Hey, The Force Awakens is coming out this month! Yay! Screw the fat man with presents, let’s obsess about Star Wars!
Confession time: I’m not a super die-hard Star Wars fan, and so I haven’t kept up with the fifty squadillion Star Wars comic mini-series and special issues that Dark Horse pumped out over the past 25 years (and Marvel again, now that Disney owns both franchises and obviously plans to synergy the hell out of them). So don’t expect a lot of material this month about, say, the artistic merits of X-Wing Rogue Squadron or Tales of the Jedi: Golden Age of the Sith (both of which I’m sure are great).
But those early Marvel Star Wars issues? Mmm-hmm, that’s some good readin’ right there. And I can’t think of a better way to start celebrating all things Star Wars than to dive right in and talk about some weird things about the Star Wars universe that I never really paid attention to until I took another look at the covers of my old Star Wars comics.
For instance, have you ever noticed…
1. That Darth Vader dude is, like, everywhere, man…
Look, I get it. He’s the big bad mofo of the first film, and even after other bad guys like the Emperor and Jabba and Boba Fett came along Darth Vader was still the 800-lb. esophagus-crushing gorilla in the room. And no wonder; say what you will about his career or family choices, he’s got one of the most iconic looks of any movie character ever. But man, how many times can you get away with slapping his big helmeted head on a cover, portraying him as some giant malevolent figure looming large over the lives of Luke and his friends? I mean, okay, I’m sure there was some marketing strategy behind this repeated use of his likeness, using the films’ most recognizable character to sell the Star Wars books. But we already know they’re Star Wars comics. Mostly because it says “Star Wars” right there on the cover.
2. …and yet the artists still struggled to get his features right.
To be fair, it’s not like the artists who were assigned to work on the early Star Wars books could just go to Google Images and download a million pictures of Darth Vader to use as a reference. Back when the first Star Wars came out in 1977, the artists only had movie stills, publicity photos and whatever details they could recall from memory when they sat down to draw the film’s characters for the comic. So it’s not surprising to see several… unique interpretations of Darth Vader’s look. But even well into the Empire and Jedi years, Vader would get super-sized kneepads, or his chest panel would look all weird, or his helmet looked like it got squished by the Death Star’s trash compactor.
3. For that matter, what’s up with Chewbacca?
The early Star Wars comics offer a lot of variety in terms of how all the cast members were pictured — Luke Skywalker, for instance, could never seem to keep the same hair length or color from one issue to the next, never mind show a passing resemblance to Mark Hamill. But Chewbacca seemed to get the worst of it. Not that there weren’t good representations of everyone’s favorite Wookiee — issue 67 was a particularly good example — but more often than not he looked like an angry Sasquatch, or someone’s favorite puppy. Again, it’s not like the artists had access to an interconnected network — or “internet,” if you will — full of Chewbacca photos to reference. Still… weird.
4. There’s plenty of death in space…
You know, I don’t know about you people, but I’m starting to get the distinct impression there’s a lot of dangerous stuff out there in space. No wonder Han was always saying he had a bad feeling about things.
5. …and a fair bit of doom, as well.
No surprise, perennial pessimist C-3PO says “We’re doomed!” in almost every scene he’s in, but the Marvel books took that fatalism to a whole new level. If someone wasn’t shouting “We’re doomed!” then they were going on a “Doom Mission!” or visiting a “Doomworld” or whatever. Maybe the Rebellion would have had an easier time finding new recruits if they lightened up on all the doom-and-gloom talk?
6. Aliens are sneaky and will jump out of the shadows without warning…
In space, no one can hear you scream… except for the big scary alien monster leaping out of the darkness to grab you. I dunno, I wonder how large hairy aliens feel about being typecast as scary, darkness-dwelling monsters all the time. Maybe the aliens are jumping out at our heroes because they’re so happy to see them. Maybe they’re springing a surprise party on them. Actually, I would love to see that happen: “SURPRI— OW, SON OF A BITCH, THAT HURT! What the hell, man? We’re throwing you a birthday party and you start shooting with your blaster? What kind of psycho are you?”
7. …except for the non-humanoid ones, they just want to eat you.
“But Master Luke — the ship is sinking!” Wow, you don’t say. Do you suppose Threepio honestly didn’t think Luke was aware of that particular part of their predicament? To be fair, he does look preoccupied with the giant sea serpent that may or may not have something to do with “The Fate of Luke Skywalker!” We didn’t get to see a lot of big and dangerous creatures in the first trilogy — a Wampa here, a Sarlaac there, a whatever-the-hell-that-thing-was in the trash compactor — but I guess a limited special-effects budget is one thing a comic artist never has to worry about.
8. The rebels apparently moonlight as carnival contortionists.
Sure, the exaggerated “ready for action” pose isn’t unusual in the comic business, but the artists on the Star Wars covers put in time-and-a-half twisting our heroes and their opponents into every conceivable position. I especially like “The Third Law” cover that shows how Leia’s legs are about twice as long as the rest of her body, though Luke’s battle stance on the cover of #17 is a keeper, too. (Seriously, Luke, I know a good chiropractor who can help with that knee.)
9. Proportion? We don’t need no stinkin’ proportion.
Remember the Death Star? You know, giant moon-sized battle station that took out an entire planet with just one shot? Well, early in the comic series it settled on more modest goals, like blasting holes in hangar walls. No reason for it, really; it just decided it wanted a change of pace, is all. Meanwhile, this other cover shows a Stormtrooper either carrying away the last Leia doll in the store or demonstrating the power of the Empire’s awesome princess-shrinking ray-gun.
10. Even in Star Wars, you can always count on someone to bring a knife to a gunfight.
Seriously, who the hell invited that guy to the rumble? “Aw geez, guys, I left my blaster at home. Well, this old man doesn’t look like he’s going to cause us any trouble if we rush him, so I’ll just take out ol’ Stabby here and—” [rest of sentence cut short by the sound of a lightsaber separating knife-wielder’s arm from the rest of his stupid, stupid body].