‘Star Wars’ flashback: Marvel Issues 81-93 (1984-85) (Comic book reviews)


OK, here we go. All three films have been released, and it’s time for a fresh narrative start to the Marvel comics series after “Return of the Jedi.” More Han Solo stories. Maybe a battle for the galactic capital. Luke searching for new Jedi. A consistent, serial storyline. … Cue movie-trailer-style record scratch.

For some reason, the period immediately after “Jedi” is a shaky one for Marvel. To be fair, principal writer Mary Jo Duffy has a consistent vision for Han, Luke and Leia. Recently unthawed, Han is feeling kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer after being resurrected in Season 6, and his sense of being untethered from reality is nicely explored in the first half of “Jawas of Doom” (Issue 81). The second half is insane, though, culminating in a mini-sandcrawler being eaten by the Sarlacc with Boba Fett aboard (he had earlier blasted out of the pit). (Dark Horse would wisely keep Fett out of the Sarlacc in “Dark Empire,” and “Tales from Jabba’s Palace” and the “Bounty Hunter Wars” trilogy would explore that harrowing SECOND escape from the pit, although “Jawas of Doom” is never referenced in those works.)

I’ve never liked that Luke is unwilling to train new Jedi based on his fear that he’ll follow his father’s path. Luke deals with that fear throughout this chunk of issues, starting with “Diplomacy” (82), where Kiro joins him as an unofficial apprentice. When Kiro saves the entire universe (yes, literally) with a Force assist in the overblown “Still Active After All These Years” (87), he understandably wants to be trained by Luke to be a Jedi. When Luke is nearly killed by the Dark Jedi Flint — from Annual No. 3 — in “The Dream” (92), the irrationality of his “no training” stance is further highlighted. (The controversial “Dark Empire” would later show Luke’s fear to be valid, as he does turn to the dark side, and the “Jedi Academy Trilogy” would show him finally rebuilding the Jedi Order.)

Leia’s journey is also consistent with later EU lore in that she struggles between being a diplomat and being a fighter. The theme is central to “The Choice” (90), a solid issue that explores the problem of trained soldiers just sitting around as a rebellion tries to morph into a democratic government.

I like that Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma send our heroes out on diplomatic missions in order to set up a new government based on democracy rather than tyranny. Duffy overvalues the Battle of Endor, taking the view that the Alliance has now definitively defeated the Empire. Later EU adventures such as the “X-wing” series and the Thrawn trilogy would contradict this, taking the position that the Alliance and Empire are about even at this point. Still, it makes sense that the Alliance would openly court allies now, and “Diplomacy,” “The Hero” (85), “Figurehead” (88) and “Wookiee World” (91) all feature missions to bring planetary representatives back to Endor.

While the narrative is slow to progress, Duffy delivers solid individual issues, continuing to get humor out of Dani and Rik Duel and pathos out of Kiro. “The Hero,” which revisits Lando’s rivalry with Captian Drebble, is a prime example of her trademark lighthearted romp, although these issues aren’t as fresh as when she first got the writing gig. We’ll later learn the importance of introducing Lumiya and Tof in “Figurehead,” Knife in “Wookiee World” and a mysterious force that tricks rebels into fighting rebels in “Catspaw” (93). For now, though, they are random, unconnected stories.

And most fall short of their potential. For example: In “Wookiee World,” it’s awesome to see Kashyyyk for the first time since the “Star Wars Holiday Special.” Tony Salmons and Tom Palmer (generally an excellent artist; I love his detailed portrayals of Endor) do a mediocre job of portraying it — it’s high up in the trees, but they draw fabricated platforms rather than natural platforms carved from tree branches. Weirdly, it seems like some evil Wookiees team up with Knife to get the slave-trade started again. But why Wookiees would turn on Wookiees isn’t explored, and it should have been central to the story.

And in “Figurehead,” there are two clues that Lumiya is Shira Brie (she looks robotic but says she is human, and she uses what appears to be Force lightning). But it might’ve been neat to build more of a mystery around her identity, and maybe even flat-out tell the story from Lumiya’s point of view, since “Star Wars” is in need of a serious villain at this point.

Adding to the choppiness of this batch, a bevy of guest writers and guest artists contribute yarns. “The Alderaan Factor” (86) is the best Marvel yarn by a writer who only wrote one issue — it’s Randy Stradley, who went on to be a writer and editor on Dark Horse’s “Star Wars” titles. It features a good philosophical debate between Leia and an unnamed Alderaan-born stormtrooper. She believes he’s a traitor to his planet; he argues that Alderaan did nothing for him.

The other guest-writer issues are harmless but offer nothing new. Linda Grant’s “Sweetheart Contract” (83) sends Lando on one of those “Quantum Leap”-style, random-planet’s-government-in-turmoil adventures; and Roy Richardson’s “Seoul Searching” (84) is a Han Solo treasure-hunt throwback that falls short of Brian Daley’s standards. Ann Nocenti’s “I’ll See You in the Throne Room” (89) finds Luke (again, in the cliched planetary-government-turmoil story) smitten with a revolutionary who happens to be a stunning blonde.

Basically, “Star Wars” fans went through 1984 knowing that 1) The Alliance is in the early stages of forming a government, 2) Luke doesn’t want to train Jedi, and 3) Leia struggles with her dual roles. Over the course of a year, it’s rather yawn-worthy.

In my next post, I’ll look at the last 14 issues of the Marvel run, where Duffy and new regular artist Cynthia Martin make a more aggressive push for a serialized story.

Eric's GravatarSometimes Jo Duffy’s stories look like He-Man’s stories or even She-Ra’s. There wasn’t a very sense of menace on her pre-Return of the Jedi plots, although they were good adventures! But her post “Jedi” are terrible, there is very little danger over the galaxy, Lumiya just look like a she-Vader, generic bad guy, thank god her visual was changed!
Also there are too much cute beings for my taste, eowks, lahsbanes, mascot hoojibs. And what about Kiro walking always around with a fishbowl on his head, so he can breath out of the water? That just isn’t right!
As you said “The Alderaan Factor” is the best story for while, it is impressive the difference of quality compared with what was being published at the time.
Looking foward for the review about the Nagai-Tof War!
# Posted By Eric | 8/28/13 9:30 PM
John Hansen's GravatarI don’t mind all the cute little creatures, but you’re right, they come to dominate the post-ROTJ issues rather than just enriching the background. Clearly, the editorship at the time was obsessed with cute furry creatures. That seemed to be Lucasfilm’s push, too, with the Ewoks cartoon and movies, and the mostly light-and-fun Droids cartoon. I also like the new characters Duffy comes up with — Dani, Rik and Kiro on the side of good (more or less, in the case of Rik), and Lumiya on the side of bad. But as much as I like Lumiya, since she’s the only remotely interesting villain at this point, I feel like so much more could’ve been done with her. As you say, at least she looks cool in No. 95-96, as opposed to No. 88. Luke “kills” her in battle (by her own design!) so she hates Luke. A little more depth there would’ve been cool, like maybe deep down she loved Luke and wanted to join the Rebellion, or something like that. It’s kind of a relief to get out of the 1984-era stories and now have a bit of momentum going toward the end. Plus, one more Goodwin/Williamson story to look forward to.
# Posted By John Hansen | 8/29/13 12:26 AM
Eric's GravatarGoodwin/Williamson story in n. 98 is indeed very good! About Lumiya, she is not a great villain in her first appearance, but when she comes back in n. 95, she just quick ass! Too bad she never got better development as you said. I don’t know if you ever read this fanmade comicbook: http://www.fandomcomics.com/comics/comic_large.php…
It’s great, a pity it was never finished!
# Posted By Eric | 8/31/13 1:21 AM
John Hansen's GravatarThanks for the link to the Lumiya comic. Cool stuff.
# Posted By John Hansen | 9/1/13 2:34 AM