John’s top 40 ‘Star Wars’ comic book stories for the 40th anniversary: Nos. 40-31

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arlier this year, I ranked my top 40 “Star Wars” books. But the 40th anniversary year isn’t over yet, so over the next four days, I’ll count down my top 40 “Star Wars” comic book stories, from the Expanded Universe (a.k.a. Legends) that started with the first issue of Marvel’s movie adaptation on April 12, 1977, and concluded with Dark Horse’s “Legacy Volume II” Issue 18 on Aug. 27, 2014. The EU is gone, but not forgotten, as these stories will always stay ripe for a re-read.

For the purpose of this list, I defined “story” as narrowly as possible – a single arc with a beginning, middle and end (although the arc can be part of a wider saga, which is why this list will include, for example, multiple “Republic” entries). The length can range from a short story – something from “Star Wars Tales,” for instance — to multiple issues. Let’s start with Nos. 40-31:

40. “Underworld: The Yavin Vassilika” (five-issue series, 2001-02, Mike Kennedy, Carlos Meglia) – The biggest bounty hunter romp in “Star Wars” lore starts with three Hutts – including Jabba — making a bet among themselves to see who can acquire the eponymous idol. The contractors include Han, Chewie, Lando, Dengar, Bossk, IG-88, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Boba Fett and Greedo. Despite all the rivalries and double-crossing, Kennedy’s plot is clear, and there’s a fun rhythm to his dialog. Take this gem from our favorite dashing rogue: Lando: “Do we know each other?” Jozzel: “Not yet.” Lando (going in for the hand kiss): “Thank goodness. For a moment there, I was afraid I might have lost track of some priceless memories.” Meglia’s quirky pencils and inks (paired with Dave Stewart’s colors) do a lot of storytelling, too, like when we see Greedo tagging along in the background of Han’s group, looking sheepish.

39. “Resurrection” (“Star Wars Tales” Issue 9, 2001, Ron Marz, Rick Leonardi) – Most of the 64 pages of “Tales” Issue 9 are devoted to the Vader-Maul showdown that fans had dreamed of (and which eventually happens on TV’s “Rebels”). For those who want “Resurrection” to be canon rather than Infinities, an argument can be made that it fits. Supposedly, dark side adepts use magic to manifest Darth Maul (as this was written before his resurrection on “The Clone Wars” TV series), and Vader gets caught in their trap. But it would be within the character — and arguably, the powers — of the Emperor to set up a test between his two apprentices.

38. “Darth Vader Strikes” (“Star Wars” newspaper strip, 1981, Archie Goodwin, Al Williamson; collected in “Classic Star Wars” Issues 2-4) — With Vader coming from one direction and Luke from the other, there’s palpable suspense in the steam tunnels of the Imperial-occupied shipyard planet Fondor (even though we know they probably won’t meet in this pre-“Empire Strikes Back” yarn). Since our heroes are one-dimensional in these newspaper strips, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Tanith Shire, Luke’s earliest love interest in “Star Wars” lore that he’s not related to. Her flirtyness is an entertaining contrast to Leia (Tanith’s first words upon seeing Luke: “Hey, you’re cute!”).

37. “Slaves of the Republic” (“The Clone Wars” Issues 1-6, 2008-09, Henry Gilroy; Scott Hepburn, Ramón Pérez, Lucas Marangon) – Although George Lucas often mined the comics for concepts, this is the only story he directly adapted into a TV episode (although it was moved from Season 1 to 4). I assume he wanted a story about slavery in order to bring that aspect of Anakin’s past to the fore. Maybe someone said “We need something like Henry Gilroy’s ‘Slaves of the Republic’ comic.” Then someone else said, “We can’t do any better than that, so let’s just adapt it.” While the TV episodes improve on some things, the comic has the advantage of including Asajj Ventress as the villain in the final act.

36. “Old Wounds” (“Visionaries,” 2005, Aaron McBride) – In the most famous tale from this collection of yarns written and drawn by “Episode III” concept artists, McBride gives us the first image of a resurrected Darth Maul with mechanical legs. The design, even Maul’s longer horns that show his feral nature, was used pretty much verbatim in “The Clone Wars.” And McBride’s story isn’t that far off: Although we don’t learn how Maul survived or got the legs, he is obsessed with killing Obi-Wan, same as on the TV series. Here, though, he recovers prior to the Clone Wars period, and is seen stalking Kenobi at Kamino, Geonosis, Mustafar and Polis Massa before tracking him down on Tatooine (something that eventually happens on “Rebels”).

35. “My Brother, My Enemy” (“Rebellion” Issues 1-5, 2006, Rob Williams; Brandon Badeaux and Michel Lacombe) – Continuing from the final arc of the “Empire” comics, Janek “Tank” Sunber, Luke’s old pal from Tatooine, is haunted by nightmares. Is he right to serve the Empire or is Luke right to rebel against it? To readers, it’s not much of an argument; Luke deflects Tank’s accusation of criminality by asking if Biggs and Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were criminals. But it’s hard to overcome Imperial schooling. Sunber’s moral journey is a page-turner, as he could go either way up until the end.

34. “Boba Fett: Enemy of the Empire” (four-issue series, 1999, John Wagner; Ian Gibson and John Nadeau) – All of the “Boba Fett” one-shots – most written by Wagner — are darkly humorous portrayals of his character, but this series ranks slightly higher due to its importance in the continuity. Surprisingly, Anakin Skywalker and Boba Fett don’t cross paths in the Clone Wars era, so this yarn marks the moment when Vader gains the respect for Fett we sense in their “Empire Strikes Back” interplay. As the story begins, Vader does not understand Fett, whom he has hired to track down a valuable item for him: “The bounty hunter … can be relied upon to disobey me,” Vader thinks. He’s unaware that Fett always honors his contracts — unlike Vader himself, who plans on killing the bounty hunter after he gets the goods.

33. “Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir” (four-issue series, 2014, Jeremy Barlow, Juan Frigeri) – Originally intended to be the “Clone Wars” Season 6 episodes “The Enemy of My Enemy,” “A Tale of Two Apprentices,” “Proxy War” and “Showdown on Dathomir” before Disney canceled the series, this action-oriented epic brings together several pieces on the game boards of Darths Sidious and Maul and delivers major revelations, such as the fact that Talzin is Maul’s mother. The comic is frustrating because 1) we didn’t get to see it as TV episodes and 2) it leads into other unproduced stories that would’ve further explained the Sidious-Talzin rivalry. Still, I’m glad it exists.

32. “Deluge” (“Knight Errant” Issues 6-10, 2010-11, John Jackson Miller; Ivan Rodriguez, Iban Coello, David Daza) — As she attempts to rescue refugees from Aquilaris who don’t want to be rescued in this second volume of the “Knight Errant” trilogy, we see an example of Kerra Holt’s common complaint: “Blast it – why does it always have to be this hard? Why do I always have to do everything myself? Just once, I’d like to meet some people with some fight!” No doubt a major influence on Rey from the Disney films, Kerra’s heroism comes naturally, and she’s (refreshingly) not a candidate for the dark side, but she could stand to forgive others’ flaws.

31. “Tatooine” (“Legacy” Issues 37-40, 2009, John Ostrander, Jan Duursema) — Ostrander gets back to the saga’s core family dynamic as Cade Skywalker is sought by Sith Empire agent Gunner Yage, whom he doesn’t realize is his half-sister. Also back on the scene is Sith Empire agent Morrigan Corde, whom Cade knows is his mom, although he wants nothing to do with her due to past sins. But the highlight is a long dream sequence where Cade argues with the ghost of his ancestor, Luke, about the principles of non-interventionism. Cade: “I’m not a Sith or a Jedi! I’m not like my father, or your father, or you. I just want to be left alone!” Luke: “You’ve proclaimed who you are. But the galaxy is not going to leave you alone. Ever.”

Coming tomorrow: Nos. 30-21.

The rest of the top 40: (1-10) (11-20) (21-30)