Friday, April 20, 2012

Jabba the what?

I've been reading Dark Horse's Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago... Vol. 1 , which collects and reprints the first chunk of Marvel's 1977-1986 Star Wars comic, and it is fascinating. It began publication while the original Star Wars was still in theaters, starting with a six-issue adaptation of the film before continuing the adventures of the characters.

In 2012, we're used to the phenomenal scale of the Star Wars saga, which spans not only seven feature films released in theaters (six live action, one computer-animated), but several TV shows, dozens of novels, scores of video games and more comic books than I'll ever read, and the back story that's developed in the past 35 years is truly staggering, long ago eclipsing the amount of information in the films themselves.

At this point, the long time ago/far, far away setting is rigorously delineated and regularly policed, and while casual audience members likely don't know and more likely still don't care, somewhere on the Internet it's written down the name of every alien race of every goofy puppet or masked figure to appear in one of the films, along with their homeworld, the language they speak and their complete biographies.

But when Marvel was producing this comic, even the big plot beats of the original trilogy were unknown, so it's quite clear that the often just off-model Darth Vader, with his glowing red eyes, is a completely different person than Luke Skywalker's missing father, or that Luke and Leia are in no way brother and sister (this volume complains another half-dozen sister-kisses). We also see a flashback to Obi-Wan Kenobi's days as a Jedi Knight, in which he looks completely different than in the second trilogy, and it's clear that these Storm Troopers aren't all clones.

 Also, there's a giant green Star Wars rabbit.

It's weird to encounter these comics for the first time in 2012, on the other end of an entire life-time of Star Wars lore expansion, and to see Luke, Han and the gang referred to as "the star-warriors," or to simply to see the words "Star Wars" appearing in caption boxes in a different font than the one in the oh-so-familiar logo.

Weird, but also kind of exciting. It makes for a sort of alternate universe version of Star Wars, and the anything-goes nature of the narrative and writer/editors Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin and their artist collaborators on-the-fly world-building seems so much more pure and organic than what one might find in the later Dark Horse produced comics, which are produced by and for an audience that are all on the same page as George Lucas in terms of what the Star Wars universe contains, and what it doesn't.

There were hints of this while reading the first couple of issues, as when I would see dialogue I'd heard some hundred or so times in the films written differently in the dialogue bubbles, like when Obi-Wan refers to the Mos Eisley cantina simply as a "wretched hive of villainy" instead of a "wretched hive of scum and villainy", but it really struck me in the second issue, where we meet this guy...
...who you won't at all recognize as Jabba the Hutt.

You know, the giant, immobile, anthropomorphic slug from Return of the Jedi...?

As you're probably aware, Lucas scripted and filmed a scene featuring Jabba for the original Star Wars film, in which he confronts Han Solo outside of the cantina. It was cut, as it should have been (because it didn't really add anything and didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense given what had just transpired with Greedo), although Lucas restored it to the tinkered-with version of the film he released in the 90s.

When it was originally filmed, Jabba was just some overweight middle-aged dude in a shaggy vest, and the plan was to insert a stop-motion alien type into the scene later (although in the rerelease, a CGI version of his slug-like final form was placed into the scene), and apparently when Marvel was making their adapation in 1977, the scene was still there. The version of the script they were working from must not have given much, if any, detail as to what Jabba the Hutt was suposed to look like, because this is how artists Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha depicted him in the scene:
A bidpedal, yellow, tusk-less walrus man (Not to be confused with the actual character that used to be called Walrus Man when I was a kid, but, to prove the point I was making earlier, is now called "Ponda Baba" for some reason, and two seconds of googling tells me he is an Aqualish pirate from the world Ando, and I can learn about his life before and after his brief cameo in the first film if I want to read a dozen or so paragraphs about him, which I don't) isn't nearly as striking a design as the one Lucas and company eventually settled on. But that's one of the great pleasures of this series of comics—seeing talented and creative folks still working out what would become one of most pervasive pop culture stories of a generation (so far), trying out paths that Lucas and his filmmaking collaborators would ultimately choose not to take.


Dan said...

Loved that rabbit as a kid. My favorite part of the Star Wars comics. Well that and the few issues with Michael Golden art

Anonymous said...

I distinctly remember reading the novelisation of Star Wars when the movie first came out, and there was at least one scene in it that wasn't in the movie. Ben Kenobi is talking to Luke (I think) about (I think) how easily using the Force comes to him, and he refers to "water off a duck's back" (I think - these are memories from 35 years ago!) and Luke responds "off a what?" indicating that he has no idea what a duck is. The fact that Ben DOES know seemed to me to be a suggestion that he's been to Earth? maybe?

Magic Brick said...

Yes, Star Wars before the conclusion of the Original Trilogy was a weird construct. Yoda being blue, references to a Portugese Man o' War, space battles compared to Earth ocean warfare, and let us not even mention the bizaare affairs of the Droids and Ewoks animated series (breakdancing R2D2 and crying, sentient mountains) and so forth. The green rabbit thing was barred from canon by Lucas after he discovered it's existence. As for most of the other content from those early comics, they are technically 'c-canon', which means they happened, from a certain point of view (heh), IF they are referenced in something else.

Magic Brick said...


Magic Brick said...

And because I'm doing very well at this 'finding-wacky-Star-Wars-things' here is a recent article that documents some of most g;aring oddities to be found:

Jacob T. Levy said...

The universe also seemed a whole lot bigger then. The Empire felt like a real empire, with a military and a bureaucracy and officials-- Grand Moff Tarkin!-- rather than just being the two-man enterprise it came to feel like later. There seemed to be lots of potentially important characters around, not like the all-Skywalkers-all-the-time world we ended up with.