The “Star Wars” Marvel comics run has the distinction of offering the very first Expanded Universe stories. After the six-issue movie adaptation, the next four issues (7-10) were the only new fiction from October 1977 through January 1978 (those are the on-sale dates, not the cover dates) aside from some short comic stories in Marvel’s Pizzazz magazine. Finally, in February 1978, “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” hit bookshelves; Russ Manning’s newspaper strip didn’t start until March 1979.
These four issues are written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Howard Chaykin, with Don Glut (who would later write the “Empire Strikes Back” novelization) co-writing issue 10 and Tom Palmer co-drawing 9 and 10. The story sounds good on paper: Han and Chewie have their reward money stolen by a pirate, then land on Aduba-3 in search of odd jobs. Influenced by the charitable natures of Leia and Luke, Han agrees to protect a farming colony from the Cloud-Riders, and he recruits a ragtag group of six other mercenaries to help him.
“Han Solo Adventures” trilogy author Brian Daley could’ve made a solid novel out of this premise. And the six new characters would make great action figures: humanoid rabbit Jaxxon, quill-thrower Hedji, sexy former pirate Amaiza, mentally unstable old-man Don-Wan Kihotay, and a boy and his droid — Jimm and Effie.
However, the Aduba-3 arc is really bad, no matter how you slice it. In the introduction to Volume 1 of the Marvel trade paperback series from Dark Horse, Lee Dawson argues that these stories qualify as fun. To me, they qualify as historically interesting, but not fun to read. The characterizations are much shallower than you’d think; the closest thing to an arc is Effie — always arguing that he’s not owned by Jimm — saving the boy’s life in the battle.
The villain, Sergi-X Arrogantus, and his marauders apparently pillage the farms while raping the farmers’ wives and daughters, who are always clad in bikinis, because this is a 1970s comic book, apparently. For that matter, many of the males, including pirate Crimson Jack, dress in short shorts; and Han is inexplicably shirtless throughout the recruiting sequence — not very professional.
The latest issue of Star Wars Insider (No. 142) reveals that on the rushed movie adaptation, Chaykin drew the panels as he saw fit and Thomas then filled in the word bubbles; there was no pre-scripting other than knowing at what point each issue would end. But at least they had the movie script. If they continued with this method for Issues 7-10, it explains the choppiness; weird, brief side trips; and lack of character arcs. Chaykin acknowledges that his work was like “going to school in public.” Lucasfilm generally took a hands-off approach during this time, yet it was only after a couple issues that Thomas and Chaykin received word that the higher-ups didn’t care for their work.
But these issues are at least historically interesting for the paths not taken and terminology that didn’t catch on. For example, the bad guys refer to Han and Chewie as “star-hoppers.” And when they first arrive on Aduba-3, Han takes a job burying a dead cyborg, as he’ll have to overcome the violent wrath of the ‘borg-hating citizenry in order to do so (no joke: Han and Chewie as freelance undertakers is the very first EU story).
Perhaps assuming that Wuher the bartender’s hatred of droids is common, or perhaps riffing on Darth Vader’s machine-like appearance, Thomas comes up with the idea that society hates and fears cyborgs, an idea that seemingly caught on only during the Marvel run.
If you’re embarking on a Marvel comics re-read for the sake of good stories, these first four EU issues can be skipped. But it’ll get better soon. More on that in upcoming posts; until then: “Excelsior, star-hoppers!”