Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Original Marvel Years Vol. 3 (Epic Collection: Star Wars Legends: The Original Marvel Years) hit comic book store shelves this month and it is indeed epic!
This third volume is a magnificent collection of stories from Star Wars #39 to Star Wars #55 which came out between September 1980 through January 1982. It also includes issues of Marvel UK’s Star Wars series which was later titled The Empire Strikes Back Monthly from issues #149 through to #159. The UK issues contained at the end of this collection are all new original stories written before returning to its reprint only format.
The first six issues of the collection are a comic book adaptation of the film The Empire Strikes Back which was written by Archie Goodwin with artwork by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. There are also some very epic stories such as “The Crimson Forever”. This was a three chapter issue that tells the tale of how Luke Skywalker was afflicted with a condition known as the crimson forever which is brought upon when two sacred gems are taken from a temple and separated from each other. Lando, Leia, and Chewbacca set out to find the stones and reunite them and end this affliction. They discover that the stones have been taken by Domina Tagge with the help of some familiar bounty hunters. It is a fight for survival not only for our hero but for the fate of the entire galaxy.
Another great story contained in this volume is a two-part written by the legendary Chris Claremont. “The Last Gift of Alderaan” and “Starfire Rising” are two issues that tell the story of Princess Leia being stranded on a planet inhabited by warlords who have now turned to peace with the aid of their peacemaker king. The king falls in love with the princess after rescuing her and she is taken into their home and treated like a daughter by the queen. Soon they discover that the Empire has laid claim to this world and wants to subjugate its warrior population to fight for the Empire. It turns into an all-out war with Luke, Chewbacca, Lando and the two droids joining the fight at the last minute to help rescue Princess Leia and bring her back home.
Rounding out the end of the volume are the UK The Empire Strikes Back Monthly stories. One interesting one in particular is called “Death Masque.” In this story Luke finds himself at the edge of the galaxy with an entire fleet of Star Destroyers and Tie Fighters in pursuit. Our hero has no choice but to land on the planet below where he is tormented by an ancient creature known as Reist. This creature has the ability to reach into someone’s mind paralyzing them with fear and death. Luke uses his Force abilities to defeat the creature and escape but not without some intense emotional scarring. This particular story is done in black and white and it is the only story in the collection to do so. At the end of this massive volume are a whole bunch of wonderful bonus materials. There’s a 5-page article from Star Wars #41 called “Building an Empire– Marvel Style”. It is written by Archie Goodwin and is a behind-the-scenes look at the comic adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back. It shows examples and talks about the differences in the artwork and dialogue as it was adapted from the early paperback versions to the full-fledged issues that were released. There is also a retrospective introduction to The Empire Strikes Back HC that was written by Billy Dee Williams about his experience with George Lucas and filming The Empire Strikes Back, as well as how he has been a part and followed the legacy of Star Wars ever since. There are also bonus pin-up galleries of all of the UK cover art as well as various cover variants from artists like Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon and even an amazing cover from issue #47 done by the legendary Frank Miller.
The artwork in this collection is classic Marvel at its best in the 80s. It is fun, imaginative, and was created at a time when there was not a great deal of expanded materials in the Star Wars universe visually. The artwork in The Empire Strikes Back Monthly series is a bit more dark and psychedelic. There’s definitely more of an artistic sophistication to the UK issues although they are shorter in length to their US counterparts.
The majority of the stories after the movie adaptation of Empire involve the rebels searching the Galaxy for a new home far away from the Empire in uncharted space. This leads to some fantastic stories that are unique and exciting. There are a few goofy stories as well however. One in particular is a story titled “The Third Law”. In this issue Princess Leia Organa goes to the planet Aargan which is a banking planet that funds a great deal of the galaxy’s operations. She is there to take out a loan to purchase a new Squadron of X-Wing Fighters for the Rebel Alliance. Darth Vader arrives shortly after the Princess and what follows is a semi comical back and forth between Vader trying to get Princess Leia and the rebels to break one of the three laws which the punishment for breaking is death. Leia skillfully dodges Vader’s plans at every turn, only to be outsmarted by him at the end. The story was written by Larry Hama and it feels a bit off but at the time it was probably funny. There are some very poignant stories as well though, such as the two part written by Chris Claremont. In “The Last Gift From Alderaan” issue and the “Starfire Rising” issue which follows it, Princess Leia is faced with the demons of what happened to Alderaan and all those millions of souls that were obliterated, including her friends and family. The story also deals with complex issues such as love and infidelity but also redemption and honor. These two issues in particular stand out as some of the more amazing stories contained in this volume.
Overall this is one amazing collection of some of my personal favorite issues of the Star Wars comic book series from Marvel. The artwork is classic Marvel and although it may be dated and isn’t as vibrant and extravagant as some of the newer series that have come out in the last decade or two, where it really shines is in its stories. This collection continues after The Empire Strikes Back, filling in the gaps between that and The Return of the Jedi. It is not only about the search for Han Solo as well as the search for a new home, but it is also about the journey these characters take individually and as a family to learn more about themselves and about each other.
I highly recommend this collection to any and every Star Wars fan out there young or old. It is fun and came out at a time when nothing else was being created as a companion to the films. It paved the way for a lot of the wonderful series that followed it in the years after and it is a classic piece of Marvel Star Wars history.