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“I’d rather kiss a Wookie.” “I CAN ARRANGE THAT.” – Marvel Super Special #16, “The Empire Strikes Back”

March 31, 2012

The Marvel Super Special March wraps with this, a delightful foray into what may be the greatest sequel ever forged. All due respect to the other books covered, from Krull to the Beatles, but that The Empire Strikes Back could take what had been the greatest blockbuster of all time and up the dramatic ante on it is a towering achievement. The only thing it lacks is Michael watching silently as Fredo is killed out in the fishing boat. If it had that it would be the unquestioned champion of sequeldom. But hey, The Godfather II didn’t have a comic book, NOW DID IT?

Empire has taken on an odd personal distinction for me in this strange new century: it’s the only Star Wars movie that I ever watch anymore. The Return of the Jedi, the sole entry of the first three that I was old enough to see in a theater during its original run, used to be my favorite (in spite of, and perhaps in a twisted way because of, the Ewoks) and I used to watch it was alarming regularity. I loved the three-tiered cake of drama that was the last act, with Han and co. battling the Stormtroopers and their gangly biped Walkers on the Endor Moon, Lando and the gruff “IT’S A TRAP!” Admiral Ackbar holding out against the Empire and the Fully Armed and Operational Battle-Station in orbit, and the tripartate pull of the throne room duel, as the Emperor tried to turn Luke, Luke tried to turn Darth Vader, and Vader wrestled with what remained of his charred soul.

And then George Lucas came along and threw that cringe-worthy dance number in Jabba’s palace (which still makes me want to scour my eyes with sandpaper), and then years later jammed Hayden Christensen into the finale’s ghosts (he’s not even looking in the right direction, George) and I gradually fell out of love.

But Empire remains. Tampered with but not felled, nicked but not stricken. Thanks to Irvin Kershner’s delicate direction it contains the best performances of the original trilogy (I never for one moment lose faith that Mark Hamill is sitting in a mud hut with a two-foot tall green dude), and its driving energy still compels decades on and after countless viewings. Its unquestioned splenditude perhaps functioned as a “keep your grubby paws off” buffer against Lucas’s compulsive meddling. (Though the insertion of Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor still briefly threatens to vacuum me out of the action. I miss the old lady with the monkey eyes.)

Still, Lucas’s continued assault on all that people once held dear continues apace, and perhaps one day Empire too will fully succumb to his Midas suck-touch. I recall an interview of his while we were still suffering though the decade long disappointment that was the prequel saga. George was hyping the stillborn “romance” between Christensen and Natalie Portman as the real love story of Star Wars. Okay. He was bloviating. I get that. But then he had to aggrandize that stalker-themed snooze-fest by belittling what had come before, referring to what Han and Leia went through as a mere flirtation (or words to that effect). I never wanted to reach out and grab the man by his dopey flannels and shake some sense into him more than at that moment. It was then that I truly realized how far out of touch the man was — and is. The veil fell from my eyes, as it were. And now that baggage is there every time I watch the Empire that I still, in spite of it all, cherish. I remember how Lucas deems Han and Leia and the way they look at each other as Han is about to be carbomited as the inferior love, and shake my head like a parent whose child just had a meth relapse.

We can’t even fall back on the untrammeled IV-VI. With Lucas’s stubborn refusal to release the unmolested original films in a satisfactory, high-quality form, all that’s left are decaying, unplayable VHS copies, non-anamorphic unrestored DVDs, a slightly corrupted but still enjoyable Empire, and memories.

And comics like the one highlighted in this post.

Yes. The Marvel Super Special for Empire is still part of what was good about the good old Long Time Ago days of Star Wars.

You see, not only did the film universe become a sanitized CGI mess, but the accoutrements of Star Wars became a pasteurized mish-mash (a fault not unique to Star Wars, and one I touched on in the Raiders of the Lost Ark post a few days ago). For instance, I dare you to compare the posters for the original films — the original posters, mind you — and the pablum force-fed us now. No offense to Drew Sturzan, but his lens-flared amalgamated headshots could never compare to the original Empire poster.

The Expanded Universe is nice for fans, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t dabbled in any of it, but I did read the excellent Timothy Zahn Thrawn trilogy back when they were first released, and enjoyed it immensely — far more than the fleeting thrills afforded by the prequels. But it strikes me that there’s such a strong corporate presence gluing the whole thing together. It’s nice that things jibe from book to book and comic to comic, but a part of me misses the days when the comic books went off in all kinds of weird directions. Back before we found out that Stormtroopers were all Maori dudes that were related to Boba Fett and not regular guys that Leia knew in a former life.

Now God forbid if an adaptation of a movie doesn’t have the same look, the same feel, the same bad breath as what’s onscreen. But that wasn’t always the case, as clearly shown by the mag featured here (which was also split into multiple parts for the regular Marvel Star Wars series). This comic is Empire, but because of the art, the script, and some different choices along the way, it’s a different Empire. Like it’s vibrating on another plane or something. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Written by Archie Goodwin, with art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon, it’s a nice romp, and if you’ve never read it before, it’s truly like seeing the movie again for the first time. Let’s have a look.

There are of course the straight-forward interpretations of the action, which nevertheless give you a different vantage of the things you now know by heart. Here’s an AT-AT getting brought down like an elephant — like the rest of the comic, as advertised by the cover, presented IN DAZZLING FULL COLOR:

Is it just me, or does it look like there might be an extra leg flying out of there?

One of the things I was most looking forward to here was seeing how Yoda was presented. The striking thing about him is that you get to see his gams — that comes with the territory when you don’t have to hide Frank Oz with his hand up the guy’s ass, but his legs are more spindly here, conforming a bit more to some of the early designs for the character:

(I used to spend a lot of time with my paternal grandmother, and she — especially as she got older — reminded me a lot of Yoda. Short. Hair a bit wispy. Eyes magnified behind thick glasses. A cane. OLD. Wise beyond even her advanced years. Seeing Yoda above with his little stick legs reminds me of the very few times in my youth I saw her in a robe.)

Like the Raiders comic, certain key scenes play out differently. The first I’ll show here is a key part of that “inferior” romance, as Han and Leia share their first kiss. Now, though, there’s no C-3PO cockblock:

On a more light-hearted note, while I treasure the Luke/Yoda scenes, I wonder if perhaps they could have used more GIANT POLKA-DOTTED TOADSTOOLS:

Last, there’s the great reveal of Vader on Cloud City. (My college roommate loved this scene because for years he only knew the movie from a tape dubbed off TV, and Han shooting Vader had been edited out — never asked him what the censors did with Luke’s handectomy.) The sequence of events is changed up a bit, taking away some of the sudden action, but still leaving Han as a man not willing to go down without a fight:

(If I may, I have another beef with Lucas. The whole baneful business of clumsily re-editing the original Star Wars to make it so that Han — with his magically shifting head — didn’t pre-emptively shoot Greedo was all about making it so that our non-Force hero isn’t a cold-blooded killer. Never mind that, for all Han knew, Greedo was about to take him to Jabba and the big fat Hutt was going to filet him and feed him to the Rancor. (Though, admittedly, much of Jabba’s menace is deflated by the subsequent inserted scene in front of the Millennium Falcon, where he seems like a fairly amiable slug, one who only wants to have a little chat with his wayward pal. So maybe the insertion of that scene was what made the terrible, clumsy edit necessary. If so, JUST LEAVE OUT THE GODDAMN JABBA SCENE.) We can’t have our dear Solo be a decisive man of action, willing to shoot first and ask questions later in that wretched hive of scum and villainy, now can we? The kindly, trusting smuggler. “No, you shoot first. I insist.” Well, what about the above scene? A door opens on Cloud City (which seems on the surface to be as threatening as a gas-mining Club Med), Chewbacca growls, Han sees Vader and starts blasting away. Wouldn’t that run afoul of Lucas’s retroactive morality? Wouldn’t Han have to wait until Vader Force grips his throat before drawing his blaster? “Vader’s a more potent threat, and it was pure instinct” Lucas might reply. And “Hogwash!” would be my rejoinder, but with much more vulgar terminology.

You see? This is why I hate Star Wars now. Why I can hardly watch them anymore. I used to go to them to escape my frustrations. Now they are my frustrations.)

We would be remiss without including what may rank up there with Rhett Butler’s “I don’t give a damn” as the most (mis)quoted line in film history:

“I am your father” has become such a cliché we tend to forget just how great a slice of drama it is. The terrifying villain, who for the last act has operated as an articulate movie monster, bursting out of the shadows with homicidal and unstoppable rage, reveals himself to be the boy hero’s pappy. THERE IS A REASON PEOPLE QUOTE IT ALL THE TIME.

Reading this thing is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The art, while not flashy, while not clean-cut, has a quality to it that’s most welcome. It’s different, and for that you appreciate it all the more. Ralph McQuarrie, the recently passed Star Wars conceptual artist whose design work gave shape to a universe, didn’t have drawings and paintings that exactly matched what wound up on the silver screen. He defined the essence of Star Wars, though, and the art here, while nowhere near the aesthetic power of McQuarrie’s, captures the spirit of adventure that propelled that first glorious trilogy. There was a novelty to what was revealed in theaters in 1980, as effects boundaries were pushed and audiences were amazed that it was possible to double down on the movie that had people coming back again and again.

The comic is a spiritual kinsman of the film, and one that stands as a pristine artifact of what it was like to be right in the middle of gen-u-ine movie magic. The comic may be rough, and may be a bit off-kilter, but it fits.

I first watched Empire in my elementary school. This was back before VCRs became commonplace, and sometimes the school would show a movie after the day was over on the crappy TV that was kept in the cafeteria. I can still remember seeing the Hoth battle with the walkers and being simultaneously terrified by those mechanized behemoths and completely transported out of that den of lunch ladies and sloppy joes. The celluloid tether that bound me to that magical moment has sadly been frayed by Lucas’s fussing. (I’d say tragically, but it’s just a movie, folks.) Comics like this one, though, are able to take you back to that time, when everything wasn’t painted over and corporate. When everything wasn’t Special Editioned and varnished with a cookie cutter CGI sameness.

Super Special indeed. It’s been an enjoyable month.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Thelonious_Nick permalink
    April 2, 2012 2:14 pm

    Never has an old man so thoroughly gone about destroying everything his younger self built up as Lucas.

  2. bluekatt permalink
    November 9, 2012 12:40 pm

    so any comments on the fact that disney now ones star wars ?
    maybe disney can do the two things lucas couldnt
    leave the old movies alone
    and release them in hi def

    personally though i always felt the special edition ones were fine if you remove a few scenes and touch up the pink tinge

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