Tuesday 17 December 2013

Looking back at Star Wars Weekly – issue 1

Star Wars Weekly issue 1, with cover art by Howard Chaykin

Just as Star Wars was finally arriving in the UK regions, so was the comic book adaptation of the movie – heralded by a TV ad narrated by See Threepio himself.

In the US, the monthly Star Wars comic book had already adapted the film over six issues, in full colour.  In Britain, Star Wars Weekly reproduced the strip in black and white, over 12 issues, with the film adaptation supplemented by reprints of other Marvel science fiction stories.

I immediately cancelled my order for whatever comic I was reading at the time and switched to Star Wars Weekly.  Issue one was dated Wednesday February 8 1978 (although I seem to remember it arrived in my local shop on Tuesdays) and retailed at 10 pence.

The first Star Wars promotional poster, by Howard Chaykin, 1976

The cover was pretty much the same as that of the first US Marvel comic, and based on the first ever promotional poster for Star Wars, which the comic's artist Howard Chaykin had produced in 1976.  The copy read: "Enter: Luke Skywalker! Will he save the galaxy or destroy it?"

A large part of the comic's readership – me included – would have read the first comic before seeing the film, so we would not have known whether the style of the book faithfully reproduced what was in the movie.  As it turned out, it didn't.
Chaykin and writer/editor Roy Thomas hadn't seen the film when they produced the comic.  Thomas later told how they had been supplied with stills but had no idea how the special effects would turn out.  “It was under those circumstances that most, if not all, the Star Wars issues adapting the film were pencilled,” he said, adding that “… the real accomplishment of the Star Wars comic, to me, is that it was there, it was done – and fairly well, at that”. ('Meet Roy Thomas', Star Wars Weekly 37, October 18 1978.)

Take this opening page, showing the Imperial Star Destroyer's pursuit of Princess Leia's ship (and featuring the text of the film's original title crawl, as it existed before Brian De Palma and Jay Cocks rewrote it):

The first page of the Star Wars comic book adaptation in Star Wars Weekly

The space ships are the same, but of course the way the scene is done in the movie is entirely different.
In fact, there are very few panels in this opening issue showing the spaceship exteriors.  You can tell Chaykin had a better idea of what the sets and costumes would look like than he did of the special effects.  But even the action on board the Rebel ship looks very different from the film.  From Chaykin's strip, you would probably expect the movie to be more stylised, in the manner of Barbarella or the 1980 Flash Gordon.  To some extent, the difference is natural.  A comic book is going to look like a comic book, not like frames from a film; it needs to suggest movement and drama in different ways. Yet Chaykin really took the adaptation in a direction that was all his own.

Here is the panel showing Darth Vader's arrival on the Rebel ship.  Very impressive, I think, but very different in style from the film:

Darth Vader's arrival in Howard Chaykin's Star Wars adaptation

And here are some frames depicting the capture of Princess Leia, who in the comic strip (as in the posters) is rather more curvaceous than she is in the movie:

Princess Leia captured in the Star Wars comic adaptation

We got only eight pages of Star Wars comic in that first issue, but they did include the Biggs scenes that were cut from the film:

Biggs and Luke say farewell in the Star Wars comic adaptation

After the film adaptation, there was a feature about the making of the film, and the robots in particular, before a second comic strip under the banner 'Tales of the Galaxy'.  The story, 'The Forest for the Trees' (written by Bruce Jones, art by Vincente Alcazar) is about explorers on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse, one of whom is obsessed about the possibility of going blind. Originally published in the US in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Giant Size Special Issue 1, it's quite literary and downbeat – a story definitely from a pre-Star Wars world.

Issue one of Star Wars Weekly came with a cardboard X-wing fighter.  Almost everybody who owned it has lost it, I imagine, and duly kicks themselves any time they look at the value it would add to the comic on eBay.  Certainly, all that remains of my X-wing is the instructions for putting it together:

From Star Wars Weekly issue 1: How to assemble your
X-wing fighter 
– if you haven't lost it 

The issue finishes with this tease for number 2, which was to include a cardboard TIE fighter.  I had already followed See Threepio's exhortation that I should place an order with my newsagent.  Fortunately, I didn't cut out the coupon to do so.

The ad for Star Wars Weekly issue 2

What are your memories of the Star Wars comic, in the UK or US?  Please sign up and comment.  

1 comment:

John White said...

Another wonderful trip back to my childhood - thanks Darren.
Interesting point you make about the supporting 'filler' stories in the UK version. They really were very dark indeed. THREADS still chills me to the bone.

I think there was also a very disturbing episode of the Micronauts of all things with humans and their babies being farmed for food by aliens.

Best of all though, for me now, is 'Man Gods from Beyond the Stars'. I recently bought it in an old MARVEL PREVIEW issue.

Chaykin had to ink the first issue of SW himself and it's pretty rough - expressive as hell though!