Friday, January 31, 2014


The Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson run proceeds onward as Luke, Leia and Han continue their quest to return R2-D2 to Yavin 4. Their mission is temporarily thwarted, however, as the moon comes under bombardment by Imperial forces. Why the Empire waited so long to attack Yavin following the Death Star's destruction is not explained here. Han simply notes that the place was blockaded -- though even that didn't stop the Milennium Falcon and other vessels from coming and going at will. Perhaps there was some political reason for the Empire holding off until now. But for whatever reason, our heroes now find themselves unable to return home. They seek sanctuary with a rebel sympathizer, a sexy pirate captain named Silver Fyre -- an old acquaintance of Han's.

After baiting Silver's gang with the information Artoo is carrying, Han ferrets out a traitor in their midst. Silver then agrees to aid the rebels in bypassing the Imperial blockade and returning to Yavin. Back on the planet, in another filler adventure, our heroes encounter a creature called the night beast beneath their headquarters in the Massassi temple. The beast is eventually lured aboard a ship and sent away from the moon. Even though this reads as a throw-away tale, the story allows Williamson to draw several interiors for the temple, a location barely glimpsed in A NEW HOPE. Williamson uses the opportunity to instill the haunted rebel base with some personality.

Silver Fyre (image via Wookieepedia)
The next story arc features Darth Vader baiting Luke into a trap by sending an imposter Obi-Wan Kenobi out into the galaxy. Naturally Luke seeks out his mentor, but the faux Kenobi has a change of heart and turns on Vader, saving Luke's life. The premise is thin and far-fetched -- this Obi-Wan is an actor of all things, hired by Vader, surgically altered, and provided with technology allowing him to mimic the Force -- but Goodwin mines it for decent drama, and once again he brings Luke and Vader painfully close to a confrontation before separating them at the last minute.

One aspect of these Goodwin/Williamson stories that I really enjoy is the serialized nature of the saga. Of course any newspaper adventure strip is going to be somewhat serialized, but Goodwin's approach is far moreso than was Russ Manning's. Manning told separate stories with distinct beginnings and endings, and no bleed-over between adventures. Goodwin, on the other hand, has every storyline lead straight into the next, and even maintains overarching plot lines throughout the entire saga. Luke infilitrated the construction of the Executor five story arcs ago, but the payoff of that adventure -- the utilization of Artoo's data to take the ship out -- still has not occurred.

In fact, the rebels are still planning that mission as the following arc begins. With Luke away from Yavin, Han and Chewbacca are sent to recover a McGuffin called the "power crystal", which was used by pirates in decades past to interfere with the shields of large space cruisers. Their mission is successful thanks to some guile on Han's part and an equal measure of brute strength from Chewie.

Meanwhile, en route back from his meeting with the Obi-Wan poseur, Luke crashes on an undiscovered snow planet called Hoth, where he has a brief adventure involving an Imperial governor who deserted his post, and the governor's daughter. It does not end well for these new acquaintances, but the silver lining is that Luke finally finds the perfect place for a new rebel headquarters (readers may recall that the Goodwin/Williamson strips began with Luke and Leia scouting for such a location).
The entire group is reunited when Han, Chewie, and Leia pick Luke up on Hoth. With plans to evacuate Yavin immediately, Leia leads our heroes to recruit the aid of the Mon Calamari for this task. This storyline began in late 1982, six months before the Calamari's first appearance in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Thus, while Goodwin and Williamson have so far been using established continuity to bridge the time between A NEW HOPE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, for the first time they are able to utilize characters from the next film before their "official" debut.

Our heroes meet Admiral Ackbar and his forces on a swamp planet, where the Calamari rescue the Milennium Falcon from a lagoon-dwelling creature. But at the same time, the Executor is officially commissioned and begins its journey to Yavin 4, demolishing every rebel ship and base it finds in its path.

This volume of CLASSIC STAR WARS ends with Goodwin finally bringing together plot threads he had started well over a year before. In February of 1981, Luke and Leia scouted potential sites for a new rebel base. From April to July of that year, Luke infiltrated the Imperial shipyards for intelligence on the Executor. He finally returned that information to Yavin in March of 1982, and then from July to October of '82, Han and Chewie procured the power gem which would allow the rebels to exploit that intelligence. October of that year saw Luke's discovery of Hoth, and January of 1983 featured the Executor bound for Yavin.

Now the stage is set for the rebels' assault on the Executor and their exodus from Yavin 4 to Hoth. It really is a masterful bit of serialized storytelling, that Goodwin has been able to juggle these threads for two years in a daily newspaper strip. It's one thing to do it in a comic book series of only a dozen issues a year, but I imagine a 365-day-a-year strip is a much tougher nut to crack, as far as the continuity goes. But even with a couple filler stories thrown into the mix, the execution has been fantastic.

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