We've arrived at the final installment in Marvel's six-part adaptation of "Star Wars," and—believe it or not—this comic has a better ending than the feature film. Don't believe me? I mean, yeah, you have every reason not to—but trust me on this.
STAR WARS #6
Publication Date: December 1977
Story: "Is This—The Final Chapter?" (17 Pages)
Credits: George Lucas (story); Roy Thomas (writer, editor); Howard Chaykin (penciler); Rick Hoberg and Bill Wray (inkers); Paty Cockrum (colorist); Carol Lay and Mike Royer (lettererers); Archie Goodwin (consulting editor)
Big turnover on the creative side for this issue. While Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin have stuck it out through all six chapters, we've seen four inkers, four colorists, and four letterers make the metaphorical Kessel Run. You can credit all involved for not making these six issues look disjointed. The quality remains steady throughout…green metal Death Star walls aside.
Dave Cockrum and Rick Hoberg turn in another interesting cover for the series. Like issue #5, the cover features a scene that doesn't even come close to happening in the movie or comic. The cover does point out how odd it is that our primary hero (Luke) and primary villain (Darth Vader) never even cross paths during all of "Star Wars." The closest they get is in the Death Star hanger after Vader does his tippy toe tap on Obi-Wan's pile of empty clothes, and even then there's probably a few hundred feet between them—or, like, what, 30 meters or something? Oh Star Wars and your use of the metric system!
Before we move on past this cover, I have to point out how weird it is seeing Leia in a stereotypical damsel in distress pose. Come on, the only way Leia would be on the ground like that was if she was snatching up a discarded Stormtrooper blaster. Leia is the best.
You know what else is the best? Howard Chaykin's crazy opening splash pages. Aside from the fact that the X-Wings are approaching the Death Star from upside-down—that big circle is supposed to be above the equator—this is a solid image. Look at all that space-flame coming out of the X-Wings! As Blue Squadron—not Red, remember?—approach the Death Star, Blue Leader has his pilots sound off.
Of all the panels in these six issues, this strip of multi-colored hero headshots is the one that has stuck with me since childhood. For those that like to keep track of X-Wing pilot minutiae, the lineup goes as follows: Blue One is Garven Dreis, Blue Two is Wedge Antilles, Blue Three is Biggs Darklighter, Blue Five is Luke Skywalker, and Blue Six is Porkins. Wookieepedia informs me that Blue Four, by the process of elimination, must be the blandly named John D. Branon. Seriously, John Branon? No wonder the guy doesn't get his name dropped in the issue. He's competing with guys named "Biggs" and "Porkins"! He could at least have an unnecessary "W" or "H" in there somewhere. Jwohn D. Brahnon?
Like last issue, this one also has a number of odd-sounding religious references. As the X-Wings descend upon the Death Star trench, Roy Thomas' narration reads: "Yet, the Rebel Leader spoke earlier of its one weakness which may be exploited if the space-gods are kind." Now, I'm not doubting that the characters in Star Wars believe in an all-powerful being or beings, I just doubt that anyone outside of an earthly narrator would refer to them as "space-gods."
Luke slips back into Wormie mode for a panel early in the mission, and it's downright delightful. As two X-Wings zoom across the panel, Luke says over his comm, "Blue three, this is Blue Five! Hi Biggs!" Biggs responds, "Hi yourself, Luke! What--?" I get a big ol' grin just imagining Luke in his cockpit, eagerly waving out the window at Biggs. "Hi! We're flying X-Wings! Look!"
With that exchange out of the way, Luke makes a botched attempt at a trench run, and the narration nosedives back into religious imagery. "Unable to turn in time, Luke's fighter plunges into the expanding ball of super-heated gases—where Luke Skywalker knows the terrors of the damned!" It doesn't stop there. "Intense heat licks at the streaking space-craft—the hot winds of hell buffet it to and fro until Luke's teeth rattle." You know, a strategically placed period in that sentence would make it read "The Hot Winds of Hell Buffet," which is a place that I would not want to eat but I would definitely want to watch commercials for.
As Luke regroups he thinks back on his departed buddies.
Those floating heads resemble the kind of fuzzy dice-esque accessory that high school me really wishes he had had in his Honda Accord.
The dogfight continues, with Chaykin packing as much motion as he can into every panel. There are speed lines all over the place indicating the barrel rolls and last minute maneuvers executed by the dancing X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Unfortunately, some Rebels have gotta die—including a fan favorite.
Bye-bye, Porkins! Porkins has become either a beloved character or a joke character—perhaps a bit of both. Naming the only plus-sized hero in the entire rebellion "Porkins" just seemed casually cruel. This comic just lays it on even thicker by revealing that his first name is "Tono" (Lt. Ton Of Pork-ins?) and that his nickname is "Piggy." Come on Blue Squadron, wasn't there something else you can latch onto with this guy? Someone please direct me to some Porkins canon that doesn't focus on the guy's weight! Still, this page does include the line, "So long, Piggy. You will be avenged!," which is just ridiculous both out of and in context.
There's a lot of additional dialogue in this issue, particularly where Darth Vader is concerned. Thomas changed things around so that the Empire is completely aware of their weak spot and the Rebellion's plan. I've seen "Star Wars" a million times and it never once occurred to me that the Empire was clued into what the X-Wings were trying to accomplish. Since he knows what the Rebels are trying to do, Vader knows exactly how to counter their moves.
This page, which documents Blue Leader's demise, is pretty great. There's a level of storytelling on this page that I haven't noticed in previous issues. There are little touches that show why Chaykin's a master; notice how you can see Blue Leader's X-Wing reflected in that close-up of Vader's eyes? There's also symmetry to the placement of two Blue Leader panels, pre-and-post-explosion, on both sides of that extreme close-up. The explosion below is full of kinetic energy, as Darth Vader's TIE swoops over the wreckage. And I love how the bottom row contains an emotional beat, where the story regroups a bit and counts off the three remaining X-Wing pilots—before rocketing back into action with a loud "We're going in!!" It's really well done.
And then we get the first ghostly message from Obi-Wan Kenobi, encased in a Nickelodeon Gak Splat.
I'm awarding myself the prize for Most Impenetrable Early '90s Reference Of The Year. Since comics as a medium allow us to easily dive inside the minds of characters, we get to actually read Luke's thoughts after he hears Ben's voice. In the film, Mark Hamill just gives a subtle double take. In the comic, Luke thinks to himself, "Maybe he wasn't killed by Darth Vader's lightsabre after all! Maybe he merged, somehow, with "The Force"—and he's here with me in spirit—right now!" That sounds more like Roy Thomas trying to justify this odd plot point to himself than anything Luke would think in the heat of battle. Dude had one Jedi lesson from Obi-Wan.
Next, Biggs bites the dust and Wedge's X-Wing starts malfunctioning. Enter: the Millennium Falcon! Han and Chewie arrive just in time to blast Vader's ship out of the battle and give Luke the opportunity he needs to send some Force-guided torpedoes down the Death Star's death chute. Then, appropriately, we get a full-page splash of the space station's kaboom.
That's maybe the most tasteful rendition of that explosion I've ever seen. No sound effect, no violent fire colors—it's just one symmetrical star-like symbol illuminating all of space as a lone X-Wing rockets away. Man, I dunno, I actually think it's kinda beautiful? What's this comic doing to me?
The Rebel survivors—Luke, Artoo, Han, and Chewie—return to the not-blown-up Yavin-4. Leia's waiting and, thankfully, we are spared another gratuitous retroactive incest moment; Leia embraces Han with slightly more tenderness than Luke. The bottom of that reunion page features a startling amount of detail.
Look at that Luke! That's a crazy amount of detail, right? I'm pretty sure that's taken from a "Star Wars" promo photo, as it looks really familiar. Then again, Chaykin's likeness could just be that spot on that I just think I remember that photo.
And now it's time for the medal ceremony, all one page of it. Remember how I started this off by saying that this comic ends better than the movie?
"Chewbacca the Wookiee, too, will have his own medal… but he will have to put it on himself. Few space-princesses are that tall."
BOOM! How do you like that?! Chewbacca gets a medal! Roy Thomas just No-Prized George Lucas' film and then put his explanation right there in the caption box! That's pretty rad, and it's a solid note to go out on. Good job, "Star Wars"!
But wait—why doesn't Artoo get a medal?! I demand droid justice!
NEXT: "New Planets, New Perils!"0comments