This article was first published on the technology and innovation website Rootnotion, back in mid-December, after the good folks over there had asked me to put something together as part of the ‘Star Wars Week’ they had running around the time that The Force Awakens hit our cinema screens.
It’s one of my favourite posts that I’ve ever written, for this or any other blog, so my thanks to Kurt and Lisa at Rootnotion for giving me the opportunity to get my voice out to a different audience.
I’ve reproduced the article here in it’s entirety.
When Star Wars hit UK cinemas just before Christmas 1977, several months after its US release, the film was a known commodity. It had already attracted a huge fan following the world over and, thanks to some canny marketing and merchandising, George Lucas’ juggernaut showed no signs of slowing down as it arrived at our shores from across the Atlantic.
I didn’t get to see the movie until mid-January but I was well aware of its enormity. School friends who had already seen it enthused about it. Many had been for repeat viewings so I was biting at the bit to immerse myself in this new world of Sci-Fi fantasy, and when I finally did get my wish even my pretty vivid imagination hadn’t got anywhere near appreciating the sheer scope of what I’d seen presented on the big screen.
So imagine if you will, a young child of seven, fresh from the greatest cinematic experience of his so far short life, bursting with excitement at all the wonders laid out before him and eager to devour more. Star Wars was EVERYTHING in those days and in the early weeks of February 1978, when that same young man was walking past the local newsagent with his mum, he laid his eyes upon the very first issue of Marvel UK’s Star Wars Weekly (complete with a free constructible cardboard X-Wing). There was literally no way that particularly shopping trip was going to end without said publication in his possession.
When I got home I spirited myself away to engross myself in that same universe that I’d left behind a couple of weeks earlier, eager to relive all those incredible moments that Star Wars had seared into my overly-excited brain.
But there was a problem… This wasn’t exactly the story I remembered. I was seeing characters and situations that hadn’t even been in the film that I’d revered and cherished at my old two-screen cinematic stomping ground – the Rex in Coalville. What was Anchorhead all about? Who the hell was Luke’s buddy Biggs? He hadn’t been in the film that I saw…
I looked down at the comic in my hands feeling pangs of disappointment. Sure it looked and felt like Star Wars, but THIS wasn’t MY Star Wars – and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why.
It would be a good few years before I finally had my answers.
Let’s rewind back to 1975 when Lucasfilm’s publicity supervisor, Charles Lippincott, first approached Marvel Comics about publishing a Star Wars adaption ahead of the film’s release. Stan Lee initially turned down the offer, preferring to wait until the film was completed, but Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief, Roy Thomas, eventually managed to change Lee’s mind two years later. Due to a lack of popularity for movie tie-ins in comics Lee negotiated a publishing arrangement where Lucasfilm would receive no royalties until sales exceeded 100,000, meaning that Marvel got the licence to publish Star Wars for free. LucasFilm’s only condition at this time was that the first two issues would have to be on the news-stands before their film opened, in order to drum up a significant amount of publicity and advanced word of mouth.
Thomas, a long-established writer who had penned a successful run on The Avengers and Conan the Barbarian, was keen to write and edit the tie-in after Lippincott had showed him Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art from the film. He brought industry giant Howard Chaykin on board to look after the pencils and the two of them began working on a six-issue adaption using McQuarrie’s art, camera stills and several variations of Lucas’ original Star Wars scripts.
The two didn’t see an actual cut of the finished film until issues one and two were at the printers, accounting for the fact that the early content of the movie adaption differed in several areas to the final cut, differences that would be rectified to a greater extent in the final four issues, bringing the story and visuals much more in line with the finished movie that opened to audiences at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre on May 25th 1977.
And herein lay the problem for that over-excited seven year old, clutching his copy of Star Wars Weekly #1, trying his damnedest to understand why the comic he was reading was different to the movie he’d seen.
You see, I had no idea at the time how films were made – that scenes were often dropped or reworked during filming, that scripts were almost always re-written. I had no idea of what an ‘adaption’ was – that what I was reading was actually someone else’s interpretation of the Star Wars story, brought to life through limited exposure to the film I’d fallen in love with.
Had I known these things at the time would it have made a huge amount of difference? Probably not! All I knew was that when I opened up that comic what I did get was Luke witnessing the space battle where the Tantive IV is captured by the Star Destroyer over the skies of Tatooine (didn’t happen); Luke meeting his friends Biggs, Fixer and Camie at Anchorhead (Who?! What?! Where?!); and Han Solo being accosted by a very strange looking creature at Mos Eisley who was apparently some big-shot crime lord to whom he owed money.
All I wanted to see was MY film brought to life on the pages in front of me, something that was painfully eluding me at that moment in time.
I revisited the adaption a few weeks ago and the whole run is something of a curio to me now. Thomas, whose run on The Avengers features some of my favourite stories from the 60’s and early 70’s, feels understandably constrained adapting someone else’s work, while the usually awesome Chaykin turns in some really sub-par and pedestrian artwork.
There are sections in the early chapters that don’t appear in the final release. Luke meeting his friends in Anchorhead had been dropped by Lucas early on during the production, a fact unknown to Thomas and Chaykin as they plotted the first couple of issues. The same fate was reserved for the first appearance of Jabba the Hutt, a scene that Lucas instead saw fit to inflict on us 20 years later, in all its CGI-glory, in the 1997 Special Editions.
It is surprising to see how much of the dialogue from the comics did still make it into the theatrical release, with famous scenes appearing almost identically word for word. My all-time favourite comes in the Death Star meeting room when Motti questions Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways”. The action plays out the same way as it does in the movie except for the fact that the Dark Lord of the Sith seems to have a glass of hot milk in his hand as he’s administering the Admiral’s force neck choke. I can only assume that he used it as a nightcap, but who knows?
Looking back after all these years it’s become abundantly clear that my love of the Star Wars saga is rooted firmly in its cinematic origins. I’ve tried dipping into the books and comics but nothing quite compares to seeing the movies up there on the big screen, a story being told the way it was meant to be told, and although the comic adaption didn’t push the right buttons for the younger me it’s not to say that it wasn’t a triumph in other areas.
It was well known that the comic book industry was dying a slow death in the latter half of the 1970’s but the success of the Star Wars comic, going on to sell over a million copies, was unprecedented at the time. Jim Shooter, Marvel’s subsequent Editor-in-Chief, has been vocal in his appreciation of Thomas, openly stating that he felt Thomas was responsible for saving Marvel during those difficult years, helped in no small part by his successful campaign to bring the Star Wars adaptation into print.
Marvel’s Star Wars comic ran for 107 issues (with three special annuals) from 1977 to 1986, and while no longer considered canon thanks to the revisionism that The Force Awakens has brought about, it is still much loved by the fans of the universe created by George Lucas all those decades ago… Just not loved as much by that young lad sitting all alone with his copy of Star Wars Weekly.
For him Star Wars was made for the big screen, and will always belong there.