Story: The third collection of Marvel’s Star Wars series leads off with the six-part adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, and continues with a number of original stories as Luke, Leia, Lando, and the rest of the Rebels hunt for Han Solo and match wits with the Empire.
Review: Earl: If following up on Star Wars was a daunting task for the first Marvel team to land that title, I can’t even imagine the juggling act that had to be done between Empire and Jedi. Since Empire concludes on a cliffhanger that takes at least one of everyone’s favorite characters out of the loop for the two-and-a-half years it’ll take for the next movie to get done, and sends two of the other characters off looking for that character, the writers suddenly have to do some serious plate-spinning. Empire also raises the dramatic stakes a bit – there just doesn’t seem to be as much of the carefree space opera of the Marvel issues that arrived between the first two movies. Not that it isn’t good stuff though – I really do like most of the stories included here, even if they are a bit more “serious” than what came before. I really feel for the writers, though – the open ending that made all of their previous tales possible just didn’t exist for them here. Where the previous volume had some minor tap-dancing to meet up with the beginning of Empire, this time there were some story restrictions that they just couldn’t shake.
Dave: Hmm. I actually got a very different vibe from much of this book – like Marvel didn’t quite know how to adjust to what Star Wars looked like post-Empire. Some of that could be the range of writers who contributed stories once Archie Goodwin wrapped up the bulk of his run. Some of it could be the return of Carmine Infantino on pencils for several stories. But it’s hard for me to look at something like the story where Leia and Vader are bickering over diplomatic procedures and loan financing and think that it fits where the characters have been in the movies.
Earl: I actually love that issue that you’re talking about – sort of a goofy Rat Pack caper flick crammed into the Star Wars universe – but you’re right, it doesn’t seem to fit in the post-Empire story. That one might’ve done better as a pre-Empire story – maybe. But you don’t go up against someone who’s cut Luke’s arm off in a goofy caper. I also notice some serious backpedaling in the estimation of Luke’s Force abilities in the wake of Empire, when we found out he still had much to learn, and got to see Yoda and Vader both demonstrate more of what the Force could do.
Dave: I do wonder a bit if there were some inventory stories that got burned off while the series looked for a new writer after Archie Goodwin left. But there really are all kinds of stories in this group – caper stories, creature stories, sword ‘n’ barbarian stories. It struck me how much it seemed like the writers sometimes tried to cram Star Wars characters into different genres. But then again, that first movie had a Western stuck in the middle of a sci-fi film, so maybe that’s consistent!
Earl: It seems to me like they were trying to stay the course that they had followed between Star Wars and Empire, for lack of a better plan, and running into the speed bumps that anyone trying to insert new fiction between the movies is going to run into – actually, anyone writing new fiction into the Star Wars universe at all, for that matter. Still, it was entertaining enough, even if it didn’t take long to get Han back via a “flashback” story (“The Crimson Forever”).
Dave: Well, it was an anniversary issue, and Archie Goodwin’s chance to wrap up his involvement with the series. So I can’t blame them for using Han.
And it’s funny you should mention the problems of not contradicting the next movie. David Michelinie’s two-parter near the end of this volume was the start of a fairly long run. And what’s one of the first things he does? Claim that the Empire isn’t building a second Death Star. Whoops.
Earl: Actually, Michelinie’s two-parter may be the best example this volume has to offer of a story that does fit very well into the Star Wars universe. And who knows, maybe the Tarkin incident got the Emperor thinking that maybe you can’t just have a superlaser jetting around the galaxy without a big honkin’ space station built around it for protection. And I loved the glimpse in that story of a movement within the Imperial officer ranks that isn’t too fond of Vader, who himself seems overly fond of doing away with members of the Imperial officer ranks with alarming regularity.
Dave: Michelinie does do a good job of reflecting the post-Empire status quo, and the fact that he has a long run coming up is one reason I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Volume 4. The other is Chris Claremont’s Leia-stuck-on-a-savage-world story that ends the issue. It screams fill-in/inventory story, but darn it, it’s one of the few issues of the original series I was ever able to add to my collection, and I really want to know how that cliffhanger ends.
Earl: And that full-page panel opening up “Last Gift From Alderaan” is one of the most evocative pieces of Star Wars comic art I’ve seen from any era. And offering up a mea culpa for comments from earlier volumes: Infantino art, but someone other than Gene Day doing inks.
Dave: I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that particular page was done by Walter Simonson. But yeah, the inkers did some work on Infantino. I’m pretty sure Tom Palmer completely redrew Lando’s face wherever Infantino drew it, like on the Cody Sunn-Childe story.
Earl: Though backing up a bit, I thought the Infantino/Day combo did wonders for the “Droid World” story, because, well, they’re droids. (Meaning the subjects of the artwork, not Infantino and Day.) Which reminds me, I distinctly remember seeing/hearing a tape-plus-book audio dramatization of “Droid World” when I was a kid. Simplified a bit, but not by much, and with artwork that looked like it was based on the pencils for many of that comic’s frames, but then painted. I’m almost certain I remember that item existing. (Just a bit of a tangent there. I liked that issue a lot as well.)
Funny thing is, after this volume, we’re heading into comics that I didn’t get to read at the time. I have no idea what we’re heading into storywise, nor do I recall reading the Jedi adaptation that’ll appear down the line (I’m sure it’ll be later than Volume 4 though). I wonder how forgiving I’ll be on story and artwork on stuff that isn’t seen through the gauzy rose-colored filter of Stuff I Read When I Was A Kid.
Writers: Archie Goodwin, Wally Lombego, Larry Hama, Mike W. Barr, David Michelinie, Chris Claremont
Pencillers: Al Williamson, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson
Inkers: Carlos Garzon, Gene Day, Tom Palmer, Stone
Colorists: Glynis Wein, Don Warfield, C. Scheele
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics