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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Force in Focus: Star Wars #107

"All Together Now"
September 1986

In a Nutshell

Writer: Jo Duffy
Penciler: Cynthia Martin
Inker: Whilce Portacio
Colorist: Elaine Lee
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
On the planet Saijo, Luke leads his friends, as well as an alliance of Zeltrons, Nagai, former Imperials, and Fenn Shysa's Mandalorians, in an attempt to capture the Tof prince Sereno, whom they learned, via a deeply-entrenched double agent, is stationed on the planet. Amidst the simmering tensions between the disparate groups, they put their plan in motion, with the men posing as captives while Leia & Dani don veiled Tof dresses to disguise themselves as they infiltrate the prince's court. When the captives are brought before the prince, they learn that the Dark Lady Lumiya is in attendance as well. As a fight between the Tof, Lumiya and the Alliance breaks out, Prince Sereno orders an airstrike. But as the Tof ship in orbit attempts to respond, it is attacked by the waiting Gold squadron, led by Lando & Wedge. They force the ship to surrender, while on the ground, Lumiya targets Leia. However, Lumiya is suddenly shot by one of the Tof, who reveals himself to be the Alliance's entrenched agent: Bey. Luke then captures the prince, effectively bringing the war to an end. As Han, Bey, & Knife reunite, Luke expresses hope that in the wake of their victory over the Tof, the various allied factions will finally have a chance to make peace.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the final regular issue of this iteration of the series, though Marvel published a special 108th issue as part of their 80th anniversary celebration in 2019 and both Dark Horse and Marvel will publish Star Wars books during each of their later tenures as the license holders. The series' cancellation was abrupt (Jo Duffy reportedly learned the news while writing this issue, and had to scramble to inject some larger level of finality into it, while the Marvel Age solicits for it teased an entirely different story involving Luke landing on a planet where everyone wanted to kill him), and, as chronicled here and below, ostensibly occurred as part of a general culling of their publication line Marvel was doing ahead of the launch of the New Universe imprint, in which they cancelled several lower selling and licensed comics to help make room for the wave of New Universe books.

Of course, as that article points out, if Star Wars had been selling better, it wouldn't have been culled, and there are a number of additional contributing factors to its cancellation, including the creative inertia forced on Jo Duffy by LucasFilm, the general malaise and lack of direction for the nascent Star Wars expanded universe at the time, and the licensing fees involved in producing the book (which meant that it had to clear a higher bar of sales to remain profitable).

Picking up on the groundwork laid in the previous issues, this one begins a bit in media res, with the Star Warriors having formed a formal alliance with the Nagai and teamed up, alongside Fenn Shysa and some former (unnamed) Imperials (presumably the ones who initially threw in with the Nagai) against the Tof. A couple of flashbacks show how this new alliance, and the plot to capture the Tof prince on Saijo, came to be.


Along with the new alliance, Den and Dani are involved in a weird sort of relationship, in which each has been changed by the other in ways neither is very happy about (Dani has made Den less cutthroat and sociopathic, while Den, as a result of, you know, the torture and killing of Kiro, has made Dani darker and more angsty), thereby effectively making them the only people either is comfortable being around even as they don't particularly like one another for it.


It's a weird and problematic dynamic, but knowing, going into this issue, that there was some kind of Dani/Den relationship established in it without knowing the details of it, it's certainly miles better than I was expecting (ie I figured it was going to be a straight up romantic thing where Dani had come to love the man who once tortured her extensively), and something that would have been interesting to explore further in subsequent issues.

Lumiya makes one final, somewhat abrupt, appearance in this issue, having allied with the Tof in order to fulfill her vow to Darth Vader to kill Luke. Unfortunately, she doesn't get too do much besides threaten Leia; she doesn't even share a scene with Luke.


Bey, whom you may or may not remember as Han's retconned-in childhood friend who turned out to be half-Nagai and betrayed the Alliance before also betraying the Nagai by not letting Knife kill Han, returns in this issue, revealed as the Alliance spy inside the Tof who informed them of the situation on Saijo.


Wedge makes a rare post-Jedi appearance in this issue.


A Work in Progress
The planet Saijo, which was the setting for the events of issue #93, is the setting for this issue, with the Tof having conquered the world and established as their base of operations since that issue.

Stentorians & Lahsbees are shown amidst the Alliance group gathered to hear the details of the Alliance's alliance with the Nagai in one of the issue's flashbacks.


Um, Actually
Knife asks about Luke teaching the Nagai the ways of the Force, something Luke promises to do once the immediate conflict is settled (whether any of the Nagai are capable of sensing and manipulating the Force is an open question).


Chewie is drawn towering over Nien Nunb, despite the two being proportionally the same size in the films.


Luke's lightsabers (both his standard one and his newer, shorter, shoto blade) are once again colored yellow.

I Love the 80s
From Lando's purple blouse to Luke's sleeveless white shirt to Lando smoking some kind of space cigarette, the cover to this issue is decidedly 80s.

Also, the opening splash page finds Luke doing his best Rambo impression.


Jo Duffy on Star Wars' Cancellation 
Star Wars was still selling over 100,000 copies a month, better than most of the mid-range super-hero books, up until the end. The restrictions from LucasFilm are what effectively canceled the book. It got to the point where they said that I couldn’t do this and that with the characters I created. I was at my wit’s end. We got the feeling that whoever was in charge of approving all this at LucasFilm didn’t want there to be a comic book at all anymore. LucasFilm’s focus was elsewhere at that point, Star Wars was not a primary concern. Marvel pulled the plug because we got the impression that they didn’t want us to do the comic anymore.”

Greenberg, Glen. "How To Do Star Wars The Marvel Way." Back Issue April 2005: p14

Jo Duffy on LucasFilms' Story Restrictions 
After  [Return of the] Jedi, the restrictions got a lot tighter. LucasFilm basically told us to pretend that Jedi had never happened. We were told Han and Leia were interested in each other, but hadn’t hooked up. We were not to acknowledge Luke and Leia as siblings.We were not to acknowledge Luke as a fully developed Jedi. We were not to do anything with the Jedi, or with the Empire.”

Greenberg, Glen. "How To Do Star Wars The Marvel Way." Back Issue April 2005: p12

Austin's Analysis
As a resolution to the Tof-Nagai War storyline that has dominated the series for the last half dozen issues (and was built up well before that), this is effective, if a bit abrupt. The decision to jump ahead in time, relative to the previous issue, was likely predicated by the impending death of the series (this was clearly the direction Duffy was heading; it seems likely her original intent was to continue building towards this more deliberately) but it gets the job done (arguably more effectively - and certainly more efficiently - than if she had the time to build it up over additional issues). The defeat of the Tof, similarly, is abrupt, but not outside the bounds of how war in Star Wars works (in which the Rebel Alliance effectively targeted the Emperor for execution in Return of the Jedi as a means to end the war, similar to how all martial efforts are put into capturing the Tof monarch here), and it's easy to imagine that, given more issues, Duffy would have explored the aftermath of the Tof defeat in much the same way this series handled the Empire's defeat (ie just because the Rebels won and the Emperor was dead doesn't mean the Empire just melted away).

But as a conclusion to the series as a whole, it's hard not to be let down by this. The reveal of Bey as a secret double agent within the Tof works fine enough within the context of the immediate story (albeit one that probably would have worked better if Duffy had the space to establish the existence of said double agent in an issue that didn't also reveal his identity), but making the emotional climax of the entire series being Han learning his retconned-in childhood friend (whose introduction was seriously botched by scheduling issues) was a good guy all along comes up short. Similarly, bringing back Lumiya, the closest thing the series has to a recurring Big Bad at this point, for one last appearance is much appreciated; what would be even more appreciated is if she had more to do, or at least had her final moments involve Luke Skywalker in some way, instead of merely serving as a vehicle to setup the Bey reveal.

In general, Duffy's run, particular towards the end, is often derided for focusing too much on her original characters - Kiro, Dani, Bey, etc. - and there is some truth to that criticism. But within the context of this issue, the focus on the Duffy-created characters in it is perfectly acceptable given it is closing out a storyline in which all those characters were already heavily featured. But even within the larger context of her run, it's hard to blame her for using the original characters so much, given the constraints placed on the book by LucasFilm. At a time when the future of the Star Wars universe was perhaps more up in the air than at any point in time before or since (and a time when LucasFilm's relationships with its license holders wasn't nearly as cozy as it is now, when the various books and comics work in tandem to both set up and explore the film content), Duffy is unable to do much of anything with the central characters: she can't explore Luke rebuilding the Jedi order, or do anything other than tread water with the Han/Leia relationship. Unable to advance the stories of the characters anyone cares about, she does the only thing she can: use those characters to advance the stories of other, original, characters and, hopefully, get readers invested in them as well along the way. For the most part, Duffy succeeds in this: give or take a Bey, most of her original characters are interesting enough in their ways, and even if we maybe don't care about them as much as we do the characters from the films, their presence at least allows for the illusion of change that is so important to the success of long-form serial narratives.

Duffy's run is far from perfect: she never really gets a good handle on Leia (even here, she has her finish out the series in a standard damsel-in-distress plot beat, on the verge of being saved by Han before Bey steps in and does it himself), the whole "the main characters are cut out of the Alliance command structure" subplot was ill-advised and poorly-executed before being essentially dropped, and while every writer on the book struggled under the limitations imposed by LucasFilm, those limitations hampered her run more than any other, especially as it moved into a post-Jedi setting (a setting which should have allowed the series to open up in a way it never really did). And this issue in particular is hardly a rousing conclusion for the series as a whole. But then, it was never meant to be, and it's doubtful, given the book's role from the outset as a companion to, and never the driving force of, the overall Star Wars narrative, that any final issue by any writer could have crafted a suitably epic conclusion for the series. Duffy, for all her faults and the limitations placed on her, at least did an effective job of making the series feel like both a reasonable continuation of the films' narrative, and create the impression that the narrative had actual consequences (even as the main characters were even more frozen in amber than the average comic book star). Aided towards the end of her run by the unique, stylistic art of Cynthia Martin, who imbued the book with a sudden artistic energy unlike any before, Duffy managed to make the book something which will be missed, even while its conclusion here is understandably flawed.

Next Issue
That's it! But check back next week for an update on what "Force in Focus" is doing next!

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5 comments:

  1. First of all: congratulations, Austin, for reviewing the entire comics. And no fill-ins! You should be giving presentations at Marvel!

    The cover of the last issue of Star Wars is terrible. Wanting or not, it was this comic rage saved Marvel in the late 80s. In 1986, I cannot believe they couldn’t get a decent penciller.

    I feel sorry for Duff. It must have been very hard to work on stories when everything you did was vetoed. If she was forbidden of showing the aftermath of the galaxy after the Empire’s defeat, what else could she do? I have no idea. It’s quite possible that at this point George Lucas may have considered the possibility of creating a sequel trilogy.

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    1. The cover was done by the regular series artist, Cynthia Martin.

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    2. @Licinio: Thanks!

      It’s quite possible that at this point George Lucas may have considered the possibility of creating a sequel trilogy.

      Yeah, it sounds like part of Duffy's problem is that Lucas wasn't sure what, if anything, he wanted to do with Star Wars next. If he was going to skip a sequel trilogy, then Duffy could have done more. If was working on a sequel trilogy, then she could (theoretically) help set it up. But because Lucas couldn't decide what to do, she was left unable to do anything so as not to risk stepping on Lucas' (potential) toes.

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  2. I obviously stopped commenting on these posts because I fell off of reading along with you somewhere around Archie Goodwin's final issue, but I wanted to drop in and congratulate you as well on finishing the series!

    Will there be more "Force in Focus" in the future (I assume at least there will be one for RISE OF SKYWALKER... maybe for THE MANDALORIAN as well?) If you haven't looked into them, the newspaper strips are a lot of fun, and the I believe the "repackaged" versions (formatted like comic books) are on Marvel Unlimited under their original Dark Horse reprint title of CLASSIC STAR WARS.

    Duffy's comments about how difficult LucasFilm was to work with at this point seem to fit with what John Byrne said about his short-lived term as writer/artist of THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES. Per Byrne, Lucas licensing understood nothing about how comics were made. They approved plots, then later asked for story changes after the art had been drawn; stuff like that.

    It's weird to remember what a non-thing STAR WARS was from the mid-80s to mid-90s. I mean, there were the short-lived DROIDS and EWOKS cartoons, but that was about it. It's hard to imagine nowadays living in a world where there's no new STAR WARS content being churned out on a regular bases (for better or worse)!

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    1. Thanks!

      Will there be more "Force in Focus" in the future

      Definitely! Next week's post will basically be a "business" post that speaks to both the immediate and long-term future of the column (spoiler alert: I have a firm idea of what I'm doing next in the immediate future; the long term stuff is more up in the air).

      It's weird to remember what a non-thing STAR WARS was from the mid-80s to mid-90s. I mean, there were the short-lived DROIDS and EWOKS cartoons, but that was about it.

      And even both of those finished airing right around the same time this issue was on sale. '86-'91 is definitely the weirdest, leanest era of Star Wars. Even after Episode III, when it seemed like the movies were done, there was still a Star Wars presence, books and toys and comics and cartoons, even if it seemed like there wouldn't be any new movies. But this late 80s period, it's like Star Wars is just...gone.

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