Friday, February 7, 2014


The final volume of Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson STAR WARS newspaper strips begins with Luke Skywalker and Vrad Dodonna, son of rebel General Jan Dodonna, about to attack Darth Vader's flagship Executor with the power gem procured previously by Han Solo and Chewbacca. However, Luke has learned that Vrad is a coward who deserted his unit during the previous battle he was involved in.

Vrad ditches Luke after the attack begins, but ultimately has a change of heart and makes a suicide run against the Executor, weakening its shields and allowing the Milennium Falcon to score a hit against its engines. The damage is minor, but keeps the super star destroyer occupied with repairs long enough for the rebel evactuaton to take place.

The following sequence drips with tension and excitement as the Mon Calamari create a diversion, attacking the Imperial blockade while the rebels exit the Yavin system via a route that takes them past an unstable star. The Executor is repaired and Vader moves to intercept, but the overly anxious Admiral Griff -- originally introduced as Vader's subordinate during the arc where Luke infiltrated the Imperial construction yard some time back -- brings his own fleet out of hypserspace too close to Vader's, resulting in the destruction of Griff's ships and the ultimate escape of the rebels.

There had been some good story arcs from Goodwin and Williamson prior to this one, but the escape from Yavin 4, bringing together multiple plot threads from previous storylines (as discussed last time), combined with the nail-biting excitement of the rebels' race against Vader, stands out as possibly the highlight of their time on the strip.

Ozzel mode -- on!
I should note, however, that Vader's second-in-command, referred to only as "admiral", keeps changing faces throughout the story. Sometimes he looks like Admiral Ozzel, the Executor's mustachioed commanding officer during THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but other times he appears as a clean-shaven, non-descript Imperial officer. It's a rare lapse in artistic continuity by Williamson.

Goodwin and Williamson still have a few more stories up their sleeves after the epic escape from Yavin. The rebels arrive safely on Hoth, but Han, Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2 are forced into a detour which leads them to a planet, a seeming paradise, which houses a dark secret in the form of a "mind witch" who uses her visitors' thoughts against them. Goodwin takes this brief opportunity to finally -- for the first time since the strip started -- put Luke and Darth Vader -- or a facsimile thereof -- together in the same panels, however fleetingly.

Raskar (image via Wookieepedia)
After their escape from the witch, our heroes finally reach Hoth, but they're pursued and captured by a space pirate named Raskar, the person from whom Han and Chewie procured the power gem in a previous story arc. Raskar demands Han's treasure (the reward he was given following his rescue of Leia in A NEW HOPE), or he will turn Han over to Jabba the Hutt. Luke and Han lure Raskar back to Hoth, where they uncover a garden of valuable spice within an ice cave.

Raskar takes the spice and makes amends with Han, but the entire group is immediately captured by a band of bounty hunters led by Dengar (here accidentally referred to repeatedly as Zuckuss). Also among the hunters are Bossk and Skorr, his appearance proving a nice bookend to the Goodwin/Williamson run. He appeared in their very first story arc years before, and now in their final extended arc, he puts in another appearance -- and meets his demise during a struggle with Han.

Boba Fett shows up as well, as the true leader of the bounty hunters. He has a moment with Darth Vader, where he works out an agreement to provide Vader with Luke while also delivering Han to Jabba -- retroactive foreshadowing of his role in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Han, Luke, and Chewie eventually escape the bounty hunters, and head straight into Goodwin's and Williamson's final, truncated story arc. I'm uncertain exactly when they learned the strip was to be canceled, but they manage to wrap things up satisfactorily as our heroes head to a jungle planet to rescue Threepio and Artoo, on a mission for the rebels. Vader attempts to read Luke's mind from across the galaxy by way of a cybernetic enhancement system, but Han and Artoo save young Skywalker, and the story comes to an end.

I've already mentioned that Goodwin and Williamson had a terrific run on this strip, so I can only reiterate that here. Their stories are mostly all engaging, and even when the premises are occasionally flimsy, the gorgeous artwork is more than enough to keep a reader's interest. Goodwin's plotting is tight, and the serialization of multiple plot threads is extraordinarily well done. I haven't read many adventure strips like this one, so I'm uncertain if Goodwin's approach, carrying story points across years of daily strips, is outside the norm, but I suspect it may be -- which makes his craftsmanship all the more impressive.
Lastly, I've been wanting to mention this since the first review but never got around to it -- the folks at Dark Horse did an astounding job in assembling these trades. They took a black and white newspaper strip and reformatted the panels, moved word balloons, and sometimes extended artwork (with Williamson's assistance at the time) in order to make it all work on a comic book page. The added color is beautiful, and the whole package is, for lack of a better term, quite breathtaking. The care that went into this restoration is present on nearly every page, and I can't even begin to imagine the logistics that had to go into which panels to cut, which to keep, which to expand, and how to format them all together. So kudos to the Dark Horse editorial team of 1995 or so for their work here.

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