Saturday, April 25, 2015

Raiders of the Lost Long Box #1: Chewie. We're home.

In honor of the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer that blew up the nerdverse, I thought I'd start my first Raiders of the Lost Long Box series post with the first issue of a Star Wars comic I ever owned. Serendipitously, this also happens to be the first comic book I ever owned.

As someone born of the late 70's, Star Wars is practically written into my DNA. I have the vaguest of childhood memories of having waited in line to see Star Wars at a very young age, and my earliest impressions of the movie are that of pure love. Now in hindsight, it seems fitting that one of my greatest geeky joys from childhood that survives strongly to this day is the bridge to my even greater geek love of all: comic books! And so, Indiana Jones-style, I plumbed the depths of the local comic book store long boxes until I recovered this lost treasure of my spinner rack days of childhood.

Marvel Comic's Star Wars Volume 1 #32 was my start down the path to Man of Nerdology status. The story is titled "The Jawa Express." It was expertly crafted by Archie Goodwin on the words, Carmine Infantino on the pencils, and  Bob Wiacek on inks. John Costanza handled the letters and Petra Goldberg was the colorist. Jim Shooter rounded out the creative team as the consulting editor.

This issue cover dates at February 1980, but according to Mike's Amazing World of Comics it was actually on the stands November 27, 1979. My birthday being in December, I am fairly certain that I received this issue then. It would easily still have been on the racks. Now I can't remember the specifics of how I got this issue, whether I picked it or if it was picked for me. I do remember that this issue is one of my first exposures to the expanded Star Wars marketing universe beyond the movie itself. This issue would shape my earliest view of the characters of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. The only other two expanded Star Wars Universe I owned in print form was the Star Wars Pop Up Book from 1978 and the Star Wars Chewbacca's Activity Book from 1979. Both of these books suffered the same fate as my original copy of this issue; obsessively lovingly read until they fell apart.


"Jawa Express" opens with Luke, Han, Chewie, 3PO, and R2 stranded on the dune seas of Tatooine. They are desperate to fix Luke's damaged Landspeeder, it having recently been damaged while escaping Stormtroopers at Mos Eisley. After the droids donate some parts to help repair the Landspeeder, the group makes for Luke's ship hidden out in the desert. 
Luke had flown here from Yavin on a mission for the rebellion with the droids, while Han and Chewie are presumably back on Tatooine to pay off their debt to Jabba the Hutt. I only say "presumably" because I have never read the issue that comes before this one and I have never read the one after this. I have a single snapshot of the story as it were. This sort of in media res drop-in to a comic book storyline has been a common staple of many of my introductions to comics throughout my life. It has always left me with a sense of mystery that is still a treasure to this day. 
As they approach the landing site for Luke's ship, they are met with a turn of bad luck. The eponymous Jawas of the title have found and stripped Luke's ship practically to the framework. Luke races down to stop them, but a cooler-headed Han stops him. 

They need to get back to Mos Eisley and the Millennium Falcon, and the Landspeeder is done. The only way out of this predicament is securing passage with the Jawas on their Sandcrawler, at the cost of the broken Landspeeder and the droids. Han plies his scoundrel coolness, and our heroes secure themselves a ride on the Sandcrawler. 

Bad news though, when they finally do get underway, Luke and Han learn that the Jawas will take them to Mos Eisley only after they have finished their scavenger run. The trip should only take three months. This knowledge comes on the recurring gag of Han banging his head on the Jawa-sized ceiling of the Sandcrawler's compartments.

As if things could not get worse, the Sandcrawler is stopped by a patrol of Stromtroopers. They announce that they are looking for Rebels and will be coming aboard. The Jawas are unhappy with their less than honest passengers. Luckily, Han and Chewbacca's quick thinking and good aim saves them, as they blast the ridge that the Stormtroopers were standing on, allowing the Sandcrawler to escape. Unfortunately, this forces them to enter the Jundland Wastes, where something worse than the threat of Sand People awaits.

While they continue on their desert journey, Luke fills in Han and the reader with a little expositional backstory. He was here for the Rebel Alliance to recruit pilots to be blockade runners. While on his way to Mos Eisley to complete this mission, he had come across evidence that the House of Tagge was up to something sinister. Something having to do with the Jundland Wastes. As his story finishes, the Sandcrawler comes to a halt and everyone piles out. 

The Jawas have come across a pair of what appear to be moisture vaporatures. They are eager to strip this technology since there is a competing Sandcrawler making its way to their position. As the heroes approach the vaporature, Luke immediately notices something is wrong. Having grown up on Tatooine as a moisture farmer himself, he recognizes that this is not a typical vaporature. Luke quickly warns them all to clear away as fast as possible, as if he sensed danger. 

A strange light passes between the two pylons and the competing Sandcrawler is immediately caught in the effect. From the safety of their vantage point beyond the effects' range, the heroes look to see an impossible sight. The effected Sandcrawler is frozen solid, its metal turned brittle by the cold, cracking under its own weight. 

Quickly it is revealed that this is a test of an Imperial weapon known as the Omega Frost. The weapon is a power bid by Baron Tagge, head of the House Tagge, to make a play for the Emperor's favor. He hopes to unseat Darth Vader as the Emperor's right hand man. His brother Silas perfected the weapon, testing it on Tatooine to see its effectiveness in climates resistant to its power. 

As an added bonus to the success of their test, the sensors within the Omega Frost devices alerted them to the presence of the Rebels. Tagge desires to capture them alive, particularly Luke Skywalker. The Imperials in their troop carrier fire on the Jawas and the Rebels in an attempt to drive them into a trap. This would work, except Luke is able to convince the Jawas to stand and fight as repayment for heroes saving them more than once. 

The charging Imperial troop carrier is caught by surprise by the massive Sandcrawler trundling at them on a collision course. The troop carrier narrowly avoids a collision with the colossal transport, but is capsized in the maneuver. 

The heroes use the quick reprieve to make for Mos Eisley at their best speed. The escape is short lived as two more fast moving Imperial troop carriers close on their position. A little quick brainstorming by the Jawas, and Luke comes up with an escape plan. Han and Chewie heave a line of drums of Skyhopper propellent out of the Sandcrawler between themselves and their pursuers. Luke, on the roof, takes aim with a blaster rifle. The same skills that he honed on womp rats and used to destroy the Death Star comes into play again as he bullseyes the drums of propellent, creating a wall of flames. The conflagration is just what they need to shake their Imperial hunters. 

 With the Imperial pursuit gone, the heroes reclaim their droids, and with the help of the Jawas make repairs to the Landspeeder. The two groups part ways, as the Rebels head to Mos Eisley to reach Millennium Falcon so they can get off Tatooine to warn the Alliance of the Empire's new Omega Frost weapon. The teaser for the next issue on the last page promises a showdown between Luke Skywalker and Baron Tagge in "Saber Clash!"


Finding a new copy of this issue has been a treasure trove of childhood memories and insights for me. It has easily been more that twenty years since I have owned even the damaged copy of this story, much less read it. I was amazed at how much of this story I remembered correctly. I was equally delighted to reread the parts of the book that I had forgotten and to see the old parts in a new, more mature light. 


The story by Archie Goodwin is as good as I remember it. The pacing is nice and fast. Exposition does not detract or take away from the flow of the story. I felt that the voices of the characters sounded correct. Luke was young, impulsive, and idealistic. Han was more savvy and grouchy, but still had a good heart. Even the droids get a bit of classic bickering in before disappearing from most of the story. Also, the idea of Imperial court intrigue between Baron Tagge and Darth Vader adds layers of detail to the then only three year old Star Wars Universe 

The chase through the desert was very reminiscent of the fun of Dukes of Hazard or Smokey and the Bandit. I also liked how Luke is still largely relying on wits and skill throughout the story. Han mentions the Force when Luke warns them that the Omega Frost weapon is about to fire. Luke explains that it wasn't necessary as he was able to figure it out with a little instinct and detective skills. This is a pre-Empire Strikes Back Luke Skywalker, before the Jedi part of the character became so central. This is the reckless youth from Tatooine that still craves excitement and adventure. 

On reread, the one downside I saw in this story was the lack of Princess Leia in the mix. Her presence is a strong one in the first movie and is sorely missing here. Running with the Dukes of Hazard and Smokey and the Bandit theme, this story has no Daisy Duke or runaway bride Sally Field. Still the story is solid. Though we never see him, Vader's mention by Baron Tagge adds to his menace and mystique.

Story - Kirby Crackle Score: 4


The art on this issue by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek is amazing. As a comic book collector who would become a huge fan of the Flash in later years, Infantino holds a very special place in my heart in the pantheon of artists. Only when I repurchased this comic book recently did I even become aware of this fact, a fact that made this book even more awesome in my eyes. 

That said, I did have a few quibbles with the art on this book. In particular I didn't like some of the coloring. Often times the sand was given a greenish hue. I always felt that this gave the ground a mossy look in many of the panels. This took me out of the story since Tatooine was a desert planet of yellow sands. 

Also Infantino is cribbing from his own work in the design of the pieces' villain, Baron Tagge. 

Baron Tagge

Captain Cold
The sunglasses-like safety goggles and fur rimmed hood, not to mention the Omega Frost freeze weapon, makes Baron Tagge a Star Wars pastiche of classic Flash Rogue, Captain Cold. For an artist who has created some great character designs throughout his career, it seemed less like an artistic callback, and more like lazy design. 

Art - Kirby Crackle Score: 3

As I have stated before, this was a nostalgia-filled reread for me. As one of only three print Star Wars stories I owned at the time, this issue was as big a deal as the toys in cementing my love of the Star Wars Universe. The characters were on script and the story channeled elements of other media in the zeitgeist of the time.

That being said, one of my favorite parts of this reread and review was rediscovering the advertisements that enticed me at the time. I distinctly remember two prominent ads for ROM the Space Knight. One ad was for the Marvel comic book and one ad was for the toy. I was always fascinated by Rom but never collected the series, owned the toy, or read more than one or two issues until much later in the series run.

These ads and Rom's entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe are my main sources of knowledge of the character of Rom. Yet I still loved the character.

Finally one of the great gems of Bronze Age comic book advertising could also be found near the end of this book. One that I had forgotten was in this issue and I was geeked out to find. There was a classic Hostess Twinkies ad featuring Mr. Fantastic verses the nefarious one shot villain Golddigger. These one-page ads were comedic mini-comics within your comics. They are an important part of the landscape of comics for both Marvel and DC during this era of publishing. Finding a lost one again was an added treat.

While the story was fun and the art was great, nothing monumental or character changing happens in this issue. As a stand-alone it leaves a lot of questions, but still delivers a cohesive narrative. More than anything, the story is a nostalgia-laden trip for me that still holds up well more than 30 years later.

Impact - Kirby Crackle Score: 5