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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Looking back at Star Wars Weekly – issue 12

The cover of Star Wars Weekly issue 12

It was April 26, 1978, and young Star Wars fans across the UK were handing over ten of the most important pennies they would ever spend.  Star Wars Weekly issue 12 was out.

This, we knew, was the edition in which Marvel’s adaptation of Star Wars would reach the end.


Star Wars Weekly 12: the cover by Howard Bender

Last week’s issue had promised “the not to be believed conclusion of the movie of the century”. It was hard to top that kind of hyperbole, but the cover of Star Wars Weekly 12 attempted it with the line: “At last! The soul-shattering climax of the year’s most sensational movie!”

Did we even want a comic to be “soul-shattering”? I’m not sure, but when you’re adapting the closing reels of Star Wars, no adjectives seem too over the top.

Once more, the cover of this comic showed us something that’s not in the film: Darth Vader facing Luke Skywalker in a battle with lightsabers. This vivid image was laid over a representation of the Death Star battle, with, oddly enough, an X-wing pursuing Vader’s TIE fighter. By now, regular readers would know that Marvel’s covers – like posters for 1950s science fiction movies – often depicted action that could not be found in the story, but it would be churlish to complain.

“By the immortal gods of the Sith”: Marvel’s Star Wars reaches the end of the film

The recap of the story so far in Star Wars Weekly issue 12

Marvel’s Star Wars adaptation had run over six issues in the US but was spread over twelve in the UK. As a result, the even-numbered British comics did not have one of Howard Chaykin’s impressive full-page panels to begin the instalment. Instead, we were given a hasty recap of the story so far, as on the page above, and then it was straight into the story.

The first page of the story proper in this issue reminds us how difficult it must have been to transfer some of the more ambiguous moments of the film to the page. In the panels below, writer/editor Roy Thomas is obliged to pin down Luke Skywalker’s thoughts on what might have happened to Ben Kenobi in his final corporeal moments:

Luke ponders the fate of Ben Kenobi in
Star Wars Weekly issue 12

While the content of those thought bubbles might seem a little “on the nose”, it fits in quite well with the more melodramatic feel of much of Marvel’s adaptation. And on the next page, as Biggs’s X-wing receives a direct hit from Darth Vader, the Marvel adaptation once again has a different tone from the film, owing something to World War II heroics as well as Marvel’s stylised approach to comic book action.

The demise of Biggs in Star Wars Weekly issue 12

We’re in the closing moments of the film action by now, and on the next page, Darth Vader is all set to destroy Luke the way he destroyed Biggs, when this happens:

"By the immortal gods of the Sith": Darth Vader
knocked off course in Star Wars Weekly 12

Han Solo has saved the day, of course. I love Darth Vader’s exclamation: “By the immortal gods of the Sith!” It sounds like it could belong in a Thor comic, or a rather heavy-handed Mavel strip of its own (“Stan Lee presents: The Gods of the Sith!”).  In those days, I don't think it was clear what the Sith was (or were) anyway. We knew Darth Vader was the Dark Lord of the Sith, but did the Sith refer to a place, a religion, an ethnic identity or some other dimension? Whatever the word meant, we now knew Sith had gods.

In the comic, all this happens before Luke Skywalker decides to switch off his computer and fire his torpedoes on instinct, as spelled out in these frames:

Luke Skywalker's final trench run in
Star Wars Weekly issue 12

Did Mavel decide to change things around so that switching off the computer happened after Han Solo's return? Or was the film itself intended to unfold like this until late in the editing? It's not clear, but this version of events probably works better in a comic book, where changing back and forth between narrative strands can be more confusing.

There was probably only one way to deal with the enormity of the Death Star explosion in comics, and that was to give Howard Chaykin a whole page to depict it. That full-frame page is given a fair amount of very evocative narration by Roy Thomas, again very Marvel-y in tone:

The destruction of the Death Star 
in Star Wars Weekly issue 12

In the closing pages, everyone is reunited, of course, and in this frame, oddly enough, we get the most lifelike rendering of Mark Hamill that the comic had seen:

The heroes are reunited in Star Wars Weekly issue 12

And in the final frames, below, we are given answers to two of the questions that most troubled us back in 1978: Would the comic continue after the story of the film was finished? And why did Chewbacca not get a medal in the film?

The final frames of Star Wars Weekly issue 12

The return of the Star Wars Weekly letters page

The letters page of Star Wars Weekly issue 12

There is a bit more text in Star Wars Weekly issue 12 than in some issues. The behind the scenes features are back, with a piece called ‘The Model Makers’ which deals with special effects. The author devotes some space to telling us how Douglas Trumbull, “THE best in the business”, worked closely with John Dykstra on Star Wars. In fact, Douglas Trumbull had nothing to do with Star Wars, and the author has confused him with his father Don Trumbull, who was responsible for camera and mechanical design.

The sometimes absent letters page was back in this issue, giving us an insight into the nascent Star Wars fan community.

Among the readers contributing this time were Iain Gledhill of Pudsey, West Yorkshire, who complained that the Star Wars story was being shortened too much, but added: “Here is some info on Darth Vader: In a previous encounter with Ben Kenobi, Darth Vader fell down a volcanic pit and burned his face. It is so ghastly that he wears a menacing black mask over his head.”

I'm not sure whether I first read this piece of back story here, or in one of the Star Wars poster magazines (about which I'll blog some time soon), but the editors of tar Wars Weekly either didn't know it or affected not to, replying: “Thanks for the info on Darth Vader, Iain. What we'd like to know is what your source is, as we didn't know this. It couldn't possible be from the Man Himself, George Lucas could it?”

Most of the readers who wrote in to the comic were clearly children (whereas US Marvel comics seemed to prompt some very erudite letters from teenagers or adults). However, one reader who sounds like he might have been a bit older is David Sullivan of Stoke Newington, London, who said: “When I saw the first ocmic I went out and bought five of them to put away with all my other 3000 American and English Marvel comics.” Either David was an adult, or the luckiest kid in Stoke Newington.

What happened to Marvel's Star Wars when the film story was over?

The tease for Star Wars Weekly issue 13
Nigel Reed of Outwood near Wakefield, one of the readers contributing to the Star Wars Weekly letters page that week, asked the question on everyone's mind: “What do you intend to do when your movie adaptation is finished?”

The answer came in a full-page plug for issue 13, which promised a “galaxy-hopping story” that went “beyond the film, and beyond the universe”. (Can a story go beyond the universe? Again, Marvel's flare for colourful copy was not bounded by the laws of physics as we know them.)  The ad warned us to place a regular order with a newsagent, as “Star Wars Weekly will be going faster than the Millennium Falcon”. 

The task facing writer-editor Roy Thomas now was to tell some more Star Wars stories without trespassing on territory that might be covered in a sequel. As we may see in a future post, his first attempt was certainly out of left field: It would feature Han Solo and Chewbacca involved in a rehash of The Seven Samurai/ and The Magnificent Seven, in the company of a man-sized rabbit.


John white said...

*sigh* That was an exciting revisit, Darren! When the new comic was in your hands each week it was like this magical thing that had come to you from another galaxy via Hollywood. It felt so good in our little hands.

Once again, I'm so impressed with Roy Thomas' writing. You're right about the letters page. 2000ad's usually had cute letters by little kids too, so it was such a surprise a few years ago, when I read the US Marvel copies of Tomb of Dracula. Very erudite readers! No shame in adults reading comics, over in the States obviously.

That ANALOG magazine ad brought back memories too. I was excited by it, because lit looked like it promised such grown up, even educational and mind-expanding stuff. I loved going to jumble sales and buying old sci-if paperbacks so it really appealed to me.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the ANALOG advertisement caught my eye as well. A lot of good, hard-SF in that magazine.

Phillip said...

As always, well-written and entertaining. Enjoying these.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks Phillip. Nice of you to say so.

steve said...

those Han and Chewie comics were insane. The green rabbit was such a sloppy, lazy idea for a character.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks Steve. The giant rabbit certainly didn't seem to belong in the Star Wars universe. It seemed like Star Wars bending to Marvel, rather than the other way around. Maybe, all these years down the line, it has a certain crazy appeal... I don't know.