I have a hunch that as soon as '70s kids saw that Marvel Comics was adapting "Star Wars" into comics, this was the issue they were all eagerly awaiting. This issue has all the fast-paced Death Star action—complete with the comic's candy coloring!
STAR WARS #4
Publication Date: October 1977
Story: "In Battle With Darth Vader" (17 Pages)
Credits: George Lucas (story); Roy Thomas (writer, editor); Howard Chaykin (penciler); Steve Leialoha (inker, colorist); Tom Orzechowski (letterer); Archie Goodwin (editor)
Before we follow our heroes through the Death Star obstacle course that takes up every single page of this issue, we gotta discuss that cover. "Star Wars" has been very hit or miss with covers so far. The first issue's is an iconic image, with super-charged and seemingly unfiltered Chaykin energy making up for Darth Vader being green and Han Solo being orange. I also like the cover to "Star Wars" #3; it's a straightforward action image from the master Gil Kane—you know, the guy that also did "Giant-Size X-Men" #1
Keith Pollard turned in the cover to #4 and—aside from a menacing Vader—it doesn't really capture the frenetic pace found within. It does feature a hunky Luke Skywalker. That drawing's just a pair of short shorts away from actually depicting a guy wearing a Sexy Luke Halloween costume. Ben and Leia also look costume-y thanks to that lime green bathrobe and those "the costume didn't come with shoes" red slippers.
But enough ripping on the cover—oh, also, what I wouldn't give to hear young Mark Hamill earnestly read the line "Here I stand—though I may die!" Anyway, enough about the cover.
Yeah! That's exciting! As I've already mentioned, this issue moves fast, but actually not any faster than the film it's based on. This issue's a page shorter than the previous ones, but that doesn't mean anything's been cut. The issue's 17 pages cover roughly 16 minutes of the film, providing us with the lowest minutes-per-page ratio in the adaptation's run so far. The opening caption box even plays into the issue's rushed feel by stating, "We're kind of in a hurry this issue, so pay attention" before rattling off a summary of what's gone on before.
Now that Leia's been freed from her cell, Thomas and Chaykin get to really let her cut loose like she does in the film.
Yeah, Leia's so tough in this comic that she shoots lightning out of her face at Han Solo! Either that, or colorist Steve Leialoha made a choice! Writer Roy Thomas made a choice too, as seen in that last panel. Movie Chewie never tried to attack Leia, but Han has to tell him to not "rip her apart." We can't really blame Thomas for adding in that line. Only going by the screenplay, he's a walking and growling dog/ape that has been known to pull arms out of sockets over games of holo-chess. Without seeing the lovable gentle giant in action, one could assume he would want to rip Leia apart—especially after shooting face lightning at Han.
The gang all dives into the garbage chute and the trash compactor scene plays out like it does in the movie—except in double-time. Wormie's struggle with the dianoga lasts only four panels, leaving no room for an "is he dead?" fake out. Once the walls start closing in, though, the comic did add in a little touch not seen in the film.
Leia finally uses her "only hope" line—except it's said to convince Han to try shooting the trash compactor door again. The laser bolt thankfully doesn't ricochet off the walls as they slowly crush everything in their path. I mean, that would just be too much danger for one scene, you know?
Threepio and Artoo shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level, saving our heroes, but the beat where goldenrod mistakes their joyous cheering for anguished screams is missing in the adaptation. There's no time for comedy beats in this issue, there are chasms to swing across and old wizards that need cutting down!
The comic does clarify one moment that always felt weird to me as a kid.
In the film, Han just shoots off back into the trash compactor as Chewbacca cowers in the corner. I never got that that both of those acts were tied to the dianoga until I read this issue back in the first grade. The comic makes it clear, with Han's pistol zapping a gnarly brown tentacle. You know, that tentacle wouldn't pop on the page as much if it weren't contrasting with a hot pink metal floor. Maybe I've been too hard on the Death Star's makeover. Maybe it looks as funky as a "Real World" house for this very reason! Either way, that last panel is more colorful than a bag of Skittles.
The following scene, wherein the you-know-they're-soaked-in-garbage-water heroes find the Millennium Falcon, features the first hint that things are going to get weird once the comic doesn't have George Lucas' screenplay to pull from.
The middle panel features a line from Han that was presumably added in by Thomas: "Y'know kid—getting back to the Falcon's going to be like flying thru the Five Fire Rings of Fornax!" Doesn't sound like Star Wars, does it? It sounds a lot like something out of a Flash Gordon serial or a pulp sci-fi novel, right? "Star Wars" is weird in that it both took heavy inspiration from that type of science fiction, but it also grounded it in reality—a reality set in a galaxy far, far away, but still a reality. You don't hear words with a lot of gratuitous Xs and Zs in "Star Wars." You get words like "Jedi" and "Wookiee," words that sound alien but lack any of the alien signifiers usually used. For example, George Lucas came up with "Kessel Run" and Roy Thomas came up with "Five Fire Rings of Fornax." Both are made up, but man, they really sound different.
Anyway, apologies for all the serious analysis in that last paragraph. I'll make it up by pointing out that in the first panel, Luke's just a slight lean to his right away from a nip slip.
The quartet splits up as they make their way back to the Falcon, and we get to the first of a few scenes in the original Star Wars films that play out considerably ickier once you've figured out the Skywalker family tree.
Yeah, that's their kiss for luck. Wow. That's incredibly sensual compared to the completely platonic pop on the lips Leia gives Luke in "Star Wars." Their eyes are closed! They're leaning in! Luke's mouth is open in anticipation! They're siblings! This is definitely proof that Lucas did not include any footnotes about them being related in "Star Wars'" shooting script. Yikes, moving on.
Han and Chewbacca get into a bit of peril in the comic that didn't make it into the movie.
They barely outrun a cascading wave of metal doors that are slamming shut behind them. Each door is also a progressively darker shade of blue, you know, because it's pretty that way. I also included this page because I was absolutely positive that there was no way Darth Vader actually said, "I was but a learner" in the film. He does! He says "learner"! The Internet tells me that that's a legit word, but that doesn't mean it sounds right. "Learner." Hmm.
Obi-Wan and Vader both ignite their crimson red lightsabres and begin to duel.
Check out that metaphor Ben drops on Darth in the middle panel. "You perceive its full power… as little as a spoon… perceives he taste of food!" What a burn! Do you think Obi-Wan spent most of the Falcon ride trying to come up with the perfect diss? Or has he also used that line on other people that have annoyed him in the past? "You perceive modern trends in interior design as little as a spoon perceives the taste of food! I'll redecorate my hovel myself!"
But maybe Obi-Wan should have kept that cut down in his cloak pocket—because it got him cut down. Not just cut down, straight up exploded.
Yeah, that's right. Explodey-Wan Kenobi. I do not apologize for that charming and accurate play on words! Seriously, that's crazy! One has to wonder if Kenobi's death originally called for pyrotechnics that the budget constraints nixed, or if Chaykin just felt like illustrating The Scream meets the Human Torch. I especially love that it's juxtaposed with the most "well, golly" image of Darth Vader I've ever seen. Hand on his hip, slouched over, poking at a robe in a pile on the floor—he might as well be thinking, "Okay, if my keys aren't in this pair of insulted black leather life support pants, then where are they?"
The issue ends with the Millennium Falcon blasting out of the Death Star with a princess on board instead of a wizard. There are still two issues left to go in the adaptation, and judging by the title of the next issue, things are about to get indecipherably formal!
NEXT: "Lo, The Moons of Yavin!"
(For the first three parts of "Touring Marvel's Star Wars" click here, here & here)