By Adam Pawlus
One of the very first Star Wars licensed products to hit retailers were the comic books from Marvel. The funny pages became one of the few regular sources of Star Wars fiction during the days of the original trilogy, and the institution has been running strong almost non-stop since 1977. There was a brief break from 1987 to 1991, but hey, that’s barely a hiccup in several decades of publishing. Between Dark Horse and Marvel Comics, hundreds of stories have been told. Of them, some are wonderful tie-ins to the films and games which showcase stories like the birth of the Rebellion, the origin of Princess Leia’s bounty hunter costume from Return of the Jedi, or the gleefully ridiculous fanboy-friendly tale of Darth Vader dueling a cloned Darth Maul (seriously, you can find it in Star Wars Tales #9).
While these stories basically exist to move paper, sometimes it seems that they just get a little too weird for their own good, and after nearly three decades of Star Wars sequential art, certainly not all of the comics published could be considered the best, or good, or sometimes, even readable. Here are the worst of these stories — at least the ones featuring the characters you might recognize from the six films.
11) “Chanteuse of the Stars” from Marvel Star Wars #77
Shortly after Return of the Jedi, the scribes at Marvel Comics had to come up with new threats for Luke and his friends. So in 1983 they sent them to a diplomatic mission with little giggling furry things that, upon hitting puberty, turn into the Incredible Hulk. They’re called Lahsbees, and they’re arguably the most worthless characters in the story– or so you might think. This issue also brings along a quartet of Zeltrons, a red-skinned species, to help Princess Leia with her duties. To tell you what kind of Star Wars comic this is, a large part of the story has to do with Leia’s missing dress and her young attachment’s attempts to fix them up, so think of this issue as something of Project Runway meets Care Bears meets Rock of Love: Jedi Bus because all these women are throwing themselves at Luke Skywalker, too, lest we forget to mention that.
Oh, we almost forgot — there’s also an incident where Leia has to stand in for a diva named Shirley who won’t go out on stage to sing, and just like in the Star Wars Holiday Special, Princess Leia can’t sing here either. It’s to stop the rampaging aliens at the party, you see, so you get a hint of American Idol in here too. And all 25 years before these shows made a dent on American popular culture, to boot! Who knew that science fiction and space fantasy could foretell America’s entertainment future? Truly, this issue was everything a Star Wars comic typically isn’t and shouldn’t be.
10) Star Wars through the eyes of R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Comics Droids #6-8
On paper, it sounds awesome — C-3PO and R2-D2 retelling the story of the original Star Wars film! What sort of grief did they find while they were off-camera? Everybody clearly wanted to know. And we found out that we didn’t miss much, other than apparently penciler Ernie Colon did not see the Star Wars films.
In these 1987-made stories, a ton of the characters were off-model to the point of being almost hilariously unrecognizable. TIE Fighter Pilots look like some white robot things. Luke’s pilot outfit looked like something out of Star Tours‘ cast members closets from Disneyland (see below). And the Death Star corridors? Pink. Outside of the Ewoks series of comic books, this three-part story was the final new comic story for a while, and it wasn’t even a new story. If you’re a collector of Star Wars merchandise, this sort of thing- – remaking the same thing time and again, only slightly different — is the norm these days. On the bright side, readers of this series didn’t need to worry about spoilers too much.
For those keeping track, there are no fewer than four separate comic adaptations of the original film — this one, a really excellent manga, the original Marvel 1977 comic book, and a completely redrawn Special Edition comic from 1997.
9) Star Wars Annual #1
The cover boasts big adventure with the words “KING-SIZE ANNUAL” which, on a comic book, are alluring in the same way that their appearance on a postcard reminder to visit the proctologist might not be. The story was written in 1979, before the world really had a clue what The Empire Strikes Back was all about, because George Lucas was still making the first sequel. As such, nobody was paying attention to the amazing battles of Luke Skywalker on one of the many planets of cat people he would go on to visit over the years. The obvious lack of continuity in these early books was brought out by the planet’s citizens telling Luke about Jedi that visited their planet in the past — specifically three of them: Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Luke’s father.
You can read that last sentence again. That wasn’t an error.
Clearly the people at Lucas couldn’t have known what was in store for the heroes in The Empire Strikes Back but this one little goof is basically the only reason this otherwise completely forgettable adventure to the planet Tirahnn. Oh, and there’s some gargoyle people too, wearing weird sci-fi tunics that are so retro they’d make Flash Gordon crap himself.
8) “Jawas of Doom” from Marvel Star Wars #81
A case of bait-and-switch, “1984’s Jawas of Doom” looks like it’s going to be awesome. It was rare for Star Wars to have painted covers in the 1980s, so this was pretty stunning– plus it had both Jawas and Boba Fett on it, which promised good times. Instead, you get a story which is both bizarrely awesome and totally out of whack with everything you know and love about a galaxy far, far away.
The tale opens up with Han Solo arguing over the status of his bank account, which may well be the most delightful thing you will ever see in any printed Star Wars fiction. The story goes on with Han and Leia arguing about money and eventually wandering into the desert to find a Sandcrawler full of Jawas, who pick up Boba Fett from the pit of Carkoon. And apparently now Boba Fett is some sort of cyborg or droid who can’t remember who or what he is. There’s some fighting, a purple droid, and eventually Boba Fett comes to his senses to get swallowed by the Sarlacc Pit in the first of what would go on to be many stories about the bounty hunter escaping the giant toothed sand vagina.
7) “Small Wars” from Marvel Star Wars #94
Following Return of the Jedi, Ewoks were an increasingly important part of the Star Wars licensing program with TV, toys, a cartoon series, a movie, and stories like this one. Interestingly, rather than being adorable furballs, the Ewoks in this 1985 story were bloodthirsty badasses against the previously mentioned Lahsbees (the things that turn into giant berserkers at puberty) as a quasi-villain. The fight started because Admiral Ackbar’s new aide, Hirog (a big bug) decided to set up a conflict by implying that an Ewok princess was having an affair with the delegate from Lahsbane. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry — it isn’t important in context either.
The true villain of the piece, Hirog, is played like Daffy Duck. He would return as a villain in many of the final 13 issues. While he was sort of a bumbler to go against a fully-trained Jedi Knight, at least we still had the Lahsbees giggling and saying “tee-hee” a lot. Seriously, if you pick up the book, pages of the story are devoted to these little Care Bears-knockoffs trying to be adorable. Given the fan disdain for Ewoks in 1985, it’s stunning to see that Marvel actually crafted a story with so many unlikable elements that the yub-nubs came off as the absolutely best element of the story.
6) “The Short, Happy Life of Roons Sewell” from Star Wars: Empire #10-11
In 2003, Dark Horse interrupted a 4-part series with a 2-part story that’s a funeral for a character nobody had ever met before and had no real bearing on any future story. The character in question, Roons Sewell, was an anagram for Orson Welles — and the character was an actor of questionable talent that jumped ship to join the Rebel Alliance. Characters from the planning of the Death Star assault talked about how great he was, while readers were wondering why they were interrupted in the middle of what was a pretty cool story about how Luke’s friend Biggs joined the Rebellion. The authors made Sewell an homage/parody of Orson Welles in numerous ways, such as his quick rise to prominence, aspects of his appearance, and other little bits and pieces of his life. Truly, this story filled a much-needed gap in the Star Wars expanded universe (apologies to This Is Spinal Tap).
5) Jabba the Hutt: The Hunger of Princess Nampi
Nearly every character in Star Wars with any real recognition is going to get a story written about him or her, and Jabba the Hutt got several one-shots about his space gangsta lifestyle. In this one from 1995, Jabba meets Princess Nampi, the kind of intergalactic warlord that would invite the use of the “No Fat Chicks” t-shirt. She’s massive, and eats her lovers — she’s even big enough to gobble up Jabba, which is no small feat (it’s part of the mating ritual, you see). Because if there’s one thing you want more of in your comics, it’s the implication of Hutt sex and/or cannibalism in any capacity. On the bright side, the story ends with an awesomely disgusting explosion, which you don’t usually get in these kinds of stories.
4) Episode I: Queen Amidala
With Episode I, the bulk of the prequel-era comics had nothing directly to do with the film. There were, however, four side-stories that took place during the movie like this one (made in ’99), in which Padme meets magical water sprites. Actually the creatures are called trooshti, and their water pump is broken. So Padme and Jar Jar have to fix the water pump battery. How’s that for gripping entertainment?
3) “Touch of the Goddess” from Marvel Star Wars #95
In this 1985 non-epic, Lando, Luke, and Han end up on a planet of 1960s space aliens and the whole thing is some big machine run on gems. The Rebels have Lando go to talk to some dude, last seen in a dress or muu-muu or something (and a victim of identity theft via Mr. Calrissian), to get a statue to fix the machine to save this planet of the flu or whatever. As the story goes on, Wedge and Nien Nunb show up and as the ingrate antenna alien people won’t let Lando get cured, pretty much everybody says they’re going to blow the entire planet to Hell. It’s outrageously out of character with what George Lucas made the Jedi out to be, or heroes in general, but we can all walk away from this story with one important message: do not fuck with Lando Calrissian.
If that sounds a little bloated, yes, it was. And you see that guy in white on the cover? That’s supposed to be Luke, apparently at his most evil. The tagline of “If Lando dies, I’ll destroy your planet!” wasn’t hyperbole — this is really the crux of the story here! Who knew Han Solo thought so much of his old buddy that sold him out to Darth Vader?
2) Vader’s Quest #1-4
The art is by Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen. The story takes place following the original Star Wars film, with Darth Vader looking to track down the rebel that destroyed his space station. Would you buy this ’99 comic series? Of course you would. But the thing that they don’t tell you is that this, like many of the stories, is totally inconsequential and introduces you to characters like Jal Te Gniev, the pilot that Luke replaced during the Battle of Yavin because he got the measles. No, seriously. He’s also a heavy drinker and a generally bitter fellow. The series basically goes nowhere, which isn’t unexpected for fiction that takes in-between stories that have already been resolved, but Gibbons’ art was just weird. Most of the humans looked okay, but characters like Darth Vader were bizarrely off-model in the kind of way you saw during Marvel’s early run in the late 1970s.
Also, measles. Again, measles are the reason that Luke Skywalker had an X-wing fighter to blow up the Death Star. Aren’t you glad you now know that it wasn’t skill, or the reputation of Luke’s then-nameless father? Oh, expanded universe fiction, how we all adore you.
1) “Dark Lord’s Conscience” from Star Wars: Devilworlds #1
How’s this for an exciting tease: in 1996, the people at Dark Horse found an early-’80s, never-before-published in America story from Marvel UK! It has Darth Vader in it! Alan Moore wrote it! It’s going to be fantastic, right?
In it, you see some unhelmeted Stormtroopers brought down by “Clat the Shamer,” a hired killer that causes people to kill themselves by feeling great shame. While this is going on, Darth Vader is playing chess with a squid in a big glass orb named Lady Dhol. The chess board causes things to get caught on fire and Vader flames them all. Does that make sense to you? If so, we apologize, and we hope that if you don’t get help at Charter you will indeed get help somewhere.