Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Star Wars #50

Star Wars #50, August 1981, Marvel Comics
writer: Archie Goodwin
artists: Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, Walt Simonson
letterer: Ed Stuart
colorist: Don Warfield
editor: Louise Jones
EIC: Jim Shooter

Three decades ago, an unsuspecting movie-going public stumbled onto one of the most successful cinematic franchises of all time. Can you imagine being one of the first few thousand to have seen Star Wars back in the summer of '77? Without the burden of its epic legacy today, do you think you would have genuinely enjoyed the movie back then? Heck, did Star Trek fans understand that their beloved series would henceforth compete with George Lucas' brainchild for the title of "greatest space fantasy of all?" It's difficult to pinpoint the moment a phenomenon is truly born, but we can easily chart its lifespan -- thirty years, marked by the release of countless action figures, comic books, Underoos, and a galaxy's worth of supplemental merchandise. As a self-styled fanboy, one would be hard pressed to avoid the Star Wars legacy . . .

. . . and I am one of the few to pull it off. Compared to many of my peers that embraced George Lucas as their lord and savior since infancy, I discovered Star Wars much later in life. I became familiar with the characters in the fifth grade via my friend's action figure collection, and I finally watched the films a year or two later. My friends laughed when I gasped at the revelation of Luke and Leia's heritage, as if the knowledge was as common as the real history we'd been learning in school. Even then, prior to the releases of the prequels and the peak of its action figure production (yes, there was a time when Star Wars toys didn't consume the action figure aisles at Target), the Force was a pop culture phenomenon, winning the hearts of five to twenty-five year-olds the world over . . . all equally assumed just as socially inadequate. Indeed, is Star Wars to blame for the fanaticism commonly attributed to the modern geek? How fervently were geeks dressing up like their favorite sci-fi characters before the advent of the Storm Trooper?

But I digress. I was fortunate enough to find some issues of Marvel's old Star Wars comic book series at a swap meet last weekend, and though I had quite a selection to choose from, predominantly between numbers twenty-nine and sixty, I opted for number fifty. As a self-proclaimed "collector's issue," I (correctly) anticipated a self-contained story, and the credits, listing Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson among the contributing talent, certainly didn't detour me. What sealed the deal was the iconic cover by Tom Palmer, a visual blend of the space odyssey drama conveyed by the films' posters and a definitive comic book sensibility, cramming all of the key characters together for the ultimate team shot. While admittedly not a big time Star Wars fan, the more I look at this cover, the more it may become one of my favorites, thanks to its effortless summation of the characters' personalities and attitudes.

The story was just as inclusive. Taking place between episodes five and six, "The Crimson Forever" takes careful strides not to disrupt the continuity of the original movies while also seamlessly incorporating all of the fan favorite characters into one cooperative adventure. Remember, at this point in Star Wars lore, Han Solo has been delivered to Jaba the Hut in his carbonite entrapment, and Lando and Chewbacca are at the helm of the Millenium Falcon in an effort to rescue him. However, in this issue, the Falcon is intercepted by Princess Leia, who beseeches the pair's help in finding a cure for a plague dubbed the Crimson Forever, since it turns its victims red, staring endlessly into space. Unfortunately, Luke is among the victims, and in his feverish state he experiences a hallucination not unlike his visions on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back, involving a spectral Darth Vader, Obi Wan, and Yoda. Meanwhile, Chewy recounts an early Han Solo adventure about two mystical rubies that, when separated, result in a similar illness. Needless to say, the gang solves the mystery and rescues their friends, and though the story is relatively inconsequential to Lucas' grand scheme, I can imagine that this series as a whole satiated the Star Wars fan base between films.

Heck, like I said, I'm not even a fan, but it kept me interested.

I am grateful for Star Wars, because as a franchise it helped hone the fanboy subculture into the action figure clamoring mob that it is today. The phenomenon is easy to mock, but even students of Joseph Campbell's philosophy on literature and heroism reference Star Wars for its homages paradigms and archetypes of the past. More so than the story itself, the legacy of George Lucas' galactic tale has become an epic in itself, spanning thirty years of pop cultural significance. Like the Crimson Forever, there is no end to its influence . . . but no one seems interested in finding a cure. Especially not George Lucas' wallet . . .

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