Friday, May 16, 2014

The Greatest Space Fantasy of All!

Among the most prominent of the classic contributions to the early Star Wars Expanded Universe are the stories that were written by the likes of Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin for the Star Wars series produced by Marvel Comics.
“ENTER: LUKE SKYWALKER!” the caption on the cover of Marvel’s first issue exclaims. “WILL HE SAVE THE GALAXY OR DESTROY IT?”
No one has ever mastered mindless hyperbole with the skill and artistry of the Marvel Comics editorial staff.
The Pizzazz strips followed Luke and Leia’s adventures right out of the gate, but the monthly comic followed some stricter guidelines in how it approached telling the continuing story of Star Wars. Roy Thomas, writer and editor of the Marvel Comics series, prefaced the letters column of Star Wars #7 with a statement that explained they would concentrate more on Han Solo and Chewbacca in order to give George Lucas “breathing space” to decide what he wanted to do with the film sequel.
In an interview in Back Issue magazine # 9, Thomas clarified that in the beginning he was not allowed to use Darth Vader as a villain or do anything related to the Clone Wars. He also couldn’t explore the relationship between Luke and Leia. That didn’t bother him as much. Despite the fact that he had written a story featuring Luke and Leia for the Pizzazz serial, he admitted in the Back Issue article that he didn’t care for Luke very much. He thought Han was more of a traditional space adventurer type of character, so stories starring Han and Chewie came more naturally.
As an aside, I encourage you to pick up Back Issue # 9 and read that entire ariticle. They do a very nice retrospective of the Marvel comic. I'm including links to the TwoMorrows Publishing web site because trying to find a back issue of a magazine called Back Issue magazine can be a little tricky.

It’s possible (but seems unlikely) that Lucas discouraged the comics creators from producing original stories about Luke and Leia to keep the comic stories from stepping on the release of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. The Pizazz stories, which were thematically and structurally identical to Alan Dean Foster’s novel, suggest that this was not the case. Even so, I do not believe this restriction had anything to do with the fact that Luke and Leia were siblings, as I do not believe that was a part of the story until they came up with it in Return of the Jedi.
Whatever the reason, the first original arc of the monthly comic series featured Han Solo and Chewbacca in a story of their own. This worked out rather nicely, considering their exclusion from Foster’s book and the Pizzazz serial.
The comics tie-in coincided almost exactly with the release of the first film, debuting in July 1977. The first six issues of the series adapted the story of the film, so it wasn’t until early 1978 that the creative team began telling original stories featuring the Star Wars characters. The first of these, as I mentioned earlier, revolved around Han Solo and Chewbacca. This four issue arc was more or less a goofy sci-fi take on The Magnificent Seven (or, if you want to pay homage to Lucas’ original influences, Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai).

This first foray into telling original EU Star Wars stories was definitely a bit awkward. In the second issue of the story, Eight For Aduba-3, Han recruits a crew of misfits to help him defend moisture farmers from the outlaw Arrogantus and his gang of Cloud-Riders. Among them are a familiar-looking farm boy named Jimm the Starkiller kid and his less than faithful droid companion, FE-9Q, a human hedgehog named Hedji, a sassy space babe named Amaiza, a quixotic Jedi wanna-be absurdly named Don-Wan Kihotay, and a giant green rabbit man named Jaxxon.

Stories like this one invite derision from purists who are only concerned with more legitimate EU works produced since 1991, but it’s a lot easier to contribute to an already rich mythology. At the time these stories were written Star Wars was still being fleshed out, even by Lucas, and no one knew where they could take it, even if they had creative license to do whatever they liked. Whatever the reason, the Marvel Star Wars series is often dismissed and is considered by Lucas Licensing to be secondary canon.

Lucas Licensing uses a pre-defined scale when determining the degree to which a Star Wars work counts as canon. To give you an idea as to the degrees of gradation used to classify various works, consider that G-canon is the absolute canon, including all works created by George Lucas and considered by him to be a part of the actual core story of Star Wars. This obviously would include the final theatrical film trilogies, but generally accepts the radio dramas and novelizations as absolute canon as well.
C-canon is the continuity established by works created for the Star Wars EU, almost exclusively applying to EU works created after the Expanded Universe was officially established in 1991. Because they were created before some of the formal boundaries of the EU continuity were established, a lot of early EU works, such as the Marvel Comics series, are classified as S-canon. S-canon is secondary canon, which includes pretty much any work created in the Star Wars universe that doesn’t necessarily have a place there. The concepts established in these stories are not off limits to other EU contributors, but the works themselves do not hold as high a station in the Star Wars canon as newer contributions to the Expanded Universe. It’s not as bad as it could be. There is also N-canon, a distinction reserved for works that are considered completely non-canonical.

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