Thursday, 18 December 2014

Looking back at Star Wars Weekly – issue 8

The cover of Star Wars Weekly issue 8, March 29 1978

Episode Nothing's guide to the Marvel Comics adaptation of Star Wars, as reinvented for British readers, continues with a look at issue 8, from March 29 1978.

Obi-Wan Kenobi's death in the Marvel Star Wars

The art of Star Wars Weekly was controversial in my household and in my school playground.  

I knew kids who dismissed the comic because it didn't look enough like the film.  But Star Wars Weekly had been my route into liking Star Wars, so I always seemed to end up defending it  even though, deep down, I also wished it resembled the film a bit more.

In my eighth week of defending the comic to the schoolyard critics, there came a single picture that attracted widespread derision.  I can still remember how personally I took it when my eight-year-old brother, reading my copy of the comic, came upon one frame that made him laugh so hard that I thought he might be having a medical episode. 

Here's that frame:

Obi-Wan Kenobi's death in Marvel
Comics' Star Wars Weekly

As my brother handed the comic back to me, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, I struggled to defend it.  

There was no denying this image was a long way from the content of the film.  It looked as though Obi-Wan might not have been been drawn at all but pressed between the pages of a heavy book. In the movie, his death – if death it was – contained elements of tragedy, heroism and mystery all at the same time. In the comic, it looked as though he had been fried like an egg.

It's quite possible that artists Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha had very little idea what Kenobi's death would look like in the finished film.  As I've mentioned before (starting here), work on Marvel's comic certainly started when Chaykin and editor Roy Thomas had little visual material to work from.  But there was no denying this was the most glaring departure yet from the tone of the movie.

Howard Chaykin, Steve Leialoha and the art of Marvel's Star Wars

Today, as I look at issue eight of Star Wars Weekly – the episode that follows our heroes as they battle their way out of the Death Star – I see a lot of art that's very impressive, as well as some that seems decidedly rushed.  At times, the characters are rendered with great care, as in these examples:

Luke and Leia in Marvel's Star Wars

Luke Skywalker as drawn in
Marvel's Star Wars adaptation

On the other hand, there are times when not so much care seems to have been taken – as though the artist left his desk for a minute and someone sent off his drawings before they were finished. Take, for example, these underwhelming panels:

Luke and Leia flee the stormtroopers
in Marvel Comics' Star Wars

Showdown on the Death Star
in one of the less impressive moments
from Marvel's Star Wars

We should remember that British readers were getting a black and white reprint of a comic book that had been published in colour in the US, so it's possible the colour would have added some of the texture we were missing.

Like most Star Wars fans of my acquaintance, I thought the ideal Star Wars comic would be one that reproduced every word and every picture in the film as closely as possible.  (I'm still surprised that nobody published a 'fotonovel' of Star Wars, as was done with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and several Star Trek episodes.)  But an installment such as this one contains plenty of reminders why that approach would not have worked.

For one thing, the action sometimes needs some explanation in the transfer to the printed page.  These frames are a good demonstration of that:

Luke and Leia prepare to swing across
the chasm in Star Wars according
to Marvel Comics

Han Solo and Chewbacca pursue
some Death Star stormtroopers in
Marvel Comics' Star Wars

What's more, the comic book form allows – even demands – some dramatic language and exaggerated compositions to add weight to key moments.  In Marvel’s Star Wars, some of the more vivid dialogue comes from an earlier draft of the screenplay and is also in the novelization; but whereas some of it would have seemed too arch for the movie, it works well in the context of the strip.  These frames illustrate that:

Obi-Wan Kenobi faces Darth Vader
in Marvel Comics' Star Wars

Vader and Kenobi duel in
Marvel Comics' Star Wars

Films are films, comics are comics, and a more literal adaptation of the movie surely wouldn't have worked.

‘Why Kenny Baker nearly shunned Star Wars’: Marvel introduces us to R2-D2

Like all good serials, the comic strip in Star Wars Weekly number eight stopped maddeningly short of where we wanted it to get.  But the comic compensated somewhat for that by including an interview with R2-D2 himself, Kenny Baker. 

We already knew that there was a person inside Artoo, but in this piece by Aydrey Smith, we learned more about Kenny Baker: that he was 3ft 8ins tall; that he was part of a cabaret act with his pal Jack Purvis, who had been found a role as Chief Jawa in the film; and that he lived near Watford with his wife Eileen and sons Kevin and Chris.

We even learned that Eileen Baker had almost appeared in Star Wars – presumably as a Jawa, although the article didn’t’ specify.  “I should have been in the film, too,” she said.  “It was so hto on location in Tunisia that you dozed off waiting for them to set up the scenes. I woke up when it was all over.”

The only thing that was missing from this nice profile was a picture – perhaps indicating how reluctant the Star Wars PR people were at the time to show the 'masked' performers as they really were. 

In a line that nicely reminds us of how different the world was in the 1970s, Baker says: “I’ve had lots of interviews from the States by phone. One talked for nearly an hour, must have cost them a fortune.”

Palitoy, Tales of the Galaxy and the Star Wars and Close Encounters Collectors Editions

An ad in Star Wars Weekly for
Marvel's Star Wars Collectors Edition
Marvel promotes its Close Encounters
of the Third Kind
Collectors Edition
on the back cover of Star Wars Weekly

For about the first 16 pages, every issue of Star Wars Weekly seems squarely aimed at children. After that come the non-Star Wars bits, which are reprints of pre-Star Wars material and often seem very cerebral, not to mention downbeat, for the kids.  

In this issue, under the banner Tales of the Galaxy, we had The Sword and Miracles of the Gods, but it’s hard to imagine them being enjoyed – or even read – by the same audience that was cutting out entry forms to win their choice of Palitoy prizes earlier in the comic. The prizes in that competition, by the way, included a set of 12 action figures; Star Wars ‘dip dots’ and poster painting set; a Star Wars Play Do and Paynts Set; two Star Wars keel kites and a set of eight Star Wars masks.

The comic was always keen to promote two Marvel ‘collectors editions’ that were out at the time, and both were regularly given full-page promotional ads.  There was the Star Wars Official Collectors Edition, from which most of the behind-the-scenes material in the comic was culled; and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was a comic book adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s movie.  

The price tags of these Collectors Editions would have put them out of range for many children, at 95p and 60p respectively.  But they were reminders of two emerging facts: Firstly, that science fiction was going to dominate cinema-going for quite some time; and secondly, that the producers of SF merchandise intended to have their hands in our pockets as much as possible.

1 comment:

Richie said...

Brilliant! Can't say any more. Been looking for some of those images for years. Takes me right back