth, I actually love Jaxxon; he brash, sarcastic, and packs a mean kick.

JaxxonFortunately the series started to find its footing and introduced us to some new villains who were worthy adversaries for the Star Warriors (Marvel coined the term for Han, Luke, and Leia).  Crimson Jack was a space pirate who had managed to salvage an old Star Destroyer and used it for his piratical ends.  There was also the menacing cyborg bounty hunter, Valance, and the Tagge family was introduced as a regular threat to our heroes.  Both the writing and the art finally stabilized with Archie Manning taking on writing duties, and old-school comic artist Carmine Infantino along with newcomers Terry Austin, then later, Bob Wiacek taking on inking duties.  The Star Warriors had hit their stride and over the next two years would keep me satiated while I waited for The Empire Strikes Back.borg-star-wars-valance

It was around issue #26 when I realized, much to my horror, that I was missing two issues (#22 and #24).  I simply could not find them at the usual places like the drugstore of my nearby 7-11. I had no idea where to start, so I asked my dad.  He told me I should try the Yellow Pages and said there had to be some place where you could buy old comic books.  I finally found a comic book store (something I had never heard of before) on 3rd Avenue and Indian School road.

The nondescript shop was tucked away in the back of an old strip mall; it didn’t look like much from the outside.  When I walked in I was greeted by a grumpy older gentleman who looked like he had better things to do that morning than sell comics to the group of loud, bratty kids that filled his store.  I ignored all of the commotion because I was on a mission, and sure enough I found the issues I was looking for.  But something inside me paused, I had never been in a shop like this before.  There were classic comic books everywhere, old movie paraphernalia and used books lined the walls.  Even my normally gruff father was taken in by a Lone Ranger lunch pail on a shelf. This wasn’t a comic book store… this was a store of wonders, but for an 11 year old boy it wasn’t really close to my home so it may as well have been on the other side of the world.  I bought my comics with money from mowing the lawn, and vowed never to miss another issue of Star Wars again.

Star Wars #24Unfortunately that was a promise I couldn’t keep as once again stores in my are did not seem to be stocking issue #29 of Star Wars.  So once more I made the trek to the comic book shop, only this time it had a new name, “All About Books and Comics” and was under new management; a young couple, Alan and Marsha Giroux.  Alan would introduce me to a world of comic books that I knew existed, but had never paid much attention to.  Alan explained how the comic distribution system work, and encouraged me to either get a direct subscription to Star Wars from Marvel, or he would be happy to hold a copy for me each month.  My dad agreed to take the monthly trek as long as I paid for my own books.  While I was there I asked Alan to hold me new issues of Superman, Captain America and Spiderman. I had taken my first steps into the world of comic collecting.

I eventually managed to find creative ways to get to All About Books and Comics every week or so, usually when my mom would make a shopping trip to Park Central Mall.  I would hang out at the store and listen to talk about upcoming comics, or new Star Wars merchandise Alan was getting in the story.  This was also the first place I heard “water cooler” type talk about Star Wars.  People would shoot the breeze about Star Wars, and others hinted that they knew people working on the new film.  I absorbed the discussion about the latest rumors they had heard… my anticipation for Empire grew.

Meanwhile, the Marvel train kept rolling with exciting adventures about Han Solo rescuing and negotiating away his debt to Jabba the Hutt (whoops… that got retconned in a later issue), and Luke Skywalker returning to Tatooine to fight the Empire and dismantle a new superweapon being developed by the evil Baron Tagge.  By now Marvel was turning out a solid title with very few misses, but soon the creative powers at Marvel would find themselves in a bind following the release of The Empire Strikes Back.Star Wars #49

I’m sure the fols running the Star Wars title had to be metaphorically banging their heads on the brick wall. You are coming off a successful comic adaptation of one of the most successful movie sequels of all time, and one of its most popular characters (Han Solo) in that series is now unavailable to you.  To make matters worse you have to at least have the other primary leads continue to look for him, and you have to drag this out for three years.  But somehow the folks at Marvel managed to make this work.  Star Wars stumbled for a couple of issues following Empire, but then found its rhythm again with a classic Star Wars tale in issue #49 The Last Jedi. This streak continued for some time with new writer David Michelinie and artist Walter Simonson aboard.

The new creative team found some inventive stories to tell including a story surrounding the Empire’s efforts to build a new superweapon, the Tarkin, which was capable of destroying entire planets (originally the crew wanted to use another Death Star but were politely told “No” by Lucasfilm). In this story we are introduced to a potential love interest for Luke, Shira Brie, who, unbeknownst to Luke, is an Imperial agent under direct orders from Vader.  The stories were epic and exciting, and definitely helped get fans through the three year wait for Jedi.

MissionAccomplishedUnfortunately in the years following the release of Return of the Jedi the series took a turn for the worse. Although the creative staff had a little more freedom as far as storytelling, they were even more hamstrung by the lack of a clear future for the film franchise.  That’s certainly not to say there were not some good stories here or there, but the consistency of the series was simply lacking, and the series mercifully ended almost two years after the release of Jedi.

Years later, Dark Horse Comics would acquire the comic book rights for Star Wars.  Over the next 13 years the numerous comic book series released under the Dark Horse banner would become an integral component of the Expanded Universe telling stories about the early days of the Jedi Knights, The Clone Wars, and the further adventures of Luke Skywalker following Return of the Jedi.

But Marvel Comics was where it all began.  For nearly nine years, the adventures of the Star Warriors was one of the few authorized outlets for Star Wars stories that fan had. We could follow the continuing adventures of Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia as they battled the forces of the Empire, escaping the clutches of Darth Vader and his minions.  But fear not fans, for the Mighty Star Warriors will be returning shortly… to Marvel.  Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars license has now put the comic book rights under the guidance of Marvel once more.  Marvel already has plans for two new books debuting in early 2015, and a Princess Leia mini-series coming in Spring.  As Darth Vader said in A New Hope, “The circle is now complete…”

May the Force Be With You… EXCELSIOR!!!

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