Look inside Marvel's 1970s UK comic -- including a letters page hosted by C-3PO!
While you could very easily argue that with the monumental arrival of The Force Awakens, this current era of Star Wars is the best. But it’s worth remembering that as it approaches it’s 40th anniversary, the greatest space fantasy of all is in its fifth decade. When it was first getting a grip on the collective hearts and minds of folks across the galaxy, it was the late '70s. It might not have been a more civilized age -- war, strife, murder, and fear were just as prevalent as they sadly are today -- but looking back through my very stylish pair of rose-tinted glasses, it couldn’t have been a better time for Star Wars to arrive.
We had the Bee Gees with "Night Fever" and "Staying Alive" riding high in the US charts at numbers one and two, while the Brothers Gibb’s little brother Andy was at number three with "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water." Here in the UK, Kate Bush was still number one with "Wuthering Heights." ABBA's "Take A Chance On Me" was at number two and "Denis" by Blondie at three. Let’s grab a copy of issue 7 of Star Wars Weekly and strut like it’s Saturday night…
After a dynamic cover showing a desperate Luke trying to escape the grip of the dianoga as Han, a wildly feral Chewbacca and a shocked Leia rush to help we open up preceding’s with the Who’s Who. By this point kids were well aware of who these characters were and were keen to learn more and more about them. The film was steadily rolling out across the country, fed by a wave of interest and excitement that was bleeding into television and print media. By the end of 1978 there was literally no escape from Star Wars.
A first this issue. Previous issues had given us a one-page recap of the events that led up to this point, but issue 7 threw us headlong into the action without any preamble. It suited the story and the frenetic nature of the art, and the action as our heroes free the princess and embark upon an escape from the Death Star. As always the art is evocative of the era. Today, when film adaptations are far less frequent it may seem odd that so many elements of the art are "incorrect," but the Marvel adaptation of Star Wars not only became a post-war record-breaking seller, but it bottled the magic of the movie -- much like Alan Dean Foster's novelization did -- and fed it to a captivated audience. Sure, certain things were slightly off. The number on the trash compactor was wrong and Chewie looked more like a character out of Grizzly Adams than the Mos Eisley cantina. But it truly didn’t matter. For the first Star Wars generation this was everything.
These days, magazines and comics struggle to fill letters pages. In an age of instant social media opinion and reply, the thought of putting pen to paper, placing it in an envelope (with a stamp you actually had to lick!), and posting it in a letter box seems almost Victorian. But that’s what we did, and issue 7 had the very first UK Star Wars letters page. Led by none other than See-Threepio, the STAR WORDS OF THE WEEK award went to Steve Whatley of Croydon, who praised the title’s classic Marvel back-up strips. Four other letters were printed with comments ranging from, “I think that Star Wars Weekly is the best magazine out” to “I joined the fan club and I’m ordering Star Wars Weekly every week.”
The acquisition of Star Wars for Marvel was a masterstroke move on a number of levels. For George Lucas it was a quick and relatively frugal way to get his product in front of a lot of people. A lifelong fan of comics and co-owner of the New York comic shop Supersnipe Comic Art Gallery, Lucas saw the obvious benefits of having a comic adaptation. At the time, Planet of the Apes was a high-profile show accompanied by a fading comic series while other TV shows like Star Trek and the Six Million Dollar Man had titles released by Gold Key and Charlton, respectively. For their part, Marvel were in dire difficulties. On the brink of extinction, taking on Star Wars was a risk, but one that paid off enormously. With unbelievable sales and a UK weekly reprint, Marvel took every opportunity to hype their other superhero titles and put those classic characters at the forefront of kids' minds. Here in the UK, titles like The Mighty World of Marvel and Super Spider-Man were still prevalent on shelves across the country and adverts in the biggest selling Marvel UK title -- Star Wars Weekly -- helped promote those titles.
We were promised the chance to CHOOSE YOUR OWN PALITOY PRIZE in a competition coming in issue 8 and an advert for posters and badges (or pins to our American cousins) gave us a look at the stars of the day. The ladies of Charlie’s Angels, David Soul, Elvis, the Sex Pistols, David Essex (Hold me close, don’t let me go!), Kevin Keegan, and brother and sister duo Donny and Marie. In an age where filling in forms and posting away for products was the norm this was of great interest.
Speaking of badges, this issue gave you the chanced to GET STUCK ON STAR WARS! Badges for 50p, patches for the same price, and you could let the galaxy know that you were a member of the Brotherhood of Jedi Knights, or that you believed "Darth Vadar Lives." Yes, this was when that infamous badge was first released along with classic images of Artoo, Threepio, and Luke in his stormtrooper disguise. And it’s worth remembering, just as Finn was discarding a costume he’d trained to wear since he was a kid so Luke was wearing armor that he could have very easily been wearing himself had he done as he initially wished and left for the Imperial Academy.
The inside back page gives us an image by Tony Di Zuniga of Obi-Wan ready for action. In the years since the arrival of The Phantom Menace and its consequent sequels and spin-off animated series, the legend and story of Obi-Wan has grown and deepened to the point that readers today will have a very different entry point for Kenobi than kids and fans back in 1978. To us he was a wise, slightly crazy, old wizard with a mysterious past. Through the original trilogy we learned that he had a tendency to massage the truth somewhat, all to a good end. Here we see him prepared to fight as a massive Sandcrawler prepares to drive over a Tatooine ridge.
That wraps it up for issue 7 of Star Wars Weekly. The galaxy was growing, Star Wars was cementing its legend and we simply couldn’t get enough. Stick around for issue 8 of UK Star Wars Weekly.
Mark has contributed to Star Wars Insider for a decade, is the owner of Jedi News, writes for DeAgostini’s Build The Millennium Falcon partwork magazine, and co-hosts RADIO 1138 on the Jedi News Network. He’s a Rebel Legion UK supporter, an honorary member of the UK Garrison, and a friend of the Rebel Legion. 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.