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