‘Star Wars’ and comics go hand-in-hand

By: Henry Hanks, Contributor     @hankstv / tvshenry@gmail.com

When “Star Wars: A New Hope” first hit theaters in 1977, it quickly became a global phenomenon and a massive fandom was born.... tell me something I don't know, right?

It seemed like an obvious idea, then, for “Star Wars” to hit the four-color pages of comic books.

But just like 20th Century Fox wasn't sure they had a hit on their hands before "A New Hope" was released, Stan Lee wasn’t sure this would be a hit in comics either.

In 1975, Lee was approached about printing an adaptation of the upcoming movie and he turned Lucasfilm down. It was believed that movie tie-in comics didn’t sell.

Marvel editor Roy Thomas, however, was a believer in the film, and convinced Lee to take a chance on it. Lucasfilm wouldn’t see a penny, however, unless 100,000 issues were sold.

As you can imagine, Thomas was correct and the sales were through the roof, guaranteeing large royalties for Lucasfilm (George Lucas wisely saw the potential in merchandising beyond toys).

Sales were so good that Jim Shooter – who took the editor-in-chief job at Marvel in 1978 – credits Thomas and “Star Wars” for saving the company from a sales slump late in the decade. https://web.archive.org/web/20150912134444/http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/07/roy-thomas-saved-marvel.html

The first issue of the “Star Wars” title was released about six weeks before the movie was released as the first of a six issue adaptation of the movie. Then the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia and Han began with the seventh issue. Fans were hungry for more “Star Wars,” having to wait three years for the sequel, so it’s no wonder the series was a hit.

Of course, none of what transpired in those comics would be considered canon today. For example, there was a green rabbit-like alien named Jaxxon who had a somewhat major role in the series. That may sound crazy, but this is the same era of Marvel Comics that gave us Howard the Duck and Rocket the Raccoon. (Supposedly, Lucas hated Jaxxon… that’s right, the same guy who gave us Jar-Jar Binks drew the line at green bunny rabbits.)  https://www.cbr.com/abandoned-love-how-marvel-wrote-out-their-star-wars-character-that-george-lucas-hated/ I guess it's fair to wonder if "Marvel" & "Star Wars" knew all along that they'd be owned by "The Mouse" eventually... and those fuzzy little animals seem to be a hit with good ole' Disney.

And then there were the Zeltrons, pink aliens with creepy Joker-like smiles on their faces a lot of the time… but I digress.

“Star Wars” ran for 107 issues, adapting “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” (as well as kid-friendly spinoffs “Droids” and “Ewoks” based on their Saturday morning cartoon series) before ending in 1986, which was a bit of a dead zone for “Star Wars” fans. As far as anyone knew, there would be no more “Star Wars” theatrical films, so interest in the franchise dried up.

However, in 1991, a then-small independent company called Dark Horse Comics acquired the rights to “Star Wars” and began publishing many titles now beloved to fans, as part of the dearly-departed “Expanded Universe.”

Some of those titles included “Dark Empire,” “Tales of the Jedi,” “Knights of the Old Republic,” “Shadows of the Empire” and many more. Dark Horse even did a prequel to the prequels in 1999 called “Prelude to Rebellion.”

However, for the eight years preceding the prequels, Dark Horse's comic offerings were a gold mine for fans who missed new “Star Wars” stories.

Of course, during and after the prequels, interest grew rapidly, and then there was the “Clone Wars” animated series, which made “Star Wars” more and more of an important licensing deal for Dark Horse.

That all changed when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. As many fans suspected, Dark Horse’s days with “Star Wars” were numbered, and in 2015, the rights reverted to Disney-owned Marvel. To almost no one's surprise, the Marvel-produced “Star Wars” comics have been praised by fans, and once again they’re among Marvel’s best sellers.

One of the more interesting developments was a “C-3PO” one-shot comic which explained how Threepio got that red arm in “The Force Awakens.”

Marvel recently came out with a “Captain Phasma” mini-series that ties in with “The Last Jedi,” and fans of the old “Expanded Universe” can look forward to a “Thrawn” mini-series.

Might we see a crossover between “Star Wars” and Marvel characters in our future? One can only dream…