Happy Holidays, kiddies! It’s your old pal, Andy Larson, back for another edition of his famous read pile!
Yep, the segment where I mostly read books that have been out for a thousand years now that may or may not have interest for a handful of die hard comic book fans out there, and report back on what I thought. It’s gripping stuff, and wins me the hearts and minds of the 3 or 4 devoted fans that show up weekly to hear me chat about such things.
In any case, as is always the case this season, its time for me to focus my read piles on that special yearly tradition that brings so many people together…Star Wars. Yeah, you thought I was going to say Christmas, didn’t ya?
Nope, there aren’t a ton of comics about Christmas really. But the extended universe of Star Wars comics is vast and rich, giving me plenty of fodder to fill up at least four weeks with reviews around this franchise that is known the world over.
Now I know in the world we live in post Last Jedi, the Star Wars community has taken somewhat of a hit recently. Fans are still screaming at each other, threatening boycotts, all kinds of assorted messiness. But I’m here to say, I’m one fan that is happy to have another Star Wars adventure back on the big screen in just a few short weeks, and as a result, I’ll be celebrating that fact with today’s article which hearkens back to some of the humblest origins of the Star Wars expanded universe of tales.
Yes, friends, it’s time to talk about the comic book adaption of one of the very first Star Wars related spin offs, the Han Solo Adventures novels originally penned by Brian Daley way back in 1979-1980.
Today’s particular entry deals with the very first of those novels entitled “Han Solo at Stars’ End” adapted by Archie Goodwin with art by Alfredo Alcala as a newspaper strip that ran in national circulation all throughout 1980.
10 Cent Synopsis:
With the Millennium Falcon in need of repairs after escaping some Imperial pursuers, Han Solo and Chewie make their way to visit an old smuggling buddy of theirs named Doc, who operates an illegal spaceship chop shop with his daughter, Jessa.
Unfortunately on their arrival, Jessa informs Han that Doc has been arrested by the Imperial forces working in the sector and sent to one of their prison planets.
She convinces Han and Chewie to help rescue Doc as well as others that have been unnecessarily detained by the Empire. Thus starts a whirlwind galactic adventure as Han escorts the droid duo of Bollox and Blue Max to first discover the location of the secret Imperial prison known as “Stars End”, and then to the actual prison planet itself to destroy it once and for all!
Things I Liked:
Well if I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again a thousand times. I love the beginnings of things. Anytime there’s a franchise or property that I’ve fell in love with, it’s primarily the output in those early days that I fixate on as being the very best and worthy of the most attention. That’s when ideas were fresh and new and the universe was wide open with possibilities.
The same thing goes with Star Wars. I automatically love this particular story not so much for it’s content, but for what it represents. This is one of the very first licensed spin off stories, and like Splinter in the Mind’s Eye should be revered by fans in the same way that the original movies or the original action figures are. Without these stories, you wouldn’t have your “Heir to the Empire” or all your extended universe spin off novels which some fans promote so vigorously especially in the wake of Last Jedi.
Not only that but it’s also historically important due to being an original newspaper comic strip which like the Star Wars comic book, helped connect fans to the Star Wars universe far beyond just what the movies could ever do. I can only imagine being old enough to be able to read these strips originally in the Sunday funnies every week, getting a small but important dose of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon in a world devoid of all these other cartoons and movies that we are bombarded with as fans nowadays.
Plus there’s such a Alex Raymond “Flash Gordon” style vibe going on with these strips, that it was really hard not to smile wide when I was reading them, given I’m a huge fan of that. Whether it’s the way that Archie Goodwin writes the story or the artistic choices of Alfredo Alcala to mimic those strips, the story just oozes with a retro 1930s vibe that fits Star Wars so well in my opinion. It’s the definition of “space opera” and celebrates the high adventure, swashbuckling spirit that should be the hallmark of all good Star Wars related stories.
By the way, can I gush for a moment about how much I love Archie Goodwin writing “Star Wars”! The guy was an absolute master!
Whether it was all those issues he wrote of the Star Wars comic in the late 70s/early 80s with such great expanded universe characters such as Valance the Hunter, his adaptions of Empire Strikes Back and Return of Jedi which I read so many times as a young kid, or his work on this Star Wars strip or others for newspapers, he is just simply one of the best.
I was really happy to include one of his works in this series, because I often think his contributions to the Star Wars universe have been grossly overlooked especially in recent years.
Things I Didn’t Like:
As much as I mentioned above that I really liked the retro style of the comic strip and how it reminded me a lot of the Alex Raymond “Flash Gordon”, I do also have to admit that I also found it somewhat pretty lackluster at times.
Perhaps it was because I expected so much more from the artist than what I got. Call it preconceived expectations or what, but when I first saw the name Alfredo Alcala attached as the artist for this story, my brain immediately demanded big things. You see that name is very well known to me, as it is to many Masters of the Universe fans given Alfredo was the very first artist to ever draw the He-man mini comics that were included with the first series of action figures released in 1982.
As a result, he is fan worshiped as one of the godfathers of the MOTU art, and his stuff is instantly recognized as one of the gold standards of what that franchise represents.
Now whether it was because he was more at home drawing fantasy related characters vs. science fiction ones, or maybe drawing a weekly strip was more technically difficult than a 12 page mini comic, or heck maybe it’s just something else that I’m completely overlooking, but regardless of reason, his art on this comic strip is just not as good as his art in those mini comics.
In fact, there were times when it seemed so drab and uninteresting that I found myself actually getting angry with the presentation of the story. Like there were panels where Archie is providing some pretty important exposition story wise, and yet the only shot we get is a picture of the Falcon flying or someone speaking off panel to someone else’s head.
It might as well be a novel for as little as the art helps tell the story, and for a comic book fan that reads these things to see how both aspects enhance the narrative, it’s downright frustrating.
I won’t lie. Maybe I’m being too hard on it. Perhaps Alcala didn’t have a chance to really collaborate with Archie Goodwin in a true sense. Maybe he just drew the panels as generic as possible at times because he wasn’t given a lot of direction, and wanted there to be room for all the dialogue. I’ve heard that used to be a big problem back in the day before modern communication made it so easy to get instant feedback from collaborators.
However, just look at this panel below. The narrative text tells a story of a potentially pretty bad ass action sequence in which Han Solo expertly disarms a potential traitor in his midst.
Yet all we get is a picture of the Falcon…flying through space…
Again I’m all for my imagination filling in the blanks, but that’s what books are for, not comic books.
I thought I’d provide a little more background into the entire Brian Daly’s “Han Solo Adventures” book series that inspired this comic book adaptation.
Again originally released in 1979 and 1980, this series of 3 books included the aforementioned “Star’s End” plus the other books, “Han Solo’s Revenge” and “The Lost Legacy”. They mainly dealt with Han and Chewie’s adventures prior to New Hope when they were tooling around as smugglers in what was called “The Corporate Sector”, a sector space ruled by robber baron type businessmen who controlled commerce with the backing of the Imperial Navy.
None of the books are particularly very long, clocking in at slightly less than 200 pages a piece, so they are fairly easy reads. In fact, my 7 year old, Jakob, is currently reading the first one in preparation for the upcoming Rise of Skywalker movie coming out later this month.
Thus far, I’ll say that he’s a fan of the Bollux/Blue Max characters, liking this notion of one robot riding around inside of another one. He said it was like if we put the Alexa inside the Refrigerator, and then promptly wanted to put our Amazon Echo in our Fridge to prove his point.
As an aside, did you know that they had to change Bollux’s name in the versions of the novel they released in the UK, because Bollux is regarded as profanity there? That’s one of Stew’s favorite swear words!
As a final thought, this book series was going through my head the entire time I was watching the movie “Solo: A Star Wars Story” last year. I wondered if they would include any nods to the fans of these stories or even an Easter Egg or two. Turns out there are more Easter eggs in the movie from the “sequel” trilogy of paperback novels released several years later about Han’s old buddy, Lando.
For example, the famous game of Sabacc was first introduced in Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, although some could argue that it was actually mentioned for the first time in one of the scripts of Empire Strikes Back as the way that Han wins the Falcon from Lando, despite that line never making it into the final film.
Regardless, I really did love that Solo film and it’s currently among my top 5 favorite Star Wars movies ever. If you want to hear more about that, take a listen to our Solo Movie review from last year with this classic Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast rewind!
Overall, I feel this is an important piece of Star Wars history that fans of this franchise should embrace if they want to truly call themselves “fans”. Whether that’s with the original novels or if you prefer the comic book format, thankfully you have his version which is still available via reprints courtesy of the folks at Dark Horse Comics.
Sure the art is somewhat boring at times, but it was also made to appear in newspaper strips so I feel like that format could be a little limited in terms of creativity with design and/or page layout. But what can’t be denied, is that its super interesting to read these early Star Wars stories and see where the pioneers like Archie Goodwin and Brian Daly were willing to take these characters when so much of that universe was uncharted territory. It’s not like today with so many different stories and continuities to choose from in Star Wars. This was like the Old West, and everything was being settled for the first time. Don’t care how you slice it, that’s exciting stuff, folks!
Of course, some people might fuss about Disney’s decision to now call this story “non canon” in the wake of them taking over the franchise, but honestly I never got why “canon” vs. “non canon” was such a big deal anyways. If you like the story, then you like the story. Everything “counts” from that perspective and that should be the only perspective that matters.
And for me, I do like this particular story. It’s fun, it’s straightforward, and its easy for fans of all ages. As a Dad of young Star Wars fans, that third one is really the most important!