Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Empire Strikes Back

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics


The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most famous films evar, containing one of the most famous plot twists of all time and introducing the best character in Star Wars: Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately Lando does not appear until the last third of the story, which is also when the majority of the famous and dramatic scenes occur - not a coincidence, I'm sure.

The comic adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back is over 100 pages long, making it almost twice as long as the Star Wars comic even though the film equivalents are about the same length. This means that, unlike with the heavily-abbreviated Star Wars, the whole of the second* film's story can be told, and there is even room for an additional sub-plot that was not in the film version.

* I know that The Empire Strikes Back is technically the third Star Wars film, but to the best of my knowledge there is not a comic adaptation of The Star Wars Holiday Special, sadly.

As the story begins we can quickly see that the artwork style has changed considerably since Star Wars, with less primary colours and a greater use of light and shade for dramatic effect.

A good example of the shading can be seen in the fourth panel as Han Solo and Princess Leia argue.

The dialogue of their argument here is considerably more dated than in the film, with Han's sexist barb
You've been so busy giving orders, you've forgotten how to be a woman.
It is a mis-step and does not really fit with Han's character as established elsewhere. Fortunately Princess Leia gets the better of him in the argument (or at least the last word, which is not quite the same thing unless you're arguing on the internets) and then the plot moves on to the additional sub-plot that is exclusive to the comic.

Luke has already been knocked out and captured by a Wampa, although his friends don't know that yet, and now we the readers see that there is another Wampa breaking into their base, although the main characters don't know that yet either.

As Luke escapes from the Wampa's cave, his friends finally notice that he hasn't come back to the base.

There are a lot more panels that overlap or are layered on top of other panels in this than there were in Star Wars, with over half the pages of part 1 featuring one or both of these techniques.

The sub-plot also comes to the attention of the main characters, for now in the form of a mystery where we know what is going on but they don't:
And we've had other problems... something attacked one of the Tauntauns.

Han is the only manny brave enough to go out to look for Luke.

Luke sees a vision of Ben Kenobi, the first of Alec Guinness's several cameo appearances in The Empire Strikes Back.

Han finds Luke and then Rogue Two finds them both. Luke is taken to hopistal and then R2D2 encounters one of the Wampas in the base.

For maximum scariness we only ever see the Wampas' arms. Scary Cat likes the Wampas.

The Wampas plot gives way to the next danger, an Imperial Probe Droid. Princess Leia confirms
And it's metal... definitely not one of those creatures.

Chewbacca and Han go out and blow it up.

I like the way that the background of the larger panel behind the two smaller panels creates the effect of a scene transition. We see the baddys for the first time and get our first look at their super-sized Star Destroyer spaceship. Darth Vader's theme music really ought to be playing over this scene for maximum atmosphere, even despite being hugely devalued in power by the recent crass commercialisation of Star Wars.

Sad, isn't it? Adverts are not what they were in the 1980s. Mew.

For some reason Michael Sheard and Kenneth Colley appear to have swapped roles in the comic version from those they played in the film, as the third panel shows Colley as Admiral Ozzel talking to Darth Vader. From this we can deduce that the manny with the moustache in the first panel, the one who looks like Michael Sheard, is Captain Piett.

The first part of The Empire Strikes Back ends with Darth Vader on his way to strike back:
...we're proceeding to the Hoth system. Full speed!

Thursday, 17 September 2015


Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: STAR WARS (part six)

The death of Blue Leader has left Luke in charge of Blue Squadron, and we are introduced to two other characters to help him save the day. They are Wedge and Biggs.

On board the Death Star there is a final scene for Governor Tarkin, where he refuses to evacuate. His last line differs substantially from the equivalent one delivered by Peter Cushing in the film. Instead of
"Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances."
he says
Evacuate? Never! The very idea is treasonous. We shall prevail-- in the name of the Galactic Empire!

Back in space, it may be "a young-old voice" that Luke hears, but it isn't the Doctor from Doctor Who, it's Ben Kenobi who isn't still dead. We get an insight into Luke's thoughts as he speculates that Ben has "merged, somehow, with "the Force" -- and he's here with me in spirit".

I find it interesting that the next panel is from the point of view of Darth Vader even though Luke is speaking - could it mean that Darth Vader is listening to Luke at that very moment?

Biggs is the next character to be killed by Darth Vader, and then it turns out that Biggs was Luke's best friend. While I know that they had to introduce a few characters just in order from them to be killed off and there is not a lot of space in which to assign them all distinguishing character traits, I find it very odd that they should choose to do this for Biggs posthumously.

Darth Vader closes in on Wedge, who escapes by flying his spaceship away (and thus provides him with the single character trait of being the-not-a-main-character-who-survives). This leaves only Luke, and Darth Vader is about to shoot him when the Millennium Falcon flies in and saves him, surprising Darth Vader and his henchmannys so much that one of them explodes and the other one pounces on Darth Vader's spaceship by mistake.

In the film, Darth Vader expresses his surprise by saying
But in the comic he says

Which is a somewhat radical reinterpretation of the line.

Darth Vader's spaceship goes out of control and is sent "out into the endless reaches of deep space!" Wheeeee! The way the last panel there is drawn makes that look like fun.

Ben Kenobi says
"Your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them! Stretch out your feelings!"
which is a line displaced from much earlier in the film version; from before the second ad break in fact.

Another line taken out of its proper place is here, when Han Solo congratulates Luke on his shot before it has blown the Death Star up.

In the film there is additional tension here because the Death Star has cleared the planet and is preparing to blow up the rebel base at the same time as Luke fires, so we are kept in suspense as to whether or not Luke is in time.

On the Death Star, Governor Tarkin goes

But he is premature, because then the Death Star goes

Taking a whole page to do it in.

The last page of the comic is for the tea and medals ceremony. There is no dialogue so plenty of captions are required to explain what is going on, even explaining why Chewbacca doesn't get a medal like Luke and Han:
Few Space-Princesses are that tall.

This is a proper Terry Nation-style way to end the comic, with Princess Leia being described as a "Space-Princess".

That is the end of Star Wars, a flawed but fun adaptation of the best film evar. In comic terms, however, it was only the beginning of a run lasting from 1978 until 1986, with many original Star Wars stories as well as adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi films. Some of these comic stories are very bad, but equally some are very good, at their best even rivaling the films in terms of quality. I plan on looking at the run that goes from The Empire Strikes Back to Return of the Jedi, and I'm sure it will take in both of these extremes on the way.

Before I sign off for now, let's take another look at the front cover picture to Star Wars (since it is also on the back cover as well).

Being a cat, it is not always possible for me to tell mannys apart, but with his distinctive dress and her distinguishing hair I am pretty confident that is supposed to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in the middle there. But their faces are nothing at all like those of the actors Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

Conversely, the drawings of C3PO and R2D2 are very lifelike, as is Darth Vader's great big face in space. I don't know if different artists did different parts of the whole, but it makes for a confusing clash of styles.
Though you can't argue that it says Star Wars.

Next: The Empire Strikes Back

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

And may the Force be with you

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: STAR WARS (part five)

The story so far: The moon with the rebel base will be in range in 30 minutes.

The Millennium Falcon has arrived at the rebel base and our heroes have joined up with the rebels there. The caption says "five of the six" and I know I am not good at counting but I think it is wrong and there are six of the six there. They are:
  1. C3PO
  2. R2D2
  3. Luke Skywalker
  4. Han Solo
  5. Chewbacca, and
  6. Princess Leia
See, I was right.

We meet two minor characters who are with the rebels, they are named as Commander Willard and General Jan Dodonna. Han Solo calls General Jan Dodonna an "old coot" lol. The briefing he gives to the other rebels is very close to the one in the film, including Luke's confidence that their plan can succeed.

General Jan Dodonna finishes by saying 
-- and may the Force be with you!
And he emphasises this by pointing outside the frame of the panel. This means it is Serious Business.

For no readily apparent reason Red Squadron from the film has been replaced with Blue Squadron, and Luke is Blue Five instead of Red Five. Big Gay Longcat, who has both red stripes and blue stripes because he is a rainbow stripey cat, says this doesn't matter, but I am confused as to why anybody would want to make such a needless change.

The battle at the Death Star takes many pages (I count 11, but it depends what you allow as the battle) so it is much less compressed in the comic compared to other parts of the story. That is because it is dramatically very important, what with being the final rising action leading to the destruction of the Death Star at the climax. It is perhaps also because action set-pieces such as in these scenes are very suited to the medium of comics, but take more pages to play out than they do minutes in a film.

Lord Darth Vader decides to join in the battle and leads the baddy spaceships personally.

He quickly proves to be as good with his spaceship as he was earlier with his lightsabre so that we know he is a threat to Luke and to our heroes' plans and hope of winning.

As if reflecting the hopelessness of our heroes, the story returns to black and white suddenly.

Blue Leader, introduced as a character only four pages ago, is killed off by Darth Vader to reinforce the seriousness of the threat he presents. He gets a shot at destroying the Death Star first, and only just misses, which is a nice touch to show that the rebels aren't all useless except for main characters.

With this point being about the darkest hour for the rebels, I will leave it for now. Even though I am in the middle of a page. Join me next time for our moment of triumph.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

This will be a day long remembered

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: STAR WARS (part four)

The story so far: The attempt to rescue Princess Leia and escape from the Death Star is not going according to plan. This may be because they didn't actually have a plan.

It looks as though Harrison Ford must have really not liked his character's scripted dialogue, as it is quite a lot different here than in the film. For instance, he doesn't say
Y'know, kid -- getting back to the Falcon's going to be like flying thru the Five Fire Rings of Fornax!
in the film. Nor does he describe Stormtroopers as "the boys in white".

Han's dialogue is very entertaining as he takes on all the Stormtroopers by himself, before deciding that he isn't as brave as Scary Cat and running away from them.

It is time for Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader to have their lightsabre fight. Note the way Ben's lightsabre extends out of the third panel there, as if to emphasise the fact that litter just got real.

This is an exciting sequence as they finally fight, although the dialogue from Ben Kenobi is incongruous to the situation:
You... only know... half "the Force"... Vader...!
You perceive its full power... as little as a spoon... perceives the taste of food!


The captions convey the drama much better, and the last panel on the page showing both their profiles is intense.

The fight reaches its climax as Ben Kenobi says
Heed my words!
But before he can add "... they are backed by nuclear weapons!" Darth Vader says
Not this time!
I am the master now!

This is a very stylised, almost abstract depiction of Ben Kenobi being struck down by Darth Vader, and it is probably the strangest, and yet somehow most fitting, picture I have ever seen in a comic book.

I love the way Ben Kenobi's cloak hangs on Darth Vader's lightsabre in defiance, as a thousand Star Wars fans on the internet cry out in terror and are suddenly silenced.

Princess Leia has to stop Luke from swearing at the baddys when he calls Darth Vader "you dirty--"

They get on board the Millennium Falcon and escape.

There is then a scene between Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader where they discuss their plan and reveal to us that there is a "homing beacon" on the Millennium Falcon so the Death Star can follow it.

This completes the middle act of Star Wars so seems like the best place to leave it for today. Join me next time to find out what good snub fighters are going to be against that.

Appendix 3

The fourth and final set of adverts during the September 1983 broadcast of Star Wars on the Grampian region of ITV came after Darth Vader's line
"This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi; it will soon see the end of the rebellion."
These adverts are:

1. Bernard Matthews' Turkey Steaks

A short advert, part of a series of adverts popular in the 1980s featuring the colourful if rather unrealistic character of Bernard Matthews, a manny who thought turkey steaks were "bootiful." Other adverts from the series appear to be available on the internets, but not this specific one.

2. Robinsons drinks

A comedy sketch where a famous tennis player of the early 1980s goes unrecognised at a tennis club, this sadly does not appear to be on the internets as it is both funny and charmingly dated at the same time. However, this short advert appears to be a sort of sequel to it:

3. Cadbury's Dairy Milk

Similar to the above video, but with different visuals featuring a manny with chunky '80s headphones.

4. The Great Composers magazine (again)

Exactly the same as the advert from the second ad break. See Appendix 1.

5. TSB bank

Scotland-specific advert where TSB is said to stand for "Today's Scottish Bank". Wouldn't that mean it was called Today's Scottish Bank bank? It is a good fit for showing during Star Wars since it is quite sci-fi itself and features a robot who likes to say "affirmative" lol.

6. Wonderfuel Gas

I haven't found this advert on the internets, but the below video is also for Wonderfuel Gas and uses exactly the same music and the same manny singing (not as good as a cat singing) but with completely different lyrics and visuals:

The lyrics to the Wonderfuel Gas advert during Star Wars are:
Gas people are your people, helping when you want to know
How to keep your fuel bills low
Great value gas

And by design we've even planned
For those who need a helping hand
Gas is always there for you
For you to have all winter through
Reliable gas

While keeping out the chill
And earning your goodwill
And helping you to cut your bill
Wonderfuel Gas!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Investigating Paul Darrow

I have been playing a computer game called Contradiction. It is great because it has Paul Darrow in it!


He plays a character called Paul who is a baddy, and you play a detective called Jenks and you have to talk to Paul and ask him questions and investigate him. It is great!

In the end you don't surround Paul with Federation troopers (oh, sorry if that is a spoiler to anybody) so I hope there will be a sequel one day.

Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: STAR WARS (part three)

The story so far: Luke has taken his first step into a larger world.

Is that supposed to be Alderaan exploding in the lower left of the first panel there?

The story swiftly moves on to the Millennium Falcon arriving at the Death Star.

Governor Tarkin says
I'll find that hidden fortress -- if I have to destroy every star system in this sector!
Perhaps this is a reference to one of the great film influences on Star Wars, Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress?

Darth Vader's footnote has been censored, maybe it referred to an earlier comic, or perhaps even one of the never-made earlier Episodes of the Star Wars saga?

Ben Kenobi asks Han Solo
Who is more foolish -- the fool, or the man who follows him?
which is a subtly different philosophical question from the one he asks in the film.

Luke has stolen TK-421's* armour and they use it to ambush the baddys. This baddy in particular makes a funny face before he is thlapped by Chewbacca.

Ben Kenobi goes to turn off the tractor beam keeping the Millennium Falcon here, leaving the others behind to hide.

* 421st of the TKs. This joke (c) Adam Buxton.

Luke also has a hidden footnote as he fills Han in on the plot so far, and he promises Han will get moneys if Han will help him rescue Princess Leia.

Luke, Han and Chewbacca go off to do their rescue plan, leaving C3PO and R2D2 behind to hide. C3PO uses his ingenuity to keep them from being captured by Stormtroopers, although this bit is not depicted in the comic.

Surprisingly, here we see the most famous and oft-quoted line in the whole of Star Wars
"Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138."
is different. As it is well known that Mark Hamill improvised that line on set, I am given to wonder if the dialogue in the comic is based on the original script and not copied from what was really said in the finished film?

Chewbacca goes into Batman mode here, fighting the baddys with a full range of sound effects including "ARROOOO", "GNRRR", "ZIK", "ZURK", "HNGH" and "FRAP"!

Why open a door when you could blast it? Much more dramatic. Here is one area where the comic takes an opportunity to definitively improve on the film. It must also serve to help convince Princess Leia that Luke really is a rescuer, as a real Stormtrooper would never shoot open one of his own doors (unless of course he was aiming at something else, lol).

Princess Leia can also tell because Luke is too short to be a real Stormtrooper. She must be very perceptive, since none of the real Stormtroopers noticed.
I am too long to be a Stormtrooper, which is good because I am not a Stormtrooper. I am a cat. Mew.

Here is one of the biggest omissions in the whole comic (akin in magnitude to Tom Bombadil being missed out from adaptations of The Lord of the Rings) when the whole escape into, and then out of, the garbage masher is covered over by a single caption.

This is a shame as that section allows C3PO and R2D2 to be seen to be clever when they avoid the Stormtroopers and then rescue their friends, and it shows Princess Leia take charge of her own rescue. Here we only see Princess Leia take charge by arguing with Han, which is not quite the same thing and not as strong in story terms.

Han calls Princess Leia "your Holiness" so he has mistaken a Princess for a Pope. Silly manny!

On that bombshell I will leave it for now. Join me next time when there will be a lightsabre fight and... well, isn't that enough?

Appendix 2

The third set of adverts during the September 1983 showing of Star Wars on the Grampian region of ITV fell as Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Luke and Han were trapped in the garbage masher and unable to raise C3PO on the communicator. These adverts are:

1. The Home Computer Course magazine (short version)

An abbreviated version of the advert shown during the second ad break.

2. British Airways

This advert for "the world's favourite airline" does not seem to be on the internets, but it is very boring so that may be for the best.

3. A Finger of Fudge

A musical advert featuring the same song as in the above video, but with different visuals. The song would later be referenced in Games Workshop's Warhammer Quest.

4. Persil Automatic

A complete West End Musical in miniature, one of the most fabulous of adverts and a great favourite with cats. We don't know what Persil Automatic is.

5. Headland Homes

Almost no information seems to exist about Headland Homes on the internets, never mind any videos, making this one of the most obscure adverts.

6. Scotrail Spectacular

"This is the age of the train". An age we don't talk about any more because of the manny who advertised it.

7. Superman III

A cut-down version of the above trailer, mainly featuring footage from the last 10 seconds. Superman III was released in UK cinemas in July 1983, making this advert the best source for dating the TV broadcast of our copy of Star Wars.