Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Desert Planets & Asteroid Belts

Star Wars has more than its share of super-science--usually taking the form of a super-weapon able to destroy anything from single planets to entire solar systems. But its a universe that does not overtly deal with alternate dimensions and time-lines to the degree that, say Star Trek has.

All the same, the currents of popular culture have split Star wars into several clearly identifiable alternate realities. (As well as one debatable split--does the alternate versions of the original trilogy, with Han no longer shooting first, constitute an alternate universe from the original version?)

Star Wars had a detailed and ever-growing Expanded Universe, which included novels, TV shows and comic books, with reasonable if not always successful efforts to give them a consistent continuity. So you had a choice--did your SW universe include just the movies, or could you toss in the other stuff. And, of course, the new movie departs from the Expanded Universe and goes off into its own direction.

On top of that is the original Marvel Comics Star Wars book. Marvel started turning out the comics concurrently with the first movie, with the series beginning with an adaptation of the movie. What makes this series an alternate universe is the simple fact that no one had any idea what was going to happen when then next movie came out. No one writing the movies knew that Darth Vader was Luke's father; that Leia would fall in love with Han (and that falling in love with Luke would have turned out to be a tad bit icky); that Jabba the Hutt would turn out to be a giant slug; and a myriad of other things.

So the comic book has to be considered an alternate universe, where Jabba is a small humanoid alien and where Han Solo at one point teams up with a giant, intelligent rabbit. And that's just fine, because it was a fun universe.

A story arc from issues 31 to 34 (January-April 1980) is a fun story that actually would fit into the mainstream universe if you wanted it to, though Carmine Infantino's art work was always a little bit off-model. That's not a criticism, by the way. Infantino's art is always beautiful.

The story takes Luke back to his home planet of Tatooinie--he's heading for Mos Eisley to recruit pilots to run Imperial blockades. But he also runs across a few interesting facts--first, an old enemy named Orman Tagge (a rich noble who is allied with the Empire) has set up shop on Tatooine AND there's a frozen bantha in the middle of the desert.

 But Luke has a mission to complete.When he gets to Mos Eisley, he finds Han and Chewie in the middle of a bar fight. (The two were off on a mission of their own settling affairs with the Marvel
version of Jabba.)  A skirmish with some stormtroopers quickly follows, which results in the three friends lost in the desert, then teaming up with a sandcrawler full of Jawas.

They run across Tagge's super-weason, a freeze ray capable of taking out an entire world or fleet of ships. One can legitimately argue that Star Wars returned to the super-weapon trope as a plot device a little too often, but writer Archie Goodwin uses it effectively here. Also, the sequence involving the heroes forming an alliance with the Jawas is a lot of fun.

Halfway through the story arc, the action moves into space. The heroes trail Tagge and the freeze weapon to a planet named Junction--a Rebel supply depot. Han flies off to warn the rebels and bring back reinforcements, while Luke attempts to sneak about the Imperial ship carrying the freeze ray. He's briefly captured, escapes and confronts Orman Tagge in a lightsaber fight. Tagge's not a Jedi, by the way. He's just practiced quite a lot. He's also blind--a consequence of an injury received after he once unwisely ticked off Darth Vader. He wears googles that allow him to see in the dark, so he figures a fight with the lights out will give him an advantage. He's wrong.

By this time, Luke has learned that the Imperials have planned all along for the arrival of a Rebel fleet. The freeze ray is meant to wipe out that fleet, not the planet. That leaves Luke tasked with destroying the weapon despite a protective force field before the fleet Han is bringing comes into range.

It's a good, solid Space Opera, with great art and a fast-moving, well-plotted story. Yes, it is a story that takes place in a reality one or two universes removed from mainstream Star Wars, but perhaps the Marvel SW series is a good argument to justify the existence of continuity reboots. An individual reboot might be done well or done poorly, but the idea of expanding the pool of universes in which to tell good stories is never an inherently bad one.

Next week, we return to Earth to visit with Superman as he contracts a Kryptonian form of leprosy.

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