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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Force in Focus: Star Wars #1

"Star Wars"
July 1977

In a Nutshell
Darth Vader captures Princess Leia as Luke Skywalker gets drawn into her efforts to enlist Obi-Wan Kenobi's help. 

Scriptor/Editor: Roy Thomas
Illustrator: Howard Chaykin
Letterer: Jim Novak
Colorist: Marie Severin

Plot
Above the planet Tatooine, an Imperial starship pursues a Rebel spacecraft, their battle attracting the attention of young Luke Skywalker on the planet below. Soon, the Imperials board the Rebel craft, led by Darth Vader, who orders his troops to find the missing data tapes and bring him the passengers alive. Meanwhile, a young woman loads data into the robot R2-D2, after which he and his companion C-3P0 escape the ship via a lifepod, just as the woman is captured. Below, Luke races to the city of Anchorhead and is reunited with his old friend Biggs. In orbit, Vader interrogates the young woman, then orders the Rebel ship destroyed and a detachment sent to the planet to locate the missing escape pod. Below, Artoo and Threepio emerge from the pod, but are quickly captured by local scavengers, while Biggs tells Luke he's planning on jumping ship and joining the Rebellion. Elsewhere, a meeting of Imperials is interrupted by the arrival of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, who announce the Emperor has dissolved the Imperial Senate, with fear of the new Imperial battle station intended to now keep local systems in line.


Back on Tatooine, the droids are put on sale by the scavengers and purchased by Luke and his Uncle Owen. As Luke cleans them up, he discovers a holographic message inside R2-D2, recorded by the young woman, meant for someone named Obi-Wan Kenobi. Over dinner, Luke asks his uncle if the droids could be the property of the hermit Ben Kenobi, but Owen tells Luke to stay away from him, then reiterates that he needs Luke to stay at least one more season before going to the Academy. Dejected, Luke returns to the garage and discovers that R2-D2 has runaway. The next morning, a group of Imperial Stormtroopers discover the droids' escape pod as Luke and C-3PO track down R2-D2, who is still searching for Obi-Wan Kenobi, just as all three are attacked by a group of Sand People.

Firsts and Other Notables
Being the first issue of the series, this marks the first appearance of a ton of characters in Marvel's initial Star Wars comic book universe: C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, Princess Leia (unnamed in this issue), Luke Skywalker, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Stormtroopers in general, along with supporting/minor characters Biggs Darklighter, Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru, Commander Tagge and Admiral Motti. The Emperor is mentioned for the first time as well. 


Luke's friends, Cami and Fixer (who never appeared in the film), also appear for the first time, though I don't believe we'll ever see them again.


Also making their first comic book appearances are the Jawas (though they go unnamed) and the Tusken Raiders (called Sand People, though their weapons - gaderffii sticks - are named, so that apparently made it into a script).


The famous deleted scene involving Luke meeting his friends in Anchorhead and running into Biggs, with Biggs telling Luke he's planning on jumping ship and joining the Rebellion, appears in this issue. It was cut towards the end of production of the film, and thus made it through most drafts of the script. As a result, it appears in a lot of licensed material (this issue, the novelization, I even think the movie storybook included stills from the scene). The scene itself was watchable in black and white on a Star Wars CD-ROM in the mid 90s, before being included amongst other deleted scenes on the Blu Ray release of the saga (and having almost made it to the final cut, it's one of the most complete deleted scenes).


The debut creative team for the series is Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin. Thomas, a former editor-in-chief of Marvel, had come up through the company as Stan Lee's protege. Though no longer Marvel's EiC at the time, he was instrumental in convincing Marvel to take on the adaptation of Star Wars, lobbying Stan Lee (who, operating as Marvel's publisher at the time, had earlier turned down the project) after being pitched hard by Charlie Lippincott, George Lucas' licensing manager, who sold Thomas on the idea of the film via Ralph McQuarrie's design paintings. Future Marvel editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, has credited Thomas' acquisition of the license as having saved the company, as Marvel had been losing money for several years prior to the release of the film, a trend the huge popularity of Star Wars helped reverse.

Art comes from Howard Chaykin, best known for his independent series American Flagg, but he's had a long career working for multiple companies. He was reportedly requested to work on the project specifically by George Lucas, who was a fan of his work. Chaykin was also tasked with creating a promotional poster for the series, one which was passed around at San Diego Comic-Con prior to the release of the film, to drum up interest in the movie and the series, and which inspired the cover of the first issue.


This issue shipped with two different price points, one for $0.30 and the other for $0.35 (this issue being published as Marvel was transitioning from one price point to the other), with the more-rare thirty-five cent version becoming something of a collector's item.

This issue contain two text pieces in the back. The first is an introduction to the world of Star Wars, providing background on the universe of the story and the creation of the film, and highlighting the involved players, both behind-the-scenes and the actors, with Harrison Ford and Peter Cushing specifically called out.


The second text piece chronicles the story behind the series' creation, though it is understandably a much more sanitized and Marvel-friendly abridgment of the lengthy process (for example, Stan Lee is said to have given the project to Thomas in that "oh, shucks, what the heck?" kind of way that fit the carefully-cultivated tone of the Marvel Bullpen, when in fact Lee had turned down the project initially and had to be cajoled into signing off on it by Thomas). It also announces Steve Leialoha as the inker of the series, beginning with the next issue.


Um, Actually
Though cover dated July 1977, this issue was actually on stands in March of 1977, two months before the release of the film. Part of Marvel's deal with George Lucas (in which Marvel did not pay much for the rights to do Star Wars comic books) required them to have two issues on stands ahead of the film's release, as from the filmmakers' perspective, the comic was meant to help drive interest in the film. As a result, Thomas and Chaykin were working off an earlier draft of the screenplay than the finished product, and in fact, they didn't even see a rough cut of the film until this issue and the next were already in production. As a result, there's a number of little differences between this story and the film version, particularly in the visuals and especially in the earlier issues.

To wit, Vader's helmet on the cover is green, the red eyes more pronounced, we never see Threepio get picked up by the Jawas, the Force is referred to as "the Cosmic Force", Luke never gets to whine about wanting to pick up some power converters (he does whine about going to Toshi [sic] Station), and Luke's contemplative gaze at the setting of Tatooine's twin suns, arguably my single favorite scene of the entire saga, is understandably absent (it wouldn't be quite as effective, and just a waste of panel space, on page).

Other differences of note:

The text crawl in this issue is from the earlier draft of the script Thomas was given to adapt, and thus differs from what actually appeared in the film. And, of course, the title "A New Hope" is nowhere to be found.


Thomas introduces Artoo and Threepio using the generic term "robots", rather than the more Star Wars-specific "droids".

Leia is hit not with a stun blast, but the far more comic book-y paralysis ray.


A Work in Progress
Other than "Darth Vader = angry" and "Threepio=anxious" Luke is the only character to get any significant development, as his yearning for adventure, his desire to join the Imperial Academy, and his feeling that he's trapped on the planet, destined to work as a farmer with his uncle all his life, is made as clear here as it is in the opening acts of the film.

The ship Biggs is assigned to is the Rand Ecliptic, a detail referenced in the cut scene that stays mostly consistent throughout the Expanded Universe. 

Darth Vader is shown drinking (or at least preparing to drink), which seems odd.


Roy Thomas on the selection of Howard Chaykin as artist 
"Charlie [Lippincott] also told me that George [Lucas] would really like the artist of the series to be Howard Chaykin, who had recently done nice work on a science-fiction hero called Ironwolf for DC, and was probably already at work on a Monark Starkiller one-shot for Marvel. That sounded like a perfect choice to me, both because I liked Howard...personally and because I had worked with him on a story or two. It seemed to me that Howard's stule would be a good fit with the energyu implicit in the [Ralph] McQuarrie art - and, in fact, the figure of weapon-wielding sf swashbuckler on the cover of Charlie's copy of the screenplay...resembled a figure by Chaykin, or maybe Chaykin's own mentor, Gil Kane."

Thomas, Roy. "Star Wars: The comic Book That Saved Marvel! How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars - With Reservations." Alter Ego #68. May, 2007:66

Roy Thomas on fighting for a six issue adaptation
"Marvel's circulation director Ed Shukin made it known that he was unhappy with the prospect of publishing a six issue adaptation of some science-fiction movie with no stars in it that anybody had ever heard of before...equally worrisome from Ed's point of view was that, though Marvel got the adaptation rights for bupkis, it was with the stipulation that at least two issues of the six had to be on newsstands before the movie's release date in May 1977. After all, from 20th [Century Fox]'s point of view, the comic was intended to help the film, not vice versa. Ed, quite naturally, would have preferred to have had it the other way around. What if the movie was a bomb? Worse still, what if the comic book was a bomb? ... My response was that I felt it would take six issues to the do the book 'right'. However, I informed him and Stan [Lee], if Marvel wished to have someone else write the adaptation, I'd bow out...I didn't need the extra work. My position was basically take it or leave it...Marvel's call. Of course, since it was my project and the movie people had specifically asked for me as writer, I had a fairly strong hand in the particular poker game. But I wasn't bluffing. Someone else would have had to write an adaptation of Star Wars that ran less than six issues."

Thomas, Roy. "Star Wars: The comic Book That Saved Marvel! How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars - With Reservations." Alter Ego #68. May, 2007:67

Roy Thomas on promoting the film at San Diego Comic-Con
"Along the way...Howard and I took time to help start a comics convention tradition which I'd just as soon retroactively abort. Charlie Lippincott arranged for the three of us to do a program together at the July 1976 San Diego Comic-Con - probably the first time a movie company had gone all-out to woo hardcore comics fans with its upcoming product. The three of us, wearing prototypes of what was doubtless the earliest Star Wars t-shirt ever...sat on the stage and fielded questions from an enthusiastic audience about both film and comic. I had no premonition at that time that, only a few years later, I would react with revulsion to what had quickly become a common sight at comics conventions - a bare handful of people showing up to see and hear a longtime and respected comics creator speak, while, dopwn the hall hundres of fans tried to cram into a room to gawk at slides of a fantasy film that would released (often to bad notices and worse business) some months later."

Thomas, Roy. "Star Wars: The comic Book That Saved Marvel! How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars - With Reservations." Alter Ego #68. May, 2007:68

Teebore's Take
Marvel's Star Wars comic, for the first six issues of its existence, at least, is a study in adaptation. For anyone reading this issue when it was first released, some two months before the film, the tale was certainly brand new, but the vast majority of readers most likely have come to the story after seeing the movie a time or two (thousand). There's appeal, then, in seeing what's different, not just scenes cut from the final film, but different artistic interpretations and, because the story of the film is told across six issues, where each issue ends and the next begins.

George Lucas was heavily influenced in the creation of Star Wars by the Saturday matinee serials of his youth. Comic books, then, are a natural fit for the telling of his story, sharing as they do many of the same narrative elements with those serials: a focus on action and adventure, fast pacing, and cliffhanger endings designed to hook the audience and bring them back for more. This first chapter in the Star Wars comic book adaption ends as Luke is attacked by Tusken Raiders, and that seems like the most logical stopping point for the first issue. It's the first moment of physical danger for our hero, and while Star Wars the film is notable for taking its time in introducing Luke, most adaptations, including this one, working off earlier drafts of the script, bring him into the narrative much more quickly via the deleted scenes involving Anchorhead and Biggs. As a result, readers of the comic have a better sense of Luke by the time the issue ends with him threatened by a gaderffii stick than if the film had been serialized as well and ended its first chapter in the same place.

For readers in March of 1977, encountering this world for the first time, this issue makes for a strong introduction to this galaxy far, far away. For readers today, far more familiar with this world, both the specific film this story is adapting and what comes later, there's real pleasure in seeing what's different, in watching how seasoned comic veterans like Thomas and Chaykin apply the tropes and structures of the medium to the wild mishmash of ideas and influences that constitute George Lucas' vision. It's tough to beat the film for sheer energy and awe, but there's charm here in these page nonetheless.

Next Issue
Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi and takes a trip to a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Collected Editions 

13 comments:

  1. I've only read this in the Treasury Edition that reprinted the adaptation across two issues. Apart from spotting the Biggs scene I can't remember much about this opener.

    It's amazing that Marvel seem to have been almost the only company to be doing any merchandise when the film took off. I wonder what sales would have been like if there had been any competition for fans' attention?

    "no stars in it that anybody had ever heard of before..."

    Was Roy Thomas just ignorant of movies or had Alex Guiness and Peter Cushing's many, many starring roles not made it across the Atlantic? I always thought they were cast to give star credibility to the film that would get critics and audiences to at least give it a chance - much as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan did with X-Men a generation later.

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  2. Maybe anyone in the intended audience, Tim. I doubt with Patrick Steward too his extensive history in the Shakespearean theatre specifically wasn't the big draw in him for the audiences.

    Vader looks like Annihilus.

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  3. Anyone who has Marvel Unlimited can read along, as they just added 500(!) Star Wars comics to the site.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  4. @Tim: Was Roy Thomas just ignorant of movies or had Alex Guiness and Peter Cushing's many, many starring roles not made it across the Atlantic? I always thought they were cast to give star credibility to the film that would get critics and audiences to at least give it a chance

    Yeah, Alec Guiness, at least, was definitely cast to add credibility - he was the highest paid actor, and they negotiated pretty heavily to get him on board.

    As for Thomas' estimation of the actors, as Teemu said, I believe in that Alter Ego article Thomas mentions that while Guiness and Cushing were big stars, they likely weren't the kind of names that would draw in the usual comic book readers, so he couldn't really use them as leverage in his discussions with Lee and Shukin. The line you quote was, I believe, Thomas paraphrasing Shukin's attitude.

    @Mike: Anyone who has Marvel Unlimited can read along, as they just added 500(!) Star Wars comics to the site.

    Yes indeed! Including the entirety of this series and, if not all, damn near all, the various Dark Horse series. I meant to go back and update my original launch post and just haven't had the chance.

    Nonetheless, that's pretty dang cool, and a wonderful bit of coincidental timing!

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  5. "Impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?"

    Am I the only one who imagines Helen Lovejoy popping up out of nowhere and wailing "Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?" during that scene?

    "Thomas' acquisition of the license as having saved the company, as Marvel had been losing money for several years prior to the release of the film"

    Interesting. I had no idea Marvel's situation was so dire then. I always thought that they were doing well in the 70s and had quite a few hits and well performing titles then.

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  6. Pretty sure Bob Harras and Tom DeFalco weren't working for Marvel yet in 1977... I assume that's a carryover from your X-Men template.

    I'm excited to follow along with this. I've never read any of this stuff, as I said before, so I'm going to do my best to actually read it with your posts, just one issue per week in the Omnibus. We'll see how long that lasts.

    I love early licensed adaptations of big properties. The old MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSES mini-comics, TRANSFORMERS storybooks, stuff like that. There's something fun about seeing creators go nuts in a world before its "rules" are established. Though according to Thomas in the Omnibus into, Licasfilm was pretty hands on right from the beginning, telling him which characters he could and couldn't use, and so forth.

    (Teebore: if you'd like a scan of that intro for quote purposes, please let me know and I can try to get it to you. Though it seems to duplicate a lot of the material from that ALTER EGO article you've quoted.)

    As for this issue, it wasn't bad. I'm surprised that, so far, this six-issue adaptation doesn't feel too "decompressed". And Thomas's captions, which are usually way too over-the-top flowery and poetic for me -- not to mention covering every inch of extra panel space like unnecessary wallpaper -- are under control here, probably due to needing to adapt the film's dialogue effectively.

    Chaykin's art looks a bit too scratchy/sloppy to me in some places though.

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  7. how about Force Awakens teaser tho

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  8. Great column idea - will definitely be reading along.

    As far as Vader and the cup, I don't think he means to drink from it. It's lost somewhat in the panel, but I believe the intention is to demonstrate the power of the Force by having Vader levitate the officer's cup from the table and into his hand right when he's talking about the Force. I'm pretty sure this is how it plays out in the novelization (or at least how I've always interpreted it).

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  9. Pedro -- That's a good point. Funny; I thought Vader was getting ready for some refreshment too, but now that you mention it, a miscommunication between artist and writer makes sense here. Especially since, per the afore-mentioned Omnibus introduction, Thomas says that he just sent Chaykin the script Lucasfilm had provided and let Chaykin do the plotting/pacing based on that.

    From what I've heard, Thomas worked similarly with John Buscema on some of their CONAN adaptations, just sending Buscema paperback novels and letting him draw the story however he wanted based on those, then coming in later to do the scripting.

    My take-away from this is that adapting things via the Marvel Method has to be the sweetest writing gig ever. You send your artist the pre-written materials you were provided from someone else, let the artist do all the hard work based on that, then "adapt" dialogue and maybe toss in a few captions of your own origination to explain things, and collect your check. I love it.

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  10. @wwk5d: Am I the only one who imagines Helen Lovejoy popping up out of nowhere and wailing "Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?" during that scene?

    Won't someone *please* think of the Bureaucrats!

    I always thought that they were doing well in the 70s and had quite a few hits and well performing titles then.

    I think the industry as a whole took a hit in the late 70s (see also: the DC Implosion) due to the crappy economy, rising production costs, etc. Also, from what I've read, it sounds like Marvel was kind of a mess editorially through most of the 70s (once Stan left), with a succession of EiCs who all took the job, realized it was a thankless job involving lots of work, and then quitting. Combine that with a lot writers who, from the sounds of it, were in a drug-induced haze for most of the decade, and it seems like the company was suffering from a lack of direction and a strong editorial hand (cue Jim Shooter).

    @Matt: Pretty sure Bob Harras and Tom DeFalco weren't working for Marvel yet in 1977... I assume that's a carryover from your X-Men template.

    Heh. Yeah. Thanks, I'll fix it.


    if you'd like a scan of that intro for quote purposes, please let me know and I can try to get it to you.

    Actually, that'd be great. The ALTER EGO article is pretty thorough, but you never know what else the intro might contain.

    Thomas's captions, which are usually way too over-the-top flowery and poetic for me -- not to mention covering every inch of extra panel space like unnecessary wallpaper -- are under control here

    For the most part, yeah, but the opening page looks even more cluttered and lacking impact when you remember the cinematic version of the same scene.


    Chaykin's art looks a bit too scratchy/sloppy to me in some places though.


    Me too. Spoiler alert, but I like it a lot more when Leialoha starts inking it next issue.

    My take-away from this is that adapting things via the Marvel Method has to be the sweetest writing gig ever.

    Right? Sign me up!

    @Jeremy: how about Force Awakens teaser tho

    Hold those thoughts! I've got a post on it coming.

    @Pedro: Great column idea - will definitely be reading along.

    Thanks! Good to hear. Welcome to the party!

    It's lost somewhat in the panel, but I believe the intention is to demonstrate the power of the Force by having Vader levitate the officer's cup from the table and into his hand right when he's talking about the Force.

    That makes a lot of sense. Certainly more sense than Vader trying to drink through his mask, Dark Helmet-style.

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  11. “Will he save the galaxy — or destroy it?” How utterly Marvel.

    // Darth Vader is shown drinking (or at least preparing to drink), which seems odd. //

    That floating cup and the steam trail behind it make such an elegantly nonchalant, wordless depiction of Vader’s power amidst all the dialogue, I almost don’t care why it’s happening.

    Lucas must’ve really followed comics for him to see Chaykin’s Ironwolf (a feature running in Weird Worlds) or really anything else at that time. Chaykin’s Monark Starkiller would’ve barely seen print, if at all, in Premiere before his work on Star Wars began, although the creator-owned Cody Starbuck was out there. It was pretty much all rather under-the-radar stuff that he was doing, though.

    Chaykin had potential, to say the least, but Luke Skywalker alone has about six markedly different faces in this issue; the proportions and detail on Vader and the droids vary wildly and get, as Matt noted, pretty sloppy in places. Whether it was purely time pressure or indifference to consistency on Chaykin’s part, I don’t know for sure, although he said this in an interview with Jon B. Cooke published last month in ACE #2: “By the time I’d gotten the assignment, I wasn’t that interested in science fiction and doing the Star Wars stuff put the nail in the coffin on that one.” Per the same piece, after raising the question of whether he’d have put more effort into it had he known that Star Wars would be of the quality it was and have the longevity it has, unlike the B-movie schlock it could well have been, “I’m not sure my skills were any more evolved than they demonstrated.” His choice would have been Al Williamson, “because he cared about that stuff and I don’t.” Next issue’s a definite improvement.

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  12. @Blam: “Will he save the galaxy — or destroy it?” How utterly Marvel.

    Right? I guess "Will he save the galaxy - or just stay home?" doesn't have the same hook to it.

    Lucas must’ve really followed comics for him to see Chaykin’s Ironwolf (a feature running in Weird Worlds) or really anything else at that time.

    I had that thought too. It's sometimes hard to picture him (or his filmmaking peers like Copolla and Spielberg) as a young, grass roots, indie/counterculture filmmaker nowadays, when he was (until recently) the master of a billion dollar empire, but he really was just a relatively young guy when he made Star Wars, so I suppose it makes sense that he was following some more obscure comics that shared some sensibilities with his own filmmaking interests at the time, with a level of interest he wouldn't have had the time for once he became more of a bigwig/film impresario.

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  13. The cut scene with Biggs also appears in the 1981 radio play. ( A 13 episode 6 and a half hour radio play, that substantially expands the movie's story. )
    Cami, Fixxer and the rest of Luke's "friends" also appear in the first episode.
    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars_%28radio%29

    Fixxer also re appears some what early in the Marvel run again, in issue 31
    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Laze_Loneozner

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