- John Gaines
There was a considerable gap between the releases of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the early 1980s. During that time, the expanding Star Wars fan base began to wonder what was happening to the characters in the meantime. What worlds did Luke, Leia, and Han visit? What schemes did Darth Vader plot to destroy the rebellion? Did Chewie ever get a decent flea bath? Two of these three questions are answered in Archie Goodwin’s The Rebel Storm (Classic Star Wars Volume Two), an anthology of comics originally published between 1981 and 1984. Although sometimes marred by a sense of discontinuity with Lucas’ universe, the best stories in this anthology deserve a place in Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.
First produced as newspaper comics, Classic Star Wars edits the series into chapters similar to those used by modern graphic novels. The comics’ artwork is consistently good and strongly resembles the “lived in” universe of the original trilogy. Planets such as icy Hoth and heavily-forested Yavin appear just as they do in the classic trilogy, and the worlds created for the comics mesh well with the aesthetic of the films. Characterization is mostly consistent with the films, although the writers took Han’s snarky “Your Worship” line in Star Wars and turned it into an overused catchphrase. Strangely, despite being written after Empire Strikes Back, the comics do not feature any appearance by Boba Fett or any other characters associated with Jabba the Hutt, which may disappoint some Star Wars fans.
The quality of the stories varies a great deal. One which details Luke’s adventures fighting alongside a supposedly reincarnated Ben Kenobi is a poignant analysis of what Kenobi’s heroism meant to the Star Wars universe and features a great characterization of Darth Vader as a scheming chess master trying to manipulate Luke into a trap. On the another hand, another involving a monster hiding in the caverns of Yavin is an unimaginative “monster of the week” plot with little connection to the galaxy-spanning conflict central to Star Wars. The fact that the “dangerous” monster bears a resemblance to several creatures Luke quickly killed in the films doesn’t help. Most of the stories fall somewhere in the middle of the quality spectrum. One of the more imaginative involves Han and Chewie competing in gladiatorial combat to win a space pirate’s powerful gem.
The most interesting conceit of the Classic Star Wars comics, as with all Star Wars merchandise produced during this period, is that there is no direct combat between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. This means that in the stories in which he appears, Vader must attack the rebellion entirely through subordinates and not attack the protagonists himself which led to the development of Vader’s characterization as an evil schemer. In the original film, the Emperor is never shown, and in Empire, he only appears for a minute! It was in the comics, where Vader was not allowed to battle, that his characterization evolved further and showed the true depths of his intelligence. For the lasting impact on Vader’s characterization, as well as some entertaining adventures across planets both familiar and unfamiliar, Classic Star Wars Volume Two: The Rebel Storm is a fun read for Star Wars fans.