Marvel continues its Star Wars Legends Epic Collection library with The Original Marvel Years Vol. 2, a fascinating collection that acts as an alternate galactic history. Instead of just re-publishing the original Star Wars Marvel run like Dark Horse did with its A Long Time Ago… volumes, Marvel has added rare bonus material from the U.K. to make these volumes more appealing to longtime fans. Although these stories are dated, carrying a heavy 1970s vibe in both art and writing, it’s interesting to see the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia from the perspective of audiences who had no idea what would happen in The Empire Strikes Back.
The second volume picks up with Star Wars #24 and runs through #38, the last issue before Marvel’s adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back began. In these issues, writer Archie Goodwin and artist Carmine Infantino guided our “Star Warriors” through strange adventures that mix typical comic book ideas with George Lucas’ galaxy.
Our heroes have run-ins with a bounty hunter cyborg named Valance and the bespectacled Orman Tagge of the House of Tagge. Yes, Goodwin created a whole family of villains to clash with the Rebels based on the arrogant General Tagge. His family is also a thorn in Vader’s side, as they try to win the Emperor’s favor with schemes to stop the Rebels. The issues in this volume build to a climax, where Luke duels with Vader on a planet called Monastery.
Amazingly, even though Goodwin didn’t know where the Star Wars saga was going in the movies, he still hit upon some themes that have recurred in Star Wars literature over the past four decades. However, the unknown adds a twist to it. Darth Vader tries to find the name of the pilot who blew up the Death Star, but how does that news affect Vader if the pilot isn’t his son? Remember, when Star Wars #35 was published, only the people who worked on The Empire Strikes Back knew about the twist. Goodwin also has a sense that Luke and Leia aren’t meant to be a romantic couple. Luke and Leia are often separated from Han and Chewbacca, but they’re more like brother and sister – over three years before Return of the Jedi.
There are also great contributions from other writers and artists. The first issue in the volume is actually a fill-in, with Mary Jo Duffy imagining what the Clone Wars must have been like in a solo Obi-Wan Kenobi adventure, over 20 years before Attack of the Clones came out. (Alec Guinness would be pretty stunned to see how Infantino draws a younger version of his character.) The legendary Chris Clairemont penned Star Wars Annual #1, with art by Mike Vosburg and Steve Leialoha, contributing a cool story called “The Long Hunt” that requires Luke and Leia to put on wings.
Lastly, there’s a personal favorite of mine called “Riders of the Void,” which pairs Goodwin with future Bucky O’Hare co-creator Michael Golden that was slotted in before the Empire adaptation. It’s the only issue Golden drew. In this unique Star Wars story about Luke and Leia encountering a giant being in space that swallows them up and Luke finds himself in a lightsaber duel with a droid.
After the Star Wars U.S. issues, there’s a collection of Star Wars Weekly issues. In the U.K., the comics were published on a weekly basis, with single U.S. issues split into three comics that also included other articles. The Original Marvel Years, Vol. 2 includes the issues that featured stories by Goodwin and Infantino that weren’t published in the U.S.
These are all in black and white and some of them aren’t that good. Did you really need a story about how Leia learned how to shoot? Haven’t you always wanted to read about the time Luke got tired of partying on “The Day After The Death Star” so he was stupid enough to crash his X-Wing into a TIE Fighter? In one prequel story, Han actually shoots Chewie in the back just to stop him from causing a ruckus at an Imperial base. If Han would do that, he’d definitely shoot Greedo first.
In conclusion, this collection is interesting for Star Wars completists, especially fans who love that wild era when the only thing we had was a little movie called Star Wars. Casual fans will probably find most of it a little silly, and Infantino’s art here is certainly an acquired taste. Goodwin’s writing is bursting with creativity though, showing us what you can do with these characters when there’s no rules.