Friday, January 24, 2014


The Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson run on the STAR WARS strip began officially on February 9th, 1981 -- about six months after the end of Russ Manning's final story arc. In the interim, the strip had featured a storyline by Russ Helm and Alfredo Alcala, followed by HAN SOLO AT STAR'S END by Archie Goodwin and Alcala -- an adaptation of the pre-A NEW HOPE novel of the same name by Brian Daley. Neither of those storylines is reprinted in the CLASSIC STAR WARS trade paperbacks.

Even though they've picked up the strip several months after the release of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in theaters, Goodwin and Williamson choose to tell more stories set between the first and second films -- a wise move, in my opinion. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK ends on a cliffhanger which would rob the creators of Han Solo -- and while great STAR WARS stories have certainly been told without Han, if including him is an option, it should be exercised -- even at the cost of including the likes of Lando Calrissian and Yoda. Thus, the first Goodwin/Williamson story features Luke and Leia, soon after the Battle of Yavin, scouting potential locations for a new Rebel base, now that the Empire knows they hang their hats on Yavin's fourth moon. But their mission is interrupted by the Empire, leading to a rescue by Han and Chewbacca, and a side trip to Ord Mantell, where the group encounters a bounty hunter named Skorr, out to collect the contract on Han's head.

Skorr (image via Wookieepedia)
Skorr is a cool looking character, and the entire story arc is concocted based on Han's single line in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK about a bounty hunter the rebels encountered on Ord Mantell. Apparently there have been several stories of the meeting over the years by various authors, all using their own favorite bounty hunter for the part. But official STAR WARS lore still holds, as far as I know, that Skorr's story was the "real" bounty hunter affair, since it was published first. It's a fact that I appreciate, since using an originally created character helps to broaden the STAR WARS universe, rather than having the threat be one of the pre-existing bounty hunters such as Dengar, IG-88, or Boba Fett.

The artwork in these stories is astounding. You'll recall that I enjoyed Manning's work, praising it for its cartooniness -- but Williamson is about as far from "cartoony" as you can get. His likenesses are very good, and his work on droids and masked characters like Darth Vader and the stormtroopers is downright breathtaking. All those helmets look super shiny, and the added colors complement Williamson's work perfectly. It's clear he's using a great deal of photo-reference for the likes of Vader and C-3PO, but unlike many of today's comic book artists, he is not a slave to the method.
Goodwin really plays up the Han/Leia romance, with Han chasing the princess at every turn. Readers knew at the time that they would (sort of) declare their love for one another in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, so the retroactive foreshadowing makes sense. I might argue that he goes a bit far on occasion, even having the couple share a kiss under the moonlight at one point, but in a way the fact that Leia might have "made a mistake" with Han earlier could be seen to add a bit more to their interactions in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

So strong is the flirtation between Han and Leia, that it drives Luke away from Yavin on a mission to infiltrate a new Imperial project -- the construction of the Super Star Destroyer, Darth Vader's future flagship, the Executor. Once again, Goodwin uses an item from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK to great effect, showing the ship prior to its commissioning, and even bringing Luke and Vader within a hair's breadth of one another before sending them on their separate ways again, as Luke narrowly escapes discovery by retreating with a brash young woman named Tanith Shire, who quickly becomes a potential love interest for young Skywalker.

Luke, Tanith, and C-3PO and R2-D2 return to Tanith's home planet, where Luke learns that she and her people are slaves of a group called the Serpent Masters (so named because they ride flying serpents). Luke eventually tames one of the serpents himself, overcomes the Masters' leader, and frees the planet's populace. Luke, Tanith, and the droids then depart, intent on getting back to Yavin 4 with Artoo, who has vital information regarding the Executor in his memory banks.
Goodwin seems to be treating this series as if it were the only story that occurred between A NEW HOPE and EMPIRE, which is especially interesting when one considers that he wrote the majority of Marvel's STAR WARS comics that were actually published between those two films. I suppose there's nothing here that says other adventures didn't happen -- and certainly the official STAR WARS Expanded Universe draws stories from all quarters to cover this era -- but it still seems an interesting creative choice. It definitely allows Goodwin to keep straight exactly what happened to whom, when, and where. He has only to worry about the films' and his own internal continuity.

Seeing Luke mooning over Leia, and leaving Yavin in frustration as she seemingly prefers Han's advances, evokes a simpler time, when we (and George Lucas) were unaware that the two were siblings -- and I have to admit, I think I like it better that way. There was really no need for Lucas to pull the "long lost twin" trick, and from all I've read, he only did it because he was tired of STAR WARS and didn't want to move on to make another trilogy as he'd originally planned -- so Yoda's mysterious "other" -- who would have been the protagonist of the sequel trilogy -- became Leia, shoehorned into a role she was never meant to play.

Tanith Shire (image via Wookieepedia)
The final full story arc in the book sees Luke and Tanith separated as Tanith drops our hero and his droids off for a rendezvous with Han and Leia. Aboard the Millennium Falcon, our heroes attempt to return to Yavin 4, but find themselves sidetracked into a graveyard of derelict starships, all being pulled into the gravity well of a collapsed star. A dying Imperial scientist is the only living being in the area, and he attempts to lure the rebels to their deaths with him, but a plan concocted by Han gets the group out unscathed. This is, so far, the biggest throw-away adventure out of the Goodwin/Williamson strips. It adds nothing to the ongoing continuity, and kills some of the momentum Goodwin had been building with his Executor storyline.

The volume contains the start of one more story arc following the encounter with the Imperial scientist, but since it continues in the next book, I will save it until then.

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