My exploration of the Star Wars expanded universe begins with a series of newspaper comic strips that ran from 1981 to 1984. That’s a run that started not long after the movie release of the Empire Strikes Back and ends just after Return of the Jedi. I was still in single digits at the time and I don’t remember being aware of a Star Wars comic in the newspaper, so technically I haven’t read the original strips. Fortunately for future generations of fans, Dark Horse Comics edited and colorized the daily strips and published them in a monthly series called Classic Star Wars in the mid 1990’s. The comic book industry isn’t prone to passing up chances to make money so of course Dark Horse published graphic novels compiling those monthly comics. Those graphic novels are what I actually got my hands on 30 years after the original newspaper run.
The strips in volumes 1-3 (the only ones I’m reviewing here) were meant to cover the years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back so the story starts up at the rebel base not long after the explosion of the first death star. It covers a lot of adventures, including an encounter between Han Solo and a bounty hunter which Han mentions in The Empire Strikes Back, and ends with showing how the rebels found their new base on the ice planet Hoth as shown at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. I often find myself wondering ‘what happens next?’ after any good movie and it’s rare that I don’t see a sequel without speculating on what happened in between so I found these stories to be endlessly fascinating.
The stories roots shine through. It’s non-stop pulpy action typical of that time period with no character development. I don’t consider that a drawback, just a limit of a publishing format where your story dribbles out in tiny increments every single day. There was a fair amount of repetition of plot points intended to continuously remind readers what they read the day before but it wasn’t so much that I found it annoying. Beyond that, the writing was tight and kept my interest focused on the page.
The art is also pretty typical of the time it was produced. The colors are brighter and more varied than the more realistic style you see in current comics. There’s an impressive attention to detail that encourages you to really take in the surrounding scenery rather than speeding through just reading the speech bubbles. The myriad little details really made the odd aliens and space monsters come to life for me. The artist captured enough of the character details to make sure we recognize Luke, Han, and Princess Leia without making them look too much like the actors who portrayed them.
The original strips inspired a lot of devotion at the time. While doing a little research for this post I saw quite a few fans admit to cutting them out and pasting them in scrap books as a kid. These days even the graphic novel collections are out of print and are selling online for some pretty high dollar amounts. I definitely recommend any fan of the original trilogy read them if you can find them without spending a lot of money. I got my copies from the local library and apparently they were published in the Star Wars fan club newsletters in the early 00’s. You can see scans of some of the original strips (uncolorized) here.