Wednesday, December 29, 2010

8. The Early Adventures

I was a little hesitant when I opened this book. I knew that it was a reprint of the newspaper strips that were written by Russ Manning, and I was worried that this format would make the stories hard to read and follow. On the contrary, once they are all put together in a digest such as this, they are actually easier to read than the Marvel comics. In addition, the stories are better and the characters introduced in these comics are more interesting than the ones introduced in Marvel's comics line. Even the art was better.

There are several stories included in this paperback. The first is "Gambler's World", and follows Luke, Leia, and the droids as they attempt to make contact with a rebel spy. They are pursued by a mysterious figure called Blackhole, who is working on behalf of Darth Vader. They are forced to work alongside a young street gang called the Freelies in order to escape from Blackhole and his special cadre stormtroopers in black armor.

"Tatooine Sojourn" is a short story that involved Luke returning to Tatooine to investigate some Imperial activity there. "Princess Leia, Imperial Servant" follows Leia on a mission to start an uprising on an Imperial mining colony. There she discovers the widow of Grand Moff Tarkin, and is forced to escape from her.

"The Second Kessel Run" tells the story of Han and Chewbacca who accidentally pick up a stowaway that is hiding from the Empire. The stowaway's father is being forced by the Empire to use his invention that controls the weather as a weapon. Han, Chewbacca, and Luke work together again to rescue the father and save the planets affected by his device.

In "Bring Me the Children", Luke is on a mission to deliver books to a rebellion friendly school when he interrupts a kidnapping attempt by the Empire. This story is interesting because it features an Imperial officer that is not human, which was almost unheard of in the Empire.

"As Long as We Live" is interesting because the story is set on a neutral planet that manufactures targeting systems for star fighters. While they have been selling these systems to the Rebellion, there is a spy for the Empire that is turning these systems against the Rebellion, giving the Imperial pilots the advantage in combat. Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca investigate to find out who the true villain is.

"The Frozen World of Ota" is probably the most famous of these stories, because it features the first print appearance of Boba Fett. Boba Fett crashes on the planet while flying in a TIE fighter, and Luke, who was pursuing him, crashes as well. They are both captured by the native Snogars, who coerce them into fixing the device that keeps their city warm. Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca make an appearance to rescue Luke, and they must work with Boba Fett to escape the Snogars. Upon their escape however, Boba Fett attempts to collect on the bounty he was pursuing, which was not Han Solo at the time, but is thwarted by the heroes.

I would highly recommend these to any Star Wars fan. The stories are the best that were published at this time. I'm glad that these were republished into the trade paperback format. They flow better than the Marvel comics and it's hard to tell where the breaks appeared originally. Dark Horse also did a wonderful job with the coloring, since most of these were originally published in black and white.

7. World of Fire

"World of Fire" is the second Marvel Illustrated Book that features stories that were originally published in the UK version of Marvel Comics, but not in the US. Unfortunately I have not been able to find this for a reasonable price, so I don't have it. This post will be a placeholder for when I do get one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

6. The Han Solo Adventures

"The Han Solo Adventures" is actually a collection of three books, "Han Solo at Star's End", "Han Solo's Revenge", and "Han Solo and the Lost Legacy". I've bundled these into one post as well, because I read them all together and they were all written close together.

Again, these are stories that I read a few years ago, and I am opting not to re-read these either. They are not nearly as bad as "Splinter of the Mind's Eye", but they're not great either. Han Solo and Chewbacca are the only familiar characters that appear, as they take the Millenium Falcon to a part of the galaxy that has up to this point been unexplored in the movies, comics, and books. It is an area called "The Corporate Sector", and is outside of the sphere of influence of the Empire. Han and Chewbacca have some interesting adventures there, but there is nothing of lasting impact and these stories are barely even mentioned in subsequent books and comics. I think it's a shame, because the galaxy is too big for just two antagonists, and the Corporate Sector offered an interesting alternative to the Empire.

If you're interested in reading more about Han Solo and Chewbacca, these stories are for you. They are a fun read, but nothing spectacular.

Dark Horse also published a comic version of one of these books, "Han Solo at Star's End". The comics were actually a reprint of newspaper strips that were published in 1980. The reprints were collected into a trade paperback, shown below. I haven't read the comic so I don't know if there are many differences between it and the original novel.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

5. Marvel Illustrated Books #1

The Marvel Illustrated Books collect comics that were originally printed in Marvel's UK Star Wars comic, but had not been published in the US until this edition. There are four stories included: "Way of the Wookiee", "The Day After the Death Star", "Weapon's Master", and "Pursuit".

The first three stories are interesting because each focuses on one or two of the characters while they're away from the others. "Way of the Wookiee" tells a story about Han and Chewbacca, and focuses on Chewbacca's reaction to encountering another member of his species. We learn something about Wookiee culture, and also a little about Chewbacca's past. An interesting tidbit is Han's comment about Chewbacca being over 200 years old, which gives us an idea of Wookiee longevity.

"The Day After the Death Star" is a story of an adventure that Luke has the day after he destroys the Death Star. He comes across a remaining TIE fighter and ends up in a duel to the death with the pilot. At the end of the duel Luke is forced to realize that the war he is involved in is not just against machines, but there are people behind those machines who may or may not be committed to the Empire, but have their own history they're dealing with.

"Weapon's Master" tells the story of how Leia became so proficient with a blaster, whose skill she displayed very early in the original Star Wars movie. The story tells a little about her upbringing on Alderaan, and it also touches on how the civil war she believes in is affecting the innocent civilians in the galaxy.

"Pursuit" is actually the last part of a story that was started in Pizzazz magazine. The first part of the story, called "The Kingdom of Ice", was published in Pizzazz magazine issues 10-16, but when Pizzazz was cancelled, the end of the story remained unpublished. The end was eventually published in Marvel UK, but not until it appeared in Marvel Illustrated Books #1 did the end of the story get published in the US. It would have been better if the entire "Kingdom of Ice" story were reprinted, but unfortunately they only put in the end. Since I don't have the Pizzazz magazines where the story originally appeared, the end isn't that interesting to read.

Overall the stories in this book are fairly interesting, especially because we learn something about the character's past. The stories are well written, especially "The Day After the Death Star" and "Weapon's Master", and have a depth to them that doesn't appear in the other Marvel comics. The art is generally better as well. The book can be difficult to find for a reasonable price, but if you come across one I recommend that you pick it up.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

4. Splinter of the Mind's Eye

The first novel in the Star Wars Expanded Universe was written by Alan Dean Foster, who ghost wrote the novelization of the first movie. I actually read this several years ago, but I wasn't very impressed. As such, I'm not re-reading it on my current quest to read the Star Wars books, and I don't remember all the details of the book.

I do recall that the story involved Luke, Leia, and the droids crashing onto a mining planet that is controlled by the Empire.  They meet an old lady who has a shard of the Kaiburr Crystal, which gives greater strength to those who know the Force. Darth Vader makes an appearance, and even faces off with Luke and Leia. Luke is even able to cut of Vader's arm, possibly because he was in possession of the Kaiburr Crystal at the time. Luke, Leia, and the droids eventually escape, while Vader has fallen into a pit. But the Force tells Luke that Vader is not dead yet.

The book was ok, but nothing spectacular.  There were some confusing parts of the story and some things that just didn't make sense, and these were the major drawbacks to me.  It's possible I'm just not a fan of Foster's writing style, and that may taint my perception of the books.

Dark Horse also published a comic version of this book.  I decided not to read that because I didn't want to spend the money on a story I already knew and didn't really like the first time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

3. The Keeper's World

"The Keeper's World" is a relatively unknown story that was originally published serially in Marvel's Pizzazz magazine. It was republished by Dark Horse and this version is often called Star Wars 0.

The story involves Luke, Leia, and the droids crashing on an uncharted planet. The Empire sends stormtroopers to investigate, but this task is made difficult when the rebels vanish right before their eyes. It seems the rebels have been rescued by a group of children, each of whom has the power to control a different element. The children belong to a sentient computer called The Keeper, who has been maintaining the planet since it was nearly destroyed.

Frankly, this comic is just weird. The children act more like super-heroes from Marvel than characters in a science fiction setting. Their powers seem like something that would fit in better with the X-Men than Star Wars. Another adversary in the story is a giant cyclops, and the rebels depend on an even bigger giant who turns out to be the cyclops's mother for rescue. That whole sequence was strange as well.

Here are pictures of the covers of the Dark Horse comic, taken from the ever-useful wookiepedia. There were two different covers released.

Has anyone else read these? If so, did you find them strange as well?

Friday, December 17, 2010

2. Doomworld

Doomworld is the collection of Marvel comics issues 1-20. I like this paperback format that was published by Dark Horse. Issues 1-6 are the comic version of the movie, and include the scenes included in the book that are not in the original movie. It also includes a scene with Jabba the Hutt, which was added to the movie in a later edition. The big difference is that Jabba the Hut (as it's spelled in the comic) is a green humanoid alien, instead of a giant slug. Another interesting scene is Darth Vader force-levitating a cup of what appears to be coffee, which begs the question of how he would drink it with the mask on his face.

Starting with issue 7, the comic series follows the adventures of Han and Chewbacca. First, they are robbed by a space pirate named Crimson Jack, which forces them to lay low on a planet called Aduba-3. They soon find themselves in the role of protector of a small town there, and hire an eclectic group of mercenaries to help them defend the town. The mercenaries include a giant carnivorous rabbit and an old man who thinks he a Jedi named Don-Wan Kihotay.

This conflict continues through issue 10, while Luke scouts for a new base for the rebellion. In issue 11, Luke and the droids have crashed and Han has again been caught by Crimson Jack, who has also managed to capture Princess Leia. Han and Leia convince Jack to head to Drexel, where Luke has crashed. Han, Chewbacca, and Leia escape from Jack to find Luke, and also crash on the planet.

Luke finds himself in the midst of war on Drexel and is pressed into service by one group while Han has sided with the other. Luke turns on those who forced him to fight and soon finds himself in the brig with Chewbacca and Leia. They are able to escape when Governor Quarg, who had caused them both to crash, decides to try to force down Crimson Jack's ship instead. Luke is able to defeat Quarg and save the day, again.

This brings us to issue 15, where Crimson Jack is eager to get revenge for Han tricking him into this wild goose chase. He's unsuccessful however, and loses to Han in a duel, allowing the rebels to escape.

Issue 16 introduces an all new character, a bounty hunter named Beilert Valance. Valance is chasing after Luke, but confuses him with Jimm, one of the mercenaries Han had hired on Aduba-3. Valance pursues Jimm only to realize his mistake later.

Issue 17 is a flashback issue that tells a story of Luke's life on Tatooine before the arrival of the droids that changed his life.

Issue 18-20 tell the story of how the heroes become trapped on a space station called The Wheel that is dedicated to gambling. The space station is run by Simon Greyshade, who has a very special relationship with the Empire. Luke has been in a coma since the beginning of this story but wakes up and escapes in issue 20. Leia is being held captive by Greyshade, and Han and Chewbacca have been tricked into signing up as gladiators.

And that 's where it stops. I'm not sure why Dark Horse decided to end the collection there, but it did. Recently, Dark Horse has again started reprinting these stories in an omnibus format, and the omnibus includes the conclusion of this story, as well as the conclusion of the Valance story. But I don't have the omnibus, so we'll stop here.

Overall these comics are ok. The characters come across as over the top, formulaic, or just goofy. Every female that makes an appearance seems to have some sort of attraction to Han. The art styles change dramatically during the course of the comics, ranging from adequate to horrible. It's hard to compare art from the 70's to modern comics, but even by the 70's standards I think they could have found better artists. They're fun stories for a diversion, but nothing to take too seriously.

On the left is the collection that I'm reading through, and the new omnibus is on the right:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

1. A New Hope

To start at the beginning means going back to 1976. While the movie was released in May of 1977, the novel version actually was released at the end of 1976. The novel was written by Alan Dean Foster, and not George Lucas as the cover indicates. It sticks pretty closely to the movie, although it does include one interesting scene that was not included in the movie. It is included in the Deleted Scenes section of the DVD, and basically shows Luke interacting with some of his friends on Tatooine before the excitement starts.

You probably already know the story, but just in case, the story centers around Luke Skywalker, a moisture farmer on the desert planet Tatooine. While he has long dreamed of giving up life on the farm for the excitement of learning to be a space pilot, his Uncle refuses to let him go. All that changes when a battle takes place between the Empire and the Rebellion which concludes with the capture of the rebel Princess Leia and the escape of two droids to Tatooine. Luke finds the droids and delivers them to their destination, the home of a man called Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Empire investigates, killing Luke's aunt and uncle in the process, which forces him to leave with Obi-Wan on a ship piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca. The ship is subsequently captured by the Empire's battlestation, the Death Star. Luke, the droids, Han, and Chewbacca manage to escape capture and rescue Princess Leia in the process, while Obi-Wan is killed by Darth Vader while trying to aid their escape. The droids are delivered to the Rebel Alliance which uses the information in one of the droids to form a battle plan to destroy the Death Star. Luke is the fighter pilot who fires the fatal shot, the battlestation is destroyed, and the Rebel Alliance is saved.

Overall the novel is fine, but the writing is somewhat bland. Outside of the deleted scenes, there isn't much to get excited about in the book. There are a few other minor differences between the book and the movie, but they don't really impact the story at all. If you've seen the movie, and the deleted scenes, there's not really any need to read the book as well.