Wednesday March 29th 1978. At the time it was just another day, but here in 2016 we can look back on that day as very much a snapshot of what was happening during the late ’70s. On television here in the UK, Les Dawson and All Creatures Great and Small were topping the television ratings while Menachem Begin and Yasser Arrafat graced the cover of that week’s TIME magazine. Darts were at number 4 with “Come Back My Love,” the only male vocals in a female-dominated top 5 led by Kate Bush, ABBA, Blondie, and Rose Royce while the Bee Gees still occupied the top two positions in the US charts with “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And closer to home, a six-year-old me was waiting two long days for my seventh birthday to arrive. But enough reminiscing — what was happening in the galaxy far, far away that week?
Well, we know that early work was taking place on Star Wars 2, soon to be officially monickered The Empire Strikes Back, but as far as kids, teenagers, and more mature fans “out there,” the big event was the release of Star Wars Weekly issue 8. Sitting behind another bombastic cover with the doom-laden headline “Darth Vader Battles Ben Kenobi – – To The Death,” it features a very Gandalf-looking Kenobi in a white robe fighting Vader while a beady-eyed and feral Chewie, a blonde Solo, and a white-haired Luke watch as Threepio and Artoo look passively on. And not an Alderaanian princess in sight.
Turn the page and the magazine truly begins. We have our customary Who’s Who In Star Wars, focusing on Luke, Leia, Threepio, Han, Obi-Wan, Artoo, Vader ,and Chewbacca before our weekly summary of…
…the story so far. We recap the capture of Leia, the droids’ arrival on Tatooine, the Falcon’s escape from the desert planet and capture by the Death Star, their battle against the dianoga, and right into the action as they are chased by Imperial stormtroopers. Interesting to note that back in ’78 when most UK comics were printed in black and white, there was no need for a colorist, but a toner, in this case Howard Bender who added the light and shade to the artwork of Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha. Also raise your eyes north to the Star Wars logo, which is a very unique design with a star embedded into the A’s and the iconic words “The Greatest Space Fantasy Of All!”
Working our way through the Death Star chase, a brave swing across a metal canyon, a near kiss, and the beginning of the confrontation between Kenobi and Vader, we reach the all-important letters page.
It can’t be overstated just how important these letter pages were before the advent of social media. In the decades before the Internet, these letter pages were often the only way comic book companies knew what the fans were thinking. Letters — handwritten letters — of praise or criticism were a barometer of what the public were responding to, good or bad. And while most editors chose to publish only the positive, there’s no doubt they were paying rapt attention to what proved unpopular. In a fierce marketplace dictated by shelf space and tight sales targets they could ill afford to not have their finger on the pulse and these letters helped with that. As such, kids like Mark Good from Kidbrook in London could promise to become a regular subscriber (and by subscriber we mean his local newsagent would likely write his name on the top of the comic and keep it for him each week), or “Luke Skywalker” from Mos Eisley on Tatooine could compliment the back-up strips in the comic, noting how the comic is different from the novel, which is different from the film. Barry Mussenden criticized the lack of pages with the comic having 28 instead of the usual 36, while it even gave Ian “Han Solo” Williams the chance to mention his own club, “The Star Rebels” who gave codenames for their members. One of the very first fan groups, right there in the pages of issue 8.
With only the Official Collector’s Edition on the stands and occasional articles in sci-fi and fantasy magazines such as Starlog and Starburst, the opportunity to expand your Star Wars knowledge was somewhat limited. The magazine endeavored to not only satisfy its younger readers who craved for their weekly dose of Star Wars action but also those among us who wished to know more about the people behind the scenes. Aydrey Smith brought us an exclusive in-depth interview with Kenny Baker in a piece entitled “Why Kenny Baker Nearly Shunned Star Wars!” A fascinating interview, we learn that Kenny almost refused the job as he didn’t want his friend Jack Purvis to miss out (Purvis would go on to play the chief Jawa, cantina patron Kitik Keed’kak, and a power droid in A New Hope, the Ugnaught Ugloste in The Empire Strikes Back, and fierce Ewok Teebo in Return of the Jedi, making him the only man to play three completely different named characters in the original trilogy); that his wife Eileen should have been in A New Hope but nodded off in the Tunisian heat and missed her part; and that the longest he spent inside Artoo was two hours. Pieces like this broadened the appeal of the comic, especially in the early days when there was a paucity of information about the movie.
As with previous issues, the magazine worked hard to not only inform you about other Marvel comic titles — after all, Star Wars didn’t stand alone, it was very much a part of the Marvel family — but of competitions that would entice you to come back the following Wednesday. This issue was no different, informing readers, “Next Week in Star Wars Weekly Win a Letraset Rub-Down Transfer Kit!” Back in the ’70s, Letraset were one of the hot things to get; kids couldn’t get enough of them and the release of Star Wars sets was enough for kids to forgo their 10 penny mix for the week and save for issue 9. Throw in a tease of the following issue, a glimpse of its cover, and the job was done.
For the rest of the issue we had our usual dose of Marvel bombast in the form of “Stan Lee Presents Tales of the Galaxy and the Sword,” written by Bill Mantlo with art by Ed Hannigan, Craig Russell, and Rick Bryant and a second Takes of the Galaxy entitled “Miracles of the Gods,” written by Doug Moench with art by Alex Nino. Scattered among these strips were ads for Star Wars patches and badges, the aforementioned Official Collector’s Edition, and on the back page, the 48-page Close Encounters of the Third Kind collector’s edition by Marvel.
Next time we head into April 1978 with issue 9 of UK Star Wars Weekly. Make sure you’re here for the latest 38-year-old Star Wars news.
Mark has contributed to Star Wars Insider since 2006, is the owner of Jedi News, writes for DeAgostini’s Build The Millennium Falcon partwork magazine and co-hosts RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network. He’s an honorary member of both the Rebel Legion and the Rebel Legion UK as well as the UK Garrison of the 501st Legion and when he’s not talking, tweeting or writing about Star Wars he can usually be found sleeping where he’ll most likely be dreaming about Star Wars.