One of my favorite past-times is heading down to the local comic shop or convention and looking for deals. With the advent of digital comics, more and more folks are abandoning their old longboxes in favor of a few gigs of hard-drive space or subscription services. That’s great for those folks as the digital files are easy to store and transport, plus they clear up space in their homes. Me, on the other hand, well, I’m happy to fill my house up with all the fun stuff folks are leaving behind. More often than not, I end up stumbling onto some pretty cool comics. One such day, I wandered into a shop and saw a box of Treasury Edition comics at a discounted price, and there were some treasures indeed. For those unfamiliar, the Treasury Editions were magazine-sized comics (10” by 14”) that came out in the late 70s and 80s. Often, these were reprints, but they also contained some pretty awesome original stories like Superman vs. Muhammad Ali or the first Spider-man/Super-man crossover. I didn’t find those, but I did stumble onto the 1977 Star Wars Special Edition comics.
Issues 1 and 2 contained issues 1-6 of Marvel’s original adaptation of the Star Wars movie by Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Steve Leialola, Rick Hoberg, Bill Wray, and Dave Stevens. That’s quite a bit of talent behind this project, and the Star Wars title ended up becoming one of Marvel’s best-sellers as a result. Of course, because they weren’t allowed to tell stories that might end up as movies, they ended up introducing a talking rabbit named Jasper and going off the rails a bit–but that’s much later.
Let’s start with the art on this book. First and foremost, I want to stress how cool it is to have this in the oversized format. It really does make the issues feel special, and part of a bygone relic. I would love love love to see Treasury-sized issues make a comeback simply because of the high quality art coming out of the comic industry today. These classic oversized editions really do sell the best of the comic book medium. The splash pages feel splashier, the pin-ups more like posters, and the rest of the story just as good–but bigger! It’s the IMAX treatment for comics.
With something like Star Wars, it’s tricky, simply because it is a film adaptation based on real-life actors and sets that have been had impressions burned into my brain since my childhood. Here, the art wavers in parts, but for the most part, it does a faithful job of staying true to actors. Except Chewbacca.
Poor Chewie spends the better part of an entire issue looking …. not like Chewbacca.
To think about it today, where Star Wars has become such a ubiquitous part of our pop culture, Howard Chaykin and co. did a stand-up job with such unknown properties. There’s always a fine line when adapting a live-action work between phototracing and producing functional comic art–and while there are times where the series falters—when it works, it really works. It truly is a delight to see those classic characters–and ships and Death Stars in this format. I read that at certain points, because of the awkward size, panels actually had to be trimmed and feet had to be cut out of the larger version–it’s a sacrifice I didn’t really notice and a trade I would readily make in order to have everything else in the larger format.
Because the comics were released alongside the movie, there are some inconsistencies that Star Wars aficionados will notice right away. The lightsabers all being red (and being spelled lightsabre–they never spelled it that way in the movie!), or the appearance of the green walrus-looking guy standing in for Jabba the Hut stand out. The inconsistencies between the adaptation are actually the part that I had the most fun with. Longtime hard-core Star Wars fans know that scenes were filmed with Jabba the Hut that never made the final cut in the movie–but those scenes were initially filmed with a Scottish actor instead. He was not a green Walrus dude. I guess when the Lucas camp handed the material over to Marvel, they said that it’s not going to be this guy, but some kind of alien, you make it up. So we get a green Walrus dude.
Also, we get some additional scenes with Biggs Darklighter that never made the final cut of the movie. Neat!
Speaking of “the final cut” of the movie, one thing that is troublesome is the fact that the original theatrical release of Star Wars is unavailable, and has been for years. The Star Wars IV: A New Hope Special Edition re-release from the 90’s is the only version of the movie that is readily (and legally) available. There, George Lucas made some directorial decisions like including the originally omitted scenes with Jabba or having Greedo shoot first against Han–but there’s enough changes out there to make me doubt myself. I had to ask around to remember if Jabba actually appeared either on or offscreen in the original version–he didn’t–but because of the changes, I had no way of knowing. One of the nice things about having this story in a format I can readily enjoy (old yellowing newsprint as opposed to VHS or Laserdisc) is that George Lucas can’t make changes in post. This is what it is forever. Han shoots first. Greedo doesn’t even get a shot off. That’s cool.
Along with the anacronistic elements or the things Lucas can’t change, the other off-kilter aspect of this book is the occasional Roy Thomas editorializing while telling the story. 90% of the time, Thomas sticks to the movie script, but occasionally, he couldn’t help but add his own perspective. I found that especially when introducing characters, Thomas could come across as…inelegant to put it nicely. He describes Leia as “probably beautiful by human standards.” Probably. I mean, she’s not bad. At least a 7. Definitely a 10 if you’re a hair-bun enthusiast.
When he introduces Chewbacca, he says “despite a comical, quasi-monkey face, the seven-foot anthropod is anything but gentle-looking.” I don’t know, Chewie has always looked more like a dog than a monkey to me. Regardless, if faced with a real-life Wookie, I’m probably not finding that face comical. Still, I smirked when introducing R2-D2 and C3P0, Thomas writes, “Amid this chaos, it is strange not to focus on the humans on both sides who live and violently die, but upon a pair of robots.” I get your point, Roy, but honestly, the robots are more interesting. Don’t worry, practically all the other characters at least got action figures eventually.
The last one that made me smile was when Thomas discusses the Stormtroopers, or at least Han and Luke in Stormtrooper disguise: “Their reaction excellent, their enthusiasm undeniable, their aim execrable…” What better way to blend in as a Stormtrooper than with crappy blaster shooting?!
I will say, at the end of the day, I think I actually enjoyed reading these comics more than watching the actual movies. I’m weird, I know.
I also think Star Wars movies suffer in my eyes because the fanbase can be insufferable at times. It’s what keeps me from being more than a casual fan of the franchise. From the outside, it seems like Star Wars fans have anything a fanbase could want–every character gets a toy, no matter how small their screen presence is, every story bit gets explored, whether it’s a throwaway line from the scroll at the beginning of a forty-year old movie or not, and so much has been produced in and around the universe. But it seems like the Star Wars camp is never satisfied. Whether it’s incessant whining about the movies or threatening actors they don’t like or the bit by bit dissecting of every detail of every trailer–I guess passionate fanbases can be a double-edged sword. Star Wars was just the first major fanbase where I noticed it. Hypocritically, I enjoy those aspects of fandom in other places, heck, I disect comics all the time here on the blog, but I also recognize that it’s kind of a game–nothing too serious, nothing worth getting too bent out of shape about. I’m always striving to share what I like and keep in mind my criticisms are often best met with a wink of “this might not be for me, but it might be for you.” There’s nothing wrong about being passionate about what you love, just keep it within reason and civility is what I’m shooting for here, and the Star Wars fanbase could stand to do that more often.
But back to the comics, without the baggage I associate with the movie, I was able to see why so many folks get excited about these stories. They are fun, imaginative, and off-kilter. Here with Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin and co., Marvel put together an awesome product. It’s great bombast–and these oversized Special Edition comics are a great way to experience it.
Star Wars Special Edition #1-2, Final Grade: A
Any missteps are forgivable for the fun and exciting take that helped me appreciate this franchise just a little bit more. If you ever come across these oversized editions at a convention or at your local comic shop, I definitely recommend picking them up. I’m glad I did–even if it means I keep having to fend off an entitled Star Wars loving friend of mine who keeps trying to get me to sell these to him. Back off, Mike! They’re my discount bin find!
Until next time, may the force…remind you that these are movies and comic books and games and nothing too serious. Enjoy!