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Thursday, 10 September 2015

Looking back at Star Wars Weekly – issue 11

The cover of Star Wars Weekly issue 11

It's taken longer for Episode Nothing to finish reviewing Marvel's adaptation of Star Wars than it took Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin to write and draw it. But at last, here's my account of Star Wars Weekly issue 11, published in the UK on April 19 1978.

Star Wars Weekly 11: Howard Chaykin's cover art

The cover of Star Wars Weekly issue 11 is one of those slightly crazy, very dramatic, very Marvel depictions of something that doesn't actually happen in the film.

What's it supposed to show? Clearly, we're on the Death Star, where a video screen is showing the Rebels' assault on the space station. But Luke's X-wing fighter, depicted speeding down the Death Star trench, actually seems to be firing right through the video screen (or is it a window?), obliterating some of the station's storm troopers. And in the foreground stands Darth Vader, lightsaber ready, apparently, to do battle with a space ship, above the words “Luke Skywalker must attack – the death-station of Darth Vader”. It's all a bit insane, yet it's also crazily exciting.

Marvel's version of the Death Star assault

The Rebel ships head for the Death Star
at the start of Star Wars Weekly issue 11

This far into the comic, many young fans will have had their ups and downs with the Marvel strip. For many, it was the nearest thing we had to seeing the film again, but we were conscious that it was often very different, in look and spirit, from the movie. I remember the artwork being derided in the playground for not looking enough like the film. And yet, as it neared the climax of the story, I think it has to be said that the comic was getting seriously good.

The attack on the Death Star begins with the impressive full-page panel reproduced above. And from then on, writer Roy Thomas and “artist & storyteller” Howard Chaykin convey the action with remarkable clarity.

Like the novelization, the comic strip identifies Luke Skywalker's group of X-wings as Blue Group rather than Red. It then recaps on the Rebel briefing from the previous issue, to ensure the reader understands what's going on.

A very World War II-style frame from
Star Wars Weekly issue 11

For a frame or two, it then starts to look a lot like the war comics that many of us (at least in the UK) used to read before Star Wars came along, especially in the above picture. (If you remember how Star Wars displaced World War Two comics in the affections of young people around 1977-78, by the way, you will love John White's web comic Between*Wars.)

I also loved this succession of panels showing Luke in a jam:

Luke gets a little cooked in Star Wars Weekly issue 11

In the Marvel adaptation, characters sometimes have to spell out the plot a bit more than in the movie, as in these frames:

"Tell me more about that fatal flaw": Darth Vader
in Marvel's Star Wars Weekly issue 11
But making the action simultaneously exciting and easy to follow must have been the hard part about adapting this sequence, and I think you have to admire how well Thomas and Chaykin delivered on that front, with sequences like this:

Dogfight action in Star Wars Weekly issue 11

Since the Star Wars adaptation was spread over 12 issues in the UK, after occupying only six in the US, the odd-numbered issues had to pause the story in parts where the authors would not have intended to have a break. But usually the endings work pretty well as cliffhangers, and that's certainly the case with the ending of this one:

The cliffhanger ending of Star Wars Weekly issue 11

The seven days until the next issue were clearly going to pass very slowly.

Helix stationery range and Nabisco's Happy Faces: life in Star Wars-loving, skateboarding 1970s

Marvel promotes the Helix Star Wars stationery
sets in Star Wars Weekly issue 11

Reading Star Wars Weekly today takes you back pretty vividly if you were a child of the 1970s.

The competition in issue 11 was for Helix Star Wars stationery sets, promoted here with C-3PO sporting a school cap and satchel.

The Helix range consisted of pencil boxes (at £1.49), a tin maths set (£1.25), pencils, felt tip pens, rulers and pencil cases. I seem to have given up entering Star Wars Weekly competitions by this point, judging by the fact that my copy of the comic is still in tact.

The only item from this collection that I recall owning was the Han Solo pencil case, a pretty cool item to take to school. You’ll see it at the top of this page, in the header for Episode Nothing.

On the reverse of that Helix competition page, the comic carries an advert that reminds us of another of the 1970s' great crazes. Packets of Nabisco's Happy Faces biscuits came with free skateboard stickers, the ad says. But skateboarding was still a pretty controversial new hobby, and the ad contained a competition to design a 'Skateboard Safety' poster with the messages: “Always wear protective clothing. Never skateboard alone. Find a safe place to skate.” First prize was skateboarding equipment to the value of £100, which would have been a pretty huge windfall at the time.

Skateboarding is still very much with us, but whatever happened to Happy Faces? They were much advertised at the time, with a TV ad whose jaunty song I can still remember in its entirety. And yet they somehow fell by the wayside, whereas the rival Jammy Dodgers are still with us. Sort of like the VHS-Beta wars, with jammy biscuits, I suppose.

But for the next seven days, all this talk of pencil cases and biscuits would be, at best, a distraction as we awaited the climax of Marvel’s Star Wars adaptation. We fans would think of little else, but nonetheless, Marvel was not going to take the risk of under-selling it, as this final page showed: “WHEREVER YOU GO – WHATEVER YOU DO – YOU MUST NOT MISS IT!”

You must not miss it: The come-on for the last
issue of Marvel's Star Wars Weekly

1 comment:

John I white said...

Oh my God... I want, no, I need to read that comic again, now!

I actually remember arriving home with my copy of this issue. Intriuged by the bizzare cover - and very excited by it!

The writing is brilliant, isn't it? I have to say, the quality of writing in the Marvel comics often was staggeringly good.

Damn good post Darren, you're really captured the excitement and the wonder of the whole comic.
(And thanks ;) )